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McGivney, Michael Joseph


Founder of the Knights of Columbus; b. Waterbury, Conn., Aug. 12, 1852; d. Thomaston Conn., Aug. 14, 1890. He was the eldest of the six surviving children (13 in all) of Patrick and Mary (Lynch) McGivney, pioneer Catholic settlers in Connecticut. After early education in Waterbury, he attended St. Hyacinth College, Quebec, Canada; Our Lady of the Angels Seminary, Niagara Falls, N.Y.; St. Mary's Seminary, Montreal, Canada; and St. Mary's Seminary, Baltimore, Md., where he was ordained by Archbishop, later Cardinal James Gibbons on Dec. 22, 1877. While a curate at St. Mary's Church, New Haven, Conn., he conceived the idea of a mutual benefit society of Catholic laymen. The four pillars of the fraternal order are charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism and the name chosen by the first members, drawn from the working class and professional men of New Haven, was the "Knights of Columbus." In the atmosphere of anti-Catholic sentiment prevalent in New England at the time, this title was significant for it claimed the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus as a Catholic event and expressed the conviction that the ideal of Catholic manhood among the children of immigrants, Catholic Knighthood, could be successfully integrated into American life. McGivney remained active in directing the growth of the fraternal order insofar as this was compatible with his primary mission as a parish priest. In 1884 he was appointed pastor of St. Thomas Church in Thomaston, Conn., where tuberculosis and pneumonia struck him down just two days after his 38th birthday. Always revered as a man of holiness and virtue, his grave in Waterbury soon became a place of annual pilgrimage. In 1982, to mark the centenary of the order, his body was transferred to a place of honor in St. Mary's Church, New Haven, where the organization, the Knights of Columbus, was founded. The formal cause for his canonization was begun in the archdiocese of Hartford, Conn. on Dec. 18, 1997 and was presented to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in February of 2000.

Bibliography: c. j. kauffman, Faith and Fraternalism: The History of the Knights of Columbus, rev. ed. (New York 1992).

[c. f. maloney/

g. o'donnell]

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