The Knights of Columbus launched an inaugural pilgrimage of “Walking in the Footsteps of Father Michael J. McGivney” on the anniversary of his death Aug. 14 with a small group of officials from the organization’s headquarters, who toured stops in Thomaston, Terryville, Waterbury and New Haven.
”We’re trying to make the life of this Connecticut boy and his heroic virtue known to as many people as possible,” said Brian Caulfield, vice postulator of the cause for canonization of Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney. “Everyone who knows his story knows this holy man as a great example for all of us.”
Leading the pilgrimage were Father James Sullivan, pastor of Assumption Parish in Ansonia, and Sister Veronica Sullivan, his sister, a member of the Sisters of Life, who were raised two miles from the young Father McGivney’s home along the banks of the Naugatuck River in Waterbury. They both have walked in the footsteps and researched the life of Father McGivney.
Born to Irish immigrants in Waterbury, on Aug. 12, 1852, Father McGivney was the eldest of 13 children, seven of whom survived to adulthood. He worked with his father in a spoon factory until age 16, when he began preparing for his seminary studies. Father McGivney was ordained in Baltimore on Dec. 22, 1877.
While serving as a curate at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven in 1882, he founded the Knights of Columbus to serve the financial needs of widows and children. Later assigned as pastor of St. Thomas Parish in Thomaston (1884-90), he also ministered to parishioners in the mission church of Immaculate Conception five miles away in Waterbury. He died of pneumonia in St. Thomas Rectory on Aug.14, 1890, two days after his 38th birthday.
Stops on the tour included the following:
- The site of the first St. Thomas Church and rectory near the train station in Thomaston. (The church was later demolished when a larger church in the center of town was built and dedicated in 1908.) Father McGivney served here as pastor and established the Knights’ Atlantic Council 18 on April 8, 1885. Council members named the street in front of the current church “Fr. McGivney Way,” and a plaque near the entrance marks his founding of the council and the international organization. Inside is a golden statue of Father McGivney that offers pilgrims an opportunity to light a candle and call upon his intercession.
- St. Thomas Cemetery in Thomaston, where Father McGivney buried his parishioners. Visitors can climb steps marked with an iron handrail that Father McGivney would have used while walking up from a lower street to visit the cemetery in general, or the grave of his friend and former parish pastor, Father Eugene Gaffney.
- The Thomaston Opera House, where Father McGivney directed and staged several plays.
- Immaculate Conception Church in Terryville, established as a mission church in 1882, to which Father McGivney traveled five miles by horse and cart to celebrate Sunday Mass.
- The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception Parish at 74 West Main St., Waterbury, which named its parish center Father Michael J. McGivney Hall. Father McGivney celebrated his first public Mass in the former church. Located near the site of the UConn Waterbury campus on East Main Street, it has since been demolished.
- The area of the former St. Peter Church in Waterbury, where Father McGivney’s parents, Patrick and Mary (Lynch), were married. After the parish built a new church in 1857, renaming it in honor of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the building was later converted into a grade school which the young Michael McGivney attended.
- Railroad Hill Street and the area of Father McGivney’s childhood home near the banks of the Naugatuck River.
- Joseph’s Cemetery in Waterbury, where Father McGivney’s mother and father are buried, along with his two brothers who were priests, John and Patrick; sisters Catherine and Anna; and brother, Patrick, who died in infancy.
[Nearby is the gravesite of Edward and Rose Finn, Father McGivney’s brother-in-law and sister. Three of her nine children were priests who served in Connecticut: Msgr. Leo M. Finn, Father Francis J. Finn and Father Vincent E. Finn.]
- Other sites in Waterbury include Father Michael J. McGivney Boulevard, renamed from Grand Street in 2004, and a nearby eight-foot bronze statue dedicated in 1957 near town hall.
- The sarcophagus of Father McGivney at St. Mary Church at 5 Hillhouse Ave., New Haven. In 1982, his body was exhumed from St. Joseph Cemetery in Waterbury and interred at the church where he founded the fraternal organization that today has 1.8 million members worldwide.
- The Knights of Columbus Museum at 1 State St., New Haven, which contains memorabilia of Father McGivney.
The Walking in the Footsteps itinerary will be posted at www.fathermcgivney.org in coming weeks, according to Mr. Caulfield.
The Father Michael J. McGivney Guild serves as resource on the life, works and spirituality of Father McGivney. It distributes information about him, receives reports of favors granted through his intercession and oversees the distribution of relics. Guild members receive regular updates on the progress of Father McGivney’s cause for canonization. He was named Servant of God in September 1997 and Venerable on March 15, 2008.