By Roy Lagarde
July 16, 2022
After four years of addressing some procedural requirements, the Archdiocese of Manila has opened the resumption of the cause for beatification and sainthood of a U.S. Jesuit priest who is credited for the phenomenal growth of the Knights of Columbus in the Philippines.
The local process for the beatification and canonization of Father George J. Willmann was reopened during a July 4 ceremony led by Cardinal Jose Advincula at the chapel of the archdiocese’s headquarters in Intramuros.
Participants included the members of the archdiocesan tribunal on the cause led by its judicial vicar Msgr. Geronimo Reyes; and Msgr. Pedro Quitorio and Fr. Robert Young, the postulator and vice-postulator, respectively.
Around 50 people who are mostly members of the Knights of Columbus Fraternal Association of the Philippines, Inc. (KCFAPI) filled the chapel for the ceremony.
In his homily during the Mass that followed, the Manila archbishop described Father Willmann “as a man who lived the Gospel in a heroic way”.
“We hope and pray that through his cause, we can offer another exemplary and dauntless model of Christian discipleship in our modern times,” Cardinal Advincula said.
“May through his intercession, true conversion and renewal of our Philippine Church and society be realized,” he said.
The archdiocesan phase was first opened during Mass led by the then archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, at the Manila Cathedral in December 2015.
However, the work in the archdiocese was put on hold because of some technical norms that have to be considered in the causes of saints.
According to the 2007 instruction Santorum Mater of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the cause must be opened by the bishop of the diocese where the Servant of God died.
Father Willmann died of a heart attack in New York on Sept. 14, 1977 after attending a supreme convention of the Knights of Columbus.
In 2019, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York granted the transfer of competence to open the cause of Father Willmann from his archdiocese to the Manila archdiocese.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) during its plenary assembly in January 2020 approved the initiation of the local inquiry to the cause of the Jesuit priest in the Manila archdiocese.
In 2021, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints granted the Archdiocese of Manila a “nihil obstat” to open the Cause of Father Willmann.
Born in Brooklyn, New York on June 29, 1897, Father Willmann is known as the “Father of the Knights of Columbus” in the Philippines.
He first arrived in the Philippines in 1922 as a seminarian and taught at the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University before returning to the U.S. in 1925 to continue his theological studies.
Already a priest, he returned to Manila in 1936 and helped establish various organizations, including the Catholic Youth Organization, the Columbian Squires, and the Columbian Farmers Aid Organization.
Although the knights established their presence in the Philippines in as early as 1905, Father Willmann was credited for strengthening the organization, which he headed after World War II.
He also established the Daughters of Mary Immaculate, which was originally founded as the Daughters of Isabella in 1951 and the KCFAPI.
In 1971, he created the Knights of Columbus Philippines Foundation Inc, which provides educational benefits to poor but deserving students. Later, he initiated the establishment a scholarship fund for seminarians which today has graduated about 200 priests.
He also initiated the setting up of cooperatives in many parishes throughout the country in 1962, and even founded the “Araw ng Magsasaka” in 1977.
Father Willmann was granted Filipino Citizenship in July 1975 by President Ferdinand Marcos Sr through Presidential Decree No. 740 for his “virtuous acts, compassionate and kind and loving service to the Filipinos people.”
At present, the Knights of Columbus remains the largest Catholic fraternal service organization in the country with almost half-a-million members.