The Life and Legacy of Father Michael J. McGivney
His Influence Today
“Father McGivney’s vision remains as relevant as ever in the changed circumstances of today’s Church and society.” – Pope John Paul II
Just about every day Catholic laymen bound in a common association gather to advance the welfare of their Church and communities. They meet in harbor towns of Nova Scotia, suburban New Jersey, Mexican cities and Philippine villages. Some will help families pay off huge medical bills or secure aid for disaster victims. Others will help finance Catholic schools or independent living for people with disabilities. More will organize nutrition programs for disadvantaged children or prayer services for an end to abortion. They are the Knights of Columbus, the legacy of Father Michael J. McGivney. Knights and their families have always held reverence for the animator of their lay movement. But since Father McGivney’s cause for canonization began in 1997, spreading his story of holiness and priestly service, popular devotion to him has increased. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., has added a stained-glass window depicting his image. Father McGivney dedicated his life to the spiritual and physical welfare of others, creating the Knights of Columbus to provide insurance for the protection of widows and orphans, and the spiritual benefit of its members and families. Today, a growing number of schools, medical centers and social service agencies named for him associate their work with his charism, and the Knights of Columbus insures the lives of more than 1.2 million men, women and children. But beyond charitable works, Father McGivney wanted each Knight’s heart and mind attuned to greater love of God and his Son, both within the Church and within the family. That is his spiritual legacy.
Through the Knights, Father McGivney sought to form young Catholic men into good spouses and fathers. He has become known as Apostle to the Young and Defender of Christian Family Life. He saw strong families as the foundation of his parish, of the Church and of society at large. He was convinced that the Catholic layman had a unique role in influencing society and promoting the values found in what Pope John Paul II has since named the Culture of Life and Civilization of Love. Father McGivney did not use the vocabulary of the 21st century, but he espoused the same Gospel values that Catholics affirm today. Increasingly, Church leaders realize that part of Father McGivney’s spiritual genius is that nearly a century before the Second Vatican Council addressed the important role of the laity in the Church, Father McGivney built a way for laymen to make a substantial and enduring contribution to their parishes, communities and physical and spiritual security of their families. And he saw that by doing so one parish and community at a time, Catholic families could help build a better world.
He was a man ahead of his time.
High ideals are not the exclusive preserve of the young, but they seem to go hand in hand with youthful energy and optimism. The trick is to keep our ideals burning brightly even when the vitality of youth begins to fade. This is, in part, what distinguishes a saint from the rest of us. A saint keeps the vision of God’s love and the call to serve one’s neighbor bright and clear to the end. In fact, when we look at the lives of holy men and women, we see that their ideals grow stronger with the passage of time. Physical energies may fade, but sanctity requires a clarity and consistency that remain to the end of one’s days.
Father McGivney was an idealist. He was a man whose youthful vision and creativity expanded and matured even as his physical well-being diminished. His intense idealism is often expressed today in titles ascribed to him as his cause for canonization progresses: “Apostle to the Young” and “Protector of Christian Family Life.” These provide an outline for a spiritual portrait of Father McGivney.
His Legacy: The Knights of Columbus
“In fidelity to the vision of Father McGivney, may you continue to seek new ways of being a leaven of the Gospel in the world and a spiritual force for the renewal of the Church in holiness, unity and truth.” — Pope John Paul II, welcoming Knights of Columbus Board of Directors to Rome in October, 2003
Through the Knights of Columbus, Father McGivney gave Catholic laymen a new opportunity – the chance to grow in holiness while contributing to their parishes, communities and security of their families. Today, more and more Church leaders are recognizing his spiritual genius in animating the laity. New Book on Knights of Columbus.
The Knights of Columbus has grown to more than 12,000 local units in the United States, Canada, the Philippines, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Panama, the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands, Guatemala, Guam and Saipan. Over the past decade, Knights have raised and donated nearly $1 billion to charity and given nearly 400 million hours in humanitarian service.
Knights donated $1 million to Special Olympics to send athletes from the United States, Canada and Mexico to the 2003 international Summer Games in Ireland. They provided 2,000 wheelchairs to land mine victims and people with disabilities in Afghanistan. The nature of most service by Knights is determined locally. Knights in Illinois, for example, have devised a sophisticated system for providing interest-free financing for group homes for people with developmental disabilities; councils in the Philippines regularly conduct free medical and dental clinics for the poor.
Wherever they exist, Knights continue the tradition of support for bishops and parish priests exemplified by Father McGivney. Each year tens of thousands of Catholics attend the Marian Hour of Prayer programs, rosary prayer services, and pro-life Masses Knights sponsor.
Father McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus as a fraternal benefit society offering low-cost life insurance to immigrant families facing destitution if a breadwinner died. Today the Knights of Columbus has more than $50 billion of life insurance in force. Its insurance program has received the highest possible ratings from both the A. M. Best Co. and Standard & Poor’s.
His Life and Times
Over a century ago, in mid-August 1890, one of the largest funerals in the history of Waterbury, Conn., took place. The throngs who attended were grieving the death, at age 38, of Father Michael J. McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus.
The bishop of Hartford and more than 70 of Connecticut’s Catholic priests were joined by many civic leaders. It was reported that mourners rented every available carriage within miles for the great procession.
Father McGivney’s funeral was an indication of the love and respect the people felt for this hard-working, holy, parish priest. It also reflected the deep personal appeal that immigrant Catholics immediately found in the Knights of Columbus. Delegations were present from almost every one of the 57 Knights of Columbus councils that had been chartered in the Order’s first eight years.
To mark their 100th anniversary in 1982, the Knights of Columbus brought the remains of Father McGivney from Waterbury back to St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, where he founded the Order. There he now rests in a setting in which daily Mass is offered for deceased Knights and prayers are said in his honor.
Process for Sainthood
The process of “saint making,” more properly called the process for canonization, is normally long and complex. The candidate for sainthood must first be proposed to the local bishop. Once the bishop accepts and formally opens the “cause” for canonization, a thorough investigation into the person’s life and work is begun. This entails an exhaustive study of the candidate’s written works and, when possible, interviews with those who knew or worked with him. There is careful scrutiny of his life, virtues and weaknesses. The investigation aims at getting at the truth of the person’s life and virtue. Only one who has lived the Christian life in an extraordinary manner, who has manifested “heroic virtue,” can be seriously considered for canonization.
If the diocesan process is positive, all the information is forwarded to Rome where the Congregation for the Causes of Saints undertakes a new investigation under the supervision of professional historians and theologians. The arguments and proofs for the person’s holiness of life are refined and focused. Once complete, the evidence is presented to the bishops and cardinals who make up the congregation, and their judgment is forwarded to the pope. Only the Holy Father makes the decision to beatify or canonize the candidate for sainthood.
The Holy Father looks to a sign from God as confirmation of God’s positive judgment concerning beatification or canonization. Miracles are a positive sign that God indeed confirms the decision of the Church.
Guild Activities and News
The Father Michael J. McGivney Guild serves as a source for information about the life, works and spirituality of Father McGivney. The Guild distributes informational materials about him, receives reports of favors granted through his intercession and oversees the distribution of relics. There are more than 83,000 members of the Father McGivney Guild.
The purpose of the Guild is to inspire greater personal holiness and cooperation with God’s grace by disseminating information about Father McGivney. “The Guild’s goal is to spread the good word about Father McGivney’s holiness of life, to encourage devotion to his memory and to seek his intercession before the throne of God,” said Dominican Father Gabriel B. O’Donnell, guild director and postulator of Father McGivney’s cause for canonization.
The Knights of Columbus founded the Guild in 1997 concurrently with the archdiocesan phase of Father McGivney’s cause for canonization. Membership in the Guild, which is free, is open to all individuals and households, but not groups. Members of the Knights of Columbus are not automatically Guild members and must elect to join the Guild. The Father Michael J. McGivney Guild Newsletter is published bimonthly except July- August, and is sent free to Guild members.
Members who wish to do so may make tax-deductible contributions to assist in the Guild’s work, but this is by no means required.
Those devoted to Father McGivney are encouraged to join the Guild and regularly say the prayer for his canonization, which is available below, online and on a special prayer card. Members are asked to pray for Father McGivney’s canonization, report favors received and assist in the advancement of the cause.
To join the guild click here
Prayer for the Canonization of Father Michael J. McGivney
God, our Father, protector of the poor and defender of the widow and orphan, you called your priest, Father Michael J. McGivney, to be an apostle of Christian family life and to lead the young to the generous service of their neighbor. Through the example of his life and virtue may we follow your Son, Jesus Christ, more closely, fulfilling his commandment of charity and building up his Body which is the Church. Let the inspiration of your servant prompt us to greater confidence in your love so that we may continue his work of caring for the needy and the outcast. We humbly ask that you glorify your servant Father Michael J. McGivney on earth according to the design of your holy will. Through his intercession, grant the favor I now present (here make your request). Through Christ our Lord. Amen. Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be.