A Saint in the Making
The cause for the Knights’ founder marks 20 fruitful years
His life inspires and his vision still lives as the process toward sainthood continues for Father Michael J. McGivney. In the 20 years since the cause for his canonization was opened, devotion to the founder of the Knights of Columbus has grown throughout the Order and spread widely among the Catholic faithful.
The humble parish priest, who founded the Knights with a handful of parishioners at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Conn., was declared venerable by the Vatican in 2008. His intercession is sought by priests and laypersons in all the challenges of life, and he still is known as a friend of the poor and neglected; an advocate for widows and orphans and those affected by divorce and family breakup; a supporter of Christian family life; a trustworthy guide to the young; a promoter of the Catholic faith; and above all, a champion of charity, the first principle of the Knights of Columbus.
The canonization cause was opened on Dec. 18, 1997, in the Archdiocese of Hartford, then under Archbishop Daniel Cronin, with the Knights of Columbus serving as the “actor” or prime supporter. Dominican Father Gabriel O’Donnell, the first postulator in charge of the cause, set out to compile the positio, a deeply researched and carefully footnoted document drawing upon all historical evidence attesting to Father McGivney’s holiness and virtue. After review and approval at the archdiocesan level, the positio was sent to the Vatican and on March 15, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI declared Father McGivney a “Venerable Servant of God,” recognizing that he exercised the theological and cardinal virtues “to a heroic degree.”
During his apostolic visit to the United States the following month, Pope Benedict called Father McGivney an “exemplary American priest” whose work was key to the “impressive growth” of the Catholic Church in America during the 19th century.
With his cause active at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, a miracle attributed to Father McGivney’s intercession is required for him to be declared Blessed, and then another such miracle would be needed for canonization or sainthood. All Knights and their families, as well as everyone devoted to Father McGivney, are encouraged to implore Father McGivney’s intercession in all struggles in life, especially in times of serious illness, and to report any favors or healings to the Father McGivney Guild, the office that promotes the sainthood cause.
But the cause is about more than seeking miracles, as vital as that is to its successful completion. The cause also involves learning about the many practical virtues of this exemplary priest and the ways he responded in an informed and practical manner to the serious challenges facing his immigrant parishioners. His cause for sainthood also encourages us to emulate him in our daily lives, as Knights and as Catholic laypersons, and pray for his help in our daily struggles.
The vitality of the Father Michael J. McGivney Guild is prime indicator of his continued popularity and presence in people’s lives. With close to 170,000 members throughout the world, the Guild has received reports of thousands of favors over the years, a testament to the intercession of Father McGivney and the trust that people place in him. These favors fall generally into four categories that Father McGivney was concerned about during his earthly priesthood:
- Employment and finances. Just as his parishioners looked to Father McGivney for guidance at a time when the words “No Irish need apply” were often included in job postings, so today many receive help when they are laid off or seeking a better job.
- Substance abuse. In Father McGivney’s day, alcoholism afflicted the immigrant population, and he founded a parish “total abstinence” society. Many now find relief from drug or alcohol abuse through praying to him.
- Family reconciliation. Divisions occurred within immigrant families struggling to make ends meet, and they are not uncommon today with the increase of divorce. Father McGivney continues to respond to the prayers of families.
- Return to the faith. Father McGivney founded the Order to keep men from leaving the Church to join anti-Catholic secret societies. Today, many Catholics receive favors when calling upon him to help their fallen-away children return to Mass.
Twenty years may seem like a long time to wait for a holy person to be canonized, but it is far from an unusual period for a sainthood cause. We can use this time to renew our faith, deepen our prayer life, join the Guild and unite our prayers for the good of the Knights of Columbus and for an increase of devotion to its founder.