by Archbishop Jospeh F. Naumann
Last week’s Leaven contained an excellent article on this year’s seminarian pilgrimage.
The pilgrimage was designed to expose our seminarians to some of the heroic priests and saints who made huge contributions to the vibrancy of the Catholic Church in the United States.
One of the personal highlights for me was visiting the Knights of Columbus museum as well as St. Mary Parish in New Haven, Connecticut, where Blessed Michael McGivney began what would become the largest Catholic fraternal organization in the world.
Father McGivney was motivated in October 1881 to found the Knights of Columbus in part because of the plight of young widows in his parish. As a result of the hazardous working conditions as well as unsanitary living conditions, many husbands all too frequently died at a young age and left meager resources for their wives to care for their children.
In founding the Knights, Father McGivney recognized and was responding to what he considered a triple tragedy for Catholic families. Widows not only lost their husbands, but in New Haven, they had to appear in court to prove their ability to provide for their children. If a widow could not satisfy the expectations of the court, the children were removed from her care.
Most likely, the children would be placed in a non-Catholic home. Children not only lost their biological parents but also their Catholic faith.
On the pilgrimage, we were able to visit the parish hall beneath St. Mary Church where what was to become the Knights of Columbus first met. It was wonderful to see that the founding place was still a well-used parish hall.
For more than a century, St. Mary Parish has been under the pastoral care of the Dominican Fathers. Our visit actually coincided with the feast day of St. Dominic. We saw in the hall the remnants of the parish celebration from the night before, honoring their Dominican priests on the feast of their founder.
Father McGivney in founding the Knights of Columbus was responding to a very concrete and important need of his parishioners. This young and energetic priest sought to inspire and empower a group of laity to surround Catholic widows and their children with the material, moral and spiritual support they needed to preserve their family. The Knights of Columbus Life Insurance program continues in our time to protect and preserve families that experience the tragic loss of a parent.
Blessed Michael McGivney was a visionary. He recognized the necessity for parish priests to collaborate with and empower lay leaders to address crucial needs within the parish family. Father McGivney anticipated some of the important themes of the Second Vatican Council: the universal call to holiness and the essential role of the laity to improve and transform society.
Father Michael McGivney could never have imagined the impact that first meeting in the basement of St. Mary Church in New Haven would have — not only upon the church in the United States but throughout the world.
The Knights of Columbus today labor heroically to assist their pastors, their bishops and the Holy Father in addressing some of the most important religious, moral and material needs of our time.
For example, the Knights of Columbus in Kansas will play an important role in the efforts to pass next August the “Value Them Both” amendment to the Kansas Constitution. Without this amendment, Kansans will be powerless to protect the lives of unborn children and to spare mothers the emotional, spiritual and physical trauma of abortion.
I am grateful for all the members of the Knights of Columbus in the archdiocese. They do so much to help their members grow in holiness, become better husbands and fathers, encourage and support priestly vocations, protect the unborn, defend religious liberty, assist children with disabilities, strengthen marriage and family life, and support Catholic schools, religious education programs and college Catholic campus ministries.
What began as something so small and seemingly inconsequential in New Haven 140 years ago has become a mighty force for good in our nation and world.
I encourage men who are not currently a member of the Knights of Columbus to consider joining. If you do, you will experience genuine fraternal support to live your Catholic faith with joy and fidelity. You will also help the Knights today to help our church respond to the pastoral needs of our time, just as that first group of men helped care for widows and children.
Become a Knight to grow spiritually, to help strengthen our church and to change the world.