Pope clears way for beatification of Knights of Columbus founder

VATICAN CITY. Pope Francis has approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Father Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, clearing the way for his beatification.

Pope Francis has approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Father Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, clearing the way for his beatification. Father McGivney is pictured in an undated photo. CNS file photo

While the Vatican announced May 27 that Pope Francis had signed the decree, it did not announce a date for the beatification ceremony, during which Father McGivney will be bestowed with the title of “Blessed.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, previously scheduled beatification Masses have been postponed.

A statement from the Knights of Columbus said, “A date will soon be set for the beatification Mass, which will take place in Connecticut,” which is where Father McGivney was born and where the Knights were founded.

For beatification, the Vatican requires proof of a miracle attributed to the candidate’s intercession, unless the candidate was martyred for his or her faith.

The decree declaring Father McGivney as a Venerable Servant of God was promulgated by the Vatican in March 2008, the first step toward beatification and ultimately canonization.

The miracle attributed to Father McGivney’s intervention occurred in May 2015 with the birth of a child in the United States.

According to the decree about the miracle, the child had tested positive for Trisomy 21, which causes Down’s syndrome, while the mother was still pregnant.

“A subsequent examination revealed the diagnoses of severe fetal hydrops, which, due to the peculiarities of the case (Trisomy 21), would have led to a very high probability of intrauterine death,” according to the decree.

Fetal hydrops is a serious, life-threatening condition in which a fetus or newborn has an abnormal buildup of fluids in the tissue around the lungs, heart or abdomen or under the skin.

About 20 percent of babies diagnosed with fetal hydrops before birth survive to delivery, and of those, half survive after delivery.

After the diagnosis, the family began praying to Father McGivney for his intercession to save the child.

“An ultrasound performed in the following month showed the disappearance of the hydrops,” according to the decree. “The infant was born, against all odds, on May 15, 2015, at the 31st week of gestation.”

Father McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882 while serving at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Connecticut.

“Nearly a century before the Second Vatican Council, his prescient vision empowered the laity to serve Church and neighbor in a new way,” according to the statement released by the Knights. “Today, the Knights of Columbus is one of the largest Catholic organizations in the world with 2 million members in North and Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, and Europe.”

Meeting with the board of directors of the Knights of Columbus in early February, the statement noted, Pope Francis said the organization has been faithful “to the vision of your founder, Venerable Michael McGivney, who was inspired by the principles of Christian charity and fraternity to assist those most in need.”

“Father McGivney has inspired generations of Catholic men to roll up their sleeves and put their faith into action,” said Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson. “He was decades ahead of his time in giving the laity an important role within the Church. Today, his spirit continues to shape the extraordinary charitable work of Knights as they continue to serve those on the margins of society as he served widows and orphans in the 1880s.”

For canonization – the declaration that the candidate is a saint – a miracle must take place after the beatification ceremony; it is seen as God’s final seal of approval on the Church’s proclamation that the candidate is in heaven with God.

Father McGivney was born Aug. 12, 1852, the eldest of 13 children born to Patrick and Mary Lynch McGivney in Waterbury, Connecticut. Emigrating from separate towns in Ireland’s County Cavan, the couple met and married in the United States. Only seven of their children lived past childhood.

Young Michael attended school in Waterbury’s working-class neighborhood, but he left school at 13 to work in the spoon-making department of a brass factory.

At 16, he left the factory to begin seminary studies at the French-run College of St. Hyacinthe in Quebec. He also studied at Our Lady of Angels Seminary, attached to Niagara University in Niagara Falls, New York, and at the Jesuit-run St. Mary’s College in Montreal.

He went home to Waterbury when his father died in 1873 and stayed there for a time out of concern for his family and because he lacked funds. At the request of Hartford’s bishop, he enrolled in St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, where he completed his priestly studies.

In 1877, he was ordained in Baltimore by Archbishop James Gibbons for the then-Diocese of Hartford. A few days after his ordination, he said his first Mass in the presence of his widowed mother at Immaculate Conception Church in Waterbury.

Father McGivney served as an assistant pastor at St. Mary’s Parish in New Haven, 1877-1884. He founded the Knights of Columbus with a small group of Catholic laymen, in order to strengthen religious faith and to help families overwhelmed by the illness or death of their breadwinner.

In 1884, he was named pastor of St. Thomas Church in Thomaston, a factory town about 10 miles from Waterbury. He fell ill during an influenza epidemic and died Aug. 14, 1890, probably from complications of pneumonia and tuberculosis.

Andy Telli contributed to this report.