About the Knights of Columbus

The Vision of Father McGivney

Structure of the Order

Who can be a Knight?

The Patriotic Degree

The Vision of Father McGivney

  Founded by Father Michael J. McGivney, curate at St. Mary's parish in New Haven, Conn., the Knights of Columbus was chartered on March 29, 1882, in the State of Connecticut.

As the priest explained to a small group of men at a meeting in the basement of St. Mary's Church in October 1881, his purpose in calling them together was manifold: to help Catholic men remain steadfast in their faith through mutual encouragement; to promote closer ties of fraternity among them; and to set up an elementary system of insurance so that the widows and children of members in the group who might die would not find themselves in dire financial straits.

The founder and first officers of the fledgling organization chose the name "Knights of Columbus" because they felt that, as a Catholic group, it should relate to Christopher Columbus, the Catholic discoverer of America. This would emphasize that it was Catholics who discovered, explored, and colonized the North American continent. At the same time "Knights" would signify that the membership embodied knightly ideals of spirituality and service to Church, country and fellowman.

By the end of 1897 the Order was thoroughly rooted in New England, along the upper Atlantic seaboard and into Canada. Within the next eight years it branched out from Quebec to California, and from Florida to Washington.

From such promising beginnings Father McGivney's original group has blossomed into an international society of more than 1.5 million Catholic men in nearly 10,000 councils who have dedicated themselves to the ideals of Columbianism: Charity, Unity, Fraternity, and Patriotism.

Today members of the Order are found in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Panama, Cuba, Guam, the Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas. They belong to many races and speak many different languages. They are diverse, yet they are one. Their diversity spells creativity; their unity spells strength.

The Knights' creativity is manifested in numerous programs and projects directed to the benefit of their fellowman. Their strength assures that these programs are operated effectively and brought to positive conclusions.

Since assuming leadership of the Order in January 1977, Supreme Knight Virgil C. Dechant has embarked on a series of significant projects designed to strengthen Columbianism, the Church, the family and each individual knight.

One of his first moves was to place his stewardship under the patronage and protection of Our Lady, and he formalized this dedication during a pilgrimage to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., soon after he took office. As a further concrete sign of his devotion to the Blessed Virgin under her title, "Our Lady of the Rosary," he implemented a plan to present a special "Knights of Columbus Rosary" to each new member enrolled in the society. These have been distributed at the rate of 10,000 per month since the program began. The "Pilgrim Virgin-Marian Hour of Prayer" programs undertaken every two years have attracted millions of participants to prayer services sponsored by councils in honor of Our Lady under several of her titles.

His other initiatives have gone far toward strengthening the Order as it confronts the increasing secularism of our modern age. He has renewed the Knights' pledge of loyalty and fidelity to the magisterium and to the hierarchy of the Church in the countries where the Order exists. He also has renewed the society's commitment to the pro-life activities of the U.S. and Canadian bishops through periodic grants of $150,000 and $20,000 respectively made by the Order to support the bishops' pro-life programs.

Among other thrusts, the Supreme Knight formulated a program to maintain the involvement of the widows and children of deceased members in the activities of the Order. A resolution passed at the 95th annual meeting of the Supreme Council in August 1977 calls for the establishment of a committee in every unit of the Order which shall be responsible for keeping contact with widows and dependent children of deceased members. These children will remain eligible for all educational benefits, such as student loans and all the society's fellowships and trusts.

Upon receipt of notice that a member has died, the Supreme Knight sends a letter of condolence to the widow or next of kin, informing them first of all that their loved one has been enrolled in a Mass offered at St. Mary's Church, birthplace of the Order, one every day throughout the year. Upon request, the widow's name is added to the list for COLUMBIA magazine. State and local councils are encouraged to do the same for their publications. They are also called on to extend to widows and their families any scholarship or loan programs they may conduct.

A renewed emphasis on family life seeks to involve the member's wife and children in his commitment to the life of Catholic knighthood. Their support for his promise to be a staunch Catholic layman is essential if it is to be effective and long-lasting. The Order's Service Program has been revised to permit more participation by the wives and children of members and also to enable greater identification on their part with the Order. The wives now can wear the Order's emblem in the form of jewelry and children can wear it in badge form.

A family life director has been added to the "Surge with Serve" program. His responsibility is to assure that a number of activities and projects is directed specifically to the family and that families are encouraged to take part in them.

A major sign of the Order's active concern for the future of the Church and the spread of the Gospel is the establishment of the Supreme Council Vocations Program, now operating in all jurisdictions and already showing promise of success in helping turn around the decline in the number of candidates to the priestly and religious life.

The Knights of Columbus have a long and enviable tradition of aid to Catholic education. As early as 1904 the Order endowed a chair in American history at the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., and later provided an endowment of $500,000 for graduate fellowships there which still reaps its benefits today. The million-dollar "Father Michael J. McGivney Memorial Fund for New Initiatives in Catholic Education" established in 1980 is devoted to fostering improvements through research and development.

"Don't keep the Faith - spread it!" long has been a guiding principle of the Knights of Columbus. Almost $1 million is budgeted annually by the Order for various projects of the Catholic Advertising Program.

The Knights of Columbus funded the construction of the campanile or Knights' Tower at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. The bells for the tower were donated by the Order as well. In keeping with the commitment to Our Lady's Shrine, the Order established the "Luke E. Hart Memorial Fund" in 1979 in the amount of $500,000. Earnings are used to promote Marian devotion and to preserve the beauty of the basilica in perpetuity.

And it was the leadership of the Knights which finally succeeded in having the words "under God" inserted in the Pledge of Allegiance to the American Flag.

Excerpt from the booklet entitled "These Men They Call Knights"

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Structure of the Order

If the Knights of Columbus have grown so steadily and strongly since their charter was granted by the State of Connecticut in 1882, much of the credit can go to the firm structural foundation on which the organization was established, and to the caliber of the men attracted to its ranks.

As a fraternal benefit society, the Order operates in accordance with the laws relating to such groups. These regulations require a representative form of government comprised of a supreme governing or legislative body and subordinate branches. Members are elected, initiated and admitted into the society according to the provisions of its constitution, laws and rules.

The society is governed by the Supreme Council, its top legislative body. There are 65 state councils and several territorial jurisdictions encompassing nearly 10,000 subordinate councils to which the more than 1.5 million members belong.

Groups of councils, ideally four or more in an adjacent or nearby localities, are formed into districts under a district deputy.

The Supreme Council is composed of the supreme officers (supreme knight, chaplain, deputy supreme knight, secretary, treasurer, advocate, physician and warden); the supreme directors (a 21-member body elected for three-year terms by the Supreme Council at its annual meeting); the past supreme knights; the state deputy and the last living past state deputy of the various state councils; and such delegates as are duly chosen by the state councils.

Executive authority is vested in the supreme officers, who are elected annually by the supreme directors.

The state councils are made up of the state deputy, who is the representative of the supreme knight in each state, and other state officers, the last living past state deputy, the grand knight and a past grand knight from each subordinate council.

Charters establishing subordinate councils are granted upon completion of roster of 30 members or applicants for membership. The presiding officer is the grand knight. Titles of the other officers on both the state and local levels are similar to those on the supreme level, with some additions. In all there are 17 council officers, of whom 12 are elected to their positions annually. Five others are appointed by the grand knight, including a program director and a membership director. These men in turn appoint and supervise various committees charged with council projects and membership recruitment and retention. A new knight is encouraged to become active in his council by making himself available for membership on one or more of these committees. The council's financial secretary is appointed directly by the supreme knight.

It is the responsibility of the program director and his church, community, council, family and youth directors to provide balanced, attractive and effective activities for the members. There is no doubt that participation in council projects and the experience gained in leadership positions stand a man in good stead throughout his life.

Excerpt from the booklet entitled "These Men They Call Knights"

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Who can be a Knight?

Membership in the Knights of Columbus is open to practical Catholic men in union with the Holy See, who shall not be less than 18 years of age on their last birthday. A practical Catholic is one who lives up to the Commandments of God and the Precepts of the Church. Application blanks are available from any member of the Knights of Columbus. Every knight is happy to propose eligible Catholic men for consideration as members. In fact, one-to-one recruitment is the most successful method of attracting new members.

Acceptance of the applicant depends upon a vote of the members of the subordinate council in which he is making application.

All priests and religious brothers having duly made application for membership and participated in the ceremonials become honorary life members of the Order and are exempt from payment of dues.

Application for membership must be made through the council in the community nearest the applicant's place of residence. Interested prospects without a permanent domicile, such as men temporarily away from home through duty in the armed forces, may make application through their hometown council or at the nearest council on a military base.

If favorably voted upon, the applicant becomes a member by initiation in what is known as the First Degree. He subsequently is advanced through the Second Degree and the Third Degree.

There are modest initiation fees and dues set by subordinate councils under regulations established by the Supreme Council. The insurance privileges are available to all members who can qualify, which represents an important advantage of membership. For men in every walk of life the name of the Knights of Columbus engenders the image of a united organization, efficiently going about it tasks of charity, unity, fraternity, patriotism and defense of the priesthood. It is composed of men who are giving unselfishly of their time and talents in service of God and their country.

Membership in the Knights of Columbus provides the opportunity for wholesome association with congenial companions who are, first of all, practical Catholic gentlemen. It offers the opportunity for fellowship with those who are of the same belief, who recognize the same duty to God, to family and to neighbor and who stand side by side in defense of those beliefs. Programs are so organized as to appeal to the individual interest of the members. Through many constructive activities of Christian fraternity, members are enabled to render service to their Church, their country and their fellowman. Through membership they develop a consciousness of their ability to lead and to assist.

Organized Columbianism, united behind the individual Knight of Columbus, provides the power of an intelligent, alert body of Catholic men - a strength which the individual by himself cannot achieve.

Knights of Columbus has a proud heritage. The qualified Catholic man can share in that heritage and build an even greater future by affiliating himself with this forceful, effective body.

Excerpt from the booklet entitled "These Men They Call Knights"

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The Patriotic Degree

Another degree open to members of the Knights of Columbus is that of the Fourth (or Patriotic) Degree. On Feb. 22, 1900, the first exemplification of that degree was held in New York City. The ritual added patriotism to the three original principles of the Order: charity, unity and fraternity. Any Third Degree member in good standing, one year after the anniversary of his First Degree, is eligible for membership in the Fourth Degree.

The primary purpose of the Fourth Degree is to foster the spirit of patriotism by promoting responsible citizenship and a love of and loyalty to the Knights' respective countries through active membership in local Fourth Degree groups called assemblies. Fourth Degree members must retain their membership as Third Degree members in the local council to remain in good standing.

Certain members of the Fourth Degree serve as honor guards at civic and religious functions, an activity which has brought worldwide recognition to the Knights of Columbus organization.

Excerpt from the booklet entitled "These Men They Call Knights"

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