Fr. Michael McGivney

Gerry Turcotte: Fr. McGivney left extraordinary legacy

  • October 3, 2020

Dictionaries offer two definitions for the word beatify. The first is “to make supremely happy.” The second is “a declaration of blessedness” and, for Catholics, this is the step before canonization.

It seems to be self-evident that the two meanings share a similar spirit, which is the foundational joy that attends the true goodness that makes someone saint-worthy. 

The beatification and canonization of beloved individuals throughout history has also been a celebration of diversity both geographically and politically. Beati include children, men and women from all over the world, representing poignant martyrdoms and selfless acts; devout behaviours and courage in both extraordinary and ordinary times.

On Oct. 31, a special Mass will be held to celebrate the beatification of Fr. Michael McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus. Despite the seismic influence of Fr. McGivney worldwide, I would like to think that we celebrate this important individual because of the ordinary, human impact of his achievement. I say ordinary in the most reverential terms and mean to acknowledge an impact on the quotidian, the personal, the humble.

Fr. McGivney was not a statesman in the typical sense, moving chess pieces on the world stage. Rather, Fr. McGivney sought to support and change the lives of everyday working-class people. He founded the Knights of Columbus to assist widows and orphans, and I am certain the assistant pastor at St. Mary’s Parish in New Haven, Conn., never expected that his organization would grow to become the largest Catholic lay organization in the world.

Indeed, one of the most significant insights Fr. McGivney had was understanding and championing the role that the laity can play in the mission of the Church. And it was his commitment to supporting those on the margins that appealed to blue-collar workers like my father and uncles, who joined the Knights because they felt that their stories and lives were legitimately heard and valued by the fraternity.

I know that many of the men in my community felt out of place amidst the finery of the churches, and the elaborate complexity of the robes and ceremonies that attended so many spiritual celebrations (though none would dare say so publicly of course). But they visibly relaxed when they undid their ties and rolled up their sleeves to support a food bank, mow a church lawn or build a home for a recently widowed mother.

When they assembled to celebrate the life of a fallen Knight or rallied to support victims of a natural disaster, this seemed second nature to them and it helped to reinforce their faith life in demonstrable ways. This, I truly believe, was something that Fr. McGivney understood.

Another area that has flourished under the care of the Knights is education. It would be impossible to quantify the many initiatives that the organization has supported, from funding scholarships to building schools. At St. Mary’s University in Calgary our partnership has seen us build a space for our Masses and classes.

Fr. Michael J. McGivney Hall has been restored over the years by over a million dollars of funding raised by individuals, councils and their foundation. The renovations have allowed us not only to offer state of the art classes for our Catholic education program, but also to celebrate weekly Masses and large community events co-ordinated by our CWL Chair for Catholic Studies.

I suspect that many of our remarkable Catholic colleges and universities across Canada — ably represented by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities of Canada — will be hosting celebratory events on Oct. 31 to mark Fr. McGivney’s beatification.

These events will mark a deep acknowledgement of a remarkable individual who quite literally changed our world for the better and whose influence continues to do so every day through the over two million Knights who carry on his legacy, and the many millions more who are inspired and uplifted by this example.

That in itself is a worthy definition.

(Turcotte is president of St. Mary’s University in Calgary.)

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