NEW HAVEN (Christian Newswire) – Marking the 125th anniversary of the death of Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney, hundreds of admirers gathered at St. Mary's Church, the place where Father McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882, and where his earthly remains are entombed.
The principal celebrant and homilist on Friday, Aug. 14, was Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, the organization's supreme chaplain. He spoke of Father McGivney in deeply personal terms that brought the founder's person and ministry to life.
"I like to think that Father McGivney's priesthood models the teaching of recent popes," the archbishop explained in his homily. "St. John Paul II said that the priest's personality must be a bridge to Christ, and indeed Father McGivney's unassuming, lighthearted-yet-determined character attracted many to the Catholic faith and to St. Mary's Church," said Archbishop Lori. "When Pope Francis tells priests to acquire 'the smell of the sheep' and 'to bring the Gospel to the margins of society,' I think of Father McGivney. He loved the priesthood deeply."
At the conclusion of Mass, Archbishop Lori was joined by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson, other supreme officers of the Knights of Columbus and John Walshe, a great grandnephew of Father McGivney, at the sarcophagus near the entrance of the church, where the remains of Father McGivney are interred. The archbishop incensed the sarcophagus as church bells tolled, and then led the congregation in prayers for his canonization.
Father McGivney passed away Aug. 14, 1890, two days past his 38th birthday, in the rectory of St. Thomas Parish in Thomaston, where he served as pastor for six years. He was also pastor at that time of Immaculate Conception Parish in nearby Terryville. Previously, he was assistant parish priest for seven years at St. Mary's, where he gathered a handful of parish men in the church's basement to found the Knights of Columbus.
Sixteen Knights formed an honor guard that led the processional and recessional at the noon Mass, and four Knights carried a four-foot statue of Father McGivney. The statue and an original painting of Father McGivney were placed in the sanctuary during the Mass.
Among the hundreds attending the Mass were Connecticut State Council officers, including State Deputy Thomas J. Vita, who brought up the gifts at the offertory with his wife, Rosemary.
Speaking of the profound influence Father McGivney had on the early Knights in embracing the order's principles, Archbishop Lori said, "These men would not have committed to the principle of charity had they not seen in Father McGivney a man of tireless pastoral charity, who reflected God's love through acts of personal generosity and compassion. These men would not have committed to the principle of unity had they not seen how Father McGivney brought together the people of St. Mary's parish and how he served as a source of unity in the wider community of New Haven. Nor would they have committed to the principle of fraternity had they not witnessed how Father McGivney was not only the father but also the brother to his parishioners and indeed to anyone in need."
He added that nearly 1.9 million Knights worldwide today continue to look to Father McGivney for inspiration and guidance as they live out his vision for the Knights.
On a very personal note, the archbishop said that he considers Father McGivney to be "my parish priest, the parish priest of my soul. Every morning I pray to him and I pray that he be canonized, as I know you do. Every day I load his plate with all kinds of intentions."
The cause of sainthood for Father McGivney was opened in 1997, and he was declared a Venerable Servant of God by Pope Benedict XVI in March 2008 in recognition of his life of heroic virtue. One Vatican-approved miracle through his intercession is needed for beatification, and another miracle is needed for canonization.