The 1.9 million Catholic men who form the Knights of Columbus woke up to exciting news on Wednesday that Father Michael J. McGivney, the 19th-century parish priest who founded their fraternal order, will soon be beatified.
“It’s a beautiful day for the Knights of Columbus,” Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson told Our Sunday Visitor a few hours after the Vatican announced the promulgation of a decree recognizing the miraculous in-utero healing of a child through Father McGivney’s intercession.
In 2015, the child was born in the United States without any signs of the condition that had threatened his life in the womb. The family had prayed to Father McGivney for the child’s healing.
A date will be set for the beatification Mass, which will take place in Connecticut, where Father McGivney was born in 1852 to Irish immigrant parents in Waterbury. Ordained in 1877, Father McGivney served as a parish priest ministering primarily to an Irish-American and immigrant community in the then-Diocese of Hartford.
While serving as pastor of St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Father McGivney and a group of leading Catholic men founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882 to provide spiritual support for Catholic men and financial resources for families that suffered the loss of their breadwinner.
Father McGivney had just turned 38 when he died of pneumonia on Aug. 14, 1890. He fell ill during a pandemic that recent scientific evidence suggests was similar to the coronavirus pandemic that today has killed more than 353,000 people worldwide and more than 100,000 Americans.
In an interview with Our Sunday Visitor, Anderson reflected on the legacy of Father McGivney, whose cause for sainthood was opened by the Archdiocese of Hartford in 1997. In March 2008, Pope Benedict XVI declared Father McGivney “venerable.”
Our Sunday Visitor: How does it feel to know that Father McGivney will soon be beatified?
Carl Anderson: It’s a beautiful day for the Knights of Columbus. Of course, all of us have been praying so hard for this moment, and to wake up and learn of the Vatican’s decree has just filled everyone’s hearts with joy.
Our Sunday Visitor: What can you tell us about the miracle that the Vatican approved for Father McGivney’s beatification?
Anderson: The Vatican will decide to release the details a little bit later in the process. But I can tell you that it was a miracle on an unborn child, a child in utero, who had a condition incompatible with life. In many places, they would no longer treat the child in this circumstance. When the child was born, that condition was completely gone.
Our Sunday Visitor: What is the Knights’ role in the canonization cause?
Anderson: We’ve been involved in supporting and passing out the word about Father McGivney, but canonically the cause goes through the Archdiocese of Hartford and, of course, the postulator who prepares the documents and the reports.
Our Sunday Visitor: Has this moment been a long time coming?
Anderson: It seems like a long time, but within the process of beatification and canonization, this was really quite quick, actually. At the end of the 19th century, I don’t think people at the time thought about proposing for canonization a young priest from Waterbury, Connecticut. But more recently, when we’ve seen all the individuals he’s inspired and how many priests have found inspiration from Father McGivney, it just seemed natural.
Our Sunday Visitor: What makes Father McGivney a candidate for canonization?
Anderson: During his lifetime, people referred to him as saintly, someone who was a tremendous example of the good Samaritan. They recognized in him somebody who had devoted his life to the principles of charity and unity, as someone who was generous to a fault. With his reputation, he inspired not only members of the Knights of Columbus but really many of his priest-colleagues in Connecticut.
Our Sunday Visitor: What are some lessons that Catholics today can take from Father McGivney’s example?
Anderson: There are several things, really. St. Pope Paul VI said after the Second Vatican Council that the purpose of the council was to present to the world “The Church of the Good Samaritan.” And here in the life of Father McGivney, we see a parish priest who made that his life’s calling almost a century before the Second Vatican Council. He should inspire us all to greater acts of charity and greater acts of unity.
And as this country faces this pandemic, we need more charity and we need more unity to go through this. I think he can be an inspiration certainly to Knights of Columbus and Catholics in the United States, but I think all citizens in the United States can see in this young man someone who dedicated himself to his neighbors in terms of charity and unity.
Our Sunday Visitor: Do you see any significance in this announcement being made as we deal with a pandemic in our own age?
Anderson: I think it’s certainly providential in all the times when the Vatican could have acted on behalf of the cause of Father McGivney, that now, in the midst of this pandemic, here is a priest who suffered through a pandemic in his time and actually died from it. So if we are looking for an intercessor, somebody who understands what we’re going through, it would be Father McGivney.
Our Sunday Visitor: Will the Knights of Columbus be holding any special events between now and the beatification?
Anderson: In the spirit of Father McGivney, we launched our “Leave No Neighbor Behind” initiative to get out and help with food pantries, blood donations, reaching out to our neighbors and fellow parishioners who might need a helping hand during this time. So I think the announcement of his upcoming beatification will certainly inspire more activity in that regard.
Our Sunday Visitor: Will the Knights of Columbus be involved in the preparations for the beatification?
Anderson: I think there will be a number of things we’re doing. We’ll be working with the Archdiocese of Hartford in terms of planning it. We have our supreme convention coming up, and we will be doing a lot more charity in the name of Father McGivney.
Our Sunday Visitor: What do you hope local Knights of Columbus councils and their members take away from this news?
Anderson: So many of our members already see Father McGivney as a model for what it means to be an authentically Catholic man, and I hope more of them do. I hope that more local councils will become inspired. And from the standpoint that here was an exemplary parish priest, for our local councils to be more united with our parishes and our parish priests, especially during this time when they have so many challenges. And I hope our local councils will step forward and be the strong right arm of our parish priests as they begin to reopen our churches.
Our Sunday Visitor: Do you hope this will motivate more Catholic men to take a fresh look at the Knights of Columbus?
Anderson: I’m hoping people will see in Father McGivney a real model of being a Knight of Columbus and to join the Knights and be part of this movement of laymen, and make charity and unity the guiding principles of their lives as Catholics.
Our Sunday Visitor: What has Father McGivney meant for you personally in terms of your own life and spirituality?
Anderson: Father McGivney has proposed for Catholic men a path of Christian discipleship based on charity, unity and brotherhood. That way of living as a Catholic man has been an inspiration, and it really has changed my life.
Brian Fraga is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.