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Illinois school named after Blessed Michael McGivney connects virtually to celebrate his beatification

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Father McGivney Catholic High School in Glen Carbon, Ill., in the Diocese of Springfield, is seen Oct. 31, 2020. Students, teachers, supporters and the community celebrated the beatification the same day of Blessed Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus. (CNS photo/courtesy Elizabeth Moody, Father McGivney Catholic High School)

WASHINGTON   — On the day Blessed Michael McGivney was beatified in a cathedral in Hartford, Connecticut, a prayer service to celebrate the event took place hours later in a high school gym more than 1,000 miles away.

Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., delivers the homily during an Oct. 31, 2020, celebration at McGivney Catholic High School in Glen Carbon, Ill. Students, teachers, supporters and the community celebrated the beatification the same day of Blessed Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus. (CNS photo/courtesy Elizabeth Moody, Father McGivney Catholic High School)

The Oct. 31 service was at Father McGivney Catholic High School in Glen Carbon, Illinois, a school that opened eight years ago and is the only school in the United States named after the American priest who founded the Knights of Columbus and is now who is on the path to sainthood.

Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, joined members of the Knights of Columbus, students, teachers and other special guests at the service, which had to be limited in size due to COVID-19 restrictions.

When it was done, the school community celebrated with a balloon send-off.

In his homily, Bishop Paprocki recounted Blessed McGivney’s accomplishments and the story of the miracle attributed to the priest’s intercession that paved the way for the beatification. He urged the group to continue to model the school’s patron as they followed their own spiritual calling.

[Backgrounder: Pope Francis puts Father Michael McGivney, founder of Knights of Columbus, on path to beatification]

“It is fitting that our celebration is here on this eve of All Saints’ Day,” the bishop said, noting that Blessed McGivney serves as a “wonderful role model” to encourage Catholics today to be saints. He said the parish priest also demonstrates that “sainthood is not a distant concept that only applied to people long ago.”

That should give us “a feeling of proximity,” the bishop said, noting that Blessed McGivney’s example shows “all the more the possibility for us to become saints.”

He said the saints are not only models, but they are “cheering us on, lifting us up by example and helping us” with the prayers they offer.

Blessed McGivney was born in 1852 and died at the age of 38 during an outbreak of influenza known as the Russian flu. He was ordained a priest in 1877 for what is now the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut.

As a parish priest , he worked to improve the condition of his 19th-century Irish immigrant community in Connecticut.

In 1882, while he was pastor at St. Mary’s Parish in New Haven, Connecticut, he founded the Knights of Columbus to provide financial support for widows and orphans and to keep Catholic men and their families close to their faith at a time of widespread anti-Catholic bigotry.

Elizabeth Moody, development and marketing director for Father McGivney High School, said the current students can relate to Blessed McGivney on many levels. “He was young. He was rooted in service. He lived during a pandemic and he followed the path the Lord set for him.”

Father Jeffrey Goeckner, the school’s president, said he thinks Blessed McGivney’s second miracle has already occurred with the success of the high school in his name: It was the first high school to open in the Diocese of Springfield in more than 80 years.

In general, a second miracle attributed to the intercession of the sainthood candidate is needed for canonization.

A history of the school, on its website, notes that it was founded by a group of “dedicated parents, grandparents, pastors and other faithful volunteers (who) began working on the ‘dream’ of a school in 2005.”

In the fall of 2012, it opened its doors to a group of 19 students, initially using the wing of another Catholic school, before opening its own building three years later.

In choosing the name for the school, its founders wanted to honor a person who was committed to the same values they hoped to instill in the school’s students and chose Father McGivney, known as an apostle to the young and a defender of Christian family life.

This fall, amid the ongoing pandemic, Father McGivney Catholic High School continued its in-person instruction, with safety precautions in place.

In a school news release, the school’s principal, Joe Lombardi, said: “We are very proud of what our school has accomplished, and we know that Father McGivney’s intercession helped get us here.”

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim