Michael J. McGivney was born to Irish immigrants in Waterbury, Conn., on Aug. 12, 1852. The eldest of 13 children (seven of whom survived to adulthood), he studied for the priesthood and was ordained on Dec. 22, 1877, and was assigned to St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, where he founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882. By his holy life, exemplary virtue, piety and priestly character, he was recognized by many as “a saint in the making.” He was also a priest of great vision and foresight who anticipated the Second Vatican’s Council proclamation of the “Universal Call to Holiness” by empowering laypersons to take leadership positions.
Never robust in health, Father Michael McGivney fell sick with pneumonia in January 1890 while serving as pastor of St. Thomas Church in Thomaston, Conn. After months of attempted “cures” and laboring to carry on his pastoral duties, he died on Aug. 14, two days past his 38th birthday. His funeral in his home parish in Waterbury was attended by throngs of faithful who recognized his virtue and sanctity.
In 1997, Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin of Hartford, Conn., opened Father McGivney’s cause for canonization, at the request of the Knights of Columbus. Dominican Father Gabriel B. O’Donnell was named the postulator, or promoter, of the cause.
The local or “diocesan” phase begins under the bishop with inquiry into every aspect of the Servant of God’s life, writings and reputation, which are compiled into a document called “the Acts.” In Father McGivney’s case, diocesan archives and newspapers, secular newspaper reports and other historical evidences were compiled in 700 pages and sent to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, which began its own investigation.
At this point, prayers to God for the canonization of the candidate may be composed and a guild may be organized to send out prayer cards and promote devotion to the Servant of God. Reports of miraculous occurrences (mostly medically inexplicable physical healings) through the intercession of the candidate may be reported and investigated. For Father McGivney, a healing through his intercession was reported early in the process but in 2011 the Vatican Congregation judged it not to be miraculous in nature. Another possible miracle was reported in January 2012 and is currently under investigation.
Working with Congregation officials, the postulator prepared the positio, a biography of the candidate detailing his heroic virtues and holiness of life, based on historical documents. The positio for Father McGivney, containing 1,000 pages in two volumes, was presented to the Vatican in January 2002.
After studying the positio, the Congregation may affirm the “heroic virtue” of the candidate and recommend that the Holy Father declare him “Venerable,” i.e., that he exercised the Christian virtues above and beyond the call of duty. In March of 2008, Pope Benedict XVI bestowed the title “Venerable” on Father Michael McGivney.
For the Venerable Servant of God to advance to beatification, a miracle through his intercession must be reported, investigated and approved by the Vatican Congregation. The first case brought before the Congregation in Father McGivney’s cause was ruled not miraculous in late 2011. In January 2012 another miracle was reported and is being investigated.
Once a miracle is submitted and approved by the Congregation, the Holy Father may declare the Venerable Servant of God “Blessed” and schedule a beatification ceremony, which will allow local or diocesan veneration of the holy person.
After the Holy Father issues his decree of beatification, another miracle is needed for the “blessed” to be considered for canonization. Once the miracle is accepted by the Congregation, the Holy Father may declare that person a saint to be venerated by the universal Church. A canonization ceremony will be scheduled and a feast day set on the Church’s calendar.
The office in the Vatican that deals with causes for sainthood in Rome, and which investigates and approves the causes.
An expert appointed to oversee the entire cause for sainthood, especially investigation into the life, work and holiness of a candidate, and any miracles reported through his intercession.
When a person prays to God for another person. Regarding canonization, this happens also when a person prays to the candidate for sainthood, asking the candidate to intercede on their behalf.
Scientifically unexplainable occurrences (usually medical cures). Miracles that happen through such intercessory prayers are considered a possible sign that the candidate is with God. One authenticated miracle is required for beatification, and an additional one for canonization.