By Tanya Connor
WORCESTER – Love of the Church, the family, the priesthood, the bishop and the Knights of Columbus was expressed Sunday at a unique series of events honoring a unique person.
It was the first time men from all the districts in the Bishop James A. Healy Province became Fourth-Degree Knights of Columbus in one ceremony, called an exemplification.
Normally each district conducts its own exemplification, according to Herman Millet, toastmaster for the event and a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Westborough. But this time Massachusetts invited the other districts (comprised of the other New England states) to participate and to honor retired Bishop Reilly, he said.
The bishop emeritus is the only man to have served as state chaplain for three districts – Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts – the Knights said.
Representatives from the districts fought over him good-naturedly at a dinner that closed the day’s activities.
The day began with Mass at St. Paul Cathedral concelebrated by Bishop McManus, Bishop Reilly and Bishop Robert F. Hennessey, auxiliary bishop of Boston, and Massachusetts state chaplain of the Knights, and three priests who are Knights. Then, many in the group processed down Main Street to Mechanics Hall for the private exemplification, at which 105 men became fourth-degree Knights, Mr. Millet said.
Bishop Reilly will always be a Rhode Islander, as will Bishop McManus, claimed Peter Lentini, Rhode Island state deputy.
“Someday you will be able to get your own bishops, instead of stealing our good priests,” he told Massachusetts Knights. (Both Worcester bishops were priests of the Providence Diocese.)
The next speaker, Russell A. Steinbach, Massachusetts state deputy, likened the situation to the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. He said Bishop Reilly tried Rhode Island and it was OK, went on to Connecticut, then decided Massachusetts was “just right.”
Bishop Reilly told The Catholic Free Press he became a Knight in 1956, and as a priest was state chaplain in Rhode Island from about 1964 to 1975, in Connecticut throughout his 19 years as Bishop of Norwich, and in Massachusetts for seven or eight years after retiring as bishop of Worcester.
Dinner speakers described Bishop Reilly in ways familiar to those who know him.
Michael J. Donnelly, the province’s vice supreme master, said the bishop would inquire about your family members by name.
Mr. Steinbach talked about escorting Bishop Reilly: “Going from one place to another was quite interesting.” He said the bishop could talk about just about anything – with just about anyone. He could tell stories, and was also a great listener.
“How much he loved the Knights of Columbus,” Mr. Steinbach said.
Mr. Lentini said the bishop walks into a room and lights it up. He expressed thanks for his many years of dedication to the Knights and the Church.
“He is a man of the Church,” said Father Robert D. Bruso, Massachusetts associate state chaplain and pastor of St. Cecilia Parish in Leominster. He said the bishop’s service came to the attention of Pope Francis, who sent his Apostolic Blessing.
Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito gave Bishop Reilly a citation from her and Gov. Charles Baker. She talked about the breakdown of family, values and faith in society and said the current state administration needs the community’s help to change things, in partnership with “our faith.” She thanked Bishop Reilly for his work with Catholic schools and said she graduated from St. Mary Elementary in Shrewsbury and Holy Name Central Catholic Junior/Senior High.
Mr. Millet presented Bishop Reilly with a proclamation from the state House of Representatives.
Bishop Reilly, who had the Knights’ solicitous care after a fall Saturday night, insisted on walking to the podium when it was his turn to speak.
“I wanted to get up,” he told The Catholic Free Press. “It was such a big occasion. I was the honoree.”
Addressing the Knights, he said, “I just lived this life of priesthood the best that I could. … The priesthood is a great life. I’m really disappointed we don’t have more vocations today. … Our attitudes have to change.”
He told how he helped make money for the family after his father died and his mother was left to care for nine children alone. She was home when they came home, and worked while they were at school, he said.
“The family came first,” Bishop Reilly said. “That’s not so today, sad to say. So it’s in that context that I felt the call to priesthood. … I was just taken up with the priests. I wanted to be like them.…
“Pray every day that you will love the Church. The Church isn’t perfect from a human point of view,” but is from God’s point of view, he said.
The day ended with Bishop Reilly helping lead “God Bless America” and his signature song “Danny Boy,” then autographing Knights’ programs.
“That’s one of the best days I’ve had with the Knights of Columbus … the whole spirit that was there,” Bishop Reilly told The Catholic Free Press. “Everybody was so kind to me. I didn’t deserve it,” he said, noting that it has been awhile since he served as Massachusetts state chaplain.
He said the Knights’ focus on family life is very important and added, “It’s a great organization, doing work for the Church.”
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