Connecticut basilica’s rector has spent lifetime praying to Father McGivney

Father James Sullivan, rector of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Waterbury, Conn., stands at the McGivney family grave site in the Old St. Joseph Cemetery in Waterbury July 6, 2020. Father Michael J. McGivney — who was buried there for 92 years until his body was moved to St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Conn. — will be beatified Oct. 31 during a Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford, Conn. CNS photo/Aaron Joseph, courtesy Archdiocese of Hartford

WATERBURY, Conn. (CNS) — Father James Sullivan’s affection for Father Michael J. McGivney goes back to his college days.

In many ways though, he has spent a lifetime admiring Father McGivney, a feeling that intensified when he was appointed rector of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Waterbury.

“There is an added closeness in recent years, now that I’m in his parish,” Father Sullivan said of the basilica. “There is no church that has a greater love of Father McGivney than here. His faith was formed here in Waterbury. He was baptized here, it’s where he received his sacraments. He worked in the spoon factory. He said his first Mass here.”

To be rector of the basilica at the time of Father McGivney’s beatification, Father Sullivan said, is “a joy and a privilege.”

“I feel incredibly privileged to be a priest, the pastor that is home to Father McGivney,” he told the Catholic Transcript, magazine of the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut. “What happened here (in Waterbury) inspired him to do what he did in New Haven and beyond.”

Father McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus, will be beatified Oct. 31 during a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford. He will be the first U.S. parish priest to be beatified and will be given the title “Blessed.”

The son of Irish immigrants, Father McGivney (1852-1890) was born and raised in Waterbury and was ordained a priest in 1877 for what is now the Hartford Archdiocese. He founded the Knights at St. Mary’s Parish in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1882.

In many ways, by the examples he demonstrates, Father Sullivan has been walking side-by-side with Father McGivney for many years and praying for his sainthood.

Father Sullivan grew up in Waterbury and knew of Father McGivney. His family home was only a short distance from the McGivney family home on the banks of the Naugatuck River, a century apart. “I’m living in a similar area with a man who could become a saint,” he said.

At age 18, as a freshman at Providence College in Rhode Island, Father Sullivan became a member of the Knights of Columbus.

He remembers participating as an altar server at the Mass of Father McGivney’s re-entombment from Waterbury to St. Mary’s Church March 29, 1982.

For 12 years, Father Sullivan was a parishioner of St. Thomas Church in Thomaston, where Father McGivney died in the rectory after battling tuberculosis and severe pneumonia.

While walking the streets of Waterbury, Father Sullivan often passes the monumental bronze statue of Father McGivney at the intersection of Grand and Meadow streets, and prays to him.

For the past 23 years, Father Sullivan has planted flowers and waters them regularly in St. Thomas Cemetery in Thomaston around a circle where seven priests are buried who served at St. Thomas Church, including Father Eugene Gaffney, the first pastor of St. Thomas in Thomaston, whom Father McGivney took over for as pastor and had been friends with.

On Father Sullivan’s dresser is a relic, a piece of clothing belonging to Father McGivney that he kisses each night before going to sleep. He had it in his pocket on the day of his ordination.

A life-changing moment that convinced Father Sullivan and his family that Father McGivney was praying on their behalf occurred in 2006 when one of his brothers, Dennis, suffered a massive heart attack at age 41, drove himself to Waterbury Hospital and then went into cardiac arrest.

His heart stopped beating for 26 minutes and doctors were ready to give up but gave him five more minutes. Doctors got a response in that time frame, but the situation still looked grim.

Father Sullivan’s sister, Sister Veronica Mary Sullivan, began praying to Father McGivney and later — with her brothers, including Father Sullivan — went to his tomb in St. Mary’s Church in New Haven to pray to him to intercede for a miracle.

A Sister of Life who is a former cardiac nurse and, Sister Veronica felt Father McGivney’s presence and that he was asking her what needed to be done. She told Father McGivney how her brother could be saved.

Before arriving back at the hospital, the family received a call that Dennis would be OK and there would not be any brain damage. Dennis went on to live life to the fullest for another 12 years.

In 2019, Father Sullivan was honored by the Knights of Columbus with its 44th annual Father Michael J. McGivney Award for advancing the ideals embodied by their founder. Father Sullivan has organized Masses atop Holy Land USA in Waterbury dedicated to Father McGivney.

Today, the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception has a room inside the church complex dedicated to Father McGivney with a mural of the priest painted on the ceiling by artist Paul Armesto.

The mural also includes Father Thomas Conway, a World War II chaplain; the motto of the Knights of Columbus, which is charity, fraternity, patriotism and unity; St. Michael the Archangel; and the Holy Family. Father Conway, the last Catholic chaplain to die in combat in World War II, faced several days at sea under horrific conditions a month before the end of the war.

In the Father McGivney parlor is a new painting by artist Terry Waldron. The painting, given to Father Sullivan, shows Father McGivney on the wooden stairs leading to St. Thomas Cemetery in Thomaston.

Once a week, Father Sullivan walks those stairs to think about Father McGivney.

Editor’s Note: The Tennessee Register has reposted its stories from June about Mikey Schachle and his family, and the role that the Diocese of Nashville played in investigating the miracle attributed to Father McGivney. You can read them here:

USCCB offers ‘Election Novena’ as way to prepare for Nov. 3, pray for nation

This is a graphic for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Election Novena.” The bishops are encouraging people of faith to participate in a novena to prepare for Election Day and pray for the nation for nine days, beginning Oct. 26 and ending Nov. 3. A closing prayer for elected leaders will be offered on Day 10, Nov. 4, the day after the election. CNS photo/courtesy USCCB

WASHINGTON (CNS) — As it did in 2016, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is encouraging people of faith to take part in an election novena beginning Oct. 26 and ending Nov. 3, Election Day.

A closing prayer for elected leaders will be offered Nov. 4, the day after the election.

“Bearing in mind our nation’s challenges and the need for wise, moral, civic leadership, four years ago our conference offered an electronic ‘Election Novena’ to help Catholics prepare for the 2016 election,” the USCCB said.

“Shared through social media and various email lists, the prayer effort was widely popular with the laity and very much appreciated by clergy, who are often asked to promote more partisan or issue-specific prayer campaigns,” it added in a letter sent by about a dozen USCCB committee chairmen to all U.S. bishops.

The signers’ committees represent the broad range of issues reflected in the novena intentions: cultural diversity, migration, international and domestic justice and peace, pro-life activities, racism, Catholic education, catechesis and evangelization, the promotion and defense of marriage, religious liberty, and family life and youth.

The website has the daily intentions, a link to sign up to receive the intentions daily by email as well as links to PDFs of the intentions in English and Spanish and to other resources including the bishops’ quadrennial statement: “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”

Participants are encouraged to pray one Our Father, one Hail Mary and one Glory Be after each day’s intention.

The daily intentions are as follows:

— Day One, Oct. 26: As we prepare for the national, state and local elections, in the midst of a global pandemic, may our political engagement be guided by our Catholic faith.

— Day Two, Oct. 27: In this month of the Holy Rosary, may Our Blessed Mother guide us in confronting racial inequalities and restoring peace in our communities.

— Day Three, Oct. 28: May all Americans recall the necessity of dialogue, civility and humility in this election season.

— Day Four, Oct. 29: May all people understand the moral and ethical dimensions of political decisions and decide accordingly.

— Day Five, Oct. 30: May voters and elected leaders uphold the dignity of every human life in their political engagement.

— Day Six, Oct. 31: May Catholics recall all aspects of Catholic social teaching as they consider their votes.

— Day Seven, Nov. 1: May there be a transformation of politics to focus on the dignity of the human person and the common good.

— Day Eight, Nov. 2: May we keep in mind the gift of religious freedom and our duty to defend and exercise it as faithful citizens.

— Day Nine, Nov. 3: Today, as we approach the polls, may we understand and embrace the principles of our faith that should guide our political engagement.

The closing prayer for Nov. 4 is: May the leaders elected this week be guided by the Holy Spirit as they fulfill their positions.

Editor’s Note: More information on the U.S. bishop’s ‘Faithful Citizenship’ statement and related resources is available at:

Christ the King to host talks on racism and the Church

“Finding Our Church in the Story of Race” will be the topic of the next two online group discussions that are part of the Anti-Racism Initiative at Christ the King Church in Nashville.

Msgr. Owen Campion, a former editor of the Tennessee Register, will lead the discussions on “St. Katharine Drexel and Bishop Byrne” on Sunday, Oct. 25, and “Bishop Durick and Desegregation” on Nov. 1. Both sessions will be held 10:30-11:30 a.m.

St. Katharine Drexel founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to serve American Indians and African Americans. Her order founded parishes, schools and missions across the country. Bishop Thomas Byrne invited Mother Katharine and the Josephite Fathers to open Holy Family Church and School in Nashville to serve the African American Community. She later opened Immaculate Mother Academy and St. Vincent de Paul Church and School in Nashville.

Bishop Joseph Durick was heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement as the Bishop of Nashville and launched several desegregation efforts in the diocese.

The sessions are part of the series of online discussions titled “Understanding and Confronting the Evils of Racism.”

Following Msgr. Campion’s talks will be a talk titled “Structural Racism in Action: North Nashville and the Legacy and Impact of I-40,” led by Linda T. Wynn, assistant director for state programs at the Tennessee Historical Commission. The session will be held 7-8:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5.

All the sessions are open to everyone, and people can register for the online sessions at the parish website,

The Anti-Racism Initiative sprang from online discussions the parish sponsored over the summer as protests against racism were held across the country after the death of George Floyd, an African American man, while in custody of the police in Minneapolis.

“That was an opportunity for us to unpack some of the events that were going on,” said Jon Stotts, director of adult formation for Christ the King. “It generated a tremendous amount of energy,” not only for more adult education sessions, but in ways parishioners could get more involved in the community to work toward racial justice, Stotts said.

“We identified five initiatives,” Stotts said. “One of those was to generate additional opportunities for education in the parish.”

That led to the online series “Understanding and Confronting the Evils of Racism.”

The first two sessions, “Eucharistic Understanding of Community and the Evils of Racism” and “The Call to Righteousness and Justice in the Christian Scriptures,” have both been held. Videos of the sessions are available at under the tab for adult formation.

The plan is to have more adult formation sessions as part of the Anti-Racism Initiative in the future, Stotts said.

The other initiatives the parish is pursing include:

  • Starting a book club on the topic of racism.
  • Established a group to work with St. Vincent de Paul Church in Nashville, which was founded to serve the African American Catholic community in the city.
  • Established a working group to invite parishioners “to write small profiles of when they realized they were participating in a racist society,” Stotts said. The profiles will be posted on the parish website over the next couple of months, he said.
  • Established a committee to review agencies in the city already involved in racial justice work to see how Christ the King parish can get involved, “instead of reinventing the wheel,” Stotts said.

For more information about Christ the King’s Anti-Racism Initiative, visit