All the good works we do are informed by our four core principles:
Charity: Charity is the foremost principle of the Knights of Columbus. Our Catholic faith teaches us to “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Members of the Knights of Columbus show love for their neighbors by conducting food drives and donating the food to local soup kitchens and food pantries, by volunteering at Special Olympics, and by supporting, both spiritually and materially, mothers who choose life for their babies. Knights recognize that our mission, and our faith in God, compels us to action. There is no better way to experience love and compassion than by helping those in need, a call we answer every day.
Unity: None of us is as good as all of us. Members of the Knights of Columbus all know that – together – we can accomplish far more than any of us could individually. So we stick together…we support one another. That doesn’t mean that we always agree or that there is never a difference of opinion. It does mean that – as a Knight of Columbus – you can count on the support and encouragement of your brother Knights as you work to make life better in your parish and community.
Fraternity: The Venerable Michael J. McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus, in large part, to provide assistance to the widows and children left behind when the family breadwinner died – often prematurely. The Order’s top-rated insurance program continues to do this today, as do individual Knights, who last year gave more than 10 million hours of their time to assist sick and/or disabled members and their families. In the Knights of Columbus, we watch out for and take care of one another.
Patriotism: Members of the Knights of Columbus, be they Americans, Canadians, Mexicans, Cubans, Filipinos, Poles, or Dominicans, are patriotic citizens. We are proud of our devotion to God and country, and believe in standing up for both. Whether it’s in public or private, the Knights remind the world that Catholics support their nations and are amongst the greatest citizens.
We are committed to the exemplification of charity, unity, fraternity, patriotism, and to the defense of the priesthood. Our order is consecrated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and is firmly committed to the protection of human life, from conception to natural death, and to the preservation and defense of the family.
Our order’s central vision is to engage in charitable works,
to serve the Church, to support brother Knights,
to act for the good of our country,and to give aid to those in need.
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.
We serve our families, our community, and strive to set an example of what Cathloic men should be. There are more than 1.8 million members in 15,000 councils, with nearly 200 councils on college campuses. Membership is open to "practical Catholic" men aged 18 or older.
Councils have been chartered in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Guatemala, Panama, Dominican Republic, the Philippines, Guam, Spain, 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 2010 fraternal year, the Order gave over US$154 million directly to charity (over $1.406 billion in charitable contributions and 653 million man hours in the last 10 years) and performed over 70 million man-hours of voluntary service. Over 413,000 pints of blood were donated. 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 $80 billion of life insurance policies in force, backed up by $15.5 billion in assets, and holds the highest insurance ratings given by A. M. Best, Standard & Poor's, and the Insurance Marketplace Standards Association.
History and Description
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 Orde r 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 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 which 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 there 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.
Around 1912 it was claimed that fourth degree Knights had to swear an oath to exterminate Freemasons and Protestants. Despite the fact that it was denied, and the real oath published, this was read into the congressional record by Thomas S. Butler. In the 1928 Presidential election a million copies were printed to hurt the campaign of the Catholic Democratic candidate Al Smith.
Today there are more than 15,000 councils around the world, and the Knights of Columbus is a multi-billion dollar non-profit charitable organization. Knights distribute Tootsie Rolls to raise funds to fight developmental disabilities, volunteer for the Special Olympics and other charitable organizations, erect pro-life billboards and "Keep Christ in Christmas" signs, conduct blood drives and raise funds for disaster victims, and parade at patriotic events with their red capes, feathered chapeaux, and ceremonial swords.
In 2010, the cause for McGivney's canonization was before the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. A guild had 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 the cause is successful, he will be the first priest born in the United States to be canonized as a Saint.