Why do we have Knights of Columbus?

Posted by Alice L. Camille
Thursday 12, April 2018 | Category:   Church History
Knights of Columbus
Over a million Knights worldwide put their nearly $100 million in annual contributions toward papal charities and projects. Tens of millions of service hours annually are donated by members to their local communities.

The first time you see those guys with the swords and feathered caps march up the aisle of a church, you might well wonder: what does this have to do with Catholicism? The Knights’ history begins in 1882 with Father Michael McGivney, a diocesan priest in New Haven, Connecticut. McGivney had two concerns: the strong attraction of local youth to secret societies like the Masons, and the number of families struggling with the loss of their breadwinner. The Knights of Columbus were created to address both needs: a Catholic fraternal society offering an insurance policy to support families in times of loss.

McGivney chose Christopher Columbus as the society’s patron, a strong symbol of the Catholic contribution to our national story. This was a calculated choice in an era when Catholic immigrants were far from welcome, and Protestant societies like the American Protective Association questioned Catholic patriotism. By 1905, the Knights could be found in every state of the union and beyond. A powerful sense of ritual enabled its immigrant members to assimilate a new identity, avoid shrinking into ethnic particularity, relinquish old world ties, and affiliate with the story of America. The K of C soon became and remains the largest organization of Catholic laity in the world.

The Knights’ activities evolved along with the nation’s needs. In generations when the church faced prejudice, the Knights studied bias in the press and politics. When U.S. troops needed respite that was safe and wholesome, the K of C provided “Huts” where every soldier was welcome, and everything was free. After the First World War, the Knights sponsored college scholarships and night schools for veterans. In 1922, a K of C Racial Contribution Series published monographs by W.E.B. DuBois, George Cohen, and Frederick Franklin Schrader about the respective contributions of Black, Jewish, and German citizens to the United States.

After the Second Vatican Council, the Knights reorganized with a strong social justice component. Over a million Knights worldwide put their nearly $100 million in annual contributions toward papal charities and projects. Tens of millions of service hours annually are donated by members to their local communities. The K of C still run a well-respected insurance company. All this, and swords too.

Scriptures:

Deuteronomy 10:17-19; 14:28-29; 16:11-12; 24:17-22; 27:19; Isaiah 10:1-2; Malachi 3:5; Acts of the Apostles 6:1

Books:

Patriotism and Fraternalism in the Knights of Columbus, by Christopher Kauffman (Crossroad Publishing Co., 2001) 

Parish Priest: Father Michael McGivney and American Catholicism, by Douglas Brinkley and Julie Fenster (Harper Perennial, 2007)

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