The founder of the Knights of Columbus, Father Michael McGivney, was beatified on Oct. 31, at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford, Connecticut.
In his apostolic letter, Pope Francis said the priest’s “zeal for the proclamation of the Gospel and generous concern for his brothers and sisters … made him an outstanding witness of Christian solidarity and fraternal assistance.”
The feast day of “Blessed Michael McGivney” will be observed every year on Aug. 13, the day between his birth, which was Aug. 12, 1852, and his death, which was Aug. 14, 1890.
“Father McGivney’s life is an illustration of how a holy priest can provide the necessary and intimate connection, so crucial in the life and mission of a parish,” said Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, the appointed representative of Pope Francis during the event.
The cardinal described Father McGivney as a priest who loved his flock, and was happy to see them work together as a community.
“The signature accomplishment for which he is remembered, founding the Knights of Columbus, grew out of his ministry as a parish priest,” said Cardinal Tobin.
He said the “great brotherhood” of two million people “was born from the pastoral ingenuity of a parish priest to respond to the twin challenges faced by the people he served.”
Father McGivney was ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s cathedral in 1877.
He was born in Waterbury on Aug. 12, 1852, to Irish immigrant parents who came to America to escape hunger and poverty in their native land.
The priest’s parents, Patrick and Mary (Lynch) McGivney, arrived in the great 19th century wave of Irish immigration.
Mary McGivney gave birth to 13 children, six of whom died in infancy or childhood.
Father McGivney was the oldest and thus experienced the death of family members and the family’s battle with poverty. He attended a small neighborhood school and was praised as a good student but left at age 13 to work in a brass mill.
After three years, he left with his Waterbury pastor to Quebec, Canada, and registered at the French-run College of St. Hyacinthe.
He later studied at the Our Lady of Angels Seminary, attached to Niagara University in Niagara Falls, New York. He then moved next to Montreal to attend seminary classes at the Jesuit-run St. Mary’s College.
He was there when his father died in June of 1873. He returned home to help his family, then entered St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. After four years of study, on Dec. 22, 1877, he was ordained in Baltimore’s historic Cathedral of the Assumption by Archbishop (later Cardinal) James Gibbons.
A few days later, with his widowed mother present, he said his first Mass at Immaculate Conception Church in Waterbury.
Father McGivney began his priestly ministry on Christmas Day in 1877 as curate at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven. It was the city’s first parish and he quickly learned that the wealthy residents of the community weren’t happy about having a Catholic Church in their neighborhood.
He created catechism classes and a program to combat alcoholism in the Irish neighborhood. However, he believed some organization should be created to help with the financial and spiritual needs of families, especially when the breadwinner had died or was unable to work.
He looked around for a model to follow among the nation’s fledgling benevolent organizations and talked with numerous church leaders. From those explorations came what today is the Knights of Columbus.
Father McGivney moved on to become pastor of St. Thomas’ Church in Thomaston, Connecticut, a factory town, where he continued to minister to families struggling with poverty and harsh working conditions.
He developed pneumonia in early 1890. On Aug.14 of that year, he died at the age of 38 after serving just 13 years as a priest.