On Oct. 2, 1881, a small group of men met in the basement of St. Mary’s Church on Hillhouse Avenue in New Haven, Connecticut. Called together by their 29-year-old parish priest, Father Michael J. McGivney, these men formed a fraternal society that would one day become the world’s largest Catholic family fraternal service organization.
They sought strength in solidarity, and security through unity of purpose and devotion to a holy cause: they vowed to be defenders of their country, their families and their faith.
These men were bound together by the ideal of Christopher Columbus, the discoverer of the Americas, the one whose hand brought Christianity to the New World. Their efforts came to fruition with the incorporation of the Knights of Columbus on March 29, 1882.
They were Knights of Columbus.
The Order has been called "the strong right arm of the Church," and has been praised by popes, presidents and other world leaders, for support of the Church, programs of evangelization and Catholic education, civic involvement and aid to those in need.
Father McGivney’s founding vision for the Order also included a life insurance program to provide for the widows and orphans of deceased members. The Order’s insurance program has expanded substantially to serve more effectively the Knights’ growing membership.
Year after year, the Knights of Columbus has earned the highest possible quality ratings for financial soundness from A.M. Best and Standard & Poor’s. The Order provides the highest quality insurance, annuity and long-term care products to its members, along with many other fraternal benefits.
The Supreme Council is the governing body of the Knights of Columbus and is responsible for the development of the organization as a whole. Supreme Council duties include establishing the Order in new regions and setting up regional authorities, defining and advancing its values and goals, undertaking organization-wide initiatives, promoting awareness of the Knights’ mission worldwide, and protecting the families of members through its extensive insurance program. Members working in local, or subordinate councils, however, carry on the majority of the Knights’ beneficial work.
A “degree” can loosely be interpreted as “being introduced to a new principle”. Being of a lower degree in the Knights does not affect involvement or activities you can contribute to. However, all officers and fourth degree applicants must have obtained their third degree. In a degree ceremony you are introduced to one of four principles that the Knights of Columbus hold in high regard.
The hierarchy of the Knights of Columbus leadership starts at the Supreme Council and moves to states, districts and local councils. All members must belong to a local council. For those that have completed the 4th degree, there are assemblies which are grouped by districts, provinces and finally governed at the national level.
The emblem for the Order was designed in 1883 at the Second Supreme meeting by the first Supreme Knight, James T. Mullen. The emblem shows a shield mounted upon a cross. The shield is associated with the medieval knight. The cross of Malta is the representation, in a traditionally artistic design, of the the Cross of Christ. This represents the Catholic spirit of the Order.