Who We Are
Welcome to the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest lay Catholic family service organization. As their forebears did more than a century ago, today’s Knights and their families stand shoulder to shoulder in support of one another. Through their charity and the examples of their lives, they stand in service to all as witnesses to the Good News of the Gospel.
Although the Order is a “can-do” organization, its scope and the role it plays on the world stage often surprise people. They are amazed to learn that in the year 2000 Knights the world over combined to give more than 57 million hours of volunteer service and more than $116 million to a wide range of Church, community and charitable activities and programs. This was a record in both categories dating from the time statistics were first kept in 1977.
Most recently, through its $1.3 million Heroes Fund, the Knights of Columbus granted $3,000 to the families of each of the fire fighters, law enforcement officers and emergency service personnel who lost their lives in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York. The aid was given immediately – the first check was hand-delivered just days after the tragedy – and regardless of faith or membership in the Order.
In the wake of the tragedy too the Order established an annual “Blue Mass” in honor of law enforcement, fire and emergency service personnel – those “Everyday Heroes” who risk their lives in service to our communities.
Examples of what the Knights do – day in and day out – abound. For example, the Order funds the satellite uplinks necessary to broadcast papal messages and ceremonies, especially at Christmas and Easter, throughout the world. The Knights paid the cost of the restoration of façade of St. Peter’s Basilica. The Order also financed the restoration of the Maderno – 2 – Atrium which leads to the Holy Door that is opened by the pope at the beginning of a Holy Year – the most recent being Jubilee 2000 held to usher in the third Christian millennium.
The Holy Father also receives each year a contribution from the Order for his personal charities. The contribution comes from the interest earned on the $20 million Vicarius Christi (Vicar of Christ) fund. Each year the interest earned from this fund is presented to the pope. Since it was established in 1982 nearly $30 million has been provided to His Holiness.
The World Youth Days celebrated by the Holy Father every two years since 1987 have benefited from major funding and participation by the Order. At the World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002 the Reconciliation site in Duc in Altum Park was sponsored by a $1 million gift from the Knights of Columbus.
Though the Order does not restrict itself or its councils to any particular charity or cause, a favorite K of C activity over the years has been service to people with mental retardation. Special Olympics at the local, state and international levels has been a major recipient of funding, service and support from the Knights.
Our Order’s outreach to a variety of religious and other causes is chronicled in our monthly magazine, Columbia that goes to each of our members. Our deeds do not go unnoticed by the Holy Father. Pope Paul VI said. “Tell your sons, your nephews, your grandsons; tell the people that the pope loves the Knights of Columbus.” He added: “The glory of the Knights of Columbus is not based on humanitarian works alone. Even more admirable have been your insistence upon the supremacy of God and your fidelity to the Vicar of Christ. In truth you can call yourselves ‘brothers’ because you call God your Father and have declared yourselves ready to do his will and serve his cause. . . the Knights of Columbus an immense force for good.” Pope John Paul II once said: “Many times in the past, and again today, you have given expression to your solidarity with the mission of the pope. I see in your support further proof – if further proof were ever necessary – of your awareness that the – 3 – Knights of Columbus highly value their vocation to be part of the evangelization effort of the Church.”
The Vision of Father McGivney
Led by the quiet, unassuming curate of St. Mary’s Parish in New Haven, Conn., a small group of men established the Knights of Columbus in the church basement early in the spring of 1882. The priest, Father Michael J. McGivney, saw clearly that both Catholics and the Church faced serious problems in the last half of the nineteenth century such as anti-Catholicism and ethnic prejudice; under-employment; lack of social standing and early loss of the breadwinner.
To resolve those problems Father McGivney conceived the idea of an organization of Catholic men who would band together:
- To aid one another in times of sickness or death, by means of a simple insurance plan, so that their wives and children would not face abject poverty.
- To strengthen themselves and each other in the Faith.
- To strengthen families and family life.
- To be a strong pillar of support for their priests and bishops.
- To be of service to Church and community by coming to the aid of those most in need in society.
They called themselves Knights of Columbus – Knights to emphasize chivalry’s ideals of charity and support for Church and state, and Columbus as a reminder that Catholics had been the backbone and bulwark of America’s growth and greatness from the very beginning.
The State of Connecticut officially chartered the Order on March 29, 1882. It’s founder, Father McGivney, and those first Knights dreamed of the day when there would be a council in every parish in Connecticut. Little could they know that their small group would grow into a global organization of more than – 4 – 1.6 million members in nearly 12,000 local councils in 13 countries: the United States, Canada, the Philippines, Mexico, Panama, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Cuba, Virgin Islands, Guam and Saipan.
In the years since 1882 the Knights of Columbus has become one of the largest and strongest life insurance companies in North America with more than $43 billion of insurance in force. More than $4 billion in new insurance is sold annually and last year the Order paid $124 million in death benefits to the families of deceased members and $275 million in dividends to insurance members.
What the Order Stands for Today
By their deeds shall you know them. The Knights of Columbus is very much a grassroots organization. The international body does not dictate the charitable programs and activities of local councils. Rather, local councils develop the programs they believe will best serve the needs of their communities.
Those needs are met under the umbrella of the “Surge. . . With Service” program. It has five core areas: Church, community, council, family and youth. Within this framework, state and local councils decide how best to direct their efforts.
Funds raised by the state and local councils remain with them for distribution in the ways the members feel best.
This philosophy makes possible local efforts such as donating state-of-the-art computers to a Texas seminary; pledging $100,000 to a New Brunswick church to improve access for disabled people; raising $50,000 to equip police cars with cardiac defibrillators; or sponsoring a free medical clinic in the Philippines.
Vocations support is also a major Knights of Columbus effort at all levels of the Order. State and local councils directly support seminaries and vocations promotion efforts. Additionally many councils participate in the RSVP (Refund Vocations Support Program) by “adopting” a seminarian or postulant and providing him with moral and financial support. For each $500 in direct aid given to the candidate for the priesthood or religious life, the Supreme Council refunds $100 to the council. Through this program alone more than $2 million is given to seminarians and postulants each year.
Through the Father Michael J. McGivney Vocations Scholarship Fund and the Bishop Thomas V. Daily Vocations Scholarship Fund, with an aggregate corpus of $6.5 million, – 6 – nearly 400 scholarships have been given to seminarians in theology studies. Of these, almost 200 have been ordained since these programs began.
Strengthening family life is another major aim of the Order. Knights conduct a wide variety of activities and efforts to enhance and strengthen family life in accordance with the social teaching of the Church. This includes everything from the “Family of the Month” program that recognizes outstanding families on the local council level to funding the North American Campus of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. The institute is a part of the Lateran University in Rome and it offers graduate level degrees to those who will be involved with family ministry in the Church.
The Order is also known as one of the world’s strongest proponents of the sanctity of human life from conception until natural death. Even before the Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion on demand in the United States, the Knights of Columbus has been in the vanguard of the pro-life movement. In addition to its own pro-life initiatives, the Order offers both assistance and financial support on an on-going basis to the pro-life programs of the bishops’ conferences in the countries where the Knights of Columbus exists.
In the latest of many efforts to restore a sense of the sanctity of human life in the world, Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson has established March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, as the Knights of Columbus Day of the Unborn. On this day state and local councils across the globe are encouraged to organize special Masses and services. They pray that the Culture of Death that now darkens our world will become a Culture of Life celebrating the dignity and value of every human being from the moment of conception until natural death.