Strengthen our Families

Doug Oldmixon, IPSD, State Historian

Father McGivney believed that the family was the strong pillar of society and its preservation was vital to future of the nation and the Church.  Parish Priest by Douglas Brinkley and Julie Fenster, explains that Father McGivney was “fascinated by the power derived [by the family] — not through need, but on the contrary, through being needed.

The parents for each other and for the children, the children for one another and for the parents, too: obligations fulfilled. Therein lay the potential in aspects practical and spiritual.” This belief fueled Father McGivney’s desire to safeguard the families of his parish against the dangers to family life present at the turn of the last century.

A selfless act by Father McGivney illustrates how he put this desire into practice in a very real way. The same year the Knights of Columbus were founded a parishioner of Father McGivney died, leaving behind a wife, children and little money for the family to live on. In those situations, the city of New Haven had the right to assign the children to public institutions, unless guardians for the children could be found. When no guardian was found for the eldest son, Father McGivney was determined not to let the family be separated. He went to the probate court and publicly pledged guardianship of the teen, who was then able to remain with his mother and family. 

Situations such as the one above led Father McGivney to found the Knights of Columbus.  As the story illustrates, the unfortunate fact of life for many families at the time of our Order’s founding was when the breadwinner of the family died, he often died young, leaving behind a wife and children. The pressures involved in keeping a family together for a Catholic widow were often compounded by 19th century anti-Catholic, and anti-immigrant sentiments. This, coupled with the limited options available to a woman, let alone a widow, more often than not resulted in the family being torn apart. Children were taken away from mothers and sent to live with a “good” family, which typically meant a Protestant one in the eyes of those who made such decisions. The Order’s insurance program provided a means by which brother Knights could take a role in the protection of the life of a Catholic family. By providing for the bereaved wives and children of brother Knights, the insurance program allowed families to stay together in their greatest hour of need.

This devotion to the family is a vital part of Father McGivney’s legacy and essential to the continued mission of the Knights of Columbus. While the dangers to family life described above are not as pressing as they once were, new threats to the family have emerged as the beliefs of secular Western society permeate popular culture and politics to challenge the notion of the traditional family at every level.  In the wake of these new challenges, the Order has maintained an adamant pro-family stance, with the focus on the importance of the traditional family, one where a husband and a wife are its foundation. Pope Francis emphasizes the importance of the traditional family in his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei (or Light of Faith). He states, “The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love…whereby spouses can become one flesh and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan.”  

The Knights have embodied this belief in many ways and the Order has been of the front lines defending the traditional family wherever and whenever it is under attack. As Knights, we fully embrace Father McGivney’s belief that family is the bedrock of our society and its protection is of the utmost importance to our future.   Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori eloquently explains:

The family is the glue that holds our culture and our society together. It’s where patriots, public servants, social workers, teachers, scientists, skilled workers and ethical businesspersons come from. It’s where future priests, sisters and spouses are first formed. It’s where young people first acquire the knowledge and skill needed for a happy and productive life. It’s also where young people learn how to handle disagreements, disappointment and even tragedy. It is the first and indispensable school of love, and when a majority of its citizens are deprived of it, society itself becomes chaotic and angry. The more good families a society has, the better suited it will be to help all its citizens attain their potential. This is how a civilization of truth and love is created: one family at a time.

Father McGivney also understood that formation of strong Catholic families starts with dedication to the ideal of Christian manhood.  As members of the Knights of Columbus, we have a duty to help our fellow brothers be better husbands and fathers. By doing so, we strengthen our families as whole.  Local councils foster this through sponsoring activities that allow families to spend time together in volunteer activities, faith initiatives and social events. On the national level, the Order’s Building the Domestic Church While Strengthening our Parish initiative supports families in their Christian vocation through the “Family Fully Alive” program. This program is designed to help families place God and their Catholic faith at the center of family life. The program provides an opportunity for families to grow in holiness together through monthly themes, reflections, meditations, family projects and Scripture verses.

Father McGivney is called the “Protector of Christian Family Life” for good reason. He understood that strong families are the foundation of parish, of Church and of society and the Order he founded empowers its members to put that belief into action.  Through the Knights of Columbus, let us strive to live by his example and continue his mission. Let us all pledge to be faithful protectors of Christian family life.  

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