NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The cause for sainthood for Father Michael McGivney, a parish priest in Connecticut who founded the Knights of Columbus, has taken another official step forward.
At the fraternal organization’s 131st Supreme Convention in San Antonio earlier this month, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson reported “there is good news concerning Father McGivney’s cause. A possible miracle attributed to his intercession is now under investigation in Rome.”
If the miracle is approved, Father McGivney would be beatified and receive the title of “Blessed.”
“If he were beatified now, he would be the first United States-born parish priest to be beatified,” noted Brian Caulfield, the vice postulator for Father McGivney’s cause for canonization.
Explaining the process for this new step, Caulfield said, “We were investigating at the diocesan level, and that investigation has been completed. All the documentation was delivered to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints at the Vatican in March.”
He noted that there were no initial objections to the documentation, and the Vatican congregation is moving forward with its role. “It is now in the early stages of investigation there,” Caulfield said.
“The Vatican is now gathering a medical commission to study the possible miracle and determine if it is beyond medical explanation.”
If the commission approves, “then it goes to a theological commission, which will decide whether to send a recommendation to the Holy Father for approval,” Caulfield said. “Then this would be the miracle for the declaration for the beatification.”
At the Vatican, the steps for Father McGivney’s cause are being handled by the postulator, Andrea Ambrosi. He works closely with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and has completed many causes brought from more than 40 countries.
Along with serving as postulator for Father McGivney’s cause, Ambrosi is postulator for several more candidates’ causes, including Blessed Pope John XXIII, Blessed John Henry Newman, Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen and Fathers Augustus Tolton, Emil Kapaun and Patrick Peyton, each designated a “Servant of God.”
In December 2011, Caulfield was appointed vice postulator to succeed Dominican Father Gabriel O’Donnell, the initial vice postulator when Father McGivney’s cause officially opened in the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn., in 1997. Father O’Donnell, now an administrator at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, remains director of the Father McGivney Guild, the official source of information on his life and cause for canonization.
Describing the meticulous process leading toward sainthood, Caulfield said: “I’m really impressed with the professionalism of the Church in these matters and how everything needs to be documented and proven. Nothing falls through the cracks. As a man of the Church, you are consoled by the fact that anyone who makes it to this level is totally legitimate. No one is pushed through just on reputation alone.”
After a thorough examination of all the official documentation about Father McGivney’s life, Pope Benedict XVI declared him “Venerable” in 2008.
“That’s a recognition by the Church that he lived the virtues to a heroic level,” explained Caulfield. “It is all based on the documentation we can gather on his life and service and anything written about him.”
One month later, Benedict XVI visited the United States. During his homily in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, he referred to the parish priest by name. Preaching on the heroic efforts in the late 19th century that saw the Church in America grow dramatically, Benedict said:
“Was not this unity of vision and purpose — rooted in faith and a spirit of constant conversion and self-sacrifice — the secret of the impressive growth of the Church in this country? We need but think of the remarkable accomplishment of that exemplary American priest, the Venerable Michael McGivney, whose vision and zeal led to the establishment of the Knights of Columbus.”
Father McGivney always served as a parish priest. Born in 1852 in Waterbury, Conn., he was ordained in 1877 and immediately assigned to St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Conn. There, his dedication to families led to him being called “Apostle to the Young” and “Protector of Christian Family Life.” To help families, especially widows and children, he founded the Knights of Columbus at St. Mary’s in 1882. Today, it numbers nearly 1.9 million members internationally.
In 1884, the young priest was appointed pastor of both Immaculate Conception Church in Terryville, Conn., and St. Thomas Church in Thomaston, Conn., where he died of pneumonia at age 38 in 1890.
“Even though he didn’t use the word evangelization, he certainly was a great evangelizer,” Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, the supreme chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, told the Register. “He helped the men and the families of the parish to embrace the faith. His life and example remain luminous for all of us who are part of the family.”
Venerable Father Michael McGivney did not stop there.
“He continues to teach us,” said Archbishop Lori. “He left behind four principles at the heart of the Knights of Columbus: charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism. These core principles taught to us by Father McGivney inspire and undergird all the works of the order and, indeed, all its spirituality.”
This latest step in the cause for the order’s founder has given a new burst of energy to members.
Said Archbishop Lori, “The cause for beatification has prompted the order and so many members of the order to focus as never before on the life and example of Father McGivney — on his goodness as a parish priest, on his priestly virtues and on his inspired leadership.”
At the same time, the former bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., reflected on the major role priests play in the order, pointing out the “Knights of Columbus is blessed with magnificent chaplains” at all levels, from state to individual councils doing “yeoman service to our councils bearing witness to Father McGivney‘s life and the central inspiration he gave to the order.”
“I never tire of sharing with my brother chaplains the truth that we are successors to Father McGivney,” Archbishop Lori explained. “More and more of the chaplains of the order are inspiring their brother knights by helping them focus on the four principles, by helping them know and love their faith and live their faith in a very secular society and in a society that devalues fatherhood and what it means to be a good Christian man.”
Because Father McGivney’s cause did not open until just over a century after he died, Caulfield said it is considered a “historical cause,” since none of the virtuous priest’s contemporaries were alive to testify about him.
The vice postulator clarified that, leading to the title “Venerable,” “the recognition of heroic virtue is mainly based on human testament, human sources about what he did, what he wrote, what others wrote about him. The Church makes their judgment on those sources.”
“To get to the level of beatification, the Church looks for God to act — to get a confirmation from God by requiring a miracle which only God can perform through the intercession of the venerable servant of God,” Caulfield said. “There really has to be evidence that God has worked and said Yes. The Church is saying: 'We want God to speak in the matter.' As vice postulator, I find this very comforting that the Church requires this high standard to be met.”
While this miracle awaits confirmation by the Holy See, Caulfield also works with the Father McGivney Guild, where he constantly sees reports of favors and answers to prayer coming after people pray for Father McGivney's intercession.
Reports, testaments and thanks come from people praying to find a job or a better job or parents praying to Father McGivney for their sons and daughters to return to the Church, particularly mothers reporting adult sons and daughters are now back in the faith.
All the answered prayers do not surprise Caulfield.
“Those are two things Father McGivney was concerned about in his lifetime,” he said, “keeping his Catholic flock within the Church, despite the many anti-Catholic challenges in society, and making sure the Catholic family was provided for through decent employment of the breadwinner.”
Father McGivney Guild
Membership to the Father McGivney Guild is free and open to everyone, whether or not one is part of the Knights of Columbus. It is officially a separate organization, publishes five issues of its newsletter each year and makes available a new booklet and prayer card about Father McGivney.
In his report, Carl Anderson also strongly encouraged everyone “to report any favors received through his intercession to the Father McGivney Guild, whose membership now numbers 150,000 — a testament to the great devotion to our founder.”
Archbishop Lori has definite thoughts on what going from “Venerable” to “Blessed” Father McGivney would do for Knights, parish priests and the Church in America.
“Every day, I pray that Father McGivney will be beautified and, God willing, canonized,” he said, “because it would be such a source of encouragement and affirmation for parish priests all over the United States.”
If a parish priest from the United States were canonized — a native-born priest — “it would be a wonderful source of inspiration and a spur for all of us to pursue holiness,” Archbishop Lori said. “And it would be, I dare say, a source of great encouragement for vocations to the priesthood as well.”
Joseph Pronechen is a Register staff writer.