A Yuletide story of the Knights of Columbus founder
By Brian Caulfield
It was an especially joyous occasion for Father Michael McGivney when he entered his boyhood church for Christmas celebrations in 1877. He was 25 years old, newly ordained, and ready to offer his first Solemn Mass before family members and friends at Immaculate Conception Church in his hometown of Waterbury, Conn. The popular young man, known for his winning manner and personal piety, was among his own people of Irish immigrants, including his mother, and first-generation Irish-Americans like himself and his siblings. Along with the joy of the event, there must have been a few nervous moments for the new priest as he celebrated for the first time the refined and elaborate rites of the solemn Latin Mass.
Though he was confident of his vocation, the path to the priesthood was far from simple for young McGivney. As the eldest of 13 children, he followed his father into factory life after completing school at age 13, working two years for a spoon manufacturer. The local pastor, however, encouraged him to consider the priesthood, and in 1868 young Michael took a train with a handful of other Waterbury teens to Quebec to begin studies at the College of St. Hyacinthe. It was his first time out of the country, but he felt at home with the idea of the priesthood. He continued his formation with the study of the classics at Niagara University’s Our Lady of Angels Seminary, where he played for the school’s Charter Oaks baseball team. In the fall of 1872, he returned to Canada to begin philosophy studies at St. Mary’s College Seminary in Montreal.
But when Michael went home to Waterbury for the sad occasion of his father’s funeral in June 1873, his plans for priesthood were as unclear as his family’s finances. However, seeing the great potential in young McGivney, Hartford’s Bishop Francis McFarland provided a scholarship for him to study theology for four years at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, where he excelled. Michael J. McGivney was ordained Dec. 22, 1877, in the Baltimore cathedral by Archbishop James Gibbons, who later became a cardinal. After ordination, Father McGivney embarked on the long trip to Waterbury, in central Connecticut, to offer his first solemn Mass – a hometown boy who made good in a growing American Church.
In the new year, he would begin his ministry as a parish priest at St. Mary’s in New Haven, where he befriended a band of resourceful, energetic Irishmen and made plans for the formation of the Knights of Columbus. Today, he is a candidate for sainthood with his cause active at the Vatican.
About the Author
Brian Caulfield is vice-postulator for the canonization cause of Venerable Father McGivney. For more information about the cause and to sign up to receive a quarterly newsletter, visit fathermcgivney.org.