By Tony DeGol
A day to celebrate the Knights of Columbus turned into a powerful reminder about the blessings of the priesthood and the importance of supporting good priests.
“What about the priest you see every Sunday or at daily Mass?,” posed Mark Jago, State Deputy of the Knights. “You need to tell them how much you appreciate their calling, their ministry, what it means to us. Simply go up and shake his hand after Mass and pat him on the back. Say ‘Father, you’re doing a great job.’”
That urging from Jago came during the diocese’s annual K of C celebration on October 13 at Our Lady of Loretto Community Hall in Loretto. Prior to the dinner, Bishop Mark celebrated Mass for the Knights and their family and friends at the Basilica of Saint Michael the Archangel.
A Knight himself, the Bishop treasures the opportunity for fraternity with members of councils from throughout Altoona-Johnstown. The annual liturgy and banquet are opportunities to highlight the Knights’ many contributions and thank them for their presence and support.
This year, the gathering recalled the grand success of the national pilgrimage of the Saint John Vianney heart relic, sponsored by the K of C. It included a stop at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona in late January.
Saint John Vianney is the patron saint of priests. He struggled academically during his seminary years, but after ordination, he quickly turned the faithful in the town of Ars, France, away from sin and closer to God.
The priesthood, Jago reflected, has changed over the years.
“Now in a lot of parishes, the priests are by themselves,” he reminded. “They have nobody to boost them up and encourage them.”
Especially amid these troubled times in the Church, Jago continued, good priests need our prayers, support, and friendship.
“So continue to do all of the good work you’re doing, but I would encourage you to make a special effort to be a friend to your priest or pastor,” he pleaded. “We’re there to support them in their ministry and in their calling.”
Peter Sonski is the Director of Education and Outreach for the Knights. Based in New Haven, Connecticut, Sonski traveled around the country with the incorrupt heart of Saint John Vianney, including the visit here on that wintry day. He was the keynote speaker at the banquet.
Sonski began by reading a letter from Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight. It stated in part:
“Thank you very much for your support of the Knights of Columbus in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown and for this gathering, which highlights the success of the Heart of a Priest pilgrimage. The Knights of Columbus was privileged to sponsor the national pilgrimage at a time when the Church has been experiencing many challenges. The need for good and holy priests in the spirit of (Saint John Vianney) is greater than ever, and you are to be commended for welcoming the heart relic of the patron of parish priests to your diocese.”
The relic pilgrimage drew thousands to the Altoona Cathedral for veneration, Mass, and/or the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Sonski saw a similar outpouring elsewhere.
“I think what I found most meaningful is that the Church, although wounded, is still strong,” he said. “People very much want to pray for renewal, healing, and change.”
Sonski echoed Jago’s thoughts about the importance of reaffirming good priests. We can do that by being faithful to our own practice of the Catholic faith and ultimately renewing ourselves in holiness. We can assist priests in building up the Church around us.
“It can’t be all a one-way street,” he added. “It has to be a mutual sharing of support.”
Bishop Mark used the occasion to express his heartfelt gratitude to the Knights.
“I wasn’t always an active member of the Knights of Columbus throughout my priesthood, but the Knights of Columbus was always there to support me throughout the years,” he stated. “I can’t tell you how special and meaningful and purposeful that support has been throughout these years already as Bishop of the diocese. It is my blessing and privilege to be able to serve you and work with you. I can ask for no better.”
[Top photo: Knights of Columbus process during Mass at the Basilica of Saint Michael the Archangel.]
[Inset photo: (left to right) Ralph Trofino, Knights of Columbus; Bishop Mark; Joe Kadas, Knights of Columbus; Peter Sonski, Director of Education and Outreach for the Knights; Mark Jago, Knights of Columbus State Deputy; and Father Matthew Reese, Chaplain.]