Confessor of Souls

Research has revealed that Father McGivney always put his priestly work of celebrating the Mass and the sacraments, of ministering directly to his people, before everything else. His abundant charity flowed from his daily Mass, his personal prayer and frequent confession.

His concern to be a good confessor for his people was brought to light recently when Father Biagio Cretella, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn., presented Father Gabriel B. O’Donnell, vice postulator, with a special book that had been on his bookshelf for years. The book was St. Alphonsus Liguori’s Guide for Confessors and it had once belonged to Father McGivney!  This discovery was exciting because St. Alphonsus Liguori is a Doctor of the Church, and by knowing that his renowned and helpful guide was used by Father McGivney gives us more insight into the prominence that McGivney placed on confession and its heavenly graces.

In 1875, two years before his ordination, McGivney inscribed his name on the inside front cover. After his death, the book passed into the hands of his younger brother Patrick, also a priest. Where had the book been for more than 100 years? We simply don't know. What we do know is that the book was a standard work that formed the piety of 18th and 19th century Catholic priests. The discovery of this book offers insight into the quality of his ministry as a confessor of souls.

St. Alphonsus taught the importance of frequent confession in developing an intimate relationship with God. Like Father McGivney, St. Alphonsus, had a profound sense of the horror of sin and possibility of eternal damnation. The short life expectancy of the time created an atmosphere of urgency in preparing for death.

Father McGivney's priestly mission was primarily spiritual. Even his works of charity, particularly his monumental task of establishing the Knights of Columbus, had as their source and goal a life of eternal communion with God. Father McGivney was extremely focused on building a better world, and even though he did so mightily through his concern for the widow and orphan and the moral well-being of young Catholics, his primary concern was to prepare his people for the next world, heaven.