A five-year-old boy, dressed in a new grey suit, carried a relic of the newly beatified Father Michael J. McGivney, and presented it to the Pope’s delegate at the beatification ceremony last week in Saint Joseph’s Cathedral in Hartford, Connecticut. As he approached the altar the child held both his parents’ hands, but when it came time for holding the relic he did it all by himself.
The Vatican investigation into the cause for canonization for Father McGivney declared that the healing of this little boy was a miracle attributed to Father McGivney. Mikey, as he is called by his family, was diagnosed with a chromosome abnormality known as fetal hydrops and Down Syndrome. His mother was only three months pregnant when an ultrasound revealed the condition which is always fatal.
The parents and all their family and friends began praying to Father McGivney for a healing of their unborn baby’s hydrops. They already had deep devotion to Father McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus. The parents made a Knights’ sponsored pilgrimage to Rome, Spain and Portugal, praying for healing. Four days after returning home, another ultrasound showed the total absence of hydrops.
The child still had Down Syndrome, but that was of no concern for the parents. They felt that he would be a blessing to their large family. The baby would be named Michael McGivney Schachle. In May of 2015, Mikey was born two months premature. He suffered from a heart condition, not uncommon for Down Syndrome babies, so his first year was rocky with low birth weight and heart problems. Today, at five, he is healthy, happy and high-functioning, a sheer delight to his family.
Father McGivney is the first American-born parish priest to be beatified. A son of Irish immigrants, he suffered the dire poverty afflicting many immigrant families, especially after the early death of his father. Amidst the strong anti-Catholic sentiment of mid-nineteenth century America, poverty left people vulnerable to illness and death from the flu and pneumonia. At his father’s death Michael McGivney had to leave the seminary to work in a factory to help support his mother and siblings. He had already worked in the factory from the age of thirteen before he entered the seminary. A local pastor saw the goodness and potential in the young man and made arrangements so Michael could return to his studies for the diocesan priesthood.
His own experience of the harsh reality facing most Catholics of his era made him an exceptionally compassionate and determined young priest. He began the Knights of Columbus as a parish organization of men whose purpose was to assist the many widows and orphans left on their own after the untimely death of their husband and father. The organization began building up insurance to this end.
Father McGivney himself died young two days after his 38th birthday in 1890. His death was attributed to pneumonia caused by a pandemic called the Russian flu. How appropriate that his beatification comes when the world is reeling from our own COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus reality kept the beatification ceremony more simple than usual. With all the miters and crosiers and Knights’ regalia, the small child carrying a relic symbolized the devotion and commitment of a son of immigrants to his God and his neighbors.
The child walking toward the altar was a miracle incarnate, as is every child conceived. To honor the legacy of Fathe McGivney is to care for and cherish every child, and to allow every child conceived to be born.
Sister Patricia McCarthy currently teaches Math at a Catholic School. For many years she taught troubled children and victims of abuse.