A Giant of Catholic Life

By Dominican Father Gabriel B. O’Donnell, vice postulator and Guild director

Fr. Gabriel B. O'Donnell, O.P.

In August of 2010, Knights of Columbus from various parts of the globe gathered in Washington, D.C., for the 128th Supreme Convention. The convention was a testament to the growth and strength of this fraternal organization for Catholic men that was first devised by Venerable Michael McGivney. The Knights of Columbus have endured for more than a century.

The Church beatifies or canonizes a man or woman for who one is rather than for what one does. Still, in the history of the Church there are outstanding “doers” who leave their mark on ecclesial life in a dramatic way. Father McGivney, in founding the Knights of Columbus, became one such giant of Catholic life.

His Knights are now an integral part of Catholic life and have become a well known organization in the wider culture. No other lay movement is more representative of Catholicism than the Knights of Columbus.

Knights’ generous service to those in need, their support of local pastors and parishes and their fidelity to the Church’s discipline and teaching is legendary. Knights have become known for their heroism in times of crisis and their readiness to offer a helping hand in any community project. The pageantry of Fourth Degree Knights, in regalia and chapeaux, catches the eye of every media outlet at Catholic celebrations.

While founding the Knights of Columbus may not be sufficient reason for the beatification of Father McGivney, it is clear evidence of remarkable strength of character and clarity of vision. The young Father McGivney overcame tremendous odds in order to accomplish his goal of establishing a fraternity of Catholic men who could be shaped into strong fathers and husbands, and who would band together to help those who were less fortunate than themselves.

As the son of Irish immigrant parents, he understood the meaning of deprivation, struggle and hard work. He also knew that only in the solidarity of the family and in fidelity to Christ and his Church would real happiness and success be found.

For Guild members not familiar with the Knights of Columbus, a visit to the official website for the Order will offer insight into the vision of Father McGivney.

Father McGivney’s initiative in founding the Knights of Columbus offers an important lesson. We know that we will be judged by God on the quality of the Christian person that we have become rather than on what we have accomplished. Nonetheless, what we do — our actions and our choices — are of great importance. Our contributions to building a culture of love do matter.

Choices to serve the less fortunate impact our final judgment. Decisions to remain faithful to Mass and the sacraments bear fruit in our eternal reward. Deeply spiritual and contemplative as he was, Father McGivney taught his Knights the importance of action. That lesson continues to lead and teach.

Father McGivney had a sense of urgency about the quality of life in this world. His vision saw a direct link between time and eternity.

The intensity of his personality and his dedication to his work came from his faith as much as from the family gene pool. In a world where life expectancy was short and chronic illness common, particularly among overworked Catholic priests, Father McGivney did not count on a long life to gradually teach him important lessons about salvation and preparation for death.

From his earliest days of priestly life at Saint Mary’s Church in New Haven, he had a strong sense of the nearness of eternity.

During the last year of his life, caught in the web of serious illness, he had to think of death every day. He was only 38 years old when he began to plan for his own funeral.

The young Father McGivney was beloved by those he visited, but also prepared for death. He brought life to the Church and the world in founding the Knights of Columbus. And he brought the living comfort in his gentle awareness of the presence of God and the mercy that would greet his parishioners when they closed their eyes in the sleep of death.

No better example of a parish priest could be found.

It seems right that at this time we remember him as priest, founder and man of God, and learn from him again how to live our own vocation in the same spirit of faith. We must maintain a desire to offer our gifts and our energy to build a better world and a stronger Church. Father McGivney has proven himself a powerful spiritual intercessor. We must now be his intercessors, that his cause for canonization continues to move forward.

Venerable Michael McGivney, pray for us.