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Last weekend, St. Mary’s Catholic Church celebrated the beatification of Father Michael McGivney — a priest who worked at the parish from 1877-1884. After McGivney’s time at St. Mary’s, he was then made pastor of St. Thomas Roman Catholic Church in Thomaston, Connecticut, and served there until his death in 1890.

McGivney’s beatification, which took place on Saturday at the Archdiocese of Hartford, marked the first of an individual from Connecticut. In the process of canonization, beatification is the step before sainthood. In Roman Catholicism, saints are people recognized for their exceptional holiness and are prayed to in an act of intercession. Now, McGivney is called Blessed Michael McGivney. 

In order to be beatified, an individual must have a miracle attributed to them and an additional miracle must be attributed to them in order for the individual to become a saint. In Catholicism, a miracle needs to be unexplainable by science, and be verified by scientists. Pope Francis approved McGivney’s beatification after a family in Tennessee prayed to him to save their unborn son who was expected to die of hydrops fetalis and he was unexpectedly healed.

“After today, this is one of only 16 American cities with a saint or a blessed,” Father Joachim Kenney, associate pastor of St. Mary’s, told the News. “It’s an extremely grace-filled opportunity.”

According to a short documentary on McGivney by the Knights of Columbus, McGivney was conscious of anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic discrimination in New Haven, as well as the challenges of working class individuals in the late 1800s. If the breadwinner of a family died, the documentary claims that McGivney worked to ensure the family was still financially supported. In order to do so, McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus at St. Mary’s in 1882 to address family separation and create stronger bonds in the Catholic Church. Today, the Knights of Columbus have over 1.9 million members worldwide and provide insurance, scholarships and loans to churches, according to the organization’s website.

“People were just very struck by his [McGivney’s] goodness and charity and the way he reached out to people and his kind of tireless work,” Kenney said. “Having an intercessor here at the parish, and in particular for the Knights of Columbus in general, it’s just huge.”

According to Kenney, McGivney organized activities for youth, visited the sick and elderly and regularly ministered to prisoners during his lifetime. Kenney said that McGivney once celebrated the Mass with and accompanied a man directly prior to his execution.

To celebrate McGivney’s beatification, St. Mary’s –– located on Hillhouse Avenue ––  hosted a festival throughout the weekend. The festival included events such as a performance by the Catholic folk group, The Hillbilly Thomists, a procession, an adoration service, a young adult vigil with praise and worship, talks, prayer and a candlelight Mass in addition to regular services. According to St. Mary’s website, all events followed the state’s COVID-19 guidelines, with pre-registration and limited seating. A screen installed on Hillhouse also streamed the festival events live for public viewing.

Yale students also took part in the festival, both as participants and as volunteers.

“The great beauty of the veneration of holy figures in the [Catholic] Church is that in some sense it makes the faith closer to us,” Tommy Schacht ’21, a volunteer at the festival, said. “The Virgin of Guadalupe, more than just the Virgin Mary in the abstract, makes the Virgin Mary closer to people from Mexico. I think it’s very similar. It kind of grounds the faith a lot closer to us, [to] have someone who walked these church steps, who we can pray to for intercession.”

Jazmine Click, DIV ’21, emphasized that the beatification of someone from her parish was a once-in-a-lifetime event. She said that during his lifetime, McGivney would have been familiar with Yale and the experience of its students.

Mary Margaret Schroeder ’24 echoed Click’s sentiment.

“Everything he did in his short life was really inspiring,” Schroeder said. “Just to know that you just kind of have to start small, and he did really impactful work.”

The festival also drew pilgrims, nuns, priests and other New Haven residents.

“It was just really beautiful to see just a reverence and joy that everybody had,” Abigail Chavez, who traveled from New York for the festival, said. “I think taking the time, stepping away, and getting on a two-hour train ride, was good for my soul, just to recenter myself and what’s important to then go back out into life more recharged.”

McGivney became ill during the flu pandemic of 1890 and passed away from pneumonia at 38. He was declared “Venerable” by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008, approved for beatification by Pope Francis in May and beatified on Oct. 31. 

Sharla Moody | sharla.moody@yale.edu

Correction, Nov. 9: A previous version of this article stated that McGivney was a pastor at St. Mary’s until his death in 1890. In fact, he served at St. Mary’s until 1884, before pastoring at St. Thomas until 1890.