Dena Wolf and her daughter, Riley, hold the relic of Blessed Michael McGivney at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Windthorst, Texas, on March 9. Courtesy of Dena Wolf, photo by Chris Stark
Dena Wolf was planning her husband’s funeral when she got the call: Blessed Michael McGivney’s relic was making a special stop just for her and her 11-year-old daughter, Riley.
Father McGivney, who is perhaps best known as the founder of the Knights of Columbus — the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization — holds special significance in the Wolf family. Dena’s husband, Brad, led the local Knights council before passing away unexpectedly at 39.
The relic arrived at the Wolfs’ parish, St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Windthorst, Texas, on March 9. It was the day after Dena buried her husband.
“I got to hold the relic and my daughter did too,” Dena revealed to Our Sunday Visitor. “It was very heartwarming. … It gave me a lot of peace.”
The visit was a meaningful one: Father McGivney began the Knights in 1882 with the intention of, among other things, creating a financial safety net for widows and orphans of deceased members.
(Credit: courtesy of Dena Wolf, photo by Chris Stark)
The relic — a bone fragment — originally arrived in Texas as part of a special relic pilgrimage to the Dioceses of Fort Worth, San Angelo, and Lubbock held March 5-9. The listed stops included five Catholic churches, including two cathedrals. But the relic also visited Catholic schools, a hospital — and the Wolf family.
“It was not lost on us that, here, Father McGivney gets into town and God puts a widow and an orphan in our path,” Chris Stark, a general agent of Northwest Texas for the Knights, told Our Sunday Visitor.
Stark, together with Father Jonathan Kalisch, a Dominican who serves as director of chaplains and spiritual development for the Knights, accompanied the relic during the pilgrimage — a pilgrimage that they hope will expand nationally.
“This was the first organized relic pilgrimage of Father McGivney since he was beatified” in 2020, Father Kalisch told Our Sunday Visitor. “We’re hoping that this … will lead to other requests and other visits around the country.”
The pilgrimage began in Texas, he said, after Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth invited them. Stark also played a role.
“He’s like, ‘Hey Father, what do we have to do to bring the relics to Texas?'” Father Kalisch remembered, after calling Stark the “idea man behind this whole trip.”
Father Kalisch estimated that, during the pilgrimage, more than 10,000 people prayed in front of the relic.
“I’d like to say it’s the start of bringing his relics to a wider audience and, really, to draw the attention to the legacy, the spiritual charism, and exemplar of Blessed Michael and to continue to ask for his intercession,” he said.
The pilgrimage also made history as Father McGivney’s first trip to Texas, Stark said. The state, he added, represents one of the largest jurisdictions for the Knights and has more members than any other state.
Along the way, they had the support of Catholic leaders, including Bishop Olson, who preached at the closing Mass, and Bishop Michael J. Sis of San Angelo, the Texas Knights of Columbus state chaplain, who was involved in bringing the relic to churches as well as a priest retreat.
For dioceses, parishes, or schools who want the relic to visit them, Father Kalisch recommended that they contact the Father Michael J. McGivney Guild, which promotes Father McGivney’s cause for sainthood, and the Blessed Michael McGivney Pilgrimage Center, which is dedicated to advancing Father McGivney’s vision.
Witnessing ‘God moments’
At the pilgrimage stops, Father Kalisch set up the relic for veneration before Mass. Along the way, he collected thousands of prayer intentions to take back to Father McGivney’s tomb at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in New Haven, Connecticut — the church where the Knights began.
In Texas, Father Kalisch remembered encountering a variety of people, including a large number of Mexican Americans, young families, people struggling with cancer or terminal illnesses — and women.
“We know the Knights as the largest Catholic men’s organization,” Father Kalisch said. “But the miracles that I’ve heard about and that have occurred, almost all are on mothers and women.”
He and Stark burst with stories of God’s involvement in the pilgrimage.
At one stop, they recalled spotting a 20-year-old woman who was praying nearby. She eventually left, only to return in the evening with a man who appeared to be her boyfriend.
Father Kalisch remembered bringing the relic over to the couple, who were praying, in order to bless them with it.
“The man with her, whoever he was, kind of backed away like he didn’t want to be here,” he said. “So I prayed over her and she just started bawling.”
Stark witnessed the whole encounter.
“From my perspective … it looked like this young couple was discerning a pregnancy,” he suggested. “It felt like Father McGivney might have just saved a baby.”
At another point, a young mother approached Father Kalisch and shared how Father McGivney helped her during a difficult pregnancy. She said she began praying to the priest for her child after someone handed her a prayer card and told her about the miracle that led to his beatification: healing an unborn baby diagnosed with fetal hydrops, a life-threatening condition where fluid builds up in the baby’s body.
She came to visit the relic, that day, to give thanks: She gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy just two weeks ago, she said.
Another encounter took place after a fellow Knight asked if the relic could visit his 13-year-old daughter undergoing treatment for cancer at Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth. Father Kalisch and Stark met her in the chapel and let her pray with the relic.
Then, another family approached.
“The chapel door opened and this family — they saw us in there — they were not going to come in. I said, ‘No, please come in,'” Father Kalisch remembered.
They did. The Mexican-American family pushed their young son (around four or five years old, Stark said) into the chapel with a wheelchair. That’s when Father Kalisch discovered that this was the first time the boy had left his bed in 90 days. The Catholic family had never heard of Father McGivney before, but they embraced the relic and prayed for healing.
“To me, those are the God moments, right?” Father Kalisch asked.
Throughout their trip, Father Kalisch and Stark said that they kept the Wolf family in their prayers. They took the relic not only to Dena and Riley, but also to the local Knights of Columbus hall and — at Father Kalisch’s suggestion — Brad’s grave.
“It was so moving,” he remembered. “I can only describe it as the consolation of faith was there, praise God, because … they were just at peace — and I think one of the fruits of the presence of Father McGivney is that he, unbeknownst to them, he accompanied them and their husband in these last days so much so that after they buried their [husband and] father, he’s there at the tomb.”
With the help of Father Kalisch, Dena said that she began to realize all of the similarities between her husband and Father McGivney. To name a few: Father McGivney passed away at 38; her husband was 39. Both loved baseball — and played left field. Both attended churches named after Mary. Both were leaders in their communities.
“My lesson from all this?” Stark asked. “Father McGivney hasn’t stopped working. I pray that this sparks a national pilgrimage of the relic and that more people get to see this. There are many, many miracles being performed. Are they the miracle [to lead to his canonization]? Probably not. But one day there will be the miracle and he will be a saint.”
“It’s just a matter of when, and hopefully it’s in my lifetime,” he concluded. “And part of this is me helping to make that happen.”