They lived in different centuries and in different parts of the world, but in many ways Father Michael J. McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, and Italian teenager Carlo Acutis exemplify the Catholic experience of their era.
Father McGivney, with a hands-on charitable ministry to the immigrant poor in Hartford, Conn., in the late 1800s; Acutis, with the faith-themed digital content he created in the early days of social networking.
Each of them continues on a journey toward sainthood with beatification ceremonies this month. We look forward to their canonizations, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Father McGivney’s parish-based ministry was on track to grow into the worldwide Knights of Columbus when he died in a flu outbreak in 1890 at age 38. He’ll be beatified Oct. 31 at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford.
Acutis, a tech whiz who was 15 when he died in 2006 of leukemia, was beatified Oct.10 at a Mass at the Shrine of St. Francis in Assisi.
Even as a young child, Acutis was deeply involved in his Catholic faith, attending Mass twice a day and placing the Eucharist at the center of his life.
In his short time on earth, he developed a huge online following and became known for quotes such as “The Eucharist is my highway to heaven.” One of his last major online accomplishments was the creation of a database of Eucharistic miracles around the world.
His mother, using today’s Instagram terminology, called the teen “an influencer for God.”
Father McGivney, too, accomplished much in his relatively short life. Ordained in 1877, he founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882 as a fraternal order of Catholic men to help widows and orphans. It has become the largest lay Catholic organization in the world with 2 million members and sponsors a wide range of educational, charitable and religious activities.
It is a reflection of Father McGivney’s vision and the culture of Christian service he modeled that the Knights of Columbus are an ongoing presence in the Church, along with the affiliated women’s groups established later as the Columbiettes.
Do we have to say it?
We’re praying that more people will live their faith like Father McGivney and Carlo Acutis.
Sometimes, as with Father McGivney, it means engaging a community of faithful—19th century working-class Catholics, in his case— to practice what the Church teaches in a spirit of fraternity with one another and care for our neighbors in need.
The example of Acutis is one of courage to proclaim the faith in the face of a secular and often hostile world, indeed proclaiming it directly to the world through the harsh lens of the internet, and to continue his mission while coping with a terminal illness.
With their beatification, they’re called by the title Blessed. They’ve already shown us they’re worthy of the honor.