Heart of a Priest

Relic of French saint connects to Knights’ founder

Heart of a Priest

Many of us turn to our parish priests for aid. Those priests have an intercessor of their own: St. John Vianney, who was named patron of parish priests in 1929 by Pope Pius XI. Recently, a major relic of the saint was brought to the hometown of the holy parish priest who founded the Knights of Columbus. The visit helped commemorate Venerable Father Michael McGivney’s first Mass after his ordination.

On the weekend of Dec. 22-23, 2018, the incorrupt heart of St. Jean Vianney was displayed for veneration in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Waterbury, Conn. At the same parish, on Dec. 24, 1877, Father McGivney offered his first Mass. About 1,500 people, including priests, seminarians, young families and travelers from out of state, came to the basilica to venerate the relic.

“We are very conscious of the legacy of Father McGivney in this church and this city,” said Father Christopher Ford, pastor of Immaculate Conception, where the prayer for canonization is recited after each Mass. “We pray that one day soon Venerable Father McGivney will join St. Jean Vianney as a canonized saint.”

The heart relic has been entrusted to the Knights of Columbus by the Shrine in Ars, France, where St. Jean Vianney was pastor for more than 40 years until his death in 1859. When his body was exhumed in preparation for his beatification, it was found to be incorrupt, and the heart was taken to serve as a sign of his burning love for God and penitents. Known as the Curé of Ars, he was famous throughout Europe as a confessor and spiritual counselor and was known to spend up to 16 hours a day in the confessional.

The Knights of Columbus began a nationwide tour with the heart relic in early November at the historic St. Mary’s Spiritual Center on Paca Street in Baltimore, where Michael McGivney had prayed during his years in seminary. More than 200 people came to the chapel to venerate the relic, and Dominican Father Jonathan Kalisch, director of chaplains and spirituality for the Knights of Columbus, offered the opening Mass of the relic tour.

The relic has been brought on pilgrimage through the Southeast and Midwest, including a stop at the SEEK 2019 conference of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). 6,000 young people had the chance to venerate the relic.

The Knights of Columbus will continue the relic pilgrimage until early June, when it will be returned to the Shrine in Ars.