How Father McGivney touched one family

Venerable Father Michael McGivney will be beatified during a special Mass October 31 at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford. Earlier this year, Pope Francis signed a decree that recognized a miracle through Father McGivney’s intercession, allowing his beatification. Here is a story about how he touched one family.

Seven years ago, on August 14, the anniversary of the death of Venerable Father Michael McGivney, Phyllis Sullivan visited St. Thomas Church in Thomaston to pray to the priest who helped her family in their greatest need. It was the last parish the founder of the Knights of Columbus served at before dying of pneumonia in 1890 at 38 years old.

Mrs. Sullivan believed her youngest son Dennis survived a massive heart attack because Father McGivney answered their prayers and interceded before the Throne of God.

For many years, as a gesture of gratitude, she tended the McGivney family grave at St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Waterbury, where the priest’s parents and his two brothers, who were priests in the Diocese of Bridgeport, are buried.

On October 29, 2006, Dennis, 41, went into cardiac arrest for 26 minutes after driving himself to Waterbury Hospital. Eighty percent of his heart was damaged. The doctors counted him as lost and yet…

When Sister Veronica Mary of the Sisters of Life arrived at the hospital and saw her brother’s condition, the thought came to her they should pray to Father McGivney. “I told my mother, ‘We need to go to the tomb of Father McGivney and pray for a miracle.’”

Sister left the emergency room with her brothers John and Jim and drove to the Church of St. Mary in New Haven, where the priest’s remains lie in a marble sarcophagus.

The group gathered around his tomb and prayed, begging Father McGivney to help save Dennis.

They stayed for noon Mass and when it ended, she was alone in the pew. “I prayed like I never prayed before,” she recalled. “And then I heard it.” It was a clear, distinct, unmistakable voice that said simply, “Tell me what I need to do.”

She knew immediately it was Father McGivney, and Sister Veronica, a former nurse, gave him specific instructions about the medication, the insulin drip, the stents and sugar levels. When she finished, the priest had left, and an amazing peace came over her.

“I sat up and thought, ‘Dennis is going to be all right.’”

When they were returning to the hospital, they received a call from a friend, who said, “You got your miracle. There’s no brain damage—he’s going to be OK.”

In the years that followed, Mrs. Sullivan visited the McGivney family grave. She planted flowers, she prayed, and she thanked Patrick and Mary McGivney, whose son had saved her son.

Dennis Sullivan died two years ago on July 1, twelve years after his miraculous recovery. At his funeral Mass, Father Jim Sullivan said, “Dennis’ life was completed in a beautiful way with those additional 12 years.”

During those 12 years, Dennis watched his daughter grow up, get accepted to college, pursue a career, and give him a grandson. He lived those 12 years to the fullest, in hope and in gratitude for the gift God had given him.

On that August 14, when Moira Sullivan Shapland took her mother to St. Thomas Church, something special happened.

She, her daughters Erin, Hannah and Margaret, and Mrs. Sullivan walked into the empty church lit only by the light from the stained glass windows. They knelt in a pew near the altar and prayed.

“Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my mother turn her head toward the aisle,” Moira recalls. “She kept looking and then nodded and turned to me and said, ‘He seems so nice.’” The rest of them saw no one, but Mrs. Sullivan was smiling and staring at the altar.

A few moments later, she turned to Moira and repeated, “He seems so nice.” Then, she told them about the young dark-haired priest who walked to the altar and genuflected, and as he was leaving, stopped at their pew and smiled at the women.

When they got to the car, Moira reached for her copy of “Parish Priest,” the biography of Father McGivney, and showed her his picture and asked, “Is this who you saw?”

Mrs. Sullivan tapped the picture with her finger and said, “That’s him!”