There are many aspects about our Catholic faith that are awesome, to say the least! Not only has our Lord and God condescended to become man, but he has also allowed us as adopted sons and daughters of the Father to share an intimate connection. This connection that each member of the Body of the Christ has to one another is summed up in our understanding of the Communion of Saints. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes this communion of Head and members in this way:
“We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always [attentive] to our prayers.”CCC 962
Even though we find ourselves in different states, all persons that have been baptized into Christ form the one Church. And so all the blessed in heaven “do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus” (CCC 956). There are so many saints that we can look towards to not only emulate, but to ask for their prayers as they contemplate our Blessed Lord in paradise. Americans should be especially happy to know, then, that one of their own is one step closer to sainthood and is to be counted among the ranks of those blessed in heaven.
Venerated by the Faithful
Just this past May, Pope Francis promulgated several decrees regarding the approval of miracles for those on the path to sainthood. The person we focus on today is the brave Servant of God (and soon to be Blessed) Fr. Michael McGivney. Most people will know him as the founder of the Knights of Columbus, but what he is most recognized for on this path to canonization is the heroic virtue that he lived during his short life.
What’s interesting is that he did not leave behind a large corpus of writings. In fact, hardly any of his sermons or writings remain with us today. These are works that are typically integral to the process for canonization. But despite this lack of writings in Fr. McGivney’s case, the legacy he leaves behind for men of the Catholic Church and their families is more than enough to show that he deserves to be venerated by the faithful on a wide scale.
The Knights of Columbus
Born in 1852 to Irish immigrant parents in Waterbury, Connecticut, the young Michael McGivney was surrounded by excellent examples of leaders from his own father to his parish priest. He also had quite a knack for exceeding expectations during his schooling. At a time where most children in America did not have the opportunity to go to school and graduate, McGivney was fortunate to have the opportunity to pursue education, where he thrived. He was put into an accelerated class when he first entered primary school, skipping two entire grades, and was able to graduate three years ahead of his peers at the age of thirteen. This was also surprising due to the fact that there was widespread prejudice of Catholics throughout the state of Connecticut, specifically in his area which was heavily influenced by the Congregationalist churches.
This reality caused him to work for the fair treatment of all as he went on into the priesthood and the formation of the Knights of Columbus. Father O’Donnell, a historian for the Archdiocese of Hartford and one of McGivney’s contemporaries, explains:
“[McGivney lived] a life unselfishly given to the service of others, a life spent in the promotion of his neighbors’ welfare, a life redolent of deeds whose motive was the social, moral, intellectual and religious improvement of his fellows… Coincident with his spiritual labors, he wrought also for the temporal welfare of his brethren …
“Before the altar all are equal. The beggar if such there be, kneels by the side of the possessor of wealth, and the man of dark skin occupies the same pew with his white brother. And this spirit pervades the Knights of Columbus; and so should it ever be.”
Despite what he and his family had to overcome in this regard, he stayed close to our Lord and diligently went about his studies. Upon his graduation from school, he began working at the local brass mill in the spoon-making department, but was again able to begin his studies a few years later with the careful guidance of his parish priest. He was sixteen years old when he began his formation, which took him up into Quebec, Canada to the College of St. Hyacinthe, as well as Our Lady of the Angels seminary in New York. It was during this time that he had decided to join the Society of Jesus after working closely with the Jesuits during his formation.
However, with the sudden passing of his father in 1873, McGivney returned home to assist his family, putting his priestly formation on hold. After some time, his family encouraged him to pursue his vocation again, and his bishop was able to help the family financially so that he could continue his road to the priesthood. However, his bishop asked that he become a diocesan priest instead to serve in parish life, and four years later he was ordained by Cardinal James Gibbons in Baltimore.
When he became associate pastor of St. Mary’s in New Haven, McGivney had quite a bit to deal with as the pastor was in very frail health, and the parish itself was deeply in debt. He also wanted to help minister to young men and their families, especially those that were facing debt themselves. He was an avid baseball fan and played quite a bit during his formation, and among the many groups he organized within the parish, one was a baseball league so that men could share fraternity together while engaging in America’s pastime! One could say these were the roots of what would become the Knights of Columbus, but his main reasoning for forming this fraternity was in response to some of the anti-Catholic sentiment experienced throughout the region.
For the Renewal of the Church
After banding together many people in his parish community, and earning their respect, McGivney set out to begin a solidly Catholic fraternity for men, which would become the Knights of Columbus. Founded in 1882 in the church basement of St. Mary’s with the help of about two dozen other men, McGivney wanted to offer an alternative to the secret, fraternal societies that were drawing many Catholic men away from the Faith. This often happened because many of the families in the region were poor, and these societies afforded them the financial assistance they needed to stay afloat. Many of these, like the Freemasons, were virulently anti-Catholic. For this reason, McGivney wanted “to prevent people from entering Secret Societies, by offering the same, if not better, advantages to our members [and] to unite the men of our Faith throughout the Diocese of Hartford, that we may thereby gain strength to aid each other in time of sickness; to provide for decent burial, and to render pecuniary assistance to the families of deceased members.” This is precisely what the Knights of Columbus continue to do to this day.
With this true fraternity, coupled with the insurance benefits both on a temporal and spiritual scale, McGivney was able to be a true evangelizer, and empowered the laity to pursue holiness decades before the Second Vatican Council heralded in a renewal of that “universal call to holiness”. Men and their families felt confident in their faith, and had a venue where they could gather together in the fraternity of the Communion of Saints, building each other up in the virtues that are needed in leading the Christian life. This is the legacy that McGivney left for us today, and popes throughout the last century have commended the Knights for their fidelity to Truth and desire to spread the gospel. Pope St. John Paul II said as much when he addressed the Board of Directors for the Knights in 2003, reiterating McGivney’s commitment to fostering a life of holiness:
“I wish to express once more my deep gratitude for the unfailing support which your Order has given to the Church’s mission. This support is shown in a special way in the Vicarius Christi Fund, which is a sign of the solidarity of the Knights of Columbus with the Successor of Peter in his concern for the universal Church, but it is also seen in the daily prayers, sacrifices and apostolic works of so many Knights in their local Councils, their parishes and their communities. In fidelity to the vision of Father Michael McGivney, may you continue to seek new ways of being a leaven of the Gospel in the world and a spiritual force for the renewal of the Church in holiness, unity and truth.”
Fr. McGivney, Pray for Us
Fr. McGivney is just one step away from sainthood with this recent miracle being approved. Once another miracle is confirmed, he will be able to be called a saint. Keep in mind, however, that this act of beatification will confirm that McGivney is indeed in heaven. He will be able to have his own feast day, and will be able to be privately venerated anywhere in the world, and publicly venerated in his hometown (the Archdiocese of Hartford) during the Holy Mass. Once the second miracle for sainthood is approved, McGivney will be able to be venerated at the altars of churches around the world!
McGivney succumbed to pneumonia after a bout with influenza in 1890 at the young age of 38. Archbishop William Lori, the Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus as well as the Archbishop of Baltimore, notes that McGivney’s intercession may be especially helpful during this time, as the Vatican News observes:
“During the pandemic, the Archbishop said, [McGivney] ministered to the faithful with ‘the same love and the same generosity that he had shown throughout his whole priesthood,’ and died ‘no doubt because of the way he expended himself for his people.’”
The example McGivney leaves behind for us is especially pertinent at this time. His intercession will be especially meritorious for us as we work towards recovery and a return to normalcy in our country. While a date has not yet been set for his beatification, we can be assured that McGivney is among that cloud of witnesses looking down upon us, bringing our petitions to the heavenly throne of the Father. That’s the beautiful thing about the Communion of Saints: we’re connected in a way that’s incomprehensible at the present moment, but we know by faith we are closely united through Christ Jesus. May the witness of Fr. McGivney embolden all of us to live out the call to holiness and spread the gospel to all we encounter. Servant of God, Michael McGivney, pray for us!
God, our Father, protector of the poor and defender of the widow and orphan, you called your priest, Father Michael J. McGivney, to be an apostle of Christian family life and to lead the young to the generous service of their neighbor. Through the example of his life and virtue may we follow your Son, Jesus Christ, more closely, fulfilling his commandment of charity and building up his Body which is the Church. Let the inspiration of your servant prompt us to greater confidence in your love so that we may continue his work of caring for the needy and the outcast. We humbly ask that you glorify your venerable servant Father Michael J. McGivney on earth according to the design of your holy will. Through his intercession, grant the favor I now present (here make your request). Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Our Father … , Hail Mary … , Glory be to the Father … )
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Nicholas LaBanca is a cradle Catholic and hopes to give a unique perspective on living life in the Catholic Church as a millennial. His favorite saints include his patron St. Nicholas, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. John Mary Vianney, and St. Athanasius of Alexandria.
CORRECTION: Fr. McGivney was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, not New Haven—as this article originally stated. The correction has been made. The Ascension Blog regrets the error.