The Life of Father Michael McGivney
Father Michael McGivney was born in Waterbury, Connecticut on August 12, 1852.
His family had come to the United States during the wave of Irish immigration that marked the middle of the 19th Century.
Father McGivney’s Childhood
As a child, McGivney went to the district schools found in Waterbury’s working class neighbourhoods. He was admired by his teachers for his “excellent deportment and proficiency in his studies.
Following the end of the American Civil War, McGivney left school to go to work in the spoon-making department of a brass foundry in Waterbury.
At the age of 16, McGivney left the factory, already considering a future in the priesthood. He traveled with his pastor to Quebec, where he enrolled in the College of St. Hyacinthe. Following two years of study in Quebec, McGivney enrolled in Our Lady of Angels Seminary in Niagara Falls, New York. He also studied at St. Mary’s College in Montreal.
Father McGivney’s Ordination
Following the death of his father in June, 1873 and lacking money, McGivney returned home to Waterbury. Shortly afterward, he entered St. Mary’s Seminary, in Baltimore, at the request of the Bishop of Hartford. After a further four years of study, McGivney was ordained on December 22, 1877.
Father McGivney worked closely with parish youth, offering catechism classes and organizing a total abstinence society, which was dedicated to fighting alcoholism.
In 1881, Father McGivney began to explore the idea of a Catholic fraternal benefit society. Parish clubs and fraternal orders were popular in the late 19th Century because they provided a measure of security during times of sickness or financial hardship. Father McGivney was searching for some way of providing support for families fallen on hard times, as well as strengthening religious faith.
He discussed the concept with Bishop Lawrence McMahon of Hartford and received his approval. He began corresponding with members of the Catholic Order of the Forresters in Boston, as well as the Catholic Benevolent Legion in Brooklyn, New York. He also met with other priests in his diocese. Everywhere he went, Father McGivney sought information to help Catholic laymen organize themselves into a fraternal benefit society.
Father McGivney and the Knights of Columbus
In April, 1882 McGivney sent letters to all the pastors in his diocese. The primary objective of his proposed Order, which he had initially wanted to call the Sons of Columbus, was to dissuade Catholic laymen from joining other secret societies. He sought to do this by providing better advantages for members and their families during hard times.
Bishop McMahon was so impressed with the organization of Father McGivney’s Order, which had been renamed the Knights of Columbus, that he became a member in 1884. By 1885, there were 31 Councils in Connecticut.
In 1884, Father McGivney was named Pastor of St. Thomas’s Church in Thomaston, a factory town ten miles form New Haven. Father McGivney’s new parish was heavily in debt and he wrestled with the parish’s financial problems for much of his time there. He also built the same close ties with his new parishioners that he had established in New Haven. He also continued to serve as the Order’s Supreme Chaplain and helped to expand the Order into Rhode Island.
Never in good health, Father McGivney contracted pneumonia in January, 1890. A number of treatments for consumptive illnesses were tried, but to no avail and McGivney’s decline continued. Father Michael McGivney died August 14, 1890 at the age of 38.
Father McGivney’s Canonization
In 1996, the Archdiocese of Hartford opened an investigation into the life of Father McGivney, with the stated goal of eventual canonization. The diocesan investigation was closed in 2000 and Father McGivney’s cae for sainthood was referred to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints. In 2008 Pope Benedict XVI approved a degree recognizing Father McGivney’s heroic virtue and declaring him to be a Venerable Servant of God.
The Life and Legacy of Father Michael J McGivney. The Knights of Columbus. 2009