By Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News
[OTTAWA – Canadian Catholic News] – An American Catholic priest who founded the Knights of Columbus and who spent some of his formative years in Canada was beatified during a special Mass Oct. 31, 2020, in an event described by members as an important milestone in the history of the Catholic Church in North America.
“We are proud, honoured and humbled to call Fr. Michael J. McGivney our founder and patron and celebrate his beatification with joy and prayers,” says David Peters of Brampton, ON, the Ontario State Deputy of the Knights of Columbus.
“In very unprecedented times with a pandemic of global proportion, social unrest, riots, financial and global turbulence, we rejoice in celebrating the beatification of a young priest from New Haven, Connecticut, who set into motion a movement to help orphans, widows and anyone in need,” says a Knights of Columbus statement about the beatification.
“Fr. McGivney labored tirelessly to improve the condition of his 19th century immigrant community in Connecticut. He founded the Knights of Columbus to provide financial support for widows and orphans and to keep Catholic men and their families close to their faith at a time of widespread anti-Catholic bigotry.”
Pope Francis opened the door for Fr. McGivney to be named “blessed” after recognizing a miracle involving Fr. McGivney that came well-after Fr. McGivney died. The miracle that occurred in 2015 that has been recognized by the Vatican involved a baby in the U.S., still in utero, with a life-threatening condition. “That baby, Mikey Schachle, is now five. His parents, Dan and Michelle Schachle, of Dickson, Tennessee, prayed to Fr. McGivney to intercede with God to save their son, still in his mother’s womb, who was given no hope of surviving a life-threatening case of fetal hydrops,” a recent Canadian Catholic News story reported.
McGivney, who was born in 1852 and died in 1890, was a key figure in the growth of the Catholic Church in the United States.
According to the Knights of Columbus, he went to the College of St. Hyacinthe in Quebec when he was 16 to prepare for the seminary application process and “over the next two years at the college, he immersed himself into the French-Canadian culture.”
He was ordained in the United States in 1877 and ended up in New Haven, Connecticut, where he founded the Knights to provide spiritual support for Catholic men and financial resources for families.
“Father McGivney died of pneumonia on Aug. 14, 1890 — two days after his 38th birthday — after falling ill amid a pandemic,” according to the Knights of Columbus, which has chapters across the United States and Canada. “Recent scientific evidence indicates that the pandemic — like the current one — may have been caused by a coronavirus.”
The Oct. 31 beatification ceremony is just one of the many honours that the Catholic Church and the Vatican has bestowed on Fr. McGivney.
In a decree by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008, Fr. McGivney was declared a Venerable Servant of God.
“Concerning the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love both toward God and neighbor as well as the cardinal virtues of Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude, and those others joined to them, they existed to a heroic degree in the Servant of God Michael McGivney, Diocesan Priest and Founder of the Fraternal Order the Knights of Columbus,” Pope Benedict XVI’s decree said.
The Knights of Columbus has more than two million members in more than 16,000 parish-based councils. In Canada, the first Canadian Knights of Columbus was established in Montreal.
According to Peters, membership in Canada stands at more than 230,000 and there are 1,900 parish-based councils.
“The members of the Knights of Columbus, and their families, provide on-going assistance and support to our Bishops, clergy, parishes and the community at large,” Peters said 0f the organization in Canada.
“He lived the Beatitudes” – Mass of Thanksgiving for Blessed Michael McGivney
By Jonah McKeown, Catholic News Agency
[Nov 1, 2020 – CNA] – At the All Saints Day Mass of Thanksgiving for newly-beatified Fr. Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore said McGivney provides a model for both priests and laypeople of how to “live the Beatitudes.”
“Anyone aspiring to holiness will exhibit those luminous qualities that Jesus perfectly exemplified…having lived the Beatitudes so consistently and thoroughly, Fr. McGivney led his parishioners to holiness,” Lori said in his homily.
Pope Francis, via apostolic letter, beatified McGivney Oct. 31, making him the fourth U.S.-born man to be beatified, joining Bl. Stanley Rother, Bl. James Miller, and Bl. Solanus Casey.
Archbishop Lori, who serves as Supreme Chaplain for the Knights of Columbus, was the principal celebrant at the Nov. 1 Mass of Thanksgiving.
McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus in New Haven, Connecticut in 1882. Initially, the organization was intended to assist widows and their families upon the deaths of their husbands. It has grown into a worldwide Catholic fraternal order, with more than two million members carrying out works of charity and evangelization across the globe. The Knights also offer life insurance policies to their members.
The Thanksgiving Mass was held at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, the church where McGivney first founded the fraternal organization.
Several other archbishops and bishops, including representatives from the Ukrainian Catholic Church, were also present, along with Michael McGivney Schacle, the child who McGivney’s intercession saved in utero from a fatal condition.
Lori noted that the “men and women of outstanding holiness from every race and culture” that the Church celebrates on the Solemnity of All Saints include not only those canonized, but also those who never receive earthly recognition.
“They represent every conceivable vocation and state of life, but all these holy men and women have one thing in common: they lived the Beatitudes,” Lori said.
Describing McGivney as “the quintessential parish priest,” Lori in his homily offered a reflection on the ways that McGivney lived the Beatitudes.
McGivney was “poor in spirit” because he gave up his time, energy, and resources to those in need, taking little in return. He mourned alongside poor families— many of whom were helped by the Knights— who had lost fathers and breadwinners.
He exhibited meekness; Lori noted that McGivney shunned the limelight, largely stepping away from leadership of the Knights as the organization grew and became successful, preferring instead to serve out of the spotlight, as chaplain.
McGivney helped others, especially the young, to “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” as he did; he was a “peacemaker,” responding to challenges and disputes in the community with disarming humility and wisdom.
The date selected for McGivney’s feast, Aug. 13, is the day between his birth, which was Aug. 12, 1852, and his death, which was Aug. 14, 1890.
Supreme Knight Carl Anderson offered a reflection on Father McGivney following the Mass, noting that during the late 19th century when McGivney founded the Knights, the United States was still considered “mission territory” for the Church.
The 1880s and the decades after were a time of virulent anti-Catholicism in much of the U.S., Anderson noted. The late 19th century was a time of prosperity for many Americans, but of abject poverty for many others. Priests in America’s urban centers knew this well, and confronted these challenges on a “daily basis.”
“McGivney was determined that the social evils of his day would not overwhelm his parishioners. He strove tirelessly to overcome evil with good, by putting a Catholic ethic of charity at the center of their lives.”
Anderson said it is worth reflecting on how “innovative and extraordinary” was McGivney’s vision of a fraternity of Catholic laymen, based on charity, especially in such a difficult time to be Catholic in the US.
By founding the Knights, McGivney created a “practical path for millions of men” to put their faith into action, anticipating by nearly a century the Second Vatican Council’s call for laypeople to “transform society in the light of the Gospel.”
“Blessed Michael McGivney’s great achievement was to find a practical means to strengthen the [Church’s] center, while extending its reach into the peripheries,” he said.
“His greatest charity was the gift of himself.”
Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, the appointed representative of Pope Francis, was principal celebrant of the beatification Mass at Hartford’s cathedral on Oct. 31, 2020.
While the Church has recognized three women born in the United States as saints— St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Katharine Drexel, and St. Kateri Tekawitha— there have not yet been any U.S.-born canonized men.
After his Nov. 1 Angelus address, Pope Francis noted McGivney’s beatification the day before.
“Dedicated to evangelization, he did everything possible to provide for the needs of those in need, promoting reciprocal aid. May his example be an impetus for us to always be witnesses of the Gospel of charity,” he said, asking for a round of applause for the new blessed.
McGivney’s sainthood cause officially opened in 1997 in the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut. In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI declared the American-born priest a Venerable Servant of God in recognition of his life of heroic virtue.
In 2000, an investigation into a miracle attributed to McGivney’s intercession was completed. But in 2011, the Vatican ruled that the event was not miraculous in nature.
In 2012, another possible miracle was reported and placed under investigation.
Pope Francis announced May 27 an approved miracle credited to McGiveney’s intercession. A child who was diagnosed as terminally ill in the womb was in 2015 miraculously healed following prayers for McGivney’s intercession.
Now that he has been beatified, McGivney’s cause will require one more authenticated miracle before he can be considered for canonization as a saint of the Church.
He would not be the first member of the Knights of Columbus to be canonized. A group of six Mexican members of the organization were martyred during the Cristero War of 1926-29 and its aftermath.
In 2018, the Knights’ 16,000 councils worldwide donated more than $185 million to charity and gave over 76 million hours of hands-on service in 2018, worth over $1.9 billion according to a valuation of volunteer work by the Independent Sector. Their volunteer work included support for the Special Olympics, coat drives, and food drives for needy families.