Knights of Columbus

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Knights of Columbus marching in a St. Patrick's Day Parade in Fort Collins, Colorado

The Knights of Columbus is a Roman Catholic fraternal organization, named in honor of Christopher Columbus. Its membership is open to Catholic men age 18 and over. The principles of the Order are Charity, Unity, Fraternity, and Patriotism. Though not under direct control of the Catholic Church, the Knights support the Church enthusiastically and are staunchly pro-life.



The Knights of Columbus was founded by a Catholic priest, Father Michael J. McGivney in New Haven, Connecticut on February 2, 1882, and incorporated under the laws of Connecticut on March 29, 1882. Though the first councils were all in New England, the Order soon spread throughout the United States in the following years. Today the Order has active councils in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Philippines.

Fr. McGivney founded the Knights at a time when Catholics were regularly excluded from the unions and men's organizations that provided social support services. The organization was also intended to provide an alternative for Catholics to membership in a Masonic lodge—Freemasonry was discouraged by church hierarchy, and banned by Pope Leo XIII in 1884. The naming of the order after Columbus was partially intended as a mild ridicule of Anglo-Saxon Protestant leaders of the day, who upheld the explorer (an Italian working for Catholic Spain) as an American hero, yet simultaneously sought to marginalize recent Catholic immigrants.

The Knights of Columbus today is a multi-million dollar non-profit charitable organization. Knights may be seen distributing Tootsie Rolls to raise funds to fight mental illness, volunteering for the Special Olympics and other charitable organizations, erecting pro-life billboards and "Keep Christ in Christmas" signs, conducting blood drives and raising funds for disaster victims, or parading at patriotic events with their bright capes, feathered chapeaux, and ceremonial swords. The Knights of Columbus also provide annual funding for the satellite uplink of the Pope's worldwide Christmas address. In many countries that cannot afford satellite downlink, the Order often pays for this as well.


The governing body of the Knights of Columbus is the "Supreme Council," a body composed of elected representatives from each jurisdiction of the Order. This body acts in similar manner to the shareholders at an annual meeting, and elects each year eight directors to the board for a three year term. The twenty-four member Board of Directors then chooses from its own membership the senior operating officials of the Order, including the Supreme Knight. The current Supreme Knight is Carl Anderson.

Hierarchy descending from the Supreme Knight include State Deputies leading State Councils in each geographical state in the United States, each province in Canada and other jurisdictions carved out of member countries and territories; Territorial Deputies leading areas not yet incorporated into State Councils; District Deputies overseeing several Councils; and a Grand Knight heading each local Council in a specific geographic area. Councils are numbered in the order in which they chartered into the organization and are named by the local membership. San Salvador Council #1, in New Haven, Connecticut, still exists today. The Knights have ceremonial uniforms, and a variety of closed-door rituals and traditions.

A similar organisation exists in Ireland and in areas of Catholic concentration in Scotland, particularly Glasgow, known as the Knights of Columbanus after the Irish saint Columbanus, also known as Columban. The Ancient Order of Hibernians is another allied Catholic fraternal organization active in North America.

Although the members are called "Knights," this title is purely fraternal, and is not the equivalent to a sovereign accolade. Therefore "Knights" of Columbus do not rank with the Chevaliers and Commanders of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, the Order of Malta, the Order of St. Gregory the Great, and other historic military/religious orders.

Insurance program

Many early members were recent immigrants, often living in unsanitary conditions, and performing hazardous jobs for poor pay. Since its founding, a primary mission of the Knights of Columbus has been to protect families against the financial ruin caused by the death of the breadwinner. Today the Order achieves this by offering an optional insurance program to its members. Products include permanent life insurance, term life insurance, annuities, and long term care insurance.

Political activities

Councils are prohibited from engaging in candidate endorsement and partisan political activity. Public policy activity is limited to issue-specific campaigns, typically dealing with Catholic family and life issues. In the United States, the Knights of Columbus adopts many socially conservative positions on many public issues, campaigning against abortion, same-sex marriage, and attempts by the courts to restrict religious expression in public schools, government, and voluntary organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America. In 1954, lobbying by the organization convinced the U.S. Congress to add the phrase "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance recited daily by many American schoolchildren. In February 2005, the Canadian organization of Knights of Columbus funded a postcard campaign in an attempt to stop the Canadian parliament from legalizing gay marriage. The Knights of Columbus have also officially released, on their own website (, support for a constitutional amendment banning homosexual marriage.

External links

fr:Chevaliers de Colomb sv:Columbus riddare


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