Father Michael McGivney and the Knights of
The first Knights of Columbus council
meeting took place in the St. Mary's church basement in New Haven,
Connecticut on February 7, 1882.
Local Knights of Columbus council
number 2 joined number 1 in 1883.
Number 11 started in 1884, and had a
bishop as its chaplain.
Number 4863 formed in Sauk Centre in
1959. By now, there are more than 11,000 councils. The Knights of
Columbus is the world's largest Catholic family fraternal service
organization today, with 1.6 million members in 13 countries.
Offering everything from Turkey Bingo
in Sauk Centre to a top-rank insurance program, the Knights of Columbus
is the brainchild of an Irish priest named Michael McGivney.
Life for Irish Catholics in the late 19th
century USA wasn't particularly easy. Many had low-paying jobs. And
nearly all of them were Catholic.
Although this country's constitution
guaranteed religious freedom, many in the dominant Protestant culture
didn't like having Catholics around. For example, when a Catholic church
was built on an upper-class New Haven street in 1879, the New York
Times ran this headline, "How An Aristocratic Avenue Was
Blemished By A Roman Church Edifice."
In times like that, a Catholic family
could be in serious trouble if the breadwinner died or was too sick to
work. Some folks turned to secret societies for help.
Father McGivney wanted to give the
heads of Catholic families better advantages than secret societies
offered, when faced with death or illness. He knew how a father's death
could affect a poor family. Michael McGivney's father died while Michael
was in Montreal to attend seminary classes at St. Mary's College.
Later, the bishop of Hartford asked
Michael McGivney to enter another St. Mary's: a seminary in Baltimore,
Maryland. On December 12, 1877, McGivney was ordained in Baltimore's
Cathedral of the Assumption by Archbishop James Gibbons (who later
Father McGivney said his first Mass at
Immaculate Conception Church in Waterbury, with his widowed mother
present. His first parish was St. Mary's Church in New Haven. That's
where, in 1881, Father McGivney started working with laymen, exploring
the idea developing a Catholic, fraternal benefit society.
Parish clubs and fraternal societies
were popular then. Father McGivney talked about his idea with Bishop
Lawrence McMahon of Hartford, getting the bishop's approval. He traveled
around the area, talking with other priests of the diocese, and the
Massachusetts Catholic Order of Foresters, the Catholic Benevolent
Legion, collecting information to help Catholic laymen organize
themselves into a benefit society.
That's how the Knights of Columbus
started. The Connecticut legislature formally established the Knights as
a legal corporation on March 29, 1882. At that time the Order's
principles were "Unity" and "Charity." "Fraternity" and "Patriotism"
were added later.
Father McGivney's name for the new
organization was "Sons of Columbus." Irish-born Civil War veterans in
the group felt that "Knights of Columbus" would help put a noble ritual
on the side of the emerging movement for Catholic civil liberty.
Father McGivney was named pastor of St.
Thomas. Church in Thomaston, Connecticut, in 1884. He served this
factory town parish for six years.
In January of 1890, Father McGivney
developed pneumonia. On August 14 of that year, he died.
The Knights of Columbus continued to
grow, continuing his efforts to help Catholic families. During one year
recently, the 1.6 million Knights of Columbus contributed more than $110
million and over 55 million hours of volunteer service in charitable
In 1997, some Knights of Columbus began
an effort to have Father McGivney declared a saint. The Father Michael
J. McGivney Guild now has more than 83,000 members. They launched a
www.fathermcgivney.org, promoting Father McGivney's cause for
sainthood, in 2004.
There's already a report of a miracle
that came through the intercession of Father McGivney. In January, 2005,
the Congregation for the Causes of Saints received the final piece of
documentation for this report. Father Gabriel B. O'Donnell, O.P., said,
"we have submitted to the Holy See for consideration and judgment. This
means that we have, to date, completed everything that can be done to
promote Father McGivney's beatification." There's no way of telling how
long the Vatican will take to decide whether to grant Father McGivney
the title "Venerable Servant of God," one step on the way to being
declared a saint.
(Facts from Associated Press articles
and EWTN (www.ewtn.com).)
Brian H. Gill, Editor,
Sauk Centre K of C Bulletin