Father Michael McGivney Deemed ‘Blessed’
The first beatification of a parish priest held on U.S. soil took place Oct. 31 in Hartford, Connecticut.
HARTFORD, Conn. — As many people as were allowed due to present health restrictions were present in the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford, Connecticut, on Saturday to attend the Mass of the beatification of Venerable Father Michael McGivney. Despite the limits, pageantry and joy marked this historic celebration, the first beatification of a parish priest held on U.S. soil.
A first-generation American, Father McGivney was born and raised in Waterbury, Connecticut, the eldest of Patrick and Mary McGivney’s 13 children. His parents had emigrated from Ireland. The holy priest is best known as being the founder of the Knights of Columbus.
The ceremony and Mass began with a grand procession of dozens of priests, deacons, bishops, archbishops and cardinals, including Cardinals Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, Seán O’Malley of Boston and Timothy Dolan of New York; Archbishops Leonard Blair of Hartford, Connecticut, William Lori of Baltimore; Archbishops Emeritus Henry Mansell and Daniel Cronin, who began the cause for canonization in 1997, and Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.
Among many other bishops who came from near and far was Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, and Archbishop Mieczysław Mokrzycki of Lviv, Ukraine. The current pastors of the three churches Father McGivney served during his lifetime were also present for the joy-filled ceremony, as was Supreme Knight Carl Anderson and his wife.
Twenty-five members of the McGivney family were also in attendance.
Also present were Daniel and Michelle Schachle and their children, who have a particularly personal connection to the new “Blessed.” Their 5-year-old son, Michael, was healed in utero by the intercession of Father McGivney. This miracle paved the way for the priest’s beatification. Little Michael was even born on May 15, the anniversary of the chartering of the first Knights of Columbus council. He, like Father McGivney, is one of 13 children; Father McGivney was the oldest in his family, while Michael is the youngest in his.
As representative of Pope Francis, Cardinal Tobin was principal celebrant of the Mass and read the Holy Father’s apostolic letter in Italian. Then Archbishop Lori, supreme chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, read it in English: “We degree that the Venerable Servant of God Michael McGivney, a diocesan priest, founder of the Knights of Columbus whose zeal for the proclamation of the Gospel and generous concern for the needs of his brothers and sisters made him an outstanding witness of Christian solidarity and fraternal assistance, henceforth be given the title of Blessed and that his liturgical memorial be kept each year on the 13th day of August, in those places laid down by the norm of law. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Then Blessed Michael McGivney’s portrait was unveiled; there, detailed in the painting, was a hint of a smile on his holy face.
The procession and presentation of Father McGivney’s relics by the Schachle family was a heartwarming, moment as 5-year-old miracle boy Michael, who has Down syndrome, walked up to hand the relic, encased in a large silver cross half as big as he is, to Cardinal Tobin, who got down on one knee to accept it from Michael so handsomely dressed in his gray suit. It is a moment that will remain as one unforgettable highlight during this beatification.
A Saint for Today
In his homily, Cardinal Tobin referred to Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews, assuring the faithful are “surrounded by a cloud of witnesses” who give “courage to go on. … Today, in the name of the Church, Pope Francis recognizes one more face among those witnesses: the serene, youthful countenance of Father Michael Joseph McGivney.”
Cardinal Tobin said that in recognizing Father McGivney’s holiness, “there are timely signs of God’s providential care that can speak in a personal way to each one of us, especially at this moment of our history.” He cited Father McGivney’s life as a son of immigrants, who “gave his life in pastoral service of those most recently arrived in this country” and “worked to keep families united in dignity and security. We are in the presence of an apostle who cared for victims of an epidemic before he himself would die of it” at the young age of 38.
Acknowledging God’s providence in confirming Father McGivney’s holiness with the miraculous cure of little Michael healed in utero, the cardinal continued, “We praise God for the timeliness of this celebration because, 130 years after his death, the life of this holy man speaks eloquently to our own path to holiness. We should listen to his testimony. Jesus asks each one of us to becomes a saint, to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. Be merciful, just as your heavenly Father is merciful.”
Each of us can find encouragement in Father McGivney’s life, Cardinal Tobin said, and “more than those of us who are called to become saints as parish priests.” Father McGivney’s “pastoral ministry began with his family, which nurtured his growth in grace and provided an ambience in which he and two of his brothers would hear the call and serve the Lord as priests.”
Cardinal Tobin pointed out how Father McGivney “was sanctified by doing what a good priest, good parish priest, does today, day in and day out. His parish was never limited by the registration rolls.”
And the Knights of Columbus, which now span the world with 2 million members, “was born from the pastoral ingenuity of a parish priest to respond to the twin challenges faced by the people he served.”
Close to the people, he shared “intimately and intensely their suffering,” noted the cardinal. “Long before his exhausted body surrendered to the disease, he died daily to his own desires and thus manifested the greatest love of all, the love of his Master, who laid down his life for his friends.”
“How good of God,” the cardinal concluded, “to give the Church Blessed Michael Joseph McGivney at this moment of our common pilgrimage. In a time of suffering and division we glimpse his faith among a cloud of witnesses that surround us and urge us on. In Michael McGivney we learn that life is … a gift to be shared.”
A Priest for Priests and Families
Archbishop Leonard Blair of the Archdiocese of Hartford in which Father served in the days when it was the only diocese in the Nutmeg State, finds that “to have one of our native sons, one of our own priests beatified, has special meaning for the archdiocese. It’s a great honor but also a tremendous inspiration — one of our own priests fulfilling their duties” in “heroic sanctity,” he told the Register.
Archbishop Blair noted the newly Blessed can encourage today’s priests because history reveals that during Father McGivney’s time “there was a shortage of priests, and of the priests we did have in those times, many died young because they were engaged with an immigrant population”; and working in those health and living circumstances, “the priests often caught diseases. They worked very hard back then.”
He said Father McGivney is an inspiration because today “we have fewer priests than we need. Priests face many challenges today in the Church. If Father McGivney rose to the occasion by the grace of God, then we are also called to rise to the occasion by the grace of God.”
Blessed Michael McGivney can also help families today, the archbishop added. “Founding the Knights of Columbus, his special purpose was to aid families, particularly Catholic men, to band together to provide for the families — widows and children — of men who typically died young. From the beginning he was centered on the spiritual and material needs of the family.”
Archbishop Blair said it’s also a great honor for him as an archbishop to preside over the diocese during the time when one of its priests is beatified. “I very much believe this can be an official spiritual fruitful not only for our archdiocese, but for all people. I had been praying a long time for his beatification; and now that he is beatified, I will invoke him all the more to pray for us and help us in meeting the challenges of today.”
Dominican Father John Paul Walker, pastor of St. Mary Church in New Haven, Connecticut, where Father McGivney first served and where he is entombed, called this “a significant moment for parish priests everywhere because he is the first priest beatified precisely in his duties as a parish priest. He was not a martyr, not a missionary, not a bishop, but a regular parish priest who lived that regular parish priesthood in an extraordinarily heroic way.”
With the beatification, Father Walker shared some early thoughts with the Register on what this will mean for St. Mary’s. “This is an incredible moment in our parish history,” he said. “Living under the legacy of such an extraordinary priest, our faithful here know they can bring their needs and petitions to Father McGivney and feel a personal connection to this … Blessed, asking to intercede for them.”
At the same time, he envisions that pilgrims coming to St. Mary’s will increase. “Part of our parish role is now to host well all the folks who come from all over to visit this church.”
McGivney Relatives Share Insights
John Walshe is the great-grandnephew of Father McGivney. His great-grandmother, Rose McGivney Finn, was Father McGivney’s younger sister. He and his wife, Kay, were readers for the Prayers of the Faithful during today’s beatification Mass.
He finds the beatification “really exciting, both in a lay and a religious way.”
Walshe shared a personal story concerning his great-granduncle. After an operation, Walshe became extremely ill and had to return to the hospital. It was a question of whether he would survive, as he went in and out of a coma. His wife saw a priest in another room and asked him to pray for her husband.
Walshe said when the priest was there, he opened his eyes and also saw Father McGivney standing behind the priest and wearing a brown cassock. He was surprised by the brown cassock. But, about two weeks ago, Walshe said he happened to pick up an old Knights of Columbus magazine celebrating one of the organization’s anniversaries, “and there was a picture of Father Mike [a familiar name the family has for him] in his cassock, and his cassock was brown. … My hair stood on the back of my neck.” He said that sight was “no hallucination.”
Walshe will continue to go regularly, as he has been, to pray at the tomb of Blessed Michael McGivney.
Margaret Ransom, Father McGivney’s great-grandniece, and her husband, Robert, who is administrator of the cause for beatification, also read prayer petitions at the Mass.
“It has been a privilege for me, as well as for my husband and two children, to participate for decades in so many events leading up to his beatification,” she told the Register. “It has also been an honor to have such a constant, wonderful role model for my children.”
The Ransoms have two children, Michael and Kevin, who are 20 and 18 years old, respectively.
“Being a relative is a blessing and something I take very seriously,” Kevin explained.
For his part, Robert feels Father McGivney’s beatification “helps to solidify and maybe even, in some cases, validate the inspiration brother Knights have already found through their admiration and reverence of Father McGivney. That same inspiration can now give them the ability to convince their friends, neighbors and fellow parishioners, who may have been on the fence about it, to join our order and contribute to transforming the world.”
At the same time, Robert sees how Blessed Father McGivney’s intercession can continue helping families.
“Father McGivney was so focused on the family, a focus that was his purpose in starting the Knights of Columbus,” Robert told the Register. “He served as a true apostle of the Christian family. I truly believe that a family in need of his intercession can be strengthened and become united in their goal of solving a problem, or helping with a crisis, or coming to terms with a tragedy.”
Personally, he added that he has been “so blessed to be included in this amazing sequence of events, from his exhumation [in 1982], to various celebrations, topped off by the awe-inspiring beatification Mass. It became so very personal for me at the exhumation when we had the opportunity to venerate him in the vast silence of St. Mary’s Church. I simply touched the hem of his garment. That one act was truly transformative.”
Added son Kevin, “It is an honor to have my name associated with the legacy of someone who did so many good things for the community, the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Church.”