Concerning the theological virtues of Faith, Hopeand Love both toward God and neighbor, as well asthe cardinal virtues of Prudence, Justice, Temperanceand Fortitude, and those others joined to them, theyexisted to a heroic degree in the Servant of GodMichael McGivney, Diocesan Priest and founder ofthe Fraternal Order the Knights of Columbus.
Congregation for the Causes of Saints Decree Concerning HisVirtues upon the declaration of Father Michael McGivney asVenerable by Pope Benedict XVI
March 15, 2008
Father McGivney GuildOne Columbus PlazaNew Haven, CT 06510fathermcgivney.org
Front Cover: Parish Priest painting by Antonella Cappuccio; Inside cover: photos of McGivney Gallery in Knights ofColumbus Museum, New Haven, Conn., by Thomas Serafin; Pages 2, 3: Knights of Columbus Archive photos; Page 4: Photocourtesy of Luzon State Council; Page 7: Founding Vision painting by Antonella Cappuccio; Page 8: detail from mosaicartwork by Father Marko Rupnik, S.J., in Holy Family Chapel at the Supreme Council headquarters, New Haven, Conn.,showing Father McGivney.
Many people think of a saintas one set apart from the trials of daily life, or too good forthis world. Yet the truth is thatevery saint engaged the culture of the day in a way that led people by prayer, works or example closer to Christ.
Often the difference between aholy person and the rest of usstruggling along the Christianpath is that the saintly one per-severes in love, usually withoutcomplaint, often with a smilethat belies suffering, and alwayswith a prayerful trust in God.
Think of two modern holyones, Mother Teresa and JohnPaul II, who were recognized asliving saints yet whose liveswere marked by pain and loss.Small and strong, Mother Teresabegan her service to the poorest of the poor in response to Gods call, picking up people dying in the streets
and taking in abandoned children. She was seen to be close to God, yet after her deathit was revealed that during muchof her life she experienced adark night during which shereceived no illumination or con-solation from God. John Paullived his physical suffering on the worlds stage, growing olderand weaker from Parkinsons disease yet pushing himself to witness to the dignity of allhuman life, in whatever stage or physical condition.
Both of these modern modelsof sanctity had somethingabout them, a character of inner strength that showed intheir demeanor and behavior.
By all accounts, people who met Father Michael McGivney encountered a similar sort of innerstrength and outward demeanor, a holiness that was manifested most of all in his pastoral action.
A Modelfor Our Times
The Heroic Virtue of Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney
Father McGivneys style was more than simply energetic. Hewas innovative and in some ways ingenious, so much so that Bene-dict XVI mentioned him as a keyfigure in the historic growth of theChurch in 19th-century America.In a homily in New Yorks St.Patricks Cathedral in 2008, PopeBenedict noted the remarkable accomplishment of that exemplaryAmerican priest, the VenerableMichael McGivney, whose visionand zeal led to the establishment ofthe Knights of Columbus.
Father McGivneys virtue was notof the cloister or the mountaintop.It was in the perpetual problemsand struggles of his parishionersthat Father McGivney lived out thevirtues of faith, hope and charity ina truly heroic manner, as part of hisdeeply spiritual yet supremely prac-tical vision. In late 19th-centuryConnecticut, Catholics were not welcome into the mainstream ofsociety and often took the mostdifficult and dangerous jobs in factories, construction and railroads.
The result was that a familys breadwinner too often died youngof overwork or accident, leaving behind a widow and children whohad few means of financial support.
Father McGivney knew thisworld well; his own father had diedwhen he was in seminary. So afterpriestly ordination in 1877, whenhe was assigned to St. MarysChurch in New Haven, Conn., he was able to give himself to his people with understanding, compassion and commitment.
As a parish priest, Father McGivney was immersed fully inthe daily lives, difficult as they were,of his immigrant parishioners. Early in his priesthood, while thepastor was ill and the parish debtwas crushing, he was unable to take a single day of vacation.
I saw him but once, and yet I remember this pale,beautiful face as if I saw it only yesterday. It was apriests face and that explains everything. It was aface of wonderful repose. There was nothing harshin that countenance although there was everythingthat was strong.
A fellow priest recalled the lasting impression Father McGivney made:
A friend who knew him fromseminary days remarked, Therewas never a more energetic orhard-working young priest sta-tioned in New Haven than he.
Father McGivneys life andlegacy can be summed up in the simple words Parish Priest,the title of his official biography.Rather than grand plans and gestures, he thrived on the hu-mility of moments, preferring todraw others into his work than totake the credit himself. In this and other ways he anticipated bynearly a century the Second Vati-can Councils universal call toholiness, trusting and empower-ing lay people in leadership positions.
For 19th-century Catholic immigrant families, it was diffi-cult to survive let alone thrive in American society. It was a timeof anti-Catholic bigotry, whenIrish Need Not Apply waswritten in many hearts and job notices. Catholics settled together in neighborhoods forprotection and support, and topreserve their religion.
If some were inclined to com-plain and engage in unruly behavior, Father McGivney knew a better way in faith andvirtue. He set out to improve theplight of his people, instructingthem from the pulpit; adminis-tering the sacraments; gatheringthem for lively parish activities;teaching catechism to the chil-dren; overseeing the morals ofthe young; and forming a tem-perance society against alcohol,the source of many wrecked marriages and broken families.He re-created the parish as afamily of families where hispeople found strength for their
burdens, refreshment amid hard-ships, and hope for eternal life.
His concern for family life wassummed up in one particular incident. After the father of a parish family died, a teenagechild was to be placed in fostercare unless his mother could show financial support for theboy. Breaking protocol of the day, when a Catholic priest wasrarely involved beyond parishprecincts, Father McGivney ap-peared in New Haven court todeclare his guardianship based onthe financial pledge of a localCatholic businessman. This wasjust one of the many ways thatFather McGivney fought to keepfamilies together.
Protectorof Catholic Family Life
His concern for the welfare ofthe young came from his own experience in a devout Catholicfamily in Waterbury, Conn. Theeldest of 13 children (six ofwhom died young), he beganwork in a local spoon factory atage 13, ending this rigorous rou-tine only when entering seminary.In priestly formation, he wasknown for his seriousness andstudiousness, but also for hissense of humor and baseballskills. When his father died, hecame home from Montreal andconsidered returning to work tosupport the family until theBishop of Hartford persuadedhim to continue priestly studiescloser to home in Baltimore.
Knowing that so many otheryoung people faced difficult decisions and hard lives, FatherMcGivney planned recreationevents for them, including com-edic plays and musical events,picnics, coffee parties, poetryrecitals, Sunday outings and boatrides, all of which also served thepurpose of raising money for the
parish debt. He listened to theiryouthful hopes and dreams andcounseled them in their doubtsand defeats. Young people weredrawn to him not simply as amentor but as an understandingsoul who knew their plight first-hand. As a parishioner observed,He has been the best friend tothe young since he came here.
Father McGivneys uniquecombination of compassion anddetermination was expressed inhis pastoral care of a young mansentenced to death for killing apolice officer during a drunkenbout. He visited Chip Smith regularly in prison, brought himback to the sacraments, and wasat his side at the execution, offering strength and consolationwhile reciting the prayers of theChurch. Newspapers remarkedon his amazing, personally draining ministry through whichthe condemned man died notonly repentant and reconciledwith God, but also seeking a holy death.
Apostleto the Young
Father McGivneys concern forhis parishioners and Catholicfamilies led him to seek practicalsolutions. If the father of a family died, then he would findfinancial relief for the widow andchildren. If Catholic men werejoining banned secret societies to get ahead in the world, then he would give these men aCatholic alternative providingsolid fraternal support. Goodand pious intentions were notenough for this good and piouspriest. Prayer led him to actionwhen human lives and futuregenerations were at stake.
With this in mind, late in1881, he called together a groupof men in the basement of St.Marys Church to form a frater-nal benefit society called theKnights of Columbus. The pur-pose, he wrote, was to preventour people from entering secretsocieties by offering the same if not better advantages to ourmembers, and to aid each other
in time of sickness; to providefor decent burial, and to renderpecuniary assistance to the fami-lies of deceased members.
Father McGivneys initial goalwas to establish a Knig