While our Church moves toward the opportunities and challenges of a new year, I have been caught in something of a time warp. As Vice Postulator for Venerable Father Michael McGivney, I have spent the last few weeks promoting his Sainthood Cause in the Philippines, far away from America’s 24-hour news cycle.
My thoughts have been very much on the unchanging and the eternal, beginning with God and his grace and focusing mainly on the life and legacy of Venerable McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus. Pope Benedict XVI declared his “heroic virtue” shortly before the Holy Father made his apostolic visit to the United States in 2008, and since that time we have been seeking reports of possible miracles and favors received through the intercession of Father McGivney.
With 1.8 million Knights of Columbus and their families in countries throughout the world praying through the founder’s intercession (and many other Catholics and non-Catholics doing the same), many favors have been reported. As Supreme Knight Carl Anderson announced last August at the Order’s Supreme Convention, a promising favor is now under investigation and, God willing, will eventually move the Cause of Venerable McGivney toward beatification.
My time in the Philippines these past two weeks has afforded time for reflection on the universal appeal of Father McGivney and the timeless nature of the solid Catholic virtues that he embraced and embodied. He lived according to “The McGivney Way,” forging a harmony between the spiritual and the material, the pursuit of eternal truths within the limits and demands of daily earthly existence. In some ways, he anticipated the themes and teachings of the Second Vatican Council and its proclamation of the Universal Call to Holiness.
Father McGivney was a parish priest in Connecticut at a time when Catholics were literally second-class citizens within the regnant Protestant culture. Having lost his own father to early death (which nearly caused him to drop out of seminary to help support the family), he was well aware of the devastating effects that the loss of a breadwinner could bring to Catholic families. Thus, in 1882, he gathered together a handful of laymen from St. Mary’s Parish, New Haven, to found the Knights of Columbus, whose mission was to provide a death benefit (today’s life insurance) to the families of members, as well as to build up men in the Catholic faith and unite them in common charitable action. Charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism became the four principles of the Order.
As told in the book “Parish Priest: Father Michael McGivney and American Catholicism,” the founder was not a typical 19th century priest. He stepped off church grounds to appear in court on behalf of an orphan destined to be shuffled off to a Protestant family. He went to the home of the city’s senior Protestant minister to console the family after the death of their daughter, who had become a Catholic against the wishes of her father. Perhaps most significant, in founding the lay fraternal Order, he refused to take the top leadership position, choosing instead to tend to the spiritual needs and instruction of members and leaving the running of the Knights to laypeople – an early precursor of Vatican II.
All of this was part of The McGivney Way. He conducted his affairs in a well-planned, practical and collaborative way, identifying and addressing the here-and-now needs of his parishioners while remaining open to the transcendent values that must inform Catholic actions and decisions. He placed great trust and authority in the laity, and guided them in their earthly journey according to the horizon of eternity.
During my overseas travels, I saw firsthand the enduring value of The McGivney Way. The Knights of Columbus was founded in the Philippines in 1905, fifteen years after Father McGivney’s death. Yet Filipinos embraced the Order immediately and there are now nearly 290,000 Knights in that mostly Catholic Asian nation. The experience of the Knights in the Philippines shows that the principles of the Order know no national or cultural borders, because the Catholic Church is universal, for all people and all times. These are truths to reflect upon when the issues of the day trumpeted by the 24-hour news cycle would suggest that this world is all there is.
Father McGivney, intercede for us.