This past Saturday, March 15, Pope Benedict XVI approved a decree recognizing the heroic virtue of Father Michael J. McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus. If Fr. McGivney is recognized as a saint, he will be the first American-born priest to be so honored.
The Pope’s declaration significantly advances the priest’s process toward sainthood and gives him the distinction of “Venerable Servant of God.” The progress of the Fr. McGivney comes as the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, promised last August at the Knight’s annual convention to personally advocate his cause.
“All of us who are members of the Knights of Columbus are profoundly grateful for this recognition of the holiness of our founder,” said Carl Anderson, the head of the Catholic fraternal organization. “The strength of the Knights of Columbus today is a testament to his timeless vision, his holiness and his ideals,” he added.
Worried about the religious faith and financial stability of immigrant families, Father McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus with the help of several men at St. Mary’s Parish in New Haven in 1882. The group also rallied around supporting widows and orphans with financial assistance. Fr. McGivney soon gained a reputation for his tireless work among his parishioners.
Born in Waterbury, CT on Aug. 12, 1852, Michael Joseph McGivney, was the first of Patrick and Mary McGivney’s 13 children, six of whom died in infancy or early childhood. His parents, natives of Ireland, had immigrated to the United States during the 19th century. Patrick was a molder in a Waterbury brass mill, where Michael himself worked for a brief time as a child to help support his family.
From an early age, however, he realized a calling to the Catholic priesthood. After studying in several seminaries, he was ordained in Baltimore’s historic cathedral by Cardinal James Gibbons Dec. 22, 1877. He took up his first assignment, as curate at St. Mary’s Church, New Haven, Conn., Jan. 2, 1878. Father McGivney was named pastor of St. Thomas Church in Thomaston, Conn. in 1884. He became seriously ill with pneumonia in January 1890, and died Aug. 14, 1890 at age 38.
The cause, or process, for Father McGivney’s sainthood, was opened by Hartford Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin, in December 1997. The cause was presented to the Vatican in 2000, where it has been under review by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. With the Pope’s decree on Saturday, and the authentication of a miracle at Father McGivney’s intercession, the priest could be declared a blessed. A second miracle would be required for him to be recognized as a saint.
The Knights of Columbus is the world’s largest Catholic Fraternal Organization with more than 1.7 million members in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Central America, the Caribbean islands, the Philippines, Guam and Poland.