KELLER, Texas (OSV News) - Chris Stark, the Knights of Columbus general agent for the Diocese of Fort Worth, joked that March 5 literally marked Blessed Michael McGivney's first Texas visit.
A relic of the founder of the Knights – a bone fragment - made a pilgrimage March 5-9 through three Texas dioceses -- Fort Worth, San Angelo and Lubbock, stopping at five Catholic churches, including two cathedrals, Sacred Heart in San Angelo and Christ the King in Lubbock.
The first stop was at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Keller in the Fort Worth Diocese, which also hosted the final stop of the tour, Our Lady Queen of Peace Church in Wichita Falls, with Fort Worth Bishop Michael F. Olson celebrating Mass.
Each pilgrimage stop offered an opportunity for veneration of the relic, followed by Mass.
Then-Father McGivney (1852-1890) was pastor of St. Mary's Church in New Haven, Connecticut, when he founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882. He was beatified Oct. 31, 2020.
"Father McGivney started the Knights when he was 29," Stark told the North Texas Catholic, the news outlet of the Diocese of Fort Worth. "But he died at 38 and did not live long enough to see the organization reach Texas."
Today, the Knights, an international fraternal order, has more than 2 million members.
At St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Keller, Knights, and others, from throughout Texas filled cards with prayer intentions to deposit into a basket and lined up to venerate Blessed McGivney's relic.
"We're going to take the prayer request cards back to Father McGivney's tomb in Connecticut," said Dominican Father Jonathan Kalisch, who serves as director of chaplains and spiritual development for the Knights. He accompanied the relic on its pilgrimage.
Pope Francis announced in 2020 that the Vatican had verified a miracle had occurred through Father McGivney's intercession – the healing of Mikey Schachle, who was still in his mother's womb when he was given no chance of survival. He was cured of a deadly case of fetal hydrops.
Mikey, now 7, is the son of Daniel and Michelle Schachle, parishioners at St. Christopher Church in Dickson, Tennessee.
In general a second verified miracle through the intercession of the sainthood candidate is needed for canonization, which is then followed by a papal decree approving canonization.
"Several miracles that I know of are under investigation right now" in McGivney's cause, said Craig Modrzynski, the Knights diocesan deputy for Fort Worth.
"There are miracles happening with Fr. McGivney," added Stark. "Father Kalisch said he met a lady at the (March 5) 9 a.m. Mass who said she had prayed to Father McGivney during her troubled pregnancy. Her baby was coming out the wrong way. She prayed to Father. McGivney and now she has a healthy baby boy."
"Father Kalisch asked how she knew to pray to Father McGivney, and she said because she had heard of (Schachle's) story," said Stark, who Father Kalisch said, proved instrumental in organizing the relic pilgrimage.
"Normally, after beatification, they take relics from the body of the blessed and start to take them around to encourage peoples' devotion," Father Kalisch told North Texas Catholic. "COVID delayed that, so this is the first opportunity we've had to take the relics outside of Connecticut. We're really pleased to start in the Diocese of Fort Worth. The goal is to increase devotion to Blessed Michael, have people learn about him and his patronage, and ask his intercession."
Father Linh Nguyen, parochial vicar of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, expounded on Blessed McGivney's life and legacy during his homily and after Mass.
"That those visiting today will be touched and transformed by Father McGivney's life," the priest said. "Like Father Kalisch said, it's an encounter with him even in the eternal realm encouraging following and carrying out his mission of caring for the poor and making the church the center of your life and community life. More importantly, not being afraid to live out that life."
"When you think of it, there were challenges to living out the Catholic faith when (Blessed McGivney) was ordained just as there are today," Father Linh Nguyen continued. "So, through venerating and encountering him in a spiritual way, we too are transformed to live out that same message and meet our own challenges."
Veneration of a relic entails a "spiritual exchange" between those on earth and those already in heaven, Father Kalisch said, with focus on intercession rather than the actual object.
"You're not praying to them or a bone," Modrzynski said. "You're remembering that person in heaven and asking them to take your prayers to the Lord."
Several spoke of Blessed McGivney's compassion for children, widows and those fallen away from the church among others.
Knight Terry Simonton, past state deputy for the Texas State Council, traveled to Keller from his home in Temple to view the relic.
Simonton, who suffers from several forms of cancer, characterized the pilgrimage tour as a very big deal.
"I've been waiting for this," he said. "I've been praying to Fr. McGivney for a long time for healing and intercession. For this pilgrimage to start in Texas, since we're the largest jurisdiction in North America, that's pretty special."
The hope and plan, Stark said, is that the Texas events lead to something bigger.
"We believe we're going to be successful and that this is going to launch a national tour of the relic," Stark said.