Many Waterburians are familiar with the statue of Father Michael McGivney at the intersection of Grand Street and Meadow Street in downtown Waterbury, but with the news he has moved one step closer to becoming a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, a new generation of city residents will learn his amazing story.
Waterbury native Michael McGivney entered the priesthood in 1877 and founded the Knights of Columbus five years later. Today, the Associated Press is reporting that Pope Francis has approved a miracle attributed to Father McGivney, moving Father McGivney one step closer to becoming a saint.
“We’re overjoyed,” Father Jim Sullivan of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception said. In the same parish that young Michael McGivney attended as a child in the 1860s, Father Sullivan said, “today the whole staff is doing cartwheels.”
There is an elaborate four step process to becoming a saint in the Roman Catholic Church; Servant of God, Venerable, Beatified and Canonized (saint). Father McGivney is now 75% of the way to becoming a saint.
“To become blessed (beatified) a prayer must be answered beyond scientific explanation,” Father Sullivan said. “There is a whole process to be considered, and if it’s approved by the Pope, it is called miraculous.”
And today Pope Francis has approved a miracle attributed to prayers to Father McGivney and the subsequent inexplicable cure of a baby in 2015.
“Father McGivney did not perform the miracle,” Father Sullivan explained, “He heard the prayers and brought them to Christ who brought them to God. It is God who performed the miracle, but this shows that Father McGivney is with God.”
Father McGivney is the first parish priest in America to obtain beatification.
“This is a great inspiration to all diocese priests,” Father Sullivan said. “Father McGivney was born on Railroad Hill in Waterbury on the banks of the Naugatuck River. Being from Waterbury myself, I have always had a profound connection to him.”
At the age of 21, while attending Providence College, Jim Sullivan had the “incredible privilege” of helping move Father McGivney’s body from St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Waterbury, to New Haven, on the 100th Anniversary of the Knights of Columbus.
“He was buried in Waterbury for 92 years,” Sullivan said. “Pope John Paul II was supposed to attend the ceremony in 1981, but he was shot that year and the Vatican sent its Secretary of State. I was too young ten to realize what a powerful moment I participated in.”
McGivney left school at 13 to work in a brass spoon factory. He joined the seminary at 16, but had to leave his studies when his father died, and he was needed at home to help raise his siblings. A few years later he resumed his studies and became a priest in 1877.
McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus at a local parish in New Haven to assist immigrants and their families. It developed through the 20th century into the world's largest Catholic fraternal organization. There are 1.8 million members and 15,000 councils. A website about father McGivney reported that in 2012 the order donated $167 million and 70 million hours to charity.
Father McGivney died in 1890 at the age of 38 from pneumonia while serving as a priest at St. Thomas Church in Thomaston, CT.
Most Waterburians are familiar with Father Michael McGivney from his statue at the intersection of Grand Street and Meadow Street in front of the old railroad station (now home of the Republican-American newspaper).
Father Sullivan believes visitors will come to Waterbury to see and feel McGivney’s hometown, and the Basilica has dedicated a room inside the church complex to Father McGivney with a stunning mural of McGivney and Father Thomas Conway.
In the past few years Father Sullivan has held two mountain top services dedicated to Father McGivney atop Holy Land USA in Waterbury.
“God speaks to mountains,” Father Sullivan said. “I believe something special is in store for Holy Land USA, and I believe Father McGivney has something to do with it.”
Michael McGivney was born on Railroad Hill in Waterbury and went on to become a priest and found the Knights of Columbus.
Father Jim Sullivan is the priest at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Waterbury and has spent a lifetime admiring Father McGivney's influence on the world. McGivney was a member of the Immaculate Conception Church 160 years ago.
The Knights of Columbus held a ceremony for Father McGivney several years ago in downtown Waterbury.
There have been two masses held atop the renovated Holy Land USA dedicated to Father McGivney in the past few years.
A recent painting of Father McGivney by Terry Waldron was gifted to the Basilica and now hangs in the McGivney parlor. McGivney is seen here standing on the stairs leading to a cemetery in Thomaston, and the stairs are still there. Father Sullivan said he visits the stairs once a week to think about Father Michael McGivney.