‘In Service to One, In Service to All’
The Knights of Columbus (KOC) of the Diocese of Trenton rejoiced with their brother Knights throughout the world at the Vatican announcement that their founder, Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney, would advance one step closer to canonization with his beatification on October 31, 2020, in St. Joseph Cathedral in Hartford, Connecticut.
His Eminence, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, CSSR, Archbishop of Newark, was appointed by Pope Francis as his delegate to preside at the Mass of Beatification.
That this historic moment took place on American soil is most fitting since Father McGivney, born in Waterbury, Connecticut, in 1852 and ordained in Baltimore in 1877, founded the Knights in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1882. He was the first-born son of Irish immigrants and grew up in a poor family. He was a good student but left school at age 13 to take a job and contribute to his struggling family. Three years later, he began his path to the priesthood in Montreal, then at the Vincentian-run seminary of Our Lady of the Angels in Niagara Falls, New York, and then back to Montreal, where he entertained thoughts of joining the Jesuit order, which sponsored the seminary. Father McGivney’s seminary studies were interrupted twice, the second time due to the death of his father in 1873.
The Bishop of the Diocese of Hartford accepted Father McGivney as a seminarian and supported his studies at the Sulpician sponsored St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore until his ordination at the Cathedral there on December 22, 1877.
As a seminarian and a priest, Father McGivney was regarded as a pious, good-natured and dedicated young man. He began his first pastoral assignment in New Haven on Christmas Day that year and was quickly recognized for his hard work and pastoral zeal. He was drawn to young people, the poor, the immigrant and those with special needs. Connecticut was considered an anti-Catholic state at the time, and Father McGivney devoted himself to teaching the Catholic faith with clarity and precision. The presence of many “secret societies” in the region prompted him to establish the St. Joseph’s Young Men’s Total Abstinence and Literary Society to confront rampant alcoholism and the lack of adequate Catholic education among Irish immigrants and their families.
The Catholic publication “Our Sunday Visitor” recently noted that:
Father McGivney took a keen interest early on as a priest in helping the young men of the parish. Their problems became his concerns, and he looked for ways to help them find hope amid much of the darkness in their lives. These problems stemmed from substance abuse to unemployment, compounded by a loss of faith.
Father McGivney began organizing men of the region into a Catholic fraternal organization that would become the Knights of Columbus, with mutual fraternal support, promotion of the Catholic faith and charity as its defining purposes. With 2 million members worldwide, the Knights of Columbus are currently the largest Catholic fraternal organization in the world, contributing almost $200 million annually to various charitable and Catholic causes. The Knights have also donated over 77 million (and growing!) hours of service each year in pursuit of their mission.
In 1889, an influenza pandemic gripped the world and found its way into New England. Father McGivney, while serving the stricken faithful of his parish, was infected and died of pneumonia on August 14, 1890, at the age of 38.
His reputation for personal holiness and apostolic zeal spread quickly throughout the region as the Knights of Columbus grew in number. In 1996, Father McGivney’s native Archdiocese of Hartford introduced his cause for canonization to the Holy See. He was recognized for his “heroic virtue” by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 and declared “Venerable.” A miracle was attributed to his intercession in 2013, and Pope Francis approved his beatification on May 27, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a curious coincidence given his own death from a coronavirus pandemic 130 years earlier.
For more information on the Knights of Columbus and Father Michael McGivney, see www.kofc.org.