Founder of Knights of Columbus led Christ-like life Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Apr. 26, 2012 -- 12:00 AM

Seeing with Jesus' Eyes, by Fr. Don Lange

The 2012 Knights of Columbus State Convention will be held at Marriott West Hotel and Convention Center in Middleton on Saturday and Sunday, April 28 and 29.

Because of its nearness, as a Knight I thought that now might be a graced time to reflect upon the Christ-like life of the Venerable Fr. Michael Joseph McGivney, who founded the Knights of Columbus.

Humble beginnings

He was born on August 12, 1852, in Waterbury, Conn. His parents were Patrick and Mary Lynch McGivney, Irish immigrants. His father worked as a molder in the heat and fumes of a brass mill.

Mary McGivney gave birth to 13 children. Six died in infancy. The McGivney children knew suffering and poverty. But they also enjoyed the blessing of growing up in a devout Catholic family where they learned lessons of faith, hope, and charity. These experiences influenced Father McGivney.

At age 13, Michael left school to work. At age 16, he left work to study for the seminary. In 1873 his father died. He left the seminary to help support his fatherless family.

Eventually, the bishop of Hartford enrolled him in St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. He was ordained on December 22, 1877, by Archbishop (later Cardinal) James Gibbons. He was quickly assigned to St. Mary Parish in New Haven.

The Knights are founded

In February of 1882, Father McGivney was acclaimed as founder of the Knights of Columbus by 24 men in St. Mary Church’s basement. They recognized that without his optimism, will to succeed, and counsel, they would have failed. On March 29, 1882, the Connecticut legislature granted a charter to the Knights of Columbus, establishing it as a legal corporation.

Father McGivney founded the Knights to help meet certain problems. Sometimes virulent anti-Catholicism existed in the area, especially towards manual laborers. Too many young fathers died because of accidents or illnesses. The Knights sought to strengthen the faith of Catholic men, unite them to serve Church and community, and provide for financial needs when the breadwinner died or became incapacitated.

The Knights hoped to help members feel they were American citizens who “belonged” and to provide an alternative to joining the Masons. They chose Christopher Columbus as patron.

Largest fraternal organization

On August 14, 1890, Father McGivney died of pneumonia at age 38. His inspiration, leadership, and administrative drive earned him the affection of thousands.

Father McGivney established a Catholic fraternal benefit society that grew from humble beginnings to the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization with 1.8 million members and 15,000 councils. There are over 200 college councils and 5,000 circles of Columbian Squires, the Knights’ official fraternity for boys 10 to 18.

The Squire Roses are a sorority for Catholic girls between ages 10 and 18, run by individual State Councils within the Knights of Columbus. The Daughters of Isabella, founded in 1897, as an auxiliary to Knights of Columbus, are composed of over 75,000 women in America and Canada.

In 2010 the Knights gave over $154 million directly to charity, donated over 70 million man-hours of volunteer service, and gave over 413,000 pints of blood.

Father McGivney’s legacy

The principles of the Knights are unity, charity, fraternity, and patriotism. The Knights have the highest respect for the pope, bishops, priests, and their chaplains. They seek to strengthen family life, reach out to widows and children of deceased Knights, and support Church teachings. They defend the unborn and aged and work to increase awareness of every Catholic’s vocation.

Recognizing his heroic virtue, on March 15, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI honored him with the title “Venerable Servant of God.” The next step would be for the Church to officially declare him “Blessed.” This would require a miracle with clear evidence that the person(s) involved prayed to him for help.

For Father McGivney to be declared a saint, another miracle would be needed. Should this happen, he would be the first American-born priest to be canonized.


Fr. Don Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.