Knights of Columbus

Knights of Columbus marching in a St. Patrick's Day Parade in Fort Collins, Colorado
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 male "practical Catholics in communion with the Holy See," 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, being called the "strong right arm of the Church." There are more than 1.7 million members worldwide in more than 14,000 councils.


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, the Philippines, and most recently in Poland.

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 Freemasonry, membership in which was discouraged by the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy and banned by many Popes, starting with Clement XII in 1738, because they considered it contrary to Christian teachings.

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 (a Catholic Genovese Italian working for Catholic Spain) as an American hero, yet simultaneously sought to marginalize recent Catholic immigrants. It was founded 10 years before the 400th anniversary of Columbus' first visit to the New World and in a time of renewed interest in Columbus.

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 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 A. 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.

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.

Degrees and Principles

The Knights operate under a hierarchy of degrees. When a member is initiated, he is initiated into the first degree of the Knights of Columbus. Upon taking part in respective Second and Third degree exemplifications, a Knight rises to that status. Upon reaching the third degree, a gentleman is considered a full member of the Knights of Columbus.

The principle of the first degree is Charity; The principle of the second degree is Unity; The third principle is Fraternity; and the fourth principle of the Knights of Columbus is Patriotism. Each principle is emphasized in each of the exemplification ceremonies.

Each of these principles were in place over 120 years ago as the bedrock of the Knights of Columbus and remain in place today.

The Fourth Degree

The Fourth Degree of the Knights of Columbus is an optional degree of higher rank. Due to the increased expense involved with attaining the degree, only 1 in 4 Knights actually make it to this level.

This patriotic degree is the most well-known arm of the Knights of Columbus, as it comprises the flag-bearing Color Guards and sword-bearing Honor Guards often seen at religious and civil ceremonial events.

Upon reaching the fourth degree, a Knight is entered into a separate Assembly (similar to a Third Degree Council) led by a Navigator (similar to the Grand Knight of a Council). A Knight can purchase the full regalia to be a part of the Color or Honor Guard, and is requested to "turn out" at various events for which local associations send notice to the Navigator.

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. While this method originally was intended to provide a core group of people who would support a widow and her children in light of a deceased husband, it has flourished and matured into much more.

Today the Order achieves this by offering an optional insurance program to its members. In early 2004, the organization achieved a level of $50 billion of life insurance policies in force. Products include permanent life insurance, term life insurance, annuities, and long term care insurance. The insurance program holds the highest insurance ratings that are given by A.M. Best, Standard & Poor's and the Insurance Marketplace Standards Association (or IMSA).

The extremely efficient insurance opperation gave the Knights of Columbus $1.5 Billion in revenue and $71 Million in profits in 2006, enough to place it on on the Fortune 1000 list of top companies. For additional Insurance Information contact our local agent  RICK LARGE  (602) 418 - 9008

College Councils

While most Knights of Columbus councils are located at parishes or near multiple parish communities, many men first join the Knights while in college. Over 16,000 Knights first joined one of the more than 170 College Councils world wide. College Knights are full members of the Order, with the only difference being that the council is located on or near a university campus.

The first College Council was at The Catholic University of America, Keane Council 353, but it has since moved off campus. The Catholic University of America now has a new council, number 9542. The Order has a long history of working with CUA. Most recently, at the 2006 American Cardinals Dinner, it was announced that they would be giving a gift of $8,000,000 to rennovate an unused building and rename it McGivney Hall, after Fr. McGivney. The new McGivney Hall will house the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, a graduate school of theology affiliated with the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome as well as CUA. Supreme Knight Anderson serves on CUA’s board of trustees and is the vice president of the John Paul II Institute.

Today, the University of Notre Dame Council 1477 has the longest continually running College Council in the country. In 1937, The University of Illinois became the first public university with a Knights of Columbus College Council, Illini Council number 2782.

On March 26, 1929, a group of nearly one hundred forty male students and faculty comprised the original charter members of the Crusader Council No. 2706 at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. The council remains the oldest college council in New England and the oldest council established on a Jesuit college or university campus.

College Councils usually hold a unique form of the Knights Membership Blitz entitled "Go Roman Week". The name is a play on the fact that most fraternities on college campuses are given Greek alphabet designations, while the Knights of Columbus is a Roman Catholic establishment. This is not a standard set up at all universities, as in some Catholic universities (such as the University of St. Thomas) the local KOC council is the only fraternity permitted on campus.

Each September the Supreme Council hosts a College Council Conference at their headquarters in New Haven, Connecticut. Each college council can send one representative at the Supreme Council's expense and up to 4 more at their own expense. Awards are given for the greatest increases in membership, the best program activities and the overall Outstanding College Council of the year.

In years of an international World Youth Day the members of the College Council Conference Coordinating Committee represent the Order. They usually travel with the diocese of the Supreme Chaplain, currently Bishop William E. Lori of the Diocese of Bridgeport.

Columbian Squires

Columbian Squires logo
Columbian Squires logo
See main article: Columbian Squires.

The Columbian Squires is a youth fraternity created by the Knights of Columbus for Catholic boys between the ages of 10 and 18 (who are therefore not eligible to be a Knight yet). The Squires are broken up into Circles, much like the Knights' Councils. The squires' motto is "Esto Dignus," or, translated into English, "Be Worthy!"

Some local councils also have youth programs for girls in the same age range known as the Columbian Squirettes, the Squire Roses or another name.


Emblems of the Order

Knights of Columbus Third Degree Emblem

The Emblem of the Order is given as a lapel pin to all Knights. It consists of a shield mounted upon the Formée cross (having the arms narrow at the center and expanding toward the ends). The shield is that associated with a medieval knight. The Formée cross is the representation of a traditional artistic design of the cross of Christ through which all graces of redemption were procured for mankind. This then represents the Catholic spirit of the Order.

Mounted on the shield are three objects: a fasces (a bundle of rods bound together about an ax with the blade projecting) standing vertically and, crossed behind it, an anchor and a dagger or short sword. The fasces from Roman days, carried before magistrates as an emblem of authority, is symbolic of authority which must exist in any tightly-bonded and efficiently operating organization. The anchor is the mariner's symbol for Columbus, patron of the Order, while the short sword or dagger was the weapon of the Knight when engaged upon an errand of mercy. Thus, the shield expresses Catholic Knighthood in organized merciful action, and with the letters, K of C, it proclaims this specific form of activity.

The emblem of the Order dates from the second Supreme Council meeting on May 12, 1883, when James T. Mullen, who was then Supreme Knight, designed it.

Fourth Degree Emblem

The triad emblem of the Fourth Degree features the dove, the cross and the globe. The dove, classic symbol of the Holy Spirit and peace, is shown hovering over the orb of the Earth (globe). Both are mounted on a variation of the Crusader's cross, which was found on the tunics and capes of the Crusading knights who battled to regain the Holy Land.

Spiritually, the sacred symbols on the emblem typify the union of the Three Divine Persons in one Godhead, the most Blessed Trinity.

  • The Globe -- God the Father, Creator of the Universe.
  • The Cross -- God the Son, Redeemer of Mankind.
  • The Dove -- God the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of Humanity.

Political activities

While the Knights of Columbus are staunch supporters of political awareness and activity, 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 helped convince the U.S. Congress to add the phrase "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance recited daily by many American schoolchildren. In addition, similar lobbying in the past has developed Columbus Day into a federally recognized holiday.

In February 2005, the Canadian organization of Knights of Columbus funded a postcard campaign in an attempt to stop the Canadian parliament from legalizing same-sex marriage. The Knights of Columbus have also supported a constitutional amendment opposing redefining marriage to include same-sex marriages.

Famous Knights (Past and Present)

Below are several of the more prominent Knights.

  • John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States
  • Samuel Alito, Justice on the United States Supreme Court
  • Ray Flynn, former Mayor of Boston and ambassador to the Holy See under President Bill Clinton
  • Al Smith, former governor of New York
  • John McCormack, former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
  • Sargent Shriver, first director of the Peace Corps and ambassador to France
  • Hilario Davide, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines
  • Jeb Bush, Governor of Florida


  • Sean Patrick Cardinal O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston
  • William Cardinal Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
  • Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, Archbishop of Manila
  • Jaime Cardinal Sin, Archbishop of Manila
  • Father Guy Selvester, Priest and heraldi scholar


  • Babe Ruth, Baseball player for the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.
  • Vince Lombardi, former coach of the Green Bay Packers
  • James Connolly, first Olympic Gold Medal champion in modern times
  • Chris Godfrey, former right guard for the New York Giants and founder of Life Athletes


  • Joyce Kilmer, famous journalist and poet
  • Daniel Daly, Gunnery Sergeant, USMC, two-time Medal of Honor winner once described by the commandant of the Marine Corps as “the most outstanding Marine of all time.?

Other Similar Organizations

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 but are not connected to the Knights.

The Knights of Columbus founded a sister organization known as the Daughters of Isabella, which has since been renamed the Catholic Daughters of the Americas. The organization spun off on its own and has been independent since the 1920's but remains for females who wish to join a Catholic Sorority. Similar in stature to the Knights, the Catholic Daughters are subject to a similar hierarchy, but are broken up into "Courts" headed by a Regent. Other Court officers include the Vice Regent, Recording Secretary, Treasurer, and Financial Secretary.


  1. ^ A "Practical Catholic", as defined in These Men They Call Knights, is one who "lives up to the Commandments of God and the Precepts of the Church." The details of the Precepts can also be found in These Men.

External links


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