SHIRLEY If you want proof of the compatibility of faith and reason, you only need to talk to George Knittel.
A former professor at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn and staff member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Knittel holds a doctorate in electromagnetics. Yet, nothing in his scientific or academic background has prevented him from knowing -- with certainty -- that God exists.
“Before I was a scientist, I am a Christian,” he said, speaking from his Shirley home. “In fact, when I apply scientific thinking to the world, I see evidence of God’s presence in all the signs around me.”
“I bet my life that Jesus Christ is real -- and that he is the only truth,” he said.
He brings this conviction to everything he does -- whether as a lector at his parish, St. Anthony of Padua, distributing food at the Loaves and Fishes food pantry in Devens, or serving the town of Shirley as town moderator.
“The Lord has given me all these venues as wonderful platforms from which to witness to my faith,” Knittel, 74, said.
Raised Protestant, Knittel became a Catholic in 1959, shortly before he married his wife, Mary. He studied the Catholic faith for six months and decided God was “strongly calling” him to come into full communion with the Church.
“I decided I didn’t want a mixed marriage,” he recalled. The couple had five children, but did not remain active in their faith.
“As time went on, Mary and I drifted into other Protestant churches,” he said.
That all changed in 1991 at the Kwajalein Army Base in the Marshall Islands, where Knittel was working as a scientific advisor for the United States Army. The couple began to “rediscover” their faith.
“I began to see that all the other churches held teaching services, or prayer services, but only the Catholic church had worship services,” he said.
“I think that the Catholic liturgy is the most beautiful in the world,” he added. “It is the only place where we can access the body and blood of Christ.”
After leaving the Marshall Islands, the Knittels settled into Shirley, where they became parishioners at St. Anthony’s. Today, George Knittel serves as an altar server during Holy Week and is a lector throughout the year; his wife sings in the parish choir.
In addition, the couple tithes their earnings to the parish.
“I think that comes a little from my Protestant heritage,” Knittel mused, “but it is a great blessing for us.”
“I think we live better on 90 percent of our earnings than we would on 100 percent,” he added.
Knittel praised his pastor, Father Edmond Derosier, noting that he is “well-liked both within the parish and within the wider Shirley community.”
Knittel has a “unique” relationship with Father Derosier. Whenever he has the opportunity, Knittel, who holds a private pilot’s license, takes Father Derosier “out for a spin.”
“I give him a break sometimes,” he said, “and we fly to New York or to Nantucket or some such place and have lunch.”
“Father is made of clay too,” Knittel continued, “and sometimes it’s nice just to have a little break from everything.”