Michael Joseph McGivney, American Catholic priest, is born to Irish immigrants Patrick and Mary (Lynch) McGivney on August 12, 1852 in Waterbury, Connecticut. He founds the Knights of Columbus at a local parish to serve as a mutual aid and fraternal insurance organization, particularly for immigrants and their families. It develops through the 20th century as the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization.
McGivney attends the local Waterbury district school but leaves at 13 to work in the spoon-making department of one of the area brass mills. In 1868, at the age of 16, he enters the Séminaire de Saint-Hyacinthe in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, Canada. He continues his studies at Our Lady of Angels Seminary, near Niagara Falls, New York (1871–1872) and at the Jesuits‘ St. Mary’s College, in Montreal, Quebec. He has to leave the seminary, returning home, to help finish raising his siblings after the death of his father in June 1873. He later resumes his studies at St. Mary’s Seminary, in Baltimore, Maryland. He is ordained a priest on December 22, 1877, by Archbishop James Gibbons at the Baltimore Cathedral of the Assumption.
From his own experience, McGivney recognizes the devastating effect on immigrant families of the untimely death of the father and wage earner. Many Catholics are still struggling to assimilate into the American economy. On March 29, 1882, while an assistant pastor at Saint Mary’s Church in New Haven, Connecticut, he founds the Knights of Columbus, with a small group of parishioners, as a mutual aid society to provide financial assistance in the event of the men’s death to their widows and orphans. The organization develops as a fraternal society. He is also known for his tireless work among his parishioners.
The Knights of Columbus is among the first groups to recruit blood donors, with formal efforts dating to 1937 during the Great Depression. As of 2013, the order has more than 1.8 million member families and 15,000 councils. During the 2012 fraternal year, $167 million and 70 million man-hours are donated to charity by the order.
In 1996, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford opens the cause for canonization, an investigation into McGivney’s life with a view towards formal recognition by the Church of his sainthood. Father Gabriel O’Donnell, OP, is the postulator of McGivney’s cause. He is also the director of the Fr. McGivney Guild, which now has 150,000 members supporting his cause.
The diocesan investigation is closed in 2000 and the case is passed to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Vatican City. On March 15, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI approves a decree recognizing McGivney’s heroic virtue, thus declaring him “Venerable.” As of August 6, 2013, a miracle attributed to McGivney’s intercession is under investigation at the Vatican.