Shortly after being elected state deputy for the Knights of Columbus Arizona State Council, Tom Kato went to New Haven, Conn., where he prayed at the tomb of Knights founder Blessed Michael J. McGivney, a young parish priest who saw a need to strengthen the faith of lay Catholic men and, by extension, their families. 

At the installation Mass at St. Mary Parish in New Haven — where Blessed McGivney started the organization in the church basement in 1882 —, Kato sat in a pew designated for Arizona. 

“For the 116 years that the Knights of Columbus has been in Arizona, the state deputies have sat in this pew,” Kato recalled thinking. “That had a different effect on me. I need to pray to Fr. McGivney more to ask for his intercession to make sure I’m leading the Knights of Columbus in Arizona according to the way he wanted it back when he set it up in 1882.” 

To celebrate their founder, the Knights of Columbus are celebrating a statewide Feast Day Mass on Sunday Aug. 13 at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, at 9 a.m. The date falls on the blessed’s feast day — one day after his Aug. 12, 1852, birth and one day before his Aug. 14, 1890, death. 

Born the first child of Irish immigrants in Waterbury, Conn., Blessed McGivney discerned a call to the priesthood early in life. He returned home at 20 when his father died, debating whether to leave his seminary studies so that he could provide for his mother and six siblings. The bishop of Hartford helped save the young seminarian’s vocation by providing financial support. He was ordained Dec. 22, 1877, be the future Cardinal James Gibbons in Baltimore’s Cathedral of the Assumption and was assigned to St. Mary. As parochial vicar, he worked with many youth and young adults, helped bring people into the Church and ministered to the people on the margins, including helping a young man on death row atone for his sins. 

“The incredible thing is what he accomplished in a fairly short lifetime. The thing that impresses you is how accessible he was to the people from the very beginning,” said Jesuit Fr. Gregory Adolf, pastor of St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Sierra Vista in the Diocese of Tucson, and state chaplain for the Knights in Arizona. “Pope Francis has made this remark, ‘be shepherds, with the smell of the sheep,’ they need to go out and mix with people and be accessible. Fr. McGivney was in some ways ahead of his time in being accessible and building up all the groups in the parish.” 

As a priest, Blessed McGivney saw how many lay Catholics were attracted to fraternal organizations of the day, many of which had values antithetical to Church teaching. His involvement in the life of the laity and recognition of their role in the Church led him to see the need for a fraternal organization for Catholic men. The group chose to be named after Christopher Columbus, who at the time was recognized as a hero for his starting the Age of Discover, and who was also a devout Catholic. The “Knights” moniker appealed to many Civil War veterans. The founding principles of the new organization were charity, unity and fraternity. Ten years after Fr. McGivney’s death, in 1900, the Knights added a fourth principle, patriotism. 

“Our founder is a man who lived his life the way Jesus wanted him to live, and we have to do everything we can to make sure we live that type of life,” said Kato, noting Jesus’ miracles and acts of charity to help those on the margins and that the Apostles were a fraternal gathering. “I hope the councils take back we’re not only living the life Fr. McGivney asked us to live but Jesus asked us to live.” 

Grand Knight Faustino Lopez of Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral Council 12708, which is hosting the celebration, credits the Knights of Columbus with helping him grow in his faith. 

“Fr. McGivney taught us how to serve the Church and to have more faith in God,” Lopez said in Spanish. “When I joined the Knights of Columbus is when I started helping in the Church, and my faith grew greatly because I was helping.” 

After his assignment at St. Mary, Fr. McGivney became pastor of St. Thomas Parish in Thomaston. During this time, the Knights of Columbus spread throughout parishes in Connecticut, then the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. Believing in the importance of the Knights being lay led, the priest trusted the men in New Haven to continue the work he started. 

“The Knights of Columbus were the fruit of a number of years of working with young men with families, supporting them. There was so much anti-Catholicism at that time, and his model of building up Catholic families, building up Catholic youth, building up Catholic young adults, this is just right for our times,” said Fr. Adolf, who will also be preaching at the Aug. 13 Feast Day Mass. “He has this wonderful approach that I love. He didn’t want to be the head, he wanted to be the backbone, just to give support.” 

The pastor fell ill during a pandemic in late 1889, later developing into tuberculosis and pneumonia in January 1890. Eventually confined to his rectory, he continued to be concerned for his parishioners. He died on Aug. 14 that year, and his funeral included representatives from all of the Knights councils in existence at that time. Blessed McGivney’s younger brothers, Patrick and John, followed their brother’s example in becoming priests and also serving as supreme chaplains for the Knights. 

Especially in this day and age when there’s a lot of hostility towards Catholics, Fr. McGivney rose above that and said, ‘This is the way we need to live our lives and how we need to respond,’” said Kato, noting that the theme for State Council this year is “Faith Over Culture.” 

“That’s exactly how we need to live our lives: we need to let our faith show in everything we do, and our prayer needs to show in everything we do,” he added. 

That starts with local councils, said Kato, who is a member of Corpus Christi Council 10062 based out of Corpus Christi Parish in Ahwatukee. It can take on different forms, such as helping the Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference, cleaning up the parish grounds, serving as ushers, leading a parish-wide Rosary or their “famous” pancake breakfasts and fish fries. 

“Part of why we do that is to build that community. That’s what Fr. McGivney tried to do, getting people into the church,” he said. “If that means we do that through fish fries or pancake breakfasts, we’ll do that. If that means cleaning up the grounds, well do that. If it means doing Fifth Sunday Rosary with the parish involved, we’re going to do that also.” 

Fr. Adolf, who also serves as spiritual director for the Kino Heritage Society, which promotes the cause of Ven. Fr. Eusebio Kino in the United States, noted some common threads between the Knights of Columbus founder and the Jesuit missionary known as the “Padre on Horseback” and the “Apostle of Arizona.” 

“The common thread of these two saintly men is they were first and foremost priests for God and priests of God. Everything flowed from that priority, and they both engaged people where people were at. They identified the needs of real people because they listened to them, shared with them and knew how to respond,” he said. “Kino started ranches, and McGivney started an organization. Very different contexts, different answers in terms of what was needed, but these two priests of God knew how to be creatively loving and lovingly creative in their priesthood, and that’s a model for me, a challenge and an invitation as a priest.” 

After the Mass, the Knights will host a reception in the parish hall and have information to help people learn more about the Knights and Blessed McGivney. Members from throughout the state will also be able to enjoy fellowship with each other. For Fr. Adolf, the celebration is also an opportunity for members to get in touch with their roots. 

“To have a fulfilled life, you have to have roots and wings. As Knights of Columbus the roots are why are we founded, how were we founded, and the wings are how we respond today,” he said. “Celebrating Fr. McGivney is letting us touch our roots.” 

Today, the Knights boast two million members worldwide. Last year they donated $158 million and 70 million volunteer hours to charitable causes. The 18,000 Knights in Arizona donated $1.7 million and 975,000 hours to charity.  Arizona ranks in the top-10 in charitable works among the Knights of Columbus nationally. 


Feast Day Celebration for Blessed Michael J. McGivney 

Members of the Knights of Columbus and their families from throughout the state of Arizona are invited to celebrate the feast day of their founder, Blessed Fr. Michael J. McGivney. 

9 a.m. TV Mass 

Sunday, Aug. 13 

Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral 

6351 N. 27th Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85017 

Novena to Blessed Michael J. McGivney 

The faithful are encouraged to pray the Novena to Blessed Fr. Michael J. McGivney, starting Aug. 4. 

Link to download Novena: 

Blessed Michael J. McGivney Highlights 

Aug. 12, 1852: Born 

Dec. 22, 1877: Ordained 

March 29, 1882: Founded the Knights of Columbus 

Aug. 14, 1890: Died 

Dec. 18, 1997: Named Servant of God 

March 15, 2008: Declared Venerable 

Oct. 31, 2020: Beatified 


To join the Knights of Columbus for free, visit and enter the promo code: “Blessed McGivney.”