Special events mark the birth and death of Blessed Michael McGivney — and his second liturgical feast day
By Brian Caulfield
Knights of Columbus, family members and other parishioners in the Connecticut towns where Blessed Michael McGivney lived and worked remembered the Order’s founder Aug. 12-14 with a series of Masses, processions, pilgrimages and picnics.
The events centered around Father McGivney’s Aug. 13 feast day, which was established with his beatification Oct. 31, 2020. The liturgical feast — falling between his birthday (Aug. 12) in 1852 and the day of his death (Aug. 14) in 1890 — is inscribed as a memorial in the Archdiocese of Hartford and can be celebrated elsewhere with permission of the local ordinary.
Observances began Aug. 12 at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, where Father McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882. Solemn vespers that evening was followed by an overnight vigil and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
The following morning, Joseph Hermosillo, a member of St. Teresa of Calcutta Council 12036 in Charles Town, W.Va., gave a talk with his wife, Megan, about his healing from a near-fatal case of COVID-19. Joseph’s sudden recovery took place after his family prayed to Father McGivney and a first-class relic was brought to his hospital bed. (Watch their story here.)
Bishop Juan Miguel Betancourt, auxiliary bishop of Hartford, then served as the principal celebrant for a votive Mass of Blessed Michael McGivney, which was followed by prayers at the sarcophagus containing Father McGivney’s bodily remains. An ornate reliquary holding a first-class relic of Knights of Columbus founder also stood on the altar during Mass, which featured opening and closing prayers and intentions composed specifically for the feast day.
In his homily, Bishop Betancourt called Father McGivney a worthy example for priests today and praised his support of the lay vocation through his founding of an Order for men to grow in faith, work together in charity and provide financial protection for their families.
Also on Aug. 13 feast day, the Father Michael J. McGivney Guild sponsored a pilgrimage titled “In the Footsteps of Father McGivney,” with buses bringing pilgrims to important sites of his life in Waterbury, where Father McGivney was born, and Thomaston, where he died. In Waterbury, stops included the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, the McGivney family’s home parish; the McGivney family gravesite in Old St. Joseph’s Cemetery; the location of the family home along the Naugatuck River; and the site of the factory where young Michael worked for three years before entering the seminary. In Thomaston, pilgrims visited the site of the original St. Thomas Church, where Father McGivney was pastor for nearly six years after leaving St. Mary’s, and the Thomaston Opera House, where he produced plays with his parishioners on a stage that is still in use.
Mother Agnes Donovan, superior of the Sisters of Life, participated as a pilgrim with more than a dozen members of the New York-based religious order.
“You can feel the presence of Father McGivney here in his hometown,” said Mother Agnes. “It’s spiritually thrilling to be here, to realize his roots and the history of this city, and how America gave life to a saint.”
Sister Veronica Mary, a Waterbury native who has had a devotion to Father McGivney for nearly 20 years, said it was a joy to see more people coming to know the priest and turning to him for help.
“I delight in watching the pilgrims learn more about him and his humble, simple beginnings here in a factory town,” she said. “It just says to me, it doesn’t matter who you are and where you come from — you can be a saint too.”
Sister Veronica Mary’s brother, Father James Sullivan, has long had a devotion to Father McGivney as well. Now rector of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, he offered a noontime votive Mass of Blessed Michael McGivney, whom he called “a faithful son of Waterbury.”
Later in the day, Father Sullivan carried a first-class bone relic of Father McGivney in procession from the basilica to the large bronze statue of Father McGivney in the center of town. Erected on a 10-foot-high pedestal in 1957, the statue was recently polished and restored. John Walshe, Father McGivney’s great-grandnephew, unveiled the statue, and Father Sullivan blessed it. Walshe, who refers to Father McGivney as “Uncle Mike,” pulled the lanyard for the original unveiling of the statue 65 years ago, when he was 12 years old.
“I remember that day so vividly,” Walshe said at the Saturday ceremony. He added, “I think Uncle Mike is looking down on us today with a smile.”
The long weekend of events in the Archdiocese of Hartford concluded Aug. 14 with a parish celebration at Immaculate Conception Church in Terryville, led by pastor and longtime Knights of Columbus chaplain Father Joseph Crowley. Father McGivney assumed pastoral care of Immaculate Conception in 1886 while serving as pastor of St. Thomas in Thomaston. Today the two churches are united in a parish named for St. Maximilian Kolbe. Noting that St. Maximilian and Blessed Michael both died Aug. 14, 51 years apart, Father Crowley said that each gave his life for the Catholic faith — St. Maximilian in willingly taking the place of another prisoner in Auschwitz concentration camp, Blessed Michael in the daily duties of parish life.
Observances of Father McGivney’s feast day elsewhere included a Mass offered by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, followed by a cookout on the seminary’s grounds. More than 400 people attended the Mass, including Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly, his wife, Vanessa, and their three daughters.
Brian Caulfield is vice postulator for the cause for canonization of Blessed Michael McGivney and a member of Holy Family Council 8882 in New Haven, Conn.