John J. McKniff, O.S.A.

1905 – 1994 (March 24)

John Joseph McKniff was born on September 5, 1905, in Media, Pennsylvania to John McKniff and Mary Starrs. Baptized in the church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virigin Mary, he attended both the public and parochial schools in East Media. After completing elementary school in 1919, he entered Villanova Prep on the campus of Villanova College, as a postulant. He was accepted into the novitiate in 1923, professed simple vows on June 22, 1924, and solemn vows three years later. In 1927 John graduated with an A.B. degree from Villanova College was sent to the Order’s International College, Saint Monica, in Rome, Italy, to study theology. He was ordained to the priesthood by Cardinal Pamphili on July 6, 1930, and continued post-graduate studies at the Roman Academy of Saint Thomas, where he earned a doctorate in philosophy in 1932. In 1960 Father McKniff was granted an S.T.L. by the Order.

Father McKniff’s first assignment after his return to the United States was to the formation program at Villanova, where he taught and served as submaster of clerics; from there he was transferred to Augustinian Academy, Staten Island, New York. In 1935 Father McKniff volunteered to go to the Philippines, where he taught chemistry at the College of Saint Augustine, Iloilo, on the island of Panay. A serious accident in the chemistry laboratory hospitalized him, and in 1939 he was sent to Villanova Preparatory School, Ojai, CA, to recuperate. A few months later he was sent to Cuba to teach at the Colegio San Agustin. Within two years he was named pastor of Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje in the old section of Havana City, and for the next 27 years he served the spiritual and physical needs of the people there. He opened a clinic, provided a parish school, enrolled many in the Legion of Mary, and introduced the Augustinian Third Order. With the coming to power of the Castro regime he was one of the few American priests, and the sole Augustinian, not expelled by the government. From 1962 to 1968 he continued to care for the faithful under the most difficult conditions.

When, in 1968, he was compelled for reasons of health to return to the United States the Cuban government took the opportunity to revoke his passport and refuse permission to return. From 1970 to 1972 he served as associate pastor at Saint Augustine Parish, Troy, N.Y., and Saint Mary’s Parish, Lawrence, Massachusetts, where he cared for the needs of the growing hispanic faithful. In 1972, after several requests, Father McKniff was permitted to go to the Prelature of Chulucanas, Peru. There he assisted Bishop John McNabb, O.S.A., in several parishes. He was associate pastor of San Jose Obrero in Chulucanas and taught at the diocesan seminary in Trujillo. During stops at Miami, he would visit former members of Santo Cristo Parish living in exile. In 1994, while in Miami he became ill and on the morning of his flight to Lima, Peru, was taken to Palmetto Hospital in Miami. Over the next weeks his condition grew worse. Visited by many Cuban friends and with his brother Augustinians at his bedside, he died on March 26, 1994. Father McKniff was 88 years of age. 

At the request of the Cuban Community, many former members of the parish of Santo Cristo, Havana, Father’s funeral and interment were held in Miami, FL. A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated on March 26 at the Church of Saint Agatha in Miami. The celebrant was Father John Lydon, O.S.A., superior of the mission of Peru. The homily was given by Father John’s close friend, Father John Kelly, O.S.A. Internment was in the priest’s section of Our Lady of Mercy, the diocesan cemetery in Miami. On May 20, 1994, a memorial Mass was celebrated at the Church of San Jose Obrero in Chulucanas, Peru. Bishop John McNabb, O.S.A. presided and the homily was given by Father John Lydon, O.S.A.

In 1999, following upon the steady requests of many people of Peru, the diocesan process of the Cause of canonization of Father McKniff was initiated in Chulucanas.