The Knights of Columbus was founded in 1882 by a 29-year-old parish priest, Father Michael J. McGivney, in the basement of St. Mary's Church in New Haven, Connecticut. Today, more than a century later, the Knights of Columbus has become the largest lay organization in the Catholic Church.
The Order has been called "the strong right arm of the Church," and has been praised by popes, presidents and other world leaders, for support of the Church, programs of evangelization and Catholic education, civic involvement and aid to those in need. As recently as 1992, Mother Teresa of Calcutta praised the Knights in a speech on the occasion of her reception of the first Knights of Columbus Gaudium et Spes Award.
Thanks to the inspired work of Father McGivney—as well as that of millions of other Knights over the past century—the Knights of Columbus now stands at its pinnacle of membership, benefits and service. The Knights of Columbus has grown from several members in one council to more than 13,000 councils and 1.7 million members throughout the United States, Canada, the Philippines, Mexico, Poland, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Panama, the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands, Guatemala, Guam and Saipan.
The Knights of Columbus set new records for charitable giving and volunteer service hours in 2005. The results of the Order’s annual Survey of Fraternal Activity for the year ending Dec. 31, 2005, show that total contributions to charity at all levels reached $139,711,619 – exceeding the previous year’s total by nearly $4 million. The figure includes $33,638,426 donated by the Supreme Council, $12,685,401 given by state councils, and $93,387,792 in charitable donations from local councils, Fourth Degree assemblies, and Squire circles.
The survey also shows that the reported number of volunteer hours by Knights for charitable causes grew to 64,039,706 hours, up nearly 1 million hours from 2004. Additionally, members contributed another 8.5 million hours to fraternal service activity. There were 399,264 Knights of Columbus blood donors during the year, and Knights made more than 5.4 million visits to the sick and bereaved.
Many of the monetary donations and hours of service were in support of relief efforts along the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Knights response to the tragic storms was swift and significant. Disbursements of an initial $2.5 million allocation for storm relief began two days after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, and a dollar-for-dollar match was established for donations provided by its members. Knights from across the United States and Canada traveled to the storm-damaged region to assist in clean-up and recovery initiatives. Local councils also provided meals and the use of their facilities to rescue crews and victims in the weeks following the hurricanes. Cumulative figures show that during the past decade, the Knights of Columbus has donated more than $1.208 billion to charity, and provided in excess of 574 million hours of volunteer service in support of charitable causes.
Father McGivney's founding vision for the Order also included establishing a life insurance program to provide for the widows and orphans of deceased members. The Order's insurance program has expanded substantially to serve more effectively the Knights' growing membership. Year after year, the Knights of Columbus has earned the highest possible quality ratings for financial soundness from A.M. Best and Standard & Poor's. The Order provides the highest quality insurance and annuity products to its members, along with many other fraternal benefits.
Knights of Columbus are Catholic gentlemen committed to the exemplification of charity, unity, fraternity, patriotism, and defense of the priesthood. The Order is consecrated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Order is unequivocal in its loyalty to the Pope, the Vicar of Christ on earth. It is firmly committed to the protection of human life, from conception to natural death, and to the preservation and defense of the family. It was on these bedrock principles that the Order was founded over a century ago and remains true to them today.
If you want to join this great organization of Catholic men, it is likely that there is a local council near you. There you will find brother Knights working to fulfill the central mission of the Order: striving in charitable works; serving the Church and unified in following its teachings; supporting brother Knights in their temporal and spiritual needs; acting for the good of their country; and giving aid to widows, orphans, the sick and the poor. This is Father McGivney's dream, echoing across the century, and living today in the hearts of his brothers and all of those they touch.
On October 2, 1881, a small group of men met in the basement of St. Mary's Church on Hillhouse Avenue in New Haven, Connecticut. Called together by their parish priest, Father Michael J. McGivney, these men formed a fraternal society that would one day become the world's largest Catholic family fraternal service organization. They sought strength in solidarity, and security through unity of purpose and devotion to a holy cause: they vowed to be defenders of their country and their families and their Faith. These men were bound together by the ideal of Christopher Columbus, the discoverer of the Americas, the one whose hand brought the Holy Faith to this New World. They were Knights of Columbus.
Through the foresight and leadership of Father McGivney, and the sacrifice and dedication of those early Knights, and the millions of their brothers who have followed in their footsteps, the Knights of Columbus would become the world's foremost Catholic fraternal benefit society, one that has helped millions of Catholic families grow in their faith and defend their beliefs. It has made its members better husbands, fathers, sons, and citizens. It has helped families obtain economic security and stability through the Knights' life insurance program. It has built Catholic communities, fed the poor and defended the vulnerable. It has helped to renovate the Vatican and bring the Pope to the world.
The Knights of Columbus has grown from several members in one council to more than 13,000 councils and 1.7 million members throughout the United States, Canada, the Philippines, Mexico, Poland, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Panama, the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands, Guatemala, Guam and Saipan.The Order has had thirteen Supreme Knights—from the first Supreme Knight, James T. Mullen, who designed the famous emblem of the Order, to our current Supreme Knight, Carl A. Anderson, who leads the Order across the threshold of the 21st century. Millions of Catholic men have been Knights of Columbus—men of all nationalities and backgrounds and professions—men like baseball great Babe Ruth and President John F. Kennedy.
Charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism—these are the watchwords of the Knights of Columbus. And, since 1882, Knights of Columbus have backed up these words with actions. During World War I, Supreme Knight James A. Flaherty proposed to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson that the Order establish soldiers' welfare centers in the US and abroad. The Order raised more than $14 million for this program on its own, and was allocated another $30 million from a national fund drive.
During the early years of World War II, Canadian Knights set up similar soldiers' welfare centers in Canada. The US Knights were the first national organization to sponsor a blood donor program, and numerous councils led war bond drives in support of the war effort. Thousands of Knights were killed in action during the war.
During the Cold War, Supreme Knight John E. Swift oversaw the Order's varied responses to the Communist threat, as the Knights operated speakers' bureaus, funded anti-Communist advertisements and radio addresses, and published pro-freedom pamphlets. In 1954, the Knights of Columbus led the effort to officially include the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag, a crusade that resulted in federal legislation signed by US President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In 1957, the Knights of Columbus donated a $1 million, 329-foot bell tower to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC—a tower that became known as "the Knights' Tower." The Order has since donated a 56-bell carillon to the Shrine and provided funding for its operation.
During the 1960s and 1970s, decades of degeneration and social chaos, the Knights of Columbus, behind Supreme Knight John McDevitt and Supreme Knight Virgil C. Dechant, stood as a tower amidst societal crisis to promote racial equality and love of country. Against a tide of dissension, the Order championed Church teaching on divorce, birth control, abortion, and pornography.
Since the late 1970s, Supreme Knight Virgil C. Dechant led the Knights to record-breaking growth in all areas of the Order's operations: membership, new council development, international development, insurance sales, volunteerism and charitable giving. He fostered devotion to the Church and the Blessed Mother, and pledged the Knights' support for the Holy Father, the cardinals, bishops and all the clergy and religious.
In 2000 the current Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson was elected to office. Continuing the tradition of devotion to the Church and the Blessed Mother, he rededicated the Order to its role as "strong right arm of the Church" in the renewal of society. He especially promised new vigor in the fight for the culture of life over the culture of death as the Order moves into the 21st century.
Knights of Columbus have helped to build and support the Catholic Church, from the United States to the Philippines. Knights have lived for their faith in Canada, and died for their faith in Mexico. Throughout the history of the Order, in these and many other ways, Knights of Columbus have provided immeasurable support to their families and communities, to their countries and the Church. The Knights of Columbus has enabled its members to strengthen and protect their loved ones—spiritually, by developing their faith, and financially, with the highest quality life insurance available, a product that has brought security and prosperity to millions of Knights and their families.
Through their dedication to the ideals of the Order—Charity, Unity, Fraternity, Patriotism—and through their fidelity to Christ's Church and his Vicar, the Knights of Columbus continue to be what they were called long ago: "The Strong Right Arm of the Church."
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