Blessed Michael McGivney Statue Dedicated at National Shrine
Knights of Columbus founder joins the basilica’s Hall of American Saints
By Cecilia Engbert
A new statue of Blessed Michael McGivney was dedicated at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 8, the patronal feast of the basilica and of the United States.
Cardinal Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, along with Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, presided during the dedication, which followed midday Mass in the Great Upper Church of the basilica.
“With Mary as the queen of all saints, we thank God also that countless men and women after her have lived lives of heroic sanctity,” Cardinal Pierre said in his homily. “This marvelous shrine displays many of those heroes of faith. … Like Jesus and like Mary, Father McGivney was completely given to the will of God.”
The Italian marble statue — unveiled by Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly; John Walshe, a great-grandnephew of Father McGivney; and Msgr. Walter Rossi, the basilica’s rector — depicts the priest standing in a simple cassock and holding a book of Scripture. Etched on its pages are the Order’s founding principles — “Unity” and “Charity” — symbolizing their roots in the Gospel.
“Father McGivney had a timeless vision, which is captured so well on the statue itself,” the supreme knight said in remarks following the dedication. “Generations of pilgrims started visiting the basilica in the 1920s, long before any of us were born. And long after we’re gone, pilgrims will still come to the basilica, and now they will see a statue of Blessed Michael McGivney and will pray for his intercession.”
The statue, a gift from the Order, joins statues of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, St. Katharine Drexel and St. Kateri Tekakwitha, in the Hall of American Saints on the lower level of the shrine.
Its sculptor, Chas Fagan, also painted the image of Father McGivney that became his beatification portrait in 2020. But that commission was not the first time he encountered the priest’s legacy. As a student at Yale University in the 1980s, he frequently visited St. Mary’s Church, where he experienced “absolute, supreme welcoming.” Only years later, while painting his portrait, did Fagan discover St. Mary’s was the parish where Father McGivney first served and where he founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882.
“What I never realized when I was just a college kid is that I had gotten to enjoy the lasting embrace of Father McGivney and his parish,” he said. “That is why it means so much to me to work with the Knights of Columbus, to tell the story of Father McGivney, either in paint or clay or bronze or marble.”
Fagan said his artistic vision in sculpting Father McGivney was to create a figure that expressed the priest’s approachability and “can-do” attitude.
“I really could not imagine creating a stone piece that was totally static, immobile, with no action or life to it,” the sculptor said. “I wanted the opposite, I wanted to infuse it with movement.”
Fagan previously created two statues of Pope John Paul II for the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, and he painted the beatification portrait of St. Teresa of Calcutta.
“When I paint or sculpt a figure, I always feel like I get to know them a little bit, and so it’s like adding one more person to the long list of your lifelong friends,” Fagan said. “I am happy and honored to have had this chance to spend time with Father McGivney. He’s a man of dedication and a classic caring parish priest.”
The Knights of Columbus has longstanding ties to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Before it was built, Knights from Brooklyn, New York, participated in the first pilgrimage to the proposed site in 1923. In the 1950s, the Knights donated $1 million to build its campanile — the Knights Tower — and a few years later funded the tower’s 56-bell carillon. More recently, the Order provided significant financial support for the basilica’s Incarnation Dome, completed in 2007, and its Trinity Dome, completed in 2017. A K of C usher ministry that began at the shrine in the 1980s continues to this day.
CECILIA ENGBERT is a content producer for the Knights of Columbus communications department.