Michael McGivney, the son of Irish immigrants, was born in Connecticut to a family of thirteen children. At the age of sixteen he left for seminary. Ordained in 1877, he was assigned to St. Mary’s Church in New Haven. It was a time of severe anti-Catholic prejudice. Most of his parishioners were poor working people, many of them immigrants. From his own family life he was aware of their struggles—particularly the hardship caused by the death of a breadwinner.
McGivney conceived the idea of a Catholic fraternal society to help strengthen faith and provide financial support to families in need. From this idea sprang the Knights of Columbus, founded in 1882. With support from the bishops, McGivney spread word of the Knights throughout Connecticut and elsewhere. It quickly took off, though Fr. McGivney’s service as chaplain to the Knights did not last long. He contracted pneumonia and died on August 14, 1890, at the age of thirty-eight.
Today the Knights of Columbus, with almost two million member families, is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization. Fr. McGivney’s heroic virtues were recognized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008, and he was declared venerable. His beatification followed in 2020.
“He was a man of the people. He was zealous of the people’s welfare, and all the kindliness of his priestly soul asserted itself more strongly in his unceasing efforts for the betterment of their condition.”
—Testimonial by the Knights of Columbus, after the death of Fr. McGivney