When Father Michael McGivney is beatified on Saturday, Oct. 31, at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hartford, Conn., it will be a signal honor for the Knights of Columbus, which he founded in 1882, as well as “a shot in the arm” for all U.S. priests, said the vice postulator of his cause for canonization.
That’s because Father McGivney’s work with the Knights was an extension of his service to parishioners at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven. He saw firsthand the problems faced by Catholics in their everyday lives. Many were poor immigrants, with large families for whom they struggled to provide. Their labors often led to early deaths for the heads of household, mostly males, and even more struggle for the wives and children they left behind.
As a seminarian, Father McGivney’s own studies for the priesthood were interrupted when his own father, Patrick, died in his 40s.
“He knew the suffering of his own people because he had gone through it himself,” said Brian Caulfield, a longtime employee of the Knights of Columbus who has served as vice postulator of Father McGivney’s cause for canonization since 2011.
So Father McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus to bring death benefits to widows and orphans while serving as a Catholic fraternal organization for laymen and their families at a time when anti-Catholicism was pronounced.
When Father McGivney gathered the other founding members, including many of his parishioners who were accomplished in their own regard, they supported his vision because it built upon their hopes and dreams for themselves. “It was the fraternity men needed to work together to accomplish something greater than themselves,” Caulfield said.
As Knights of Columbus, they could be both good Catholics and good Americans by adopting the order’s founding principles of charity toward one another, unity in faith and a fraternity of brotherhood of Catholic families.
Caulfield said Father McGivney’s original goal was to have a Knights council in every parish in Connecticut. Shortly after the priest’s death at age 38 in 1890, the Knights crossed state borders for the first time, with councils established in nearby Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Before the turn of the next century, the Knights’ reach extended internationally to Canada. Today, the Knights have nearly 2 million members around the globe.
Caulfield said Father McGivney would likely look to his beatification, conferring the title of Blessed, as “not so much for him, but for the order and the Church.”
“We can look to him as an intercessor in the growth of the order, but also he’s an example to and an intercessor for all priests, especially in the U.S.,” Caulfield said. “I think this will be a great encouragement to them, kind of a shot in the arm, one of their own being raised to the status of Blessed.”
Father McGivney will become just the third U.S.-born priest to be beatified, all in recent years, following Father Stanley Rother and Father Solanus Casey, O.F.M. Cap., who served in the Archdiocese of New York in the first half of the 20th century.
Caulfield’s name may be familiar to many Catholic New York readers because he was a full-time reporter here for seven years until 2001.
With the Knights he has served in several roles, including as a special assistant to the Supreme Knight and with various communications initiatives. In the last few years, his work as vice postulator has become pretty much a full-time role.
“It’s been an amazing privilege to work so closely, not only with Father McGivney and his legacy, but also with people who look for him for help with their needs,” said Caulfield, who said that his wife and two sons often join him in family prayer from Father McGivney’s prayer card.
People write in to ask the priest’s intercession with their daily concerns ranging from employment to selling a home and family reconciliation and the return of adult children to the sacraments. “These are everyday problems that people have,” Caulfield said. “He was a priest in the trenches…dealing with the people and their problems.”
Many of those requests come to the attention of fathermcgivney.org, the website the Knights have established for his cause. Of course, Caulfield is always looking for another possible miracle that would pave the way for Father McGivney’s canonization.
Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, N.J., will be the principal celebrant of the 11 a.m. Mass of Beatification. The parents of a now 5-year-old boy, Michael McGivney Schachle, who was miraculously healed of a potentially fatal condition as a result of the intercession of Father McGivney, will carry a reliquary with a first-class relic in procession at the Mass.
Flipping through this issue, you will see news and feature stories about several sainthood causes, which is quite appropriate with All Saints Day coming up on Nov. 1.