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Three ordinary men with extraordinary priesthoods Print
Guest column
Thursday, Nov. 03, 2016 -- 12:00 AM
Fr. Gregory Ihm

Fr. Michael McGivney, Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko, and St. John Paul II all have several things in common. They were ordinary men called to a life of holiness as parish priests and through their priestly ministry had significant historical impact on the Church.

The Vocational Booth sponsored by at World Youth Day in Poland this year highlighted these three priests in order to help ordinary men consider the impact that their “YES” to the Lord’s call can have on the lives of others.

People are thirsting for the Truth that strikes a chord in their hearts when it is heard, that brings clarity to their thoughts and experiences. People are also looking for leaders who give true witness to what is good and beautiful which brings forth a great deal of hope.

Priests and consecrated Religious who do this in their very person through their consecration, and to the degree that Christ is alive in them, are able to have a more far-reaching effect.

Consecrated life has always been an anchor for troubled cultures, because their lives speak of something that is more real than our own worldly experience but points to realities that cannot and will not be moved nor changed.

Venerable Fr. Michael McGivney

Michael was born to Irish immigrants on August 12, 1852. He was the eldest of 13 children, six of whom died in early childhood.

He attended elementary school but left at the age of 13 to work in the spoon-making department of one of the brass mills. In 1868, he entered the seminary but had to leave the seminary to help support his siblings due to the death of his father in June 1873.

He resumed his studies at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Md., and was ordained a priest on December 22, 1877.

Late-19th century Connecticut was marked by the growing prevalence of fraternal benefit societies, hostility toward Catholic immigrants, and dangerous working conditions in factories that left many families fatherless.

Recognizing a vital, practical need in his community, Fr. Michael J. McGivney, the 29-year-old assistant pastor of St. Mary Parish in New Haven, Conn., gathered a group of men at his parish on October 2, 1881.

He proposed establishing a lay organization, the goal of which would be to prevent Catholic men from entering secret societies whose membership was antithetical to Church teaching, to unite men of Catholic faith, and to provide for the families of deceased members.

The organization is known as the Knights of Columbus and has grown from a parish fraternal organization to an international organization that has been referred to as the left arm of the Roman Catholic Church.

Blessed Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko

The Eucharist sums up all the teaching, passion, and death of Jesus. Luke’s passion narrative is about the Lamb, who goes to his death rejecting violence, loving enemies, returning good for evil, praying for his persecutors.

This Eucharistic reality was lived out in the life of a young Polish priest, Fr Jerzy Popieluszko (1947-1984), who was beatified as a martyr on the feast of Corpus Christi, June 6, 2010, in Warsaw’s Pilsudski Square.

Jerzy Popieluszko was born on September 14, 1947, in the village of Okopy in Eastern Poland. He was from a strong Roman Catholic family.

After secondary school, Jerzy entered the seminary in Warsaw, rather than the local seminary in Bialystok. His training was interrupted by two years of military service, during which he was beaten several times for living his Christian faith.

As a vicar, he served in parishes in Warsaw, which were comprised of common working people and students. In 1981, he was sent to the workers in the steel mills, giving them and those in the Solidarity Movement support and encouragement against the Communist regime in Poland.

His homilies rooted in the truth of the Catholic faith gave great encouragement to the workers. He was kidnapped and martyred on October 19, 1984. Over 250,000 people attended his funeral on November 3, 1984.

St. John Paul II

Karol Jozef Wojtyla was born into a loving family on May 18, 1920, the youngest of three children. He experienced the pain of death early in life when his mother died in 1929, and later he would lose his brother Edmund and his father all by the time he was 20 years of age.

In his youth, he was very athletic and involved in playing soccer through which he befriended many in the Jewish community. He eventually grew to love one of them, Ginka Beer, whom he dated for a while.

Besides soccer he enjoyed theater, learning languages, and the study of philosophy. He was studying at the university in Krakow when it was closed due to the Nazi invasion and he was forced to do manual labor in a limestone quarry.

After his father’s death, he began to think about priesthood seriously and while he was working in the quarry (1942), he entered the clandestine seminary formation in the archbishop’s residence. During this time he escaped several close encounters of deportation, but many of his friends lost their lives in the concentration camps.

Karol was ordained a priest on All Saints Day, November 1, 1946, by Archbishop Cardinal Sapieha, whom he did his seminary studies under. After a few years of studies in Rome, he returned home to serve in a few parishes.

While serving at a parish in Krakow, he began teaching ethics at Jagiellonian University and Catholic University of Lublin. While teaching, he gathered a group of about 20 young people that met for prayer, philosophical discussion, helping the blind and sick, and annually would include skiing and kayaking trips.

These years were crucial in forming the ethos through which he would have a much large effect on the Church as the archbishop of Krakow and then as pope.

His love for the youth, philosophy, and the faith led to establishing World Youth Day, the John Paul II Institute on Marriage and Family, and the Second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday.

Through his teaching authority, he contributed greatly to the rather peaceful fall of Communism in Poland but not without an assassination attempt. He was canonized a saint, rather quickly after his death, on April 27, 2014.

Follow the invitation

Young men and women should not be afraid to follow the invitation from St. John Paul II, “Do not be afraid to cast out into the deep.” To cast yourself into the beautiful mystery of God’s plan for your life is not a lonely endeavor but a journey with Jesus Christ revealing more of His heart to you. It is there that you and I discover the joy of our life.

This journey toward holiness has been modeled by many who have come before us, including the three ordinary men just highlighted with extraordinary priesthoods.

Fr. Michael McGivney, Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko, and St. John Paul the Great, pray for us.

I invite you to follow Madison Vocations to see upcoming events, helpful discernment tips, watch seminarians give their vocation talks, and other postings through Facebook, Twitter, and the blog.

See it at and download the Madison Vocation App on your phone.

Fr. Gregory Ihm is the director of vocations for the Diocese of Madison.