by Andrew Butler | Mar 30, 2019
We remember Father Michael J. McGivney as a timeless witness to the faith.
Maybe you already knew that Father Michael J. McGivney
founded the Knights of Columbus in New Haven, Connecticut in 1882. Maybe you
already knew that he envisioned a Catholic order that would help Catholic men
to remain steadfast in faith while providing insurance for their families.
But you might not have known these facts:
1. Protestants were also inspired by Father McGivney’s
witness of faith.
Alida Harwood, the daughter of a prominent Episcopal
minister in New Haven, frequented Mass at St. Mary’s Church where Father
McGivney served. When Alida contracted malaria at the age of 25 and lay on her
deathbed, it was Father McGivney she asked to see.
2. He was a heck of a baseball player.
We know that in one game with his seminary team he scored
three runs, contributing to a big victory with a score of 23-6. He paved the
way for a long history of baseball players who would join the Knights,
including these MLB legends.
3. More forward-thinking than Yale? Father McGivney pushed
the boundaries as a theater director.
At a time when, according to Parish Priest, nearby Yale
University was limiting theater to only male actors, Father McGivney welcomed
women to perform when he directed his parish’s St. Patrick’s Day play in 1880.
4. He helped young people take charge of their lives and
create a better future.
Father McGivney saw that many young men were neglecting
their religion and turning to alcohol abuse. In response, he founded St.
Joseph’s Total Abstinence and Literary Society, a group that helped young men
stay strong in the faith and become active in their communities. They organized
and participated in sports and theatrical productions. McGivney offered members
a meeting space with books, magazines, newspapers and a piano. No doubt, Father
McGivney’s experience with this group prepared him when he later founded the
Knights of Columbus.
5. His vision for the role of the laity was very unusual for
Seventy-seven years ahead of the Second Vatican Council, the
idea that a Catholic organization could be led by laymen was quite
extraordinary. Yet that was Father McGivney’s vision for the Knights of
6. He ministered to inmates.
Father McGivney was responsible for ministering to inmates
in the city jail. One inmate was 21-year-old Chip Smith, who — while drunk —
shot and killed a police officer. Smith was convicted of first-degree murder
and sentenced to be hanged.
Father McGivney visited him daily, and, on the day of
Smith’s execution, the priest was filled with sorrow. Just before he died,
Smith comforted him: “Father, your saintly ministrations have enabled me to
meet death without a tremor. Do not fear for me, I must not break down now.”
7. He was only 38 years old when he died.
And that’s actually not surprising — life expectancy was
short for priests in Connecticut in the 19th century, when the Catholic
population was growing, disease was common and the priests were overworked.
8. He’s on the path to sainthood.
His cause for canonization is open, and he was given the
title “Venerable” by the Holy See in 2008. You can help promote devotion to
this Servant of God — click here to join the Father McGivney Guild.
9. His belongings were burned when he died.
When Father McGivney died of tuberculosis, his personal
items were burned to prevent the spreading of the disease. Only a small number
of his writings and belongings survived.
10. He is known to intercede especially in four areas (from
Employment and finances. Just as parishioners looked to
Father McGivney for help when “No Irish need apply” was often included in job
postings, so today many receive help when they are laid off or seeking a better
Substance abuse. In Father McGivney’s day, alcoholism
afflicted the immigrant population, and many now find relief from drug or
alcohol abuse after praying to him.
Family reconciliation. Father McGivney helped immigrant
families struggling to stay together and to make ends meet. Today, Father
McGivney continues to respond to the prayers of families.
Return to the faith. Father McGivney founded the Order to
keep men from joining anti-Catholic societies. Today, many Catholics receive
favors when calling upon him to help their fallen-away children return to Mass.