Father Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus. CNS file photo

Editorial: A Blessed priest

  • June 5, 2020

Closed churches have provided a blunt reminder of how much we rely on our parish priests — and perhaps sometimes take them for granted.

So the announcement that Fr. Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, soon will be beatified should be an occasion to celebrate not only this saintly American pastor, but reason to honour the dedication of all our parish priests.

No North American parish priest has ever been declared a saint. That seems odd when you consider the thousands of priests over the decades who have guided countless souls to Heaven. Their indispensable, and at times under appreciated, presence in persona Christi to say Mass and administer the sacraments has never been more evident than over the past three months, when priests have been physically distanced from those they serve.

McGivney moved a step closer to sainthood on May 27 when Pope Francis signed a decree that recognized a miracle had occurred in 2015 through the priest’s intercession. He will be beatified later this year and receive the title of Blessed, but must await confirmation of a second miracle before he can be declared a saint.

McGivney was a child of Irish immigrants who experienced first-hand the anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiment that contributed to joblessness and poverty among 19th-century Connecticut immigrants. He believed a priest’s responsibility extended well beyond the doors of the church, and he was inspired to take on several social and civic causes in his largely poor community.

Eventually, he was organizing meetings in the church basement for prominent Catholic community leaders. Out of those meetings, in 1882, the Knights of Columbus was founded. From that handful of founding members, the Knights has become the largest Catholic lay movement in the world today totalling some two million men, including about 230,000 in Canada.

McGivney’s first objective for the Knights was to mould men of faith followed closely by a mission to form men of charity. In a time before the existence of government social programs to support the needy, McGivney believed the Knights could galvanize the Catholic community to be there for each other in times of hardship, sickness and death.

Those founding principles have guided the Knights for 138 years. His  belief that ordinary people can unite to accomplish extraordinary feats has become notably relevant today as a pandemic challenges the Catholic community to be there for each other in ways few people could have imagined just weeks ago.

McGivney died in 1890 at age 38 when a pandemic — experts are divided on whether it was influenza or a coronavirus — took a million lives worldwide. He died serving his people, as dozens of priests have died since COVID-19 struck.

His pending beatification reminds us of the selfless work parish priests have always made and are making today to sustain parish life in a time of crisis.

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