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“A Path to Discipleship:” Supreme Knight reflects on Blessed Michael J. McGivney

Jeffrey Bruno

John Burger - published on 10/29/20 - updated on 10/30/20

We’re looking back at a man of the 19th century but it’s hard to escape the fact of how we’re living in a world in 2020 that is so full of division and so many other problems. What does his life and example of holiness have to say to our world — not just to Catholics?

Yeah, really. You know, you think there’s so much difference between the 19th century and us, but look, what were the problems he confronted? Poverty, crime, violence, division. And we look around today and we see all around us now — maybe the forms are different — but there was a great deal of prejudice against Irish and immigrants. Now there’s a great deal of prejudice against other immigrants. Violence: we see it in the streets, even this week. Certainly there was violence in the streets during his time as well. 

So what was the reaction? There could have been a number of reactions. It could have been “meet violence with violence.” It could have been “Let’s withdraw into a ghetto.” Fr. McGivney said “No, we’re not going to do either of those things. We’re going to overcome evil with good, with a sense of brotherhood, with a sense of charity. We’re not going to retreat. We’re going to move forward in this society, and the new Catholic immigrants coming are going to make a difference for good in this society.” 

I think the real temptation for any time of immgiration — and Fr. McGivney saw this too — many of the men of his parish were being tempted to, you know, “You want to get ahead? Okay, turn your back on your Catholicism. Join a secret society that’s not Catholic, or anti-Catholic. This is how you get ahead in American society. Abandon what makes you distinct, and kind of join the crowd.” Fr. McGivney said “No, we’re going to maintain our Catholic heritage, we’re going maintain our Catholic faith, and at the same time we’re going to be good American citizens. So you don’t have to give up your Catholicism as a good American.”

And I think that may be part of the temptation today, for so many immigrants coming into the country who are Catholic. They see maybe not a heavily Protestant society like in 19th century America, but they see an increasingly secular society. And they want to become good Americans, they want to become integrated into American society. So the question arises: you have to give up your Catholic traditions, your Catholic heritage, your Catholic identity to do that. The Knights of Columubs said No, you can do both. You should do both. Maybe that’s one of his more important points of his relevance today. 

We are celebrating the beatification. What are the prospects for canonization? Are any reported favors being considered as a possible miracle at this point? 

The process is a cautious, prudent one. We actually have to wait until he is beatified and then look for a second miracle. So if we got a miracle today, I don’t think it would count because we’d need it on Sunday, after the beatification.

But if you think back for a minute about the process, we opened the cause in 1997, and the first stage was to go through all the records, all the files, see if there is any reason why you shouldn’t proceed in this manner. We found Green light, Go ahead. 

The next stage was to set forward a brief — in Latin, it’s called a positio — which is the case for his life of holiness and heroic virtue. If that is accepted, then he’s given the title of Venerable Servant of God, which Fr. McGivney achieved.

Then the miracle for beatification is sort of Heaven’s validation that you’re moving in the right direction here. So that’s what we’ve achieved. That allows for a kind of limited devotion to Fr. McGivney in the liturgy, particularly in the Archdiocese of Hartford, but it could also be in other dioceses where the Knights of Columbus are active.

So it’s a gradual process. Once that occurs, if there’s a second miracle, the Church can make the conclusion that “Yes, this is a saintly life; this is a person whose life can be put forward to the universal Church to be imitated and for devotions. 

Why are we hopeful for that? Because the Knights of Columbus right now is in Canada, Mexico, the Philippines — we have close to half a million members in the Philippines. And in the last decade to 15 years, we’ve moved into Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, France, South Korea. Over and over again we hear from laymen, we hear from priests, “Fr. McGivney is really somebody who inspires us. His path of charity and unity is something very important in our lives.”

So we think that he does have that international, universal appeal, from what we can tell over the past history of the Knights of Columbus.

This beatification is surely a milestone in the history of the Knights and in your own career — you’ve been Supreme Knight for 20 years now — and you must be very happy about it. What are the prospects for the Order’s continued growth and development in the years ahead?

I think this puts us on a new level, really. And it should. That’s the purpose of beatifications and canonizations. It’s not done for the good of the saint: you can’t do better than being in heaven as it is. It’s done for our good. 

So my great hope is that the members of the Knights of Columbus will look to Fr. McGivney and say this is a path of discipleship that Catholic men will really find a life-changer. So join the Knights, start this path of discipleship and make a difference in the world, in a brotherhood devoted to charity and unity, and see how it strengthens your family, see how it strengthens your parish and your community. And I think the more men do that the more they’ll see this is really like one of the great orders previously. It’s really a way of making a difference.

Of course, in the pandemic, with social distancing and all the different lockdown restrictions, our council life has been a little bit restricted. But once we get over this I think the Knights are going to move forward in a more renewed way, a more profound way. Again, it’s a question of serving the Church and serving the community, and I think the Knights are up for even a greater role in doing that in the future. 

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Knights of ColumbusMichael McGivney
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