As membership in the Knights of Columbus grew, the Order became increasingly known as a force for public good. Following the dedication ceremony for the Christopher Columbus Memorial Fountain in Washington, D.C., in 1912, a reporter for The Washington Star noted that the large number of Knights in attendance “marked anew the important position of the Knights of Columbus as an order in the social fabric of the United States.”
In response to growing anti-Catholic hostility and the rise of socialism, two Knights, David Goldstein and Peter W. Collins, embarked on an extensive, 27,000-mile lecture tour throughout North America in 1914.
Tens of thousands of copies of a “bogus oath” are circulated to defame the Knights of Columbus. The Knights, in turn, lay the groundwork for a lecture series and educational programs to combat anti-Catholic hostility. Between 1914 and 1917, the number of anti-Catholic publications drops from 60 to fewer than five.
The Knights expanded to college campuses in the early-20th century. In 1904, more than 10,000 Knights and their families attended ceremonies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in which the Order presented the school with a grant for more than $55,000. The funds, used to establish a K of C chair of American history, began a long history of support for CUA. From 1909 to 1913, Knights raise $500,000 to establish a permanent endowment for CUA.
In addition, students at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana soon organized their own K of C council. Chartered in 1910, Notre Dame Council 1477 was the Order’s first college council, launching a subset of the Knights that today includes councils at 244 schools worldwide.
In 1895, the Vatican’s first acknowledgment of the Knights comes when Archbishop Francesco Satolli, apostolic delegate to the United States, writes a letter extolling the “merits of this splendid Catholic organization” and giving the Order his apostolic blessing.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the fledgling Order was growing dramatically. Councils had been chartered throughout the United States and Canada, and international expansion continued to Mexico and the Philippines in 1905, along with Cuba and Panama in 1909.
Knights of Columbus Council #1000 marks the international expansion into the Philippines in 1905.
As a symbol that allegiance to their country did not conflict with allegiance to their faith, the organization’s members took as their patron Christopher Columbus — recognized as a Catholic and celebrated as the discoverer of America. Thanks to Father McGivney’s persistence, the Knights of Columbus elected officers in February 1882 and officially assumed corporate status on March 29.
St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, CT. This was the place where the Knights of Columbus was founded. Late-19th century Connecticut was marked by the growing prevalence of fraternal benefit societies, hostility toward Catholic immigrants and dangerous working conditions in factories that left many families fatherless.
Recognizing a vital, practical need in his community, Father Michael J. McGivney, the 29-year-old assistant pastor of St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Connecticut, gathered a group of men at his parish on Oct. 2, 1881. He proposed establishing a lay organization, the goal of which would be to prevent Catholic men from entering secret societies whose membership was antithetical to Church teaching, to unite men of Catholic faith and to provide for the families of deceased members.
The very first meeting for the Knights of Columbus was advertised in a New Haven newspaper back in 1882.
“The first meeting of those interested in the Catholic organization known as the Knights of Columbus was held in St. Mary’s church Monday evening, and was presided over by James T. Mullen, T. J. Coffee acting as secretary. About sixty were present. A discussion occurred relative to the by-laws of the organization, and it was left to a committee of five to settle and report at the next meeting. Persons will be admitted to membership between eighteen and forty-five years. Another meeting takes place in two weeks.”
The Knights of Columbus is born on Feb. 6, 1882, when the first members choose Columbus as their patron. Immediately after the Order’s March 29 incorporation, Father McGivney sends the first diocesan-wide appeal for new members to his fellow priests.
One year ago, I became a first-degree Knight of Columbus. This past Saturday (12/06), right before the Vigil Mass for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, I entered the fourth-degree. I’ve come to learn a lot more about the organization, and I plan to make a series of posts on my Facebook Page to share what I now know. For this post, I want to share some thoughts on how God is leading me to grow within His Church.
We cannot become holy — the best-version-of-ourselves — in isolation. Holiness is achieved in community; it is achieved through the Church. I was reading the early chapters of Cardinal Ratzinger’s (a.k.a. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology, when this truth about holiness resonated in me. I felt like God was leading me more into the Church, to see the mystery of Christ’s Body. Imperfect people make up the divine, holy Mystical Body of Christ. The source and summit of our faith is the Eucharist. Prayer is the foundation of all my Christian movement – I cannot hope to dance with the Holy Spirit without growing in prayer. And, as my prayer life grows (a solitary activity), I am led to be more active in the Church (a very social activity).
My involvement in Church itself is a form of prayer. This is what is different, now. Before, I saw my Church commitments as, well… commitments. Was it a burden? No. But, commitments are something you keep regardless of how you might feel about it. I happen to feel good about my commitment to the Church, but still…. Now, the feeling is different. Being involved with the Church is now infused with a different meaning. It’s like a red blood cell that suddenly gained individual awareness. I’m a tiny, tiny thing in the scheme of the whole body, but I play a role in bringing oxygen to the various body parts. I return to the heart for communion and rejuvenation, and then go out again to fulfill my duties. Whereas before, it’s what I did as a red blood cell, now I see that I’m part of a very special body. It’s not just any body. It’s Jesus Christ. And to be a red blood cell in the body of Jesus Christ is an incredible privilege. This is what it means to be active in the Church: I’m a red blood cell in the body of Jesus Christ. By virtue of our Baptism, we all are.
So, the Knights of Columbus has a special charism that attracts certain types of people. I never gave it much thought until now, but I guess its charism appeals to me. God knows I’ve been trying to find a group (an organ) within His Church where I could attach myself and grow. I looked into Opus Dei. I thought about the various Third Orders. Maybe my Good Shepherd has led me to this particular pasture, where I can fatten up and be a fragrant offering when the time comes?
Oh, Lord, I love you. It is always such an adventure with you. I trust in you and I know you won’t lead me where I ought not go. May I persist in prayer, and may I have greater fervor for your Body & Blood with every Communion. Help me grow in charity; help me bring my family along with me. Show me my weaknesses so that I can offer them to you, and depend more on you. Shame me so I can strengthen the bedrock of humility, and build a temple worthy of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Don’t let me slip in my prayer, but help me make everything I do a form of prayer. As my daughters desire me to be ever-present in their daily lives, so I desire you to be ever-present, watching me, teaching me, smiling at me, and awaken my spiritual imagination. God, you are my Father; Christ, you are my Lord and brother; Holy Spirit, you are my love.