Local Knights beam with pride as Fr. McGivney remembered for his ‘dream to help the less fortunate’; many plan to attend beatification Mass

STERLING HEIGHTS — When the news was announced Wednesday that Pope Francis had approved the beatification of Knights of Columbus founder Fr. Michael J. McGivney, Bill Chassé nearly jumped out of his chair.

“As soon as I heard, I sent out a memo to all the 65,000 Knights (in Michigan) letting them know,” Chassé, Michigan state deputy for the Knights of Columbus, told Detroit Catholic. “It was great to hear that they found a miracle to make him a blessed.” 

Indeed, the recognized miracle that led to the pope’s declaration involved the healing of an unborn child who had been diagnosed with a life-threatening condition in utero. The baby was miraculously healed after the family prayed for Fr. McGivney’s intercession in 2015.

“It just goes to show his vision and what the Knights of Columbus are really here for, and that’s to help others,” Chassé said. “Fr. McGivney’s dream was to help the less fortunate.”

Bill Currie of Lansing, left, leads fourth-degree Knights of Columbus color guard members in formation during the opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics State Fall Games in Ann Arbor. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

Chassé and others are hopeful that now he has been approved for beatification that sainthood is not far off. 

Although Fr. McGivney died only two days after his 38th birthday, he established a legacy that has lasted more a century and now includes more than 2 million members of the Knights of Columbus worldwide. 

Born to Irish immigrants in Connecticut in 1852, Fr. McGivney was ordained in Baltimore in 1877 and spent his entire priesthood serving in parish ministry and addressing the needs of impoverished Irish immigrants. He founded the Knights of Columbus in New Haven in 1882 as a way to provide spiritual and temporal support for Catholic men, as well as resources for widows and orphans. 

Fr. McGivney served tirelessly until his death in 1890 after contracting pneumonia during a pandemic. 

Fr. Michael McGivney, pictured here, bottom row, second from the right with fellow priests, was a diocesan priest in Connecticut until his death in 1890 at the age of 38. (Courtesy of the Knights of Columbus) 

Fr. McGivney’s cause for sainthood was opened in 1997, and he was declared “venerable” in 2008 by Pope Benedict XVI. 

“I think this is a wonderful grace for the diocesan priesthood because Fr. McGivney was a diocesan priest in very challenging times, even during a pandemic, as well,” said Msgr. Todd Lajiness, rector of Sacred Heart Major Seminary and a longtime chaplain of the Knights of Columbus.

Steve Atwell, deputy for Michigan’s 16th district and a member of Council No. 15352 at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish in Beverly Hills, said Fr. McGivney accomplished much during his short ministry as a diocesan priest. Atwell added he hopes Fr. McGivney’s beatification helps attract more men to consider joining the Knights.

“I hope it just enlightens more men to the opportunities afforded them through the Knights of Columbus, both spiritually and fraternally,” Atwell said. “It is a really good group of involved Catholic men.” 

Pope Francis has approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Fr. Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, clearing the way for his beatification. Fr. McGivney is pictured in a portrait by Antonella Cappuccio. (Courtesy of the Knights of Columbus)

Men can benefit from the Knights’ emotional and spiritual support provided through their fraternal fellowship, Atwell said.

Michigan’s Knights have been praying for Fr. McGivney's beatification for some time, Atwell added, saying many members pray regularly through his intercession. “The prayer for his beatification is part of the new exemplification that the council rolled out a few months back,” Atwell added. 

Chassé said while membership is growing both in Michigan and across the world, he hopes having the Knights’ founder officially recognized as a saint continues to grow interest, allowing the Knights to further their mission and charitable works.

“We do what we do because we believe in the Catholic Church and believe in our mission of helping widows and orphans and the less fortunate,” Chassé said. “Having our founder as a saint will make all Knights more proud than they already are of belonging to this organization.”

The beatification will take place in Connecticut on a yet-to-be-announced date. Chassé and Atwell both hope to attend, and they expect the turnout of Knights from around the world to be immense.

“Fr. McGivney just wanted to do what he could do to help others, and he was fortunate enough to have people follow him and develop something so large as the K of C,” Chassé said. “I am sure he is looking down and he is smiling and is very proud of everything the Knights of Columbus do for so many different people. He was able to do that because he was a visionary.”