Father Michael J. McGivney (1852-1890) is a saint for America today, particularly regarding immigration and the renewal of the priesthood after the abuse crisis.

So said Msgr. Robert Sarno, an official at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. This spring, Pope Benedict XVI approved a decree recognizing the heroic virtue of the 19th-century parish priest and founder of the Knights of Columbus. He now has the distinction of “Venerable Servant of God” and, if canonized, would be the first American-born priest to be so honored.

Edward Pentin spoke with Msgr. Sarno in Rome.

At what stage are we in the beatification process of Father McGivney?

At this point, Father McGivney has been declared to have lived a life of heroic virtue. This means he’s now given the title of Venerable Servant of God. What then is required for eventual beatification is one miracle granted by God through his intercession and confirmed as such by investigation and study and then confirmation by our Holy Father. At the present time, there is a case that is under study and, with the help of God, hopefully it will have a positive outcome. It’s still in the process of being studied at this point.

Have there been many reports of miracles?

There are other reported cases of miracles but what you try to do is choose one or two of the best possible cases. There have been a number of things sent to the congregation in terms of possible healings and cures, favors granted through Father McGivney’s intercession. But in order to have a canonical process, you need a very strong case, one that would be able to withstand the thorough and rigorous investigation. So we have a lot like that but right now this is the one we’re kind of concentrating our efforts on. If the miracle is approved, then Father McGivney can be beatified. That’s the big question.

What were his great heroic virtues, his personal qualities?

First and foremost, he was a holy priest. And more than ever, as the Holy Father has mentioned recently in his trip to the United States, the holiness of priests is so essential, of course holiness of all people. But in a special way he is looking to priests to look towards a certain holiness of life.

Father McGivney, in being declared venerable by the Church, is basically giving us that message: that holiness of life and service to the ministry is essential to a priest.

The second point of course in which Father McGivney is so prophetic was his care for the laity, particularly the immigrant community. Now, when we look at the history of the Church in America and just the history of life in America, the political debate going on with the immigration question, Father McGivney once again comes to us as a prophetic voice on that whole question. He founded the Knights of Columbus as a fraternal order to help people not just spiritually but also physically, in their living in a new country, in what, to them, would have been a foreign land, which would soon become their new home. And that they would be able to live happily and have a good life and hopefully achieve the goals of their faith, in other words salvation.

So, with Father McGivney, you see these two elements of priesthood and the laity and how he was able to combine those two things in a charismatic way and give us an example, both to priests, in holiness of life and also to laypeople in terms of opening their hearts to immigrants and receiving people into the country, and into America, and also the role of the laity in the Church and the lay activity of the Church.

Combining what [Vatican Secretary of State] Cardinal Bertone said together with what the Holy Father said about the holiness of the priest, that holiness is really what we’re all about.

We’re all called to be holy. That is a lifelong project, a whole life that we look at. Holiness is not something you achieve and you have it in a box and you keep it there forever. It’s something that has to be constantly worked at, and so at this particular moment in the history of the American Church, Father McGivney offers to us an example of a holy priest who dedicated himself to the ministry and to service of God’s people and to its complete fullness and in dedication to Our Lord.

There are other figures, too, in the American Church who are also under study at the congregation that have given this kind of example.

I think, for example, of Father Nelson Baker (1842-1936) from the Diocese of Buffalo who is a Servant of God, or Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who dedicated his entire life in full and complete service to the Lord and the ministry, or Bishop [Alphonse] Gallegos (1931-1991), the auxiliary Bishop of Sacramento.

So there are other figures in the American Church who are now just coming to the fore.

Father McGivney is certainly the first and stands out because we are talking about someone who was active in the 19th century. He’s the first of a line and hopefully there will be many more coming.

Edward Pentin writes from Rome.