Church’s ‘strong right arm’ supports faith, charity in action

November 12, 2020 at 4:24 p.m.
Church’s ‘strong right arm’ supports   faith, charity in action
Church’s ‘strong right arm’ supports faith, charity in action

Christina Leslie

lay organization designed to aid families of men enduring dangerous factory working conditions now stands two million brothers strong behind tenets of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism. The Knights of Columbus, founded in 1881, has withstood anti-Catholic sentiment, two World Wars, a Great Depression, countless challenges, even a pandemic or two, but has remained true to its mission to serve the Church, community and family with God’s divine direction.

Charity and Virtue

The national Knights of Columbus website, KofC.org, proudly outlines its 139-year history from its roots in Connecticut to its growth into an organization with worldwide reach and influence.

Father Michael J. McGivney, a 29-year-old assistant pastor in St. Mary Church, New Haven, Conn., gathered a group of men in his parish Oct. 2, 1881, to establish a lay organization with a three-fold purpose: to prevent Catholic men from entering the anti-Church secret societies prevalent in the area; to support the families of the parish whose male breadwinners had died, and to serve the Church with charity and virtue. To illustrate that their loyalty to their country need not interfere with their faith, the order chose Christopher Columbus, a devout Catholic, as the fraternal group’s patron.

Father McGivney issued a diocesan-wide appeal to his fellow priests for new Knights, and men were drawn to its works of charity. In 1892, 6,000 Knights marched in the New Haven Columbus Day parade to celebrate the 400th anniversary of their patron’s discovery of the New World. The organization received a blessing from Archbishop Francesco Satolli, apostolic delegate to the United States, for the “merits of this splendid Catholic organization” in 1895.

The Knights of Columbus grew exponentially at the beginning of the 20th century in response to needs in U.S. communities and beyond. By 1910, groups of Knights, known as councils, were chartered throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, Cuba and Panama. Striving to involve men of faith studying at colleges and universities, in 1904, the order presented The Catholic University of America in Washington with a grant to establish a Knights of Columbus chair of American history; fundraising efforts over the next nine years resulted in a $500,000 permanent endowment to the school.

Over the course of its 139 years, the Knights of Columbus has supported individual and societal needs regardless of creed, sex or status. The order offered education and employment services to servicemen returning from World War I; worked to overcome racial prejudice by the Ku Klux Klan; backed legislation to permit children to attend religious schools; fought fascism and communism following World War II, and successfully lobbied to add the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. Referencing their invaluable assistance to Catholicism globally, Pope John Paul II referred to them as the “strong right arm” of the Church.

Strength in Numbers

The basic unit of the Knights of Columbus is the local council. Based in parishes or out in the community, each is headed by a Grand Knight and under the spiritual guidance of a chaplain, or local priest. Districts comprise several groups of local councils and are led by District Deputies. State Councils report to the Supreme Council, the Knights officers located at the organization’s international headquarters in New Haven, Conn. The present Supreme Knight is Carl A. Anderson.

Knights of Columbus must be at least 18 years of age and practicing Catholic men. According to its 2020 Annual Report of the Supreme Knight released this summer, worldwide, the Knights of Columbus number some two million members in 16,242 councils, nearly 400 of them located on college and university campuses. New Jersey counts 59,700 member Knights in 377 councils, while the Diocese of Trenton numbers some 11,736 members in 73 councils.

Programs to Assist All

There are nearly as many charitable programs and initiatives performed by Knights of Columbus as there are member Knights. The Annual Report discloses that in fiscal 2019, the Knights contributed a record-setting $187.7 million in donations, while its members performed 76.7 million hours of service. Sports competitions, essay contests and letters to seminarians involve the youngest Catholics, while philanthropic programs ease burdens for communities undergoing crisis. Knight-led food drives have reaped $1.8 million in donations and 540,381 donors have donated a pint of blood to aid their neighbors. Councils raised $7.8 million in scholarships and grants for the deserving student, and they regularly “adopt” priests and seminarians to ease the financial burdens of their education.

Other examples include:

Ultrasound initiative: Their strong anti-abortion stance has led Knights to raise $60 million to place 1,255 ultrasound machines at pro-life pregnancy centers across the United States and Canada.

K of C Coats for Kids: Launched in 2009, this program has reaped the donation of 124,211 coats to help keep the disadvantaged warm.

Christian refugee relief: Bringing awareness and support to those persecuted for their faith, especially in the Middle East, Knights raised $3.3 million last year, and $25.8 million since 2014.

Partnerships: Knights have partnered with Special Olympics ($4.5 million), Habitat for Humanity ($810,000) and the Global Wheelchair Mission (8,109 chairs last year, 99,979 since 2003) among others, to aid those who aid others.

Challenged to Leave No One Behind

Knights of Columbus, themselves impacted by COVID-19, nonetheless are increasing their efforts to serve the needy via two new initiatives. “Leave No Neighbor Behind” urges members to support their brother Knights and parishes while taking steps to strengthen the community by replenishing food banks and participating in blood drives. Providing religious education materials reliant on the writings of St. John Paul II through the organization’s Catholic Information Service is integral in “Building the Domestic Church,” that is, strengthening the family unit.

Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson addressed the challenges encountered by the Knights during the pandemic in the organization’s annual report. He noted, “This year was unlike any the Knights of Columbus has ever faced. Never before have so many people had so many urgent needs, and never before have we done so much to help, guided by our principles of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism.

“It has been said that ‘where there’s a need, there’s a Knight,’” Anderson continued, “and we proved it once again… In countless ways, large and small, we have stepped up to help those around us, living  out our faith more fully… Membership in the Knights of Columbus is not a casual commitment. It is a commitment to being a brother.”

Anderson’s entreaty to the organization’s two million members echo those of the newly beatified Father McGivney to a small group of parishioners gathered in the church basement 139 years ago.

“When we invite a man to join the Knights of Columbus, we are not simply inviting him to do something. We are inviting him to be someone,” said Anderson. “We are inviting him to be a man of charity, unity and fraternity. But being who we are means that we must act. As Catholic men committed to charity, we are compelled to act. We are a community of brothers who see all those who suffer and all those who are in need as our brothers and sisters.”


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lay organization designed to aid families of men enduring dangerous factory working conditions now stands two million brothers strong behind tenets of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism. The Knights of Columbus, founded in 1881, has withstood anti-Catholic sentiment, two World Wars, a Great Depression, countless challenges, even a pandemic or two, but has remained true to its mission to serve the Church, community and family with God’s divine direction.

Charity and Virtue

The national Knights of Columbus website, KofC.org, proudly outlines its 139-year history from its roots in Connecticut to its growth into an organization with worldwide reach and influence.

Father Michael J. McGivney, a 29-year-old assistant pastor in St. Mary Church, New Haven, Conn., gathered a group of men in his parish Oct. 2, 1881, to establish a lay organization with a three-fold purpose: to prevent Catholic men from entering the anti-Church secret societies prevalent in the area; to support the families of the parish whose male breadwinners had died, and to serve the Church with charity and virtue. To illustrate that their loyalty to their country need not interfere with their faith, the order chose Christopher Columbus, a devout Catholic, as the fraternal group’s patron.

Father McGivney issued a diocesan-wide appeal to his fellow priests for new Knights, and men were drawn to its works of charity. In 1892, 6,000 Knights marched in the New Haven Columbus Day parade to celebrate the 400th anniversary of their patron’s discovery of the New World. The organization received a blessing from Archbishop Francesco Satolli, apostolic delegate to the United States, for the “merits of this splendid Catholic organization” in 1895.

The Knights of Columbus grew exponentially at the beginning of the 20th century in response to needs in U.S. communities and beyond. By 1910, groups of Knights, known as councils, were chartered throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, Cuba and Panama. Striving to involve men of faith studying at colleges and universities, in 1904, the order presented The Catholic University of America in Washington with a grant to establish a Knights of Columbus chair of American history; fundraising efforts over the next nine years resulted in a $500,000 permanent endowment to the school.

Over the course of its 139 years, the Knights of Columbus has supported individual and societal needs regardless of creed, sex or status. The order offered education and employment services to servicemen returning from World War I; worked to overcome racial prejudice by the Ku Klux Klan; backed legislation to permit children to attend religious schools; fought fascism and communism following World War II, and successfully lobbied to add the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. Referencing their invaluable assistance to Catholicism globally, Pope John Paul II referred to them as the “strong right arm” of the Church.

Strength in Numbers

The basic unit of the Knights of Columbus is the local council. Based in parishes or out in the community, each is headed by a Grand Knight and under the spiritual guidance of a chaplain, or local priest. Districts comprise several groups of local councils and are led by District Deputies. State Councils report to the Supreme Council, the Knights officers located at the organization’s international headquarters in New Haven, Conn. The present Supreme Knight is Carl A. Anderson.

Knights of Columbus must be at least 18 years of age and practicing Catholic men. According to its 2020 Annual Report of the Supreme Knight released this summer, worldwide, the Knights of Columbus number some two million members in 16,242 councils, nearly 400 of them located on college and university campuses. New Jersey counts 59,700 member Knights in 377 councils, while the Diocese of Trenton numbers some 11,736 members in 73 councils.

Programs to Assist All

There are nearly as many charitable programs and initiatives performed by Knights of Columbus as there are member Knights. The Annual Report discloses that in fiscal 2019, the Knights contributed a record-setting $187.7 million in donations, while its members performed 76.7 million hours of service. Sports competitions, essay contests and letters to seminarians involve the youngest Catholics, while philanthropic programs ease burdens for communities undergoing crisis. Knight-led food drives have reaped $1.8 million in donations and 540,381 donors have donated a pint of blood to aid their neighbors. Councils raised $7.8 million in scholarships and grants for the deserving student, and they regularly “adopt” priests and seminarians to ease the financial burdens of their education.

Other examples include:

Ultrasound initiative: Their strong anti-abortion stance has led Knights to raise $60 million to place 1,255 ultrasound machines at pro-life pregnancy centers across the United States and Canada.

K of C Coats for Kids: Launched in 2009, this program has reaped the donation of 124,211 coats to help keep the disadvantaged warm.

Christian refugee relief: Bringing awareness and support to those persecuted for their faith, especially in the Middle East, Knights raised $3.3 million last year, and $25.8 million since 2014.

Partnerships: Knights have partnered with Special Olympics ($4.5 million), Habitat for Humanity ($810,000) and the Global Wheelchair Mission (8,109 chairs last year, 99,979 since 2003) among others, to aid those who aid others.

Challenged to Leave No One Behind

Knights of Columbus, themselves impacted by COVID-19, nonetheless are increasing their efforts to serve the needy via two new initiatives. “Leave No Neighbor Behind” urges members to support their brother Knights and parishes while taking steps to strengthen the community by replenishing food banks and participating in blood drives. Providing religious education materials reliant on the writings of St. John Paul II through the organization’s Catholic Information Service is integral in “Building the Domestic Church,” that is, strengthening the family unit.

Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson addressed the challenges encountered by the Knights during the pandemic in the organization’s annual report. He noted, “This year was unlike any the Knights of Columbus has ever faced. Never before have so many people had so many urgent needs, and never before have we done so much to help, guided by our principles of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism.

“It has been said that ‘where there’s a need, there’s a Knight,’” Anderson continued, “and we proved it once again… In countless ways, large and small, we have stepped up to help those around us, living  out our faith more fully… Membership in the Knights of Columbus is not a casual commitment. It is a commitment to being a brother.”

Anderson’s entreaty to the organization’s two million members echo those of the newly beatified Father McGivney to a small group of parishioners gathered in the church basement 139 years ago.

“When we invite a man to join the Knights of Columbus, we are not simply inviting him to do something. We are inviting him to be someone,” said Anderson. “We are inviting him to be a man of charity, unity and fraternity. But being who we are means that we must act. As Catholic men committed to charity, we are compelled to act. We are a community of brothers who see all those who suffer and all those who are in need as our brothers and sisters.”

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