(WTNH) — Knights of Columbus founder Father Michael McGivney lost his own father when he was in the seminary in the late 1800s. He had to drop out for a while to support his family. When he saw other families in his New Haven parish going through the same thing, he decided to do something about it.
The child of poor Irish immigrants, Michael McGivney saw families in his congregation at St. Mary’s torn apart if the father passed away.
“And so they were just bereft, families were broken up when the breadwinner died,” explained Hartford Archbishop Leonard Blair.
McGivney gathered some of the men of the parish in the church basement and told them they had to work together. The idea took off. They took the name of the most revered Catholic in American history at the time, Christopher Columbus.
“That’s what the Knights of Columbus began as,” explained Supreme Knight and Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson. “A way of getting men more active, protecting their families, getting their families more active.”
McGivney died in 1890 at the age of 38 from a flu-like pandemic that was sweeping the world. The Knights of Columbus, however, grew and thrived, spreading McGivney’s ideals.
In the late 20th century, a change at the Vatican gave the Knights a chance to elevate McGivney’s name even further.
“Saint John Paul II, he made so many saints, so many blesseds,” Anderson said. “Up until that time, I think people just didn’t consider, ‘Hey, that kid from Waterbury, that priest from New Haven, he can be a saint.'”
That is a long process, however, requiring a couple of miracles, and a lot of research and paperwork.
“The investigation of a person’s life and that documentary material was sent to Rome,” said Archbishop Blair.
“This [bound book] is what we submitted to make our case that Father McGivney lived that kind of saintly life,” Anderson said.
McGivney’s tomb at St. Mary’s had already become a kind of pilgrimage site. “Not only for Knights but for the catholic faithful from all over who come to pray at the tomb and ask Father McGivney to intercede for whatever needs they might have in their lives,” said Father John Paul Walker, the current pastor of St. Mary’s Church.
Among those praying to McGivney were the Schachle family from Tennessee. They were told their unborn baby had a fatal medical condition.
“It was so severe, the doctors said, ‘there’s nothing we can do,'” said Anderson
The boy’s father works for the Knights and asked for prayers to Father McGivney. The next ultrasound showed the child was cured. His case was submitted as a miracle to a panel of Vatican doctors.
“Who are not even, sometimes, Catholic,” Blair explained. “It’s meant to be a very objective thing, to determine that there is no medical explanation for how this could have happened.”
With the miracle approved, the pope said McGivney could be beatified. That is just one step below sainthood.
“Beatification largely means that someone can be venerated locally, so this would mean the Archdiocese of Hartford,” said Blair. Which is celebrating the announcement this weekend.
From now on, he will be known as Blessed Michael McGivney.
“This celebration would have been a massive event under normal circumstances. We would have had some stadium that would have had tens of thousands of people,” Anderson said.
Pandemic restrictions require something much smaller. Bad timing, it seems. Or is it?
“Father McGivney really worked during a pandemic and died during a pandemic, maybe there is another message there, that this was the right time to focus on Father McGivney,” Anderson added.
His beatification is sure to bring many more pilgrims to visit Father McGivney’s tomb at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven.