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Who Was this American Priest?

Father McGivney is on his way to possibly becoming the first American born priest declared a saint. Here is a brief look at his life.

Michael McGivney was born in Waterbury, CT in 1852. He was the oldest of 12 children, although four of his siblings did not live past infancy. His parents were Irish immigrants and his father worked in a brass factory. At the time, Catholicism was starting to spread to areas other than the large cities thanks to the large number of immigrants coming into the country. Waterbury was also on its way to becoming the brass capital of the world.

Early Influences

McGivney started home schooling as a youngster. In 1859, McGivney entered the East Main Street School. Fr. Thomas Hendricken had started the school in the basement of St. Peter Church. A new church, Immaculate Conception, was built, but Fr. Hendricken had wanted to give the children in his parish the best educational opportunity. The Waterbury Board of Education was impressed with the school and continued to fund it as a school for the heavily Catholic population in the area. McGivney spent his time at school and at Immaculate Conception and by the time he was 13, he was ready to graduate from East Main Street School (three years early) and he was certain he wanted to join the priesthood. McGivney, with the assistance of Fr. Hendricken, would be able to attend the Seminary at St. Hyacinthe after three years of working in the factory.

Early Priesthood

Father Michael J McGivneyIn 1873, Michael's father, Peter, passed away. This put his studies on hold for a while. Fortunately, the two oldest sisters of the family were able to support the family and the Diocese of Hartford adopted Michael and paid his tuition in order to finish seminary. While McGivney's studies started with the Jesuits, he finished his studies at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore and became a diocesan priest. December 22, 1877, McGivney was ordained to the priesthood. On Christmas Day, he celebrated his first Mass at Immaculate Conception in Waterbury. However, he was assigned to St. Mary's in New Haven as associate pastor, about 25 miles southeast of his hometown. It was here that McGivney would leave his mark.


The second half of the 19th century saw the rise of secret societies. However, the Church forbade membership in these societies. Fr. McGivney saw that many men wanted to join such societies but also saw the issue with alcoholism. He joined the St. Joseph's Total Abstinence and Literary Society, which encouraged abstinence from alcohol and to provide social activities for the members as well as a fund that would be used to help members in need. McGivney wanted to find out what lead people towards alcoholism so then he could find solutions. By 1882, McGivney was starting to gather members for a society that would be loyal to the United States and be open to all Catholic men. He had worked with many families who had lost their breadwinner and were thrown into despair due to the loss. Thus, he started the Knights of Columbus, dedicated to abstinence of alcohol and an available insurance plan for all members. On March 29, 1882, Connecticut recognized the Knights of Columbus as an organization.

Later Life

Working with the Knights of Columbus while balancing the work of a priest tired McGivney out. In 1884, McGivney retired from administrative duties with the Knights; he continued to serve as chaplain. Later that year, he was transferred to St. Thomas parish in Thomaston, CT, a town northwest of his hometown of Waterbury. Here he would be pastor of the parish. In 1890, McGivney came down with influenza, which later turned into pneumonia. On August 14, 1890, McGivney passed away.

Cause for Sainthood

Fr. Gabriel O'Donnell, O.P. was named the postulator of cause of sainthood. In 1997, Archbishop Daniel Cronin opened diocesan investigation. On March 15, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI declared Fr. McGivney "venerable" due to his heroic virtue. This means that he can be considered for canonization.

Prayer for the Canonization of Fr. Michael J. McGivney

God, our Father, protector of the poor and defender of the widow and orphan, you called your priest, Father Michael J. McGivney, to be an apostle of Christian family life and to lead the young to the generous service of their neighbor. Through the example of his life and virtue may we follow your Son, Jesus Christ, more closely, fulfilling his commandment of charity and building up his Body which is the Church. Let the inspiration of your servant prompt us to greater confidence in your love so that we may continue his work of caring for the needy and the outcast. We humbly ask that you glorify your servant Father Michael J. McGivney on earth according to the design of your holy will. Through his intercession, grant the favor I now present (here make your request). Through Christ our Lord. Amen.


Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be.


Information taken from Parish Priest by Douglas Brinkley and Julie M. Fenster and www.fathermcgivney.org.
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