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His Timeless Message

The founder’s vision must be handed on to new generations and new nations of Catholic men.

by Dominican Father Gabriel B. O’Donnell

In the 125 years since Father Michael J. McGivney founded the Knights of the Columbus, the world has changed radically.

Some things have been for the better, and others for the worse. Would Father McGivney do things differently were he starting the Knights of Columbus in 2007? Would he recognize today’s Knights as his own? Would he be pleased with the changes the Order has made and the new directions it has taken over the years?

These are questions to ponder as we reflect on our future in this anniversary year.

Growing in Holiness

In his message for the World Day of Prayer for Peace last Jan. 1, Pope Benedict XVI pleaded that 2007 be a year of peace. We must work each day to establish peace in our world, he said.

“Peace is promoted by respecting the person,” the pope said, because it is in the human person that the heart of peace is found. There can be no peace between nations until there is peace in our hearts, peace in our families, peace in our neighborhoods and peace in our cities.

Creating a peaceful world depends upon each of us affirming the worth and dignity of every person and every human life.

In light of the pope’s teaching, we can be sure that whatever Father McGivney might do differently today, his would be a fraternal society we would easily recognize.

Why? Because it could only be established, before all else, on the principle that each person possesses a dignity and has certain rights that set him apart from the rest of creation.

Father McGivney’s vision of protecting and building up Christian families was founded on the timeless truth that promoting respect for the person leads to everything else that is good for the family and society.

Father McGivney’s encounters with anti-Catholic bigotry and working men with destitute families touched him deeply. He saw these injustices as affronts to what it means to be a fully human person. Father McGivney’s vision for the Knights was based on his belief that Catholic men had an inherent dignity which would find its full flowering only as these men grew in holiness through their vocation as husbands, fathers, providers and protectors.

‘Hands-on’ Men

Father McGivney was a man of peace. He could talk to anyone with ease because he viewed himself as a creature of the same worth and stature as every other person he encountered. He was never known to be arrogant because he was better educated or because he was a priest. He was a man among men; a human being like all the rest.

Father McGivney wanted his Knights of Columbus first of all to be something rather than to do something.

Knights were called then, and still today, to be members of a brotherhood where the dignity of each member is recognized and respected.

The Order’s ceremonials and traditions bear this out. Dressing formally when the occasion demands it and wearing ceremonial attire or Fourth Degree regalia speak to the importance of a person according to his role and dignity.

The use of fraternal titles and ceremonial gestures is recognition that the individual being addressed is someone of significance. All of our customs express our recognition of the person, his dignity and his rights.

The Order’s insurance program is nothing more than a recognition that each person must be provided for, both in life and in death. One’s body is treated with reverence and respect, even as it is placed into the earth for its final commendation into eternity.

Father McGivney presumed that every new member would see the Order’s insurance program as something integral to his vision of Knighthood.

Knights of Columbus are known to be “hands-on” men. When members cooperate with one another in any project for the good of others, they are implicitly acknowledging the worth of their brother. Knights need one another to get the parish hall painted or a Communion breakfast prepared. Many hands make possible the programs that feed the homeless or provide wheelchairs to people with disabilities.

In every case, the beauty and dignity of our brother is affirmed as we organize and share in the responsibility for every council project.

For Father McGivney, the socials, dances, banquets and other outings of the early Knights said, in effect, “You are important. You are worthy of the very best that can be provided.” He spent many hours planning events for the enjoyment of Knights and their families.

Men of Prayer and Action

Where did Father McGivney get this wisdom? How was he able to anticipate the Church’s emphasis on the role of the laity that would be articulated by the teachings of the Second Vatican Council nearly 100 years after his death? How is it that he expressed in practical terms what Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI would teach in more theological and spiritual language more than a century later?

The only answer is that Father McGivney’s foresight was a gift from God. He was enlightened by the Holy Spirit to found a fraternal society for Catholic men that the same Spirit would protect and guide into the 21st century and beyond.

Father McGivney’s relationship with Jesus Christ formed the basis for his wisdom and foresight. It was in the sacred humanity of Christ, especially in devotion to his Sacred Heart, that Father McGivney grew to recognize the sacredness of human life and the dignity of the human person.

The mystery of the Incarnation revealed to him the nature of the human person, man on his way to God.

Prayer is a great teacher. One who spends time with God in daily prayer learns things about himself, about God and about what God expects of us. Many of us spend our prayer time talking to God about our sins and shortcomings. In one who has already learned the way of virtue and the avoidance of sin, prayer leads to a deeper level of exchange with God. We become more receptive to what he desires to communicate and teach us.

Father McGivney’s prayer life taught him about the human person.

It is because he was a man of God and a man of prayer that Father McGivney saw the needs of those around him. His reaction was to ease the burdens of others. He reminded them of their dignity by providing for their spiritual and material needs. In fact, he went beyond “needs.” He was convinced that relaxation and entertainment could provide a “breather” for those who worked hard and suffered. This deep sense of the beauty of the human person prompted him to found the Knights of Columbus.

One in their humanity and one in their Catholic faith, his Knights would mutually affirm their dignity and worth as persons and would reach out to those most in need.

When viewed in this way, the Knights’ mission today is a serious one.Our Order is perfectly positioned to serve the Church by going into every part of the secular world with the Gospel message and Father McGivney’s vision.

Sons of Father McGivney

What Father McGivney started in 1882 has adapted to the world and the Church throughout the past 125 years. His is a timeless message: that of the dignity of the human person and the sacredness of the Christian family. Our saintly founder trusted those early Knights as his companions and friends. He entrusted to them his legacy to be passed on to later generations.

He was not one to interfere. He had confidence in the goodness of his Knights and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Would Father McGivney recognize his Knights 125 years later? Without a doubt. Today, as much as in 1882, all of our activities are intended to affirm the dignity of the human person and the holiness of the family.

Our imperative is to offer more Catholic men, and younger Catholic men, the spiritual richness that is ours as sons of Father McGivney.

Father McGivney lived in a time of change and transition. He was not afraid of innovation. He readily took up new modes of communication and transportation, and was a great believer in modernizing parish facilities.

The changes made over the many decades of the Order’s existence would not be a major issue for him, so long as his vision has been safeguarded and continued.

The Order’s focus on the family and the defense of human life at every stage, the renewed emphasis on collaboration with local pastors, the consecration of the Order to Mary, the mother of Christ, are all initiatives that Father McGivney would recognize as his own. The expansion of Knights of Columbus Insurance and our renewal of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament in eucharistic adoration and prayer are simply extensions of Father McGivney’s vision from 1882 to 2007.

About the Author

Dominican Father Gabriel B. O’Donnell is postulator of the cause for sainthood of the Servant of God Father Michael J. McGivney.

Father McGivney would insist that we stand with the vicar of Christ on earth in pushing forward the frontiers of the new evangelization. He is guiding us toward our next 125 years from his place in eternity.

Historical Highlights
125 Years in Review
The McGivney Legacy
Supreme Knights Gallery
St. Mary’s Church
Papal Moments
At Work Everywhere
His Timeless Message
Faith in Action
Knights of Columbus Photo Album