With beatification, Knights extend invitation to become ‘part of the vision and mission of Father McGivney’

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Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, supreme chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, left, prays Aug. 4, 2020, at the granite sarcophagus holding the remains of Father Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, at St. Mary's Church in New Haven, Conn. (CNS photo/courtesy Knights of Columbus)

Preparing for the beatification Mass of Father Michael J. McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus, has been a “spiritual sprint to the finish line” since the Vatican announced five months ago that a miracle through his intercession had been approved.

“We celebrate the intercession of soon-to-be Blessed Michael McGivney while tending to a thousand details here under a tight deadline,” said Brian Caulfield, the vice postulator of the canonization cause for the 19th-century Connecticut parish priest.

Caulfield, who also works in the Office of the Supreme Knight at the Knights of Columbus’ headquarters in New Haven, Connecticut, told Our Sunday Visitor that months of meticulous planning and work have gone into the beatification Mass, which is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hartford, Connecticut.

The Archdiocese of Hartford, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints and the Knights of Columbus worked together to organize the Mass and obtain first-class relics from Father McGivney, who was just 38 when he died of pneumonia on Aug. 14, 1890.

“It’s been a perfect mix of the temporal and the spiritual, the heavenly and the earthly,” Caulfield said.

The COVID-19 pandemic complicated the planning. Because of Connecticut’s public health protocols, only 200 individuals — many of them bishops, cardinals, priests and other dignitaries — will be able to attend the Mass. In normal circumstances, the cathedral can hold up to 1,500 people.

“It’s invitation only, unfortunately,” said Caulfield, who noted that the Mass will be televised and livestreamed on the Knights of Columbus website and through the social media pages of OSV.

“We want to make this an opportunity for people to learn more about the Knights of Columbus, for Catholic men to think about joining the Knights and becoming part of the vision and mission of Father McGivney now that we know his intercession in heaven has been recognized by the Church,” Caulfield said.

Michael McGivney was born in 1852 to Irish immigrant parents in Waterbury, Connecticut. 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 means a lot, not only to the Archdiocese of Hartford but certainly to the state of Connecticut. He’s a major figure in Connecticut history,” said David Elliott, the associate director of communications for the Archdiocese of Hartford.

“I think there’s something very special, especially for our priests in the Hartford archdiocese, in that this is one of our own,” Elliott told Our Sunday Visitor.

“This is someone who served and ministered in churches that are still standing now,” Elliott added. “I think this is going to be a major boost to our own priests who can see that a life of this level of holiness is really possible and attainable, that someone just like any one of our priests is now being elevated to become blessed.”

St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, where Father McGivney is entombed in a marble sarcophagus, will be hosting a weekend “McGivney Festival” that will include Masses, all-night Eucharistic adoration and prayer vigil, panel discussions, a family Rosary, an outdoor candlelight procession, and the Divine Mercy chaplet followed by a reflection.

Father Roger Landry, a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations, will be speaking about Father McGivney and the universal call to holiness during a young adult prayer vigil Saturday at St. Mary’s.

“[Father McGivney] shows us that holiness does not have to be flashy, but involves the basic virtues in which he thrived — faith in God, the twofold love, heart-felt compassion, the capacity for hard work and a real fatherly sense of protection for those entrusted to him,” Father Landry told Our Sunday Visitor.

Father Landry, who is also a fourth-degree Knight, said the beatification is an indication that the Knights is not just an organization founded to strengthen Catholic men and to help solve the problem of what happens when breadwinners die. Father Landry said the fraternal order, which today counts 1.9 million Catholic men, is “an overflow of (Father McGivney’s) holiness, part of the perfection of his love for God and others.”

“When founders of religious orders are canonized, it’s an implicit recognition that their charism, which the founder lived, is a path to sanctity,” Father Landry said. “In a similar way, with Father McGivney’s beatification, his meat-and-potatoes spirituality, what he called ‘practical’ Catholicism, featuring love of God and neighbor, is shown, too, to be a path of holiness, if one lives it the way Father McGivney himself did.”

Father McGivney will be the third U.S.-born priest to be beatified, after Blesseds Stanley Rother and Solanus Casey, both of whom were beatified in 2017. Caulfield, the vice postulator for Father McGivney’s cause, said the beatification could be “a time of great renewal” for the Church in America.

“I think his holiness stems from the fact that he was very definition of love, which is to will the good of the other, to empty yourself for sake of the other,” said Caulfield, who described experiencing great emotion when the Vatican announced on May 28 that Pope Francis had recognized the miraculous healing through Father McGivney’s intercession of a Tennessee boy who had a fatal condition in utero.

The boy’s parents will offer their testimony Saturday evening during the family Rosary at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven. A second confirmed miracle would lead to sainthood for Father McGivney, whose cause was formally opened in 1997.

“For me personally, working on Father McGivney’s cause for the past nine years, he’s literally become a friend,” Caulfield said. “As I get to know him better and his life and his experiences, I feel like he walks with me as a layman. He really was a priest who sought to empower laymen and always insisted that laymen lead the Knights of Columbus, and that it always remains a lay organization.”

For more information on Father McGivney’s beatification, visit kofc.org/beatification.

Brian Fraga is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.

Brian Fraga

Brian Fraga writes from Massachusetts.