His Influence Today
Just about every day, Catholic laymen bound in a common association gather to advance the welfare of their Church and communities. They meet in the harbor towns of Nova Scotia, the suburbs of New Jersey, the cities of Mexico and the villages of the Philippines. Some will help families pay off huge medical bills or secure aid for disaster victims. Others will help finance Catholic schools or independent living for people with disabilities. More will organize nutrition programs for disadvantaged children or prayer services for an end to abortion.
These Catholic laymen are the Knights of Columbus, the legacy of Father Michael J. McGivney. Knights and their families have always held in reverence the founder of their lay movement. However, since Father McGivney’s cause for canonization began in 1997, his story of holiness and priestly service has spread like wildfire and popular devotion to him has increased. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., has added a stained-glass window depicting his image.
Father McGivney dedicated his life to the spiritual and physical welfare of others, creating the Knights of Columbus to provide insurance for the protection of widows and orphans, and the spiritual benefit of its members and families. Today, a growing number of schools, medical centers and social service agencies are named for him and associate their work with his charism. Additionally, the Knights of Columbus insures the lives of more than 1.2 million men, women and children.
But, beyond charitable works, Father McGivney wanted each Knight’s heart and mind attuned to greater love of God and his Son, both within the Church and within the family. This emphasis on love of God is Father McGivney’s spiritual legacy.
Through the Knights, Father McGivney sought to form Catholic men into good spouses and fathers. He has become known as Apostle to the Young and Defender of Christian Family Life. He saw strong families as the foundation of his parish, of the Church and of society at large. He was convinced that the Catholic layman had a unique role in influencing society and promoting the values found in what Pope John Paul II has since named the Culture of Life and the Civilization of Love. Father McGivney did not use the vocabulary of the 21st century, but he espoused the same Gospel values that Catholics affirm today.
Increasingly, Church leaders realize that part of Father McGivney’s spiritual genius is that nearly a century before the Second Vatican Council addressed the important role of the laity in the Church, Father McGivney had built a way for laymen to make substantial and enduring contributions to their parishes, to their communities and to the physical and spiritual security of their families. And he saw that by doing so, one parish and community at a time, Catholic families could help build a better world.
He was a man ahead of his time.