Father McGivney and the History
of the Knights
Born in Waterbury, CT on Aug. 12, 1852, Michael J.
McGivney was the oldest of 13 children of Irish
immigrants Patrick and Mary Lynch McGivney. Michael was
baptized at Immaculate Conception Church in Waterbury
and attended grammar school there.
In the summer of 1868 Michael enrolled at St. Hyacinth
Seminary in Quebec. After two years of training he
transferred to Our Lady of the Angels Seminary in
Niagara Falls, and then enrolled at St. Mary’s
Seminary in Montreal.
Seminarian McGivney then studied theology at St. Mary’s
Seminary in Baltimore in 1873, and on December 22, 1877,
was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Hartford by
Archbishop (later Cardinal) James Gibbons of Baltimore.
Father McGivney was assigned to St. Mary’s Church in
New Haven, CT, reporting on Christmas Day, 1877.
In the1800's anti-Catholicism was a strong force in the
especially in Father McGivney's New England. A
majority of parishioners at St. Mary’s were Irish
immigrants who were forced into low-paying and dangerous
jobs. Many Catholic fathers died young, leaving widows
and children destitute.
It deeply concerned Father McGivney that some secular
fraternities, hostile to Catholicism, were attracting
young Catholic men who sought membership as a means of
Father McGivney began to formulate a plan to address
these social and spiritual issues. He conceived an
organization of Catholic men that would provide a
death benefit and burial expenses for members. The
organization was meant to actively serve the Church and
combat rampant anti-Catholicism of the day. The name
"Knights of Columbus" was chosen to symbolize
knightly ideals of service to church and community, and
as testimony that the discoverer of the Americas was
Catholic. The Order was officially chartered by the
State of Connecticut on March 29, 1882.
Shortly after the Knights of Columbus came into
existence, Father McGivney was named pastor of St.
Thomas Church in Thomaston, Conn. He died at St Thomas
from tuberculosis on August 14, 1890, just two days
after his 38th birthday.
Growth of the Knights of Columbus
On Oct. 2, 1881, a small group of men met in the
basement of St. Mary's Church on Hillhouse Avenue in New
Haven, Connecticut. Called
together by their 29-year-old parish priest, Father
Michael J. McGivney. These men formed a fraternal
society that would one day become the world's largest
Catholic family fraternal service organization. They
sought strength in solidarity, and security through
unity of purpose and devotion to a holy cause: they
vowed to be defenders of their country, their families
and their faith. These men were bound together by the
ideal of Christopher Columbus, the discoverer of the
Americas, the one whose hand brought Christianity to the
New World. Their efforts came to fruition with the
incorporation of the Knights of Columbus on March 29,
1882. They were Knights of Columbus.
The Order has been called "the strong right arm of
the Church," and has been praised by popes,
presidents and other world leaders, for support of the
Church, programs of evangelization and Catholic
education, civic involvement and aid to those in need.
Father McGivney's founding vision for the Order included
a life insurance program to provide for the widows and
orphans of deceased members. The Order's insurance
program has expanded substantially to serve more
effectively the Knights' growing membership. Year after
year, the Knights of Columbus has earned the highest
possible quality ratings for financial soundness from
A.M. Best and Standard & Poor's. The Order
the highest quality insurance, annuity and long-term
care products to its members, along with many other
The Supreme Council is the governing body of the Knights
of Columbus and is responsible for organizational
development as a whole. Supreme Council duties include
establishing chapters in new locales, setting up
regional authorities, as well as defining and advancing
core values and goals. Additional duties involve
undertaking organization-wide initiatives, promoting
awareness of the Knights' mission worldwide, and
protecting families of members through an extensive
insurance program. Members working in local, or
subordinate councils, however, carry on the majority of
the Knights' beneficial work.
From humble beginnings, Father McGivney’s dream has
flourished into an international Catholic family
fraternal benefit society which boasts nearly 1.6
million members in more than 11,000 local councils in
the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Philippines,
Puerto Rico and the Caribbean and Central America.
Visit the Official Father Michael J. McGivney web