by Alton J. Pelowski

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© Knights of Columbus Museum

Father Michael J. McGivney’s work and legacy did not end with his death on Aug. 14, 1890, at the young age of 38.

 Despite the rapid growth of the Knights of Columbus after he founded the The Knights of Columbus in 1882, Father McGivney surely never dreamed its membership, charitable works and insurance program would reach the magnitude they have today. The Knights of Columbus has continued to grow and carry on its founder’s legacy, serving God and neighbor in innumerable ways. And while this is certainly something to celebrate, there is a deeper reason Father McGivney is honored today.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Pope Benedict XVI’s envoy to the Knights’ 125th Supreme Convention in Nashville In 2007, reminded attendees that Father McGivney understood charitable activities mean little if they are not rooted in faith; and more fundamentally than being a man of social concerns, Father McGivney was “a man of the Church.”

What inspired him to action was nothing less than his profound faith in Jesus Christ.

Indeed, Father McGivney’s faith and holiness have also been the impetus for the cause for his canonization, which officially began in 1997.

‘MAKING’ A SAINT

For many years, devotion to Father McGivney grew gradually, along with an understanding about his life. In 1982, his body was re-interred from Waterbury, Conn., to a sarcophagus in St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, where Father McGivney founded the Knights 100 years earlier.

Dominican Father Gabriel B. O’Donnell was later appointed postulator of the cause for Father McGivney’s canonization. In December 1997, the diocesan phase of the cause began when then-Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin of Hartford appointed officials, both priests and laity, to investigate Father McGivney’s life and virtue.

Canonization, the process in which the Catholic Church formally declares a person a saint, requires many steps — including careful inquiry about a person’s life and holiness, a verified miracle attributed to the candidate’s intercession, and an evaluation by the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Once a person is beatified, or named “Blessed,” another miracle must be reported and approved before the pope officially declares someone a saint.

The process varies greatly in length. The beatification of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta in October 2003, just six years after her death, was the fastest in modern times.

In the case of Father McGivney, an investigation into a miraculous cure which was attributed to his intercession was completed in 2000 and submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Another positio, a long exposition of Father McGivney’s virtue, was also distributed among the Congregation in 2002.  Unfortunately, in 2011 the Vatican Congregation judged the proposed miracle as not miraculous in nature.  Gratefully, there are other reports of miraculous events.  Another possible miracle was reported in January 2012 and is currently under investigation.

Knights of Columbus Family Week coincides annually with the anniversaries of Father McGivney’s two “birthdays” — into this world (Aug. 12) and the next (Aug. 14). If he were to be beatified, Father McGivney’s feast day would likely fall during this time as well, thus giving even more reason for celebration. Cardinal Bertone spoke several times about Father McGivney at the 125th Supreme Convention. His words were an encouragement to those who await the decision of the Congregation. Archbishop Cronin was among those present.

“It was certainly a cause of tremendous happiness, joy and encouragement to hear Cardinal Bertone say he would take a personal interest in the cause,” the archbishop said. “It seems all the indications are that the cause will reach a certain happy conclusion.”

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Father McGivney’s canonization may still be many years away, but that has not prevented Knights and others from honoring him as their patron and intercessor. There are at least 10 active K of C councils that have adopted Father McGivney’s name. Chartered in July 1999, Father McGivney Council 12530 in North Platte, Neb., is one of the most recent.

Grand Knight Michael M. Krondak explained: “The founding council members chose Father McGivney because of his sacrificial love of neighbor in service to God and the Church. With him as patron we are reminded of his sacrificial love continually as we try to remain true to the Order’s principles of Charity, Unity, Fraternity and Patriotism.”

Dr. Janet E. Smith holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Endowed Chair in Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.

“There is a happy convergence of elements,” Dr. Smith said of her position, which is made possible with financial support from K of C councils in Michigan. It brings together Father McGivney’s reverence for the priesthood, the formation of young men, and the defense of families and the innocent,” said Dr. Smith. “And I think it’s a very exciting time to be forming priests. There’s a renewed presence of masculine, youthful zeal.”

Citing the prevalence of abortion, contraception, in vitro fertilization, cohabitation and pornography, Dr. Smith said of her students:

“They know that it’s a challenge. Yet they are very eager to find ways to reach people. It stems from a real love for the truth, for the Church and for the people in front of them.”

Like in Michigan, the Oregon State Council is helping to form tomorrow’s priests in Father McGivney’s name. The Knights recently funded the building of a homiletics room, which is part of a new academic center at Mount Angel Seminary in St. Benedict. “A priority for the seminary was to have a preaching classroom where men could train and practice developing homiletic skills,” explained Father Richard Paperini, rector of Mount Angel. “We decided to dedicate this classroom to the memory of Father Michael McGivney. In the room is a plaque, which attests to this, as well as a painting of the young founder of the Knights of Columbus.”

Father McGivney has also played a prominent role in the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, a graduate school of theology that the Order has supported since the school was first established in Washington, D.C.

Two significant milestones will be reached in 2008, when the John Paul II Institute celebrates its 20th anniversary and moves into its new permanent home, a prominent building on the campus of The Catholic University of America.

 The building, currently being completely renovated thanks to a gift from the Knights, will be renamed McGivney Hall.

“To name the building after Father McGivney is to highlight the significance of his work simultaneously to the Church and to the family,” said Dr. David L. Schindler, academic dean and provost of the John Paul II Institute. “It thus joins together symbolically two of the great missions of the Knights of Columbus that Father McGivney had the prophetic genius to call into being and foster.”

Father David M. O’Connell, president of Catholic University, is also enthusiastic about the campus’ latest addition. “We are delighted to be renaming one of our most centrally located buildings on our campus after Father Michael J. McGivney,” he said. “The memory of Father McGivney and the role he played in establishing one of the largest and most vibrant Catholic organizations in the United States will live on at the campus of the national university of the Catholic Church in America.”

 MAKING FATHER McGIVNEY KNOWN

The Father Michael J. McGivney Guild, which Father O’Donnell directs, was founded prior to the official opening of the cause for his canonization. Among its purposes is to provide materials and information about both Father McGivney’s life and the progress of the cause, and also to collect reports of favors attributed to Father McGivney’s intercession.

Although he has not yet been declared a saint, many already revere him as such, calling him an “Apostle to the Young and Protector of Christian Family Life.” They have taken Father McGivney as a spiritual model and ally, recognizing him as a friend of God who is interceding for us today.

The Guild regularly receives reports from people who have turned to the Knights’ founder in times of need. After a car accident in 1998, a

Knight from Father McGivney’s hometown of Waterbury, Conn., wrote: “I faithfully believe that through my prayers to [Father McGivney], I was spared death.”

Another important goal of Guild members is to spread devotion to Father McGivney among the faithful. The declaration of a person as a saint, after all, is not for the benefit of the canonized, but for the good of the Church on earth. The saints are held before us as models, teachers and friends.

“I’m very enthusiastic about the work of the Guild, and I’m hoping that Father McGivney will be beatified and canonized in the near future,” said Archbishop Henry J. Mansell, who was installed as the fourth archbishop of Hartford in 2003.

“I feel very strongly that his canonization will do much to encourage vocations to the priesthood,” continued Archbishop Mansell. “Parish priests are so vital to the life of the Church. His example was outstanding, and it will surely inspire great things.”

The story of Father McGivney’s life has become much better known since his cause for canonization began. In addition to the work of the Guild, the publishing of the book Parish Priest: Father Michael McGivney and American Catholicism (HarperCollins) in 2006 has helped many to learn about this servant of God. Yet his beatification and canonization would allow countless others to be inspired by his life.

As more people learn about Father McGivney, many echo the words Cardinal Bertone spoke during his keynote address at the Supreme Convention: “I can only hope that his life will be made known to many more people throughout the world...”

Alton J. Pelowski is managing editor of Columbia magazine and a 2006 graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C.