Joseph “Joe” McGivney, a financial advisor and father of two in Florida, was aware that he shared a name and a family connection with the founder of the Knights of Columbus. But even when Father Michael J. McGivney was beatified in October 2020, the connection wasn’t especially meaningful to Joe, since he was neither a Knight nor an active Catholic at the time. That all changed several months later, when he faced a sudden and frightening medical crisis. His unexpected recovery from that crisis led to renewed faith and trust in God; he returned to the Church and on Aug. 2, 2021, he joined the Knights of Columbus.
Joe’s son, Colin, also joined on Oct. 18, 2021, just six days after his 18th birthday. “During the ceremony, I was very excited,” recalled Colin, a high school senior. “Hearing references to Father McGivney, I felt very honored for me and my family to be associated with what he has done for the Church and the world.”
Joe and Colin McGivney are members of St. Peter Parish Council 13139 in Jupiter and recently joined the Fourth Degree. In the following interview for Columbia, conducted by Supreme Director Scott O’Connor, past state deputy of Florida, Joe reflects on his journey of faith and what led him and his son to become Knights.
COLUMBIA: You had a serious health issue last year — can you walk us through what happened and how it affected you?
JOSEPH MCGIVNEY: On Dec. 30, 2020, I was hospitalized due to a serious and dangerous neurological condition called Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.
I was a heavy drinker, and it really became very heavy when COVID happened. The company that I worked for closed every office; my role got shut down and my income dropped dramatically. My fear and anxiety started to ramp up, and my way of medicating that was alcohol. As COVID progressed, it kept getting worse.
On Dec. 30, I collapsed and was admitted to the hospital. But even after I had detoxed physically, I wasn’t improving. My mental abilities were declining rapidly. After about 10 weeks, I was released to a rehab facility with the diagnosis of acute psychosis and dementia. The prognosis was not good. Typically, 20 out of 100 persons with the condition will die, and of the remaining 80 people, 75 will have lifelong serious deficits. My family was told to prepare for 24/7 care for the remainder of my life.
One of the side effects of this condition is amnesia, and I have no recollection of events prior to the rehab facility. But a few days after I arrived at the facility, “the lights came back on.” I did not know how I had gotten there, but suddenly I was normal, and after 30 days I was released back home.
Everyone in my family told me the first person I had to call was my aunt, Geraldine McGivney Gallo. Aunt Gerry, a registered nurse, “quarterbacked” my caregiving during that time, and she filled in the blanks of what had happened to me. We also began to talk about faith, and I had this longing to turn back to my faith and family.
COLUMBIA: And your family had been praying to Blessed Michael McGivney?
JOSEPH MCGIVNEY: My aunt told me that she was praying fervently to Father McGivney for my recovery. My father in Chicago and the entire family were all praying to Blessed Michael McGivney to intercede on my behalf.
Then the big appointment came for me to see the neurologist. After an hourlong battery of cognitive and behavioral tests, the doctor said, “By the grace of God, I don’t need to see you again — you are 100% recovered.”
I am told that 5 out of 100 who have the condition do recover, but most have some deficit. I have no deficits. I think the medical term for it would be “remarkable,” but we like to call it a miracle around my family. The story has been submitted to the McGivney Guild.
“The experience I went through this past year has deepened my faith and brought me to God in a way I didn’t even know was possible. It is a blessing beyond blessings to me. To be alive to pray every day is awesome.”
COLUMBIA: What can you tell us about your family connection to Father McGivney?
JOSEPH MCGIVNEY: I have a first cousin, Dorothea Pacini, who has been doing research on the McGivney family genealogy for many years. About 25 years ago, she and her husband traveled to Kilnaleck, County Cavan, Ireland, where my great-grandfather, Andrew McGivney, was born. Though there was not a lot to go on, since many birth records were burned or destroyed during the Irish War of Independence, my cousin believes that my great-grandfather was either a first or second cousin to Father McGivney.
This connection would occasionally come up in family conversations, especially in the last decade or so. And I do remember reading Parish Priest, which my father recommended that I get around 15 or 16 years ago. Beyond that I did not have any other real information on Father McGivney, St. Mary’s or the founding the Knights of Columbus.
Since my recovery, I’ve learned more about what Blessed Michael has done, mostly by watching videos on the K of C website. I’ve also seen the information on the miracle that led to his beatification, which was really special.
COLUMBIA: How would you describe your life of faith before your medical crisis?
JOSEPH MCGIVNEY: I had been baptized Catholic, but I had just stopped going to Church. I wasn’t mad at anybody or against the Church. I always kept believing in God, but I never really knew how to pray and develop that relationship with him. Frankly, I thought that I would be the last guy God would have any interest in. I was very flawed, very selfish.
The experience I went through this past year has deepened my faith and brought me to God in a way I didn’t even know was possible. It is a blessing beyond blessings to me. To be alive to pray every day is awesome.
COLUMBIA: Why did you decide to join the Knights of Columbus?
JOSEPH MCGIVNEY: After my adventure, I felt this overwhelming desire to serve, to get involved somewhere I could truly help others. And over the years I’d had a couple of “God winks,” you might say, about Father McGivney and the Knights. For example, one time there was a workman over here, and when he saw my last name, he said, “Are you by any chance a Knight?” That happened again last summer. I was setting up a service appointment with someone, and he said, “Well, how come you’re not a Knight?” I thought about that and said, “You know, that’s a really good question.” So I went online and saw that there were a couple of local councils. I had started going back to church at St. Peter’s, so I joined the council there.
COLUMBIA: How did your son Colin come to join? Was that at your encouragement?
JOSEPH MCGIVNEY: It was and it wasn’t. He saw me getting involved and attending Zoom meetings and becoming more active. And we watched the video aboutFather McGivney, An American Blessed, together. Colin reached his own decision that he wanted to become a Knight.
COLUMBIA: In what ways have you gotten involved?
JOSEPH MCGIVNEY: Initially when I joined, they weren’t doing in-person meetings, but council activities have slowly come back. Colin and I both participated in fundraising for Wheelchair Sunday and helped with the first in-person K of C breakfast since pre-COVID. I’ve been able to volunteer twice at Hannah’s Home, which is a home for mothers in Tequesta where the Knights help out. I’ve been asked to become the council’s family program director and deputy grand knight, which I accepted gladly. I’m all in.
The fellowship is great. During my prior career, I traveled a lot. On weekends, in the evenings, if I wasn’t at one of my kids’ sporting events, I was happy to stay home or just go out and have a quiet dinner with my wife and come home. I didn’t have a lot of friends who weren’t business associates. Now that’s changed and I love it.
COLUMBIA: Do you feel a personal connection now with Father McGivney?
JOSEPH MCGIVNEY: From what I know of Father McGivney, and I pray to him now very often, he favored the outcasts and the needy. Well, I was certainly needy spiritually, and some would say that I was an outcast. And reading about his ministry when he was a parish priest, I like to think that Father McGivney might have had a soft spot in his heart for a lapsed Irish Catholic boy like me.
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