On Friday, hundreds of faithful gathered in New Haven, Conn. to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the death of Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus. 

Although he lived just 38 years, Fr. McGivney left a remarkable legacy— the order he founded has become the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization. Just last year, the Knights raised more than $173.5 million for charity and performed more than 71.5 million hours of volunteer work.

 The memorial Mass on Friday was held at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in New Haven, where Fr. McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882. 

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, the organization’s supreme chaplain, recalled in his homily how Fr. McGivney’s priesthood modeled the teaching of recent popes.  

“St. John Paul II said that the priest’s personality must be a bridge to Christ, and indeed Father McGivney’s unassuming, lighthearted-yet-determined character attracted many to the Catholic faith and to St. Mary’s Church," said Archbishop Lori. "When Pope Francis tells priests to acquire ‘the smell of the sheep’ and ‘to bring the Gospel to the margins of society,’ I think of Father McGivney. He loved the priesthood deeply.”

At the end of the Mass, John Walshe, a great grandnephew of Father McGivney, joined Archbishop Lori and Supreme Knight Carl Anderson in the incensing of the sarcophagus near the entrance of the church, where Fr. McGivney’s remains are interred. The Archbishop then led those present in prayers for the canonization of the priest.  

Father McGivney passed away Aug. 14, 1890, two days after his 38th birthday, in the rectory of St. Thomas parish in Thomaston, Conn., where he served as pastor for six years. He was also pastor at the time of Immaculate Conception parish in nearby Terryville. Previously, he was assistant parish priest for seven years at St. Mary’s, where he gathered a handful of parish men in the church’s basement to found the Knights of Columbus.

These first Knights saw in Fr. McGivney an example worth following, Archbishop Lori said. 

“These men would not have committed to the principle of charity had they not seen in Father McGivney a man of tireless pastoral charity, who reflected God’s love through acts of personal generosity and compassion. These men would not have committed to the principle of unity had they not seen how Father McGivney brought together the people of St. Mary’s parish and how he served as a source of unity in the wider community of New Haven. Nor would they have committed to the principle of fraternity had they not witnessed how Father McGivney was not only the father but also the brother to his parishioners and indeed to anyone in need.”

Archbishop Lori added that not only does Fr. McGivney continue to guide and influence the nearly 1.9 million Knights worldwide, he is a very personal source of grace in his own life. 

The archbishop said he considers Fr. McGivney to be “my parish priest, the parish priest of my soul. Every morning I pray to him and I pray that he be canonized, as I know you do. Every day I load his plate with all kinds of intentions.”  

The cause of sainthood for Father McGivney was opened in 1997, and he was declared a Venerable Servant of God by Pope Benedict XVI in March 2008 in recognition of his life of heroic virtue. One Vatican-approved miracle through his intercession is needed for beatification, and another miracle is needed for canonization.