His Life and Times
In his 13 brief, busy years as a priest, Father McGivney’s piety and compassion won the love of those he served as curate and pastor. His Christian inspiration, leadership and administrative drive brought him the loyalty and affection of thousands who knew him as the founder of the Knights of Columbus.
From the moment he launched it, the organization fortified Catholics in their faith, offered them ways to greater financial security in a sometimes hostile world, and strengthened them in self-esteem.
Remarkably developed from its simple beginnings in a church basement, the Knights of Columbus today combines Catholic fraternalism and one of the most successful American insurance enterprises. The four pillars of the international headquarters symbolize the Order’s worldwide commitment to charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism. More than 14,000 fraternal councils are active in 14 countries.
More than 1.8 million Knights contribute about $160 million and 70 million hours of volunteer service to charitable causes each year. And—as a particular result of the Order’s multi-faceted services to the Church—in 1988 the board of directors conducted formal business of the Order for the first time in a room named for the Knights of Columbus within the ancient St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
At St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Father McGivney’s polished granite sarcophagus, sheltered inside a totally restored church, has now become a shrine to pilgrim Knights where the Order began.
At the first memorial service for deceased Knights held in 1890, the year Father McGivney died, this tribute was accorded him:
“He was a man of the people. He was zealous of the people’s welfare, and all the kindliness of his priestly soul asserted itself more strongly in his unceasing efforts for the betterment of their condition ...Oh, Reverend Founder. . .that act alone which gave life to the Knights of Columbus has surely secured for thee everlasting joy and eternal peace.”Delegations were present from almost every one of the 57 Knights of Columbus councils that had been chartered in the Order's first eight years.
To mark their 100th anniversary in 1982, the Knights of Columbus brought the remains of Father McGivney from Waterbury back to St. Mary's Church in New Haven, where he founded the Order. There he now rests in a setting in which daily Mass is offered for deceased Knights and prayers are said for his canonization.