Dear Friends in Christ:
As I announced back in May, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has approved a miracle attributed to a parish priest of the Archdiocese of Hartford! One of our own, on this coming Saturday, the eve of All Saints Day, will officially be declared BLESSED! Father Michael J. McGivney, a Waterbury native, will be Blessed Michael J. McGivney and we pray one day Saint!
The last couple of years have seen a bit of a boom in American saint making. Before the beatification of Blessed Stanley Rother in September 2017, no American-born man had yet risen to the distinction of Blessed in the Roman Catholic Church. But when Father McGivney is beatified, he will become the fourth American-born male Blessed.
So who was Father Michael J. McGivney? And why is he important to the Church today, more than a hundred years after his death? I’m glad you asked!
Childhood…Michael J. McGivney was born on August 12, 1852, in Waterbury, to Irish immigrant parents, Patrick and Mary Lynch McGivney. Young Michael was a product of his time: he was the eldest of 13 children, seven of whom survived to adulthood; he grew up in a working class neighborhood; he attended Waterbury working-class neighborhood schools until the age of 13 when he went to work in a brass factory in order to bring extra money into his family’s household.
Seminary studies...At the age of 16, Michael left the factory to further his education and to study for the priesthood. He traveled with a Waterbury priest to Saint-Hyacinth, Quebec, where he entered the Seminary, and then he continued his studies at Our Lady of Angels Seminary in Niagara Falls, New York. Sadly, he was not able to complete his studies as his father died suddenly in 1873, and Michael returned home to help the family through that difficult time. When the family was in a better position he was able to return to his studies for the priesthood and was sent by the Bishop of Hartford to St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore where he completed his studies and was later ordained in the historic Cathedral in Baltimore on December 22, 1877, by Archbishop (later Cardinal) James Gibbons. A few days later, with his widowed mother present, he said his first Mass at the Immaculate Conception (now Basilica) in Waterbury.
Life as a priest…Upon his ordination, Father McGivney began his priestly ministry on Christmas Day in 1877 as a curate (today we use the term Parochial Vicar) at Saint Mary’s Parish in New Haven. It was the city’s first parish. It was a time of great tension for the working-class Irish families in the community at large. As part of his duties, Father McGivney was involved with the pastoral care of the incarcerated inmates of the local jail. His duty extended into a deep loving care for them, best exemplified with his interactions with 21-year old Irishman James Smith, who while drunk, shot and killed a police officer. He was tried for first-degree murder in 1881, convicted and sentenced to execution. Father McGivney visited him daily, offering Smith pastoral care and love, right up until the day of Smith’s execution. On that day, Smith stated that Father McGivney’s daily visits enabled him to “meet death without a tremor” and that Father McGivney should not fear for him.
Father McGivney never tired of spending himself in service to his parishioners. He worked with the young people holding catechism classes, and organizing a total abstinence society to fight alcoholism. He daily encountered the reality of families whose main breadwinner (usually the husband and father at the time) died at an early age either in factory accidents or through illnesses contracted because of their dangerous factory work, leaving their family without means of support. He also witnessed a desire among Catholic men to belong to some of the secret societies of the time, like the Freemasons, which often held values that opposed the Church’s teachings.
Bringing these two important needs together, Father McGivney presented the idea of a Catholic fraternity for men to the Bishop of Hartford, Bishop Lawrence McMahon. He approved of this idea and encouraged the young priest in this endeavor.
1. The Knights would serve as an antidote to those secret societies that lured Catholic men away from their faith by offering financial benefits.
2. The Order’s insurance program would help keep Catholic families together when a breadwinner died; this would also help prevent a loss of faith among widows and orphans forced to live in state institutions or with non-Catholic relatives or adoptive families.
3. The Knights would champion the full rights of American citizenship for Catholics. This too would support the Church, since ensuring equal rights for Catholics would help limit the social or civil pressure on them to abandon their faith.
Thus, together with 24 men whose hearts were full of joy and thanksgiving, Father McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus and on March 29, 1882, the Connecticut State Legislature granted a charter to the Knights of Columbus formally establishing it as a legal corporation. The principles of the Order from the very start were Unity and Charity, which carry forward to this day adding at a later time Fraternity and Patriotism. Father McGivney worked tirelessly in creating additional councils in parishes throughout the Archdiocese and throughout Connecticut. This is evidenced by his many trips to all parts of Connecticut and handwritten correspondence—little of which exists to this day—about the Knights of Columbus. All the while working tirelessly to establish this fraternal Order, Father McGivney remained an energetic young priest serving the people of Saint Mary’s Parish.
In November of 1884, Father McGivney was named the Pastor of Saint Thomas Church in Thomaston, and tasked with infusing the parish with the spirit he had brought to Saint Mary’s. It was a factory town and the parish was heavily in debt with limited resources from its working-class parishioners. He wrestled with the debt and worked hard to establish close ties with his parishioners as he had done in New Haven. During this time, Father McGivney continued to serve the Knights of Columbus as the Supreme Chaplain personally involved in helping the Order continue to expand its presence and increase its membership. From the moment he launched the Knights of Columbus, the Order fortified Catholics in their faith, offered them ways to greater financial security in a sometimes anti-Catholic world, and strengthened them for the journey.
Never a very healthy man, Father McGivney was stricken with a serious case of pneumonia in January of 1890. Various treatments were attempted but his decline persisted. The young priest lost his strength and on August 14, 1890, passed away during an influenza epidemic, likely due to complications stemming from tuberculosis and pneumonia. Today Father McGivney is enshrined at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Connecticut, and the Order he founded numbers some 2 million Catholic men throughout the world!
Cause for canonization…In 1997, Archbishop Daniel Cronin, Archbishop of Hartford, opened the cause for Father McGivney’s beatification and canonization, and in April 2008, Pope Benedict XVI elevated Father McGivney to be declared Venerable Servant of God.
For the next step in the process – beatification – the Vatican requires proof of a miracle attributed to the candidate’s intercession. On May 27, 2020, the Vatican formally announced the approval of a miracle involving the healing of an unborn child from a life-threatening condition.
The miracle attributed to Father Michael J. McGivney’s intercession…Pope Francis has credited a 2015 miracle to the Reverend Michael J. McGivney, a Connecticut priest who died in 1890 during a pandemic much like the one we are living through today! The miracle recognized by the Vatican occurred in 2015 and involved an unborn son of Michelle and Daniel Schachle of Dickson, Tennessee, with a life threatening condition that, under most circumstances, could have led to an abortion. In addition to the fetal hydrops diagnosis, Mikey had Down Syndrome, and the mother was told if she carried to full term she would likely have complications which could lead to her death.
His parents prayed to Father McGivney to intercede with God to save their son, still in his mother's womb, who was given no hope of surviving. They asked Father McGivney for help, engaging family and friends and fellow Knights of Columbus to pray for his intercession for their unborn son, whom they decided to name Michael after the Venerable Servant of God. After returning home from a pilgrimage to Fatima with the Knights of Columbus, another ultrasound revealed that the symptoms of hydrops (fluid buildup in the organs and tissue) had completely disappeared. When she said to the doctor, “I was told there was no hope,” the doctor said you are the “woman who just came back from Fatima, Honey, with God, there is always hope!”
Michael Schachle was born premature on May 15, 2015, and although he has had several health issues and surgery related to his Down Syndrome, he is a healthy and active 5-year-old boy!
With this miracle approved, Father Michael J. McGivney, the son of Irish immigrants, born in Waterbury, Connecticut, a priest of the Archdiocese of Hartford, founder of the Knights of Columbus, will now be a Blessed in the Church. He will be the first American parish priest to be beatified. This makes him one step closer to being a Saint. Imagine someone born and raised in Waterbury is on the path to being a Saint. Being beatified, declared Blessed, means that Father McGivney can be publicly venerated in those regions with a religious devotion to that person, and the Mass may be offered in his honor on a designated feast day. Father McGivney will need a second miracle to be declared a Saint. What a great intercessor for parish priests, for Knights of Columbus, and for all of us here in his home state of Connecticut. What a great reminder that it is possible for us all to become Saints! Blessed Father Michael J. McGivney, pray for us!
Prayer for the canonization of Father Michael J. McGivney…God, our Father, protector of the poor and defender of the widow and orphan, you called your priest, Father Michael J. McGivney, to be an apostle of Christian family life and to lead the young to the generous service of their neighbor. Through the example of his life and virtue may we follow your Son, Jesus Christ, more closely, fulfilling his commandment of charity and building up his Body which is the Church. Let the inspiration of your servant prompt us to greater confidence in your love so that we may continue his work of caring for the needy and the outcast. We humbly ask that you glorify your venerable servant Father Michael J. McGivney on earth according to the design of your holy will.
Through his intercession, grant the favor I now present (here make your request). Through Christ our Lord. Amen. (Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be.)
The Beatification and other celebrations next weekend October 30 through November 1, 2020, will be limited in capacity due to the pandemic but thanks to EWTN you can join in! There will be a special Vigil for Priests on Friday evening, October 30, at 7PM; the Beatification Mass on Saturday, October 31, at 11AM; and a Mass of Thanksgiving on Sunday, November 1, at 10AM. EWTN will carry all of these celebrations LIVE. Join us for this MOST historic celebration in the life of our Archdiocese and the Knights of Columbus!
We remind you all that this same weekend, at all weekend Masses, candles will be lit in front of the altar as a special way to honor our parishioners who have died throughout the past year. Each family will be provided the opportunity after the Mass they attend to take the candle with their loved ones name on it as a reminder of our prayers for them during this time of loss, and as a reminder of our need to pray for our deceased loved ones. ALL parishioners are welcome to join us in prayer for our parishioners who died this past year and for their families who mourn their loss.
As always, remember to pray and ask God’s blessings upon our family of faith as we build His kingdom here. Please know that I am praying for you, and I ask for your prayers for me, that together through the intercession of Saint Bridget of Sweden, our Patroness, and united in the Eucharist, we will reflect the presence of Jesus to the world.