Michael J. McGivney

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Michael J. McGivney

 I n mid-August of 1890— over 100 years ago—one of the largest funerals in the history of Waterbury, Connecticut took place. The throngs who attended were grieving the death, at age 38, of Father Michael J. McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus. Delegations were present from almost every one of the 57 K of C councils which had sprung up in the Order’s first eight years. The bishop of Hartford and more than 70 of Connecticut’s Catholic priests were joined by many civic leaders. It was reported that every available carriage for miles around had been rented for the great procession. Father McGivney’s funeral was an indication of the love and respect the people felt for this hard- working, holy, parish priest. It also reflected the deep personal appeal that immigrant Catholics immediately found in the Knights of Columbus. The Order has never since ceased to grow. Today it is the largest society of Catholic men in the world, with more than a million and a half mem- bers in the United States, Canada, the Philippines, Mexico, and several Central American and Caribbean countries. To mark their hundredth anniversary in 1982, the Knights of Columbus brought the remains of Father McGivney from Waterbury back to St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, where he had founded the Order. There he now rests in a setting in which daily Mass is offered for the deceased members of the Order and prayers are said in his honor. 1 Father Michael McGivney was born in Waterbury on August 12, 1852. His parents, Patrick and Mary (Lynch) McGivney, had arrived in the great 19th Century wave of Irish immigration. Patrick McGivney became a molder in the heat and noxious fumes of a Waterbury brass mill. Mary McGivney gave birth to 13 children, six of whom died in infancy or childhood. So the first child, Michael, with four living sisters and two brothers, learned early about sorrow and the harsh grip of poverty. He also learned about the powers of love and faith, and family fortitude. He went to the small district schools of Waterbury’s working- class neighborhoods. A good child, he was admired by his school principal for “excellent deportment and profi2 Roots. ciency in his studies.” Then, after the Civil War, when Connecticut’s metals industry was booming, he left school at age 13 to go to work. His job in the spoon-making department of a brass factory provided a few more dollars for family survival. When Michael reached the age of 16 in 1868, he left the factory. With the priesthood clearly in mind, he traveled with his Waterbury pastor to Quebec, Canada. There he registered at the French- run College of St. Hyacinthe. He worked hard on subjects which would prepare him to apply for seminary admission. Two academic years followed at Our Lady of Angels Seminary, attached to Niagara University in Niagara Falls, New York. Young McGivney moved next to Montreal to attend seminary classes at the Jesuit run St. Mary’s College. He was there when his father died in June of 1873