Knights ‘Praying for Years’ for Beatification of Founder

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Father Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, may be an ideal prospective saint for the current age, said Carl A. Anderson, supreme knight of the international fraternal order.

“We’ve been praying for years for this to occur, and finally this day has arrived,” Anderson told Catholic News Service May 27.

First, he’s a pro-life hero. The miracle recognized by the Vatican paving the way for his beatification occurred in 2015 and involved a U.S. baby, still in utero, with a life-threatening condition that, under most circumstances, could have led to an abortion.

He was found to be healed after his family prayed to Father McGivney. “The Vatican likes to be the one to discuss more details than that,” Anderson said.

The Vatican announced early May 27 that Pope Francis, who met with the board of directors of the Knights of Columbus in February, had signed the decree recognizing the miracle through the intercession of Father McGivney. Once he is beatified, he will be given the title Blessed.

Generally, two miracles attributed to the candidate’s intercession are required for sainthood—one for beatification and the second for canonization.

For beatification, the Vatican requires proof of a miracle attributed to the candidate’s intercession, unless the candidate was martyred for his or her faith.

For canonization—the declaration that the candidate is a saint—a miracle must take place after the beatification ceremony; it is seen as God’s final seal of approval on the Church’s proclamation that the candidate is in heaven with God.

Father McGivney, born in Waterbury, Conn., in 1852, was the eldest of 13 children of Patrick and Mary Lynch McGivney. Emigrating from separate towns in Ireland’s County Cavan, the couple met and married in the United States. Only seven of their children lived past childhood.

Young Michael attended school in Waterbury’s working-class neighborhood, but he left school at 13 to work in the spoon-making department of a brass factory.

At 16, he left the factory to begin seminary studies at the French-run College of St. Hyacinthe in Quebec. He also studied at Our Lady of Angels Seminary, attached to Niagara University in Niagara Falls, and at the Jesuit-run St. Mary’s College in Montreal.

He went home to Waterbury when his father died in 1873 and stayed there for a time out of concern for his family and because he lacked funds. At the request of Hartford’s bishop, he enrolled in St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, where he completed his priestly studies.

In 1877, he was ordained in Baltimore by Archbishop James Gibbons for the then-Diocese of Hartford. A few days after his ordination, he said his first Mass in the presence of his widowed mother at Immaculate Conception Church in Waterbury.

Father McGivney was an assistant pastor at St. Mary’s parish in New Haven, 1877-1884. He founded the Knights of Columbus at St. Mary’s Church in 1882 with a small group of Catholic laymen, to strengthen religious faith and to help families overwhelmed by the illness or death of their breadwinner. 

In 1884, he was named pastor of St. Thomas parish in Thomaston, a factory town about 10 miles from Waterbury. 

The fraternal order for Catholic men has become the largest lay Catholic organization in the world with 2 million members and sponsors a range of educational, charitable and religious activities.

The initial work on his sainthood cause began in 1982 on the Knights’ centenary. His cause was formally opened in Hartford in 1997, and he was given the title Servant of God. In March 2008, the Catholic Church recognized the priest heroically lived the Christian virtues, so he was given the title Venerable.

His beatification ceremony will take place in Connecticut sometime this fall—like all other events, scheduling is uncertain because of the COVID-19 pandemic—“and sometime after that, we’ll be looking for another miracle,” Anderson said.

Father McGivney, who will be the first American parish priest to be beatified and has long been a hero of working-class Catholics, can be viewed as a martyr of a pandemic. When he died from pneumonia complications at age 38 on Aug. 14, 1890, it was during an outbreak of influenza known as the Russian flu in Thomaston, Conn.He is buried in New Haven.

Anderson praised Father McGivney’s modesty and “dedication to charity and unity and the way he embodied the Good Samaritan” after founding the Knights of Columbus, originally a service organization to help widows and orphans.

“Father McGivney did not want to be the leader of the Knights of Columbus,” Anderson observed. “He was at first the group’s secretary and then the chaplain.”

Father McGivney’s legacy includes “the empowerment of the laity” through service projects.

The Knights have set up a new website for Father McGivney’s sainthood cause: https://www.fathermcgivney.org. —CNS

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