Father Michael J. McGivney
Father Michael J. McGivney

Father Michael J. McGivney was born Aug. 12, 1852, in Watebury, Connecticut, one of 13 children of Irish-American immigrants. He was ordained to the priesthood on Dec. 22, 1877, by Archbishop (later Cardinal) James Gibbons of Baltimore, and was assigned to St. Mary's Parish in New Haven, where he founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882. In November 1884 he was named pastor of St. Thomas Parish in Thomaston, Connecticut. He died from tuberculosis at age 38 on Aug. 14, 1890. Father McGivney is interred at St. Mary's in New Haven.

Founded by Father McGivney, at St. Mary's parish in New Haven, Connecticut, the Knights of Columbus was chartered on March 29, 1882, in the State of Connecticut.

As the priest explained to a small group of men at a meeting in the basement of St. Mary's Church in October 1881, his purpose in calling them together was manifold: to help Catholic men remain steadfast in their faith through mutual encouragement: to promote closer ties of fraternity among them: and to set up an elementary system of insurance so that the widows and children of members in the group who might die would not find themselves in dire financial straits.

The founder and first officers of the fledgling organization chose the name "Knights of Columbus" because they felt that, as a Catholic group, it should relate to Christopher Columbus, the Catholic discoverer of America. This would emphasize that it was a Catholic who discovered, explored, and colonized the North American continent. At the same time "Knights" would signify that the membership embodied knightly ideals of spirituality and service to Church, country and fellowman.

By the end of 1897 the Order was thoroughly rooted in New England, along the upper Atlantic seaboard and into Canada. Within the next eight years it branched out from Quebec to California, and from Florida to Washington.

From such promising beginnings Father McGivney's original group has blossomed into an international society of more than 1.5 million Catholic men plus their families in more than 10,000 councils who have dedicated themselves to the ideals of Columbianism: Charity, Unity, Fraternity, and Patriotism.