The Knights of Columbus is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization. Founded in the United States in 1882, it is named in honor of Christopher Columbus.
There are more than 1.7 million members in 14,000 councils, with nearly 200 councils on college campuses. Membership is limited to “practical Catholic” men aged 18 or older.
Councils have been chartered in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, the Philippines, Guam, Saipan, Japan, Cuba, and most recently in Poland. The Knights’ official junior organization, the Columbian Squires, has over 5,000 Circles. All the Order’s ceremonials and business meetings are restricted to members though all other events are open to the public. A promise not to reveal any details of the ceremonials except to an equally qualified Knight is required to ensure their impact and meaning for new members; an additional clause subordinates the promise to that Knight’s civil and religious duties.
In the 2007 fraternal year the Order gave US$ 144,911,781 directly to charity (1.1 Billion in charitable contributions in the last 10 years) and performed over 68,695,768 man hours of voluntary service. For their support for the Church and local communities, as well as for their philanthropic efforts, the Order often refers to itself as the “strong right arm of the Church” . The Order’s insurance program has more than $60 billion of life insurance policies in force and holds the highest insurance ratings given by A. M. Best, Standard & Poor’s, and the Insurance Marketplace Standards Association.
The Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus.
The Knights of Columbus was founded by an Irish-American Catholic priest, The Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney in New Haven, Connecticut. He gathered a group of men from St. Mary’s parish for an organizational meeting on October 2, 1881 and the Order was incorporated under the laws of the U.S. state of Connecticut on March 29, 1882. Though the first councils were all in that state, the Order spread throughout New England and the United States in subsequent years.
The primary motivation for the Order was to be a mutual benefit society. As a parish priest in an immigrant community, McGivney saw what could happen to a family when the breadwinner died and wanted to provide insurance to care for the widows and orphans left behind. He himself had to temporarily leave his seminary studies to care for his family when his father died. In the late 19th century, Catholics were regularly excluded from labor unions and other organizations that provided social services.
In addition, Catholics were either barred from many of the popular fraternal organizations, or, as in the case of Freemasonry, forbidden from joining by the Catholic Church itself. McGivney wished to provide them an alternative. He also believed that Catholicism and fraternalism were not incompatible and wished to found a society that would encourage men to be proud of their American-Catholic heritage.
McGivney traveled to Boston to examine the Massachusetts Catholic Order of Foresters and to Brooklyn to learn about the recently established Catholic Benevolent League, both of which offered insurance benefits. He found the latter to be lacking the excitement he thought was needed if his organization were to compete with the secret societies of the day. He expressed an interest in establishing a New Haven Court of the Foresters, but the charter of Massachusetts Foresters prevented them from operating outside their Commonwealth. The committee of St. Mary’s parishioners McGivney had assembled then decided to form a club that was entirely original.
McGivney had originally conceived of the name “Sons of Columbus” but James T. Mullen, who would become the first Supreme Knight, successfully suggested that “Knights of Columbus” would better capture the ritualistic nature of the new organization. The Order was founded 10 years before the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the New World and in a time of renewed interest in him. Columbus was a hero to many American Catholics, and the naming him as patron was partly an attempt to bridge the division between the Irish-Catholic founders of the Order and Catholic immigrants of other nationalities living in Connecticut.
| Christopher Columbus is the patron and namesake of the Knights.
|The Connecticut Catholic ran an editorial in 1878 that illustrated the esteem in which American Catholics held Columbus. “As American Catholics we do not know of anyone who more deserves our grateful remembrance than the great and noble man – the pious, zealous, faithful Catholic, the enterprising navigator, and the large-hearted and generous sailor: Christopher Columbus.”
The name of Columbus was also partially intended as a mild rebuke to Anglo-Saxon Protestant leaders, who upheld the explorer (a Catholic Genovese Italian working for Catholic Spain) as an American hero, yet simultaneously sought to marginalize recent Catholic immigrants. In taking Columbus as their patron, they were sending the message that not only could Catholics be full members of American society, but were, in fact, instrumental in its foundation.
By the time of the first annual convention in 1884, the Order was prospering. In the five councils throughout Connecticut were 459 members. Groups from other states were requesting information. The Charter of 1899 included four statements of purpose, including “to promote such social and intellectual intercourse among its members as shall be desirable and proper, and by such lawful means as to them shall seem best.” The new charter showed members’ desire to grow the organization beyond a simple mutual benefit insurance society.
The original insurance system devised by McGivney gave a deceased Knight’s widow a $1,000 death benefit. Each member was assessed $1 upon a death and when the number of Knights grew beyond 1,000 the assessment decreased according to the rate of increase. Each member, regardless of age, was assessed equally. As a result, younger, healthier members could expect to pay more over the course of their lifetimes than those men who joined when they were older. There was also a Sick Benefit Deposit for members who fell ill and could not work. Each sick Knight was entitled to draw up to $5 a week for 13 weeks (roughly equivalent to $125.75 in 2009 dollars). If he remained sick after that the council to which he belonged regulated the sum of money given to him.
Today there are more than 14,000 councils around the world and the Knights of Columbus is a multi-billion dollar non-profit charitable organization. Knights may be seen distributing Tootsie Rolls to raise funds to fight developmental disabilities, volunteering for the Special Olympics and other charitable organizations, erecting pro-life billboards and “Keep Christ in Christmas” signs, conducting blood drives and raising funds for disaster victims, or parading at patriotic events with their bright capes, feathered chapeaux, and ceremonial swords. The cause for McGivney’s canonization is currently before the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and a guild has been formed to promote his cause. On March 15, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI approved a decree recognizing the heroic virtue of Father Michael J. McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus. The pope’s declaration significantly advances the priest’s process toward sainthood and gives the parish priest the distinction of “Venerable Servant of God.” If his cause is successful, he will be the first priest born in the United States to be canonized as a Saint.
The Supreme Council is the governing body of the Order and is composed of elected representatives from each jurisdiction. The Supreme Council acts in similar manner to shareholders at an annual meeting and each year elects seven members to the Supreme Board of Directors for three year terms. The twenty-one member board then chooses from its own membership the senior operating officials of the Order, including the Supreme Knight.
State Councils in each of the 50 United States, each province in Canada, and other jurisdictions carved out of member countries are led by State Deputies and other officers elected at state conventions. Territorial Deputies are appointed by the Supreme Knight and lead areas not yet incorporated into State Councils.
District Deputies are appointed by the Supreme Knight upon the recommendation of the State Deputy and oversee several local councils, each of which is led by a Grand Knight. Other elected council officers include the Deputy Grand Knight, Chancellor, Warden, Recorder, Treasurer, Advocate, Guards and Trustees. A Chaplain is appointed by the Grand Knight and a Financial Secretary by the Supreme Knight. Council officers are properly addressed by using the title “worthy” (e.g. Worthy Grand Knight). Councils are numbered in the order in which they chartered into the Order and are named by the local membership. San Salvador Council #1 was named for the first island Columbus landed on in the New World.
The title “Knight” is purely fraternal and is not the equivalent to a sovereign accolade. Therefore Knights of Columbus do not rank with Chevaliers and Commanders of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, the Order of Malta, the Order of St. Gregory the Great, or members of any other historic military or chivalric orders.
The Order is dedicated to the principles of Charity, Unity, Fraternity and Patriotism. A First Degree exemplification ceremony, by which a man joins the Order, exemplifies the virtue of charity. He is then said to be a First Degree Knight of Columbus and after participating the subsequent degrees, each of which focuses on another virtue, rises to that status. Upon reaching the Third Degree a gentleman is considered a full member. Priests do not participate directly in Degree exemplifications as laymen do, but rather take the degree by observation.
The first ritual handbook was printed in 1885 but contained only sections teaching Unity and Charity. Supreme Knight Mullen, along with primary ritual author Daniel Colwell, believed that the initiation ceremony should be held in three sections “in accord with the ‘Trinity of Virtues, Charity, Unity, and Brotherly love.'” The third section, expounding Fraternity, was officially adopted in 1891.
| Fourth Degree
The Fourth Degree is the highest degree of the order. Members of this degree are addressed as “Sir Knight”. The primary purpose of the Fourth Degree is to foster the spirit of patriotism and to encourage active Catholic citizenship. A Knight is eligible to join the Fourth Degree after six months from the date of his First Degree, providing he has completed the 2nd and 3rd degrees beforehand.
Assemblies are distinct from councils and are led by a separate set of elected officers. The Supreme Board of Directors appoints a Supreme Master and twenty Vice Supreme Masters to govern the Fourth Degree. Each Vice Supreme Master oversees a Province which is then broken up into Districts. The Supreme Master appoints District Masters to supervise several assemblies.
Each assembly is led by a Navigator. Other elected assembly officers include the Captain, Admiral, Pilot, Scribe, Purser, Comptroller, Sentinels and Trustees. A Friar and Color Corps Commander are appointed by the Navigator. Assembly officers are properly addressed by using the title “faithful” (e.g. Faithful Navigator). Assemblies are numbered in the order in which they chartered into the Order and are named by the local membership.
| A Knights of Columbus Fourth Degree Chapeau
Only Fourth Degree Knights may optionally purchase the full regalia and join the Assembly’s Color Corps. The Color Corps is the most visible arm of the Knights as they are often seen in parades and other local events wearing their colorful regalia. Official dress for the Color Corps is a black tuxedo, baldric, white gloves, cape and naval chapeau. Baldrics are worn from the right shoulder to left hip and are color specific by nation. In the United States, Panama and the Philippines, baldrics are red, white and blue. Red and white baldrics are used in Canada; red, white and green in Mexico; and blue and white in Guatamala. Service baldrics include a scabbard for a sword and are worn over the coat while social baldrics are worn under the coat. The colors on a Fourth Degree Knight’s cape, and chapeau, denote the office he holds within the Degree. Faithful Navigators and Past Faithful Navigators are permitted to carry a white handled silver sword. Masters and Vice Supreme Masters, as well as Former Masters and Former Vice Supreme Masters, are also denoted by their gold swords.
The need for a patriotic degree was first considered in 1886 and a special plea was made at the National Meeting of 1899. The first Fourth Degree exemplification followed in 1900 with 1,100 Knights participating at the Lenox Lyceum in New York City. Today there are more than 2,500 Assemblies.
| Knights of Columbus Insurance Program
Many early members were recent immigrants who often lived in unsanitary conditions and performed hazardous jobs for poor pay. Since its founding, a primary mission of the Knights of Columbus has been to protect families against the financial ruin caused by the death of the breadwinner. While this method originally was intended to provide a core group of people who would support a widow and her children after the death of their husband and father, it has expanded into much more.
Today the Order offers a modern, professional insurance operation with more than $70 billion of life insurance policies in force as of 2009. Products include permanent and term life insurance as well as annuities and long term care insurance. Insurance sales grew 19% in 2004, more than three times the rate of industry at large. The Order holds $13 billion in assets and had $1.5 billion in revenue and $71 million in profits in 2005. This is large enough to rank 72nd on the A.M. Best list of all life insurance companies in North America and places it on the Fortune 1000 list of top companies. Only three other insurers in North America have received the highest ratings from both A. M. Best and Standard & Poor’s. The Order is certified by the Insurance Marketplace Standards Association for ethical sales practices.
Charity is the foremost principle of the Knights of Columbus. In the 2005 fraternal year the Order gave $136 million directly to charity and performed over 63.2 million man hours in voluntary service. Endowed funds of over $54 million support a number of Church related causes. A Knight’s highest duty is to assist the widow or orphan of a fallen brother Knight.
The Knights have a tradition of supporting those with physical and developmental disabilities. More than $382 million has been given over the past three decades to groups and programs that support the intellectually and physically disabled. One of the largest recipients of funds in this area is the Special Olympics. In addition, the Order’s highest honor, the Gaudium et Spes Award, was given with its $100,000 honorarium to Jean Vanier, the founder of l’Arche, in 2005. L’Arche is a faith-based network that provides care, in a community setting, for people with severe developmental disabilities.
The Vicarius Christi Fund has a corpus of $20 million and has earned more than $35 million, since its establishment in 1981, for the Pope’s personal charities. The multimillion dollar Pacem in Terris Fund aids the Catholic Church’s efforts for peace in the Middle East. The Order also has eleven separate funds totaling $18 million to assist men and women who are discerning religious vocations pay tuition and other expenses.
Days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 the Order established the $1 million Heroes Fund. Immediate assistance was given to the families of all full-time professional law enforcement personnel, firefighters and emergency medical workers who lost their lives in the rescue and recovery efforts. Orderwide, more than $10 million has been raised for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. On May 6, 2006, $3 million was disbursed to the Archdiocese of New Orleans and the dioceses of Lafayette, LA, Houma-Thibodaux, LA, Lake Charles, LA, Biloxi, MS and Beaumont, TX. The Order also donated more than $500,000 to the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004 relief efforts and $50,000 to help victims of Typhoon Durian in the Philippines.
The Order funded the first renovation of the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica in over 350 years.
At the 2006 American Cardinals Dinner, it was announced that the Knights would be giving a gift of $8 million to The Catholic University of America. The gift is to renovate Kean Hall,
an unused building, and rename it McGivney Hall, after Fr. McGivney. The new McGivney Hall will house the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, a graduate school of theology affiliated with the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome as well as CUA. Supreme Knight Anderson serves on CUA’s board of trustees and is the vice president of the John Paul II Institute. The Knights have a long history of donating to CUA.
The Knights’ Satellite Uplink Program has provided funding to broadcast a number of papal events including the annual Easter and Christmas Masses, as well as the World Day of Peace in Assisi, the Peace Summit in Assisi, World Youth Days, the opening of the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica’s for the Millennial Jubilee, Pope John Paul II’s visit to Nazareth and several other events. In missionary territories the Order also pays for the satellite downlink.
United in Charity, a general, unrestricted endowment fund, was introduced at the 2004 Supreme Council meeting to support and ensure the overall long-term charitable and philanthropic goals of the Order. The fund is wholly managed, maintained and operated by Knights of Columbus Charities, Inc., a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Before United in Charity was formed all requests for funds were met with the general funds of the Order or in combination with specific appeals. Requests from the Church and organizations closely aligned with the mission of the Order often far exceeded the amount available and it is hoped that eventually United in Charity’s earnings will be sufficient to completely fund the Order’s charitable priorities.
Ever since its founding the Knights of Columbus has been involved in evangelization. In 1948, the Knights started the Catholic Information Service (CIS) to provide low-cost Catholic publications for the general public as well as for parishes, schools, retreat houses, military installations, correctional facilities, legislatures, the medical community, and for individuals who request them. Since then, CIS has printed millions of booklets, and thousands of people have enrolled in CIS correspondence and on-line courses.
While most Knights of Columbus Councils are located at parishes or near multiple parish communities, many men first join the Knights while in college. Over 14,000 Knights are members of 200+ College Councils worldwide. College Knights are full members of the Order.
The first College Council was at The Catholic University of America, Keane Council 353 (it has since moved off-campus). Today, the University of Notre Dame Knights of Columbus Council 1477, founded in 1910, is the longest-running college council in the country, followed by the councils at St. Louis University and Benedictine College. In 1919, Mount St. Mary’s College and Seminary council 1965 became the first council attached to a seminary, at what is now Mount St. Mary’s University. In 1937, the University of Illinois became the first public university with a Knights of Columbus Council, The Illini Council Number 2782.
Each September, the Supreme Council hosts a College Council Conference at their headquarters in New Haven, Connecticut. Awards are given for the greatest increases in membership, the best Youth, Community, Council, Family and Church activities and the overall Outstanding College Council of the year. Belmont College and Benedictine College lead the nation winning the most titles of Outstanding College Council. In years of an international World Youth Day the Order is represented by members of the College Council Conference Coordinating Committee, who travel with the diocese of the Supreme Chaplain (currently Bishop William E. Lori of the Diocese of Bridgeport).
| Columbian Squires
The Knights’ official junior organization is the Columbian Squires. The international fraternity for boys 10–18 has over 5,000 circles. According to Brother Barnabas McDonald, F.S.C., the Squires founder, “The supreme purpose of the Columbian Squires is character building.” Squires have fun and share their Catholic faith, help people in need, and enjoy the company of friends in social, family, athletic, cultural, civic and spiritual activities. Through their local circle, Squires work and socialize as a group of friends, elect their own officers, and develop into Catholic leaders.
Each Circle is supervised by a Knights of Columbus Council or Assembly and has an advisory board made up of either the Grand Knight, the Deputy Grand Knight and Chaplain or the Faithful Navigator, the Faithful Captain and Faithful Friar. Circles are either Council based, parish based, or school based, depending on the location of the circle and the Knight counselors.
| Emblems Of The Order
|Emblem Of The Order
The emblem of the Order dates from the second Supreme Council meeting on May 12, 1883, when James T. Mullen, who was then supreme knight, designed it.
The emblem indicates a shield mounted upon the Formée cross (having the arms narrow at the center and expanding toward the ends). The shield is that associated with a medieval knight. The Formée cross is the representation of a traditional artistic design of the cross of Christ through which all graces of redemption were procured for mankind. This then represents the Catholic spirit of the Order.
Mounted on the shield are three objects: a fasces (a bundle of rods bound together about an ax with the blade projecting) standing vertically and, crossed behind it, an anchor and a dagger or short sword. The fasces from Roman days, carried before magistrates as an emblem of authority, is symbolic of authority which must exist in any tightly-bonded and efficiently operating organization. The anchor is the mariner’s symbol for Columbus, patron of the Order, while the short sword or dagger was the weapon of the Knight when engaged upon an errand of mercy. Thus, the shield expresses Catholic Knighthood in organized merciful action, and with the letters, K of C, it proclaims this specific form of activity.
|Fourth Degree Emblem
The triad emblem of the Fourth Degree features the dove, the cross and the globe. The dove, classic symbol of the Holy Spirit and peace, is shown hovering over the orb of the Earth (globe). Both are mounted on a variation of the Crusader’s cross, which was found on the tunics and capes of the Crusading knights who battled to regain the Holy Land from the pagans.
Spiritually, the sacred symbols on the emblem typify the union of the Three Divine Persons in one Godhead, the most Blessed Trinity.
• The Globe — God the Father, Creator of the Universe.
• The Cross — God the Son, Redeemer of Mankind.
• The Dove — God the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of Humanity.
The colors of the symbols are:
• A blue globe with the land of the Western Hemisphere in white.
• A red cross with gold borders and gold knobs at the end of the points forming the ends of the arms of the cross, also known as the Isabella cross.
• A white dove.
Red, white and blue are the colors of the flag of the country in which the Knights originated. They are used to stress patriotism, the basic principle of the Fourth Degree.