History of the
Knights of Columbus
On October 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 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 and 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 the Holy Faith to this New
World. They were Knights of Columbus.
Through the foresight and leadership of
Father McGivney, and the sacrifice and dedication of those early
Knights, and the millions of their brother who have followed in
their footsteps, the Knights of Columbus would become the world's
foremost Catholic fraternal benefit society, one that has helped
millions of Catholic families grow in their faith and defend their
beliefs. It has made its members better husbands, fathers, sons, and
citizens. It has helped families obtain economic security and
stability through the Knights' life insurance program . It has built
Catholic communities, fed the poor and defended the vulnerable. It
has helped to renovate the Vatican and bring the Pope to the world.
Since it was incorporated on March 29, 1882, the Knights of Columbus
has grown from several members in one council to more than 12,000
councils and over 1.6 million members throughout the United States,
Canada, the Philippines, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Puerto
Rico, Panama, the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands, Guatemala, Guam and
Saipan. The Order has had thirteen Supreme Knights-from the first
Supreme Knight, James T. Mullen, who designed the famous emblem of
the Order to our current Supreme Knight, Carl A. Anderson, who leads
the Order across the threshold of the 21st century. Millions of
Catholic men have been Knights of Columbus-men of all nationalities
and backgrounds and professions-men like baseball great Babe Ruth
and President John F. Kennedy.
Love of Church and Country
Charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism-these are the watchwords
of the Knights of Columbus. And, since 1882, Knights of Columbus
have backed up these words with actions. During World War I, Supreme
Knight James A. Flaherty proposed to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson
that the Order establish soldiers' welfare centers in the US and
abroad. The Order raised more than $14 million for this program on
its own, and was allocated another $30 million from a national fund
drive. During the early years of World War II, Canadian Knights set
up similar soldiers' welfare centers in Canada. The US Knights were
the first national organization to sponsor a blood donor program,
and numerous councils led war bond drives in support of the war
effort. Thousands of Knights were killed in action during the war.
During the Cold War, Supreme Knight John E. Swift oversaw the
Order's varied responses to the Communist threat, as the Knights
operated speakers' bureaus, funded anti-Communist advertisements and
radio addresses, and published pro-freedom pamphlets. In 1954, the
Knights of Columbus led the effort to officially include the words
"under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag, a
crusade that resulted in federal legislation signed by US President
Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In 1957, the Knights of Columbus donated a $1 million, 329-foot bell
tower to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in
Washington, DC-a tower that became known as "the Knights' Tower."
The Order has since donated a 56-bell carillon to the Shrine and
provided funding for its operation.
During the 1960s and 1970s, decades of degeneration and social
chaos, the Knights of Columbus, behind Supreme Knight John McDevitt
and Supreme Knight Virgil C. Dechant, stood as a tower amidst
societal crisis to promote racial equality and love of country.
Against a tide of dissension, the Order championed Church teaching
on divorce, birth control, abortion, and pornography.
Since the late 1970s, Supreme Knight Virgil C. Dechant led the
Knights to record-breaking growth in all areas of the Order's
operations: membership, new council development, international
development, insurance sales, volunteerism and charitable giving. He
fostered devotion to the Church and the Blessed Mother, and pledged
the Knights' support for the Holy Father, the cardinals, bishops and
all the clergy and religious. In 2000 the current Supreme Knight
Carl A. Anderson was elected to office.
Continuing the tradition of devotion to the Church and the Blessed
Mother, he rededicated the Order to its role as "strong right arm of
the Church" in the renewal of society. He especially promised new
vigor in the fight for the culture of life over the culture of death
as the Order moves into the 21st century.
Knights of Columbus have helped to build and support the Catholic
Church, from the United States to the Philippines. Knights have
lived for their faith in Canada, and died for their faith in Mexico.
Throughout the history of the Order, in these and many other ways,
Knights of Columbus have provided immeasurable support to their
families and communities, to their countries and the Church. The
Knights of Columbus has enabled its members to strengthen and
protect their loved ones-spiritually, by developing their faith, and
financially, with the highest quality life insurance available, a
product that has brought security and prosperity to millions of
Knights and their families.
Through their dedication to the ideals of the Order-Charity, Unity,
Fraternity, Patriotism-and through their fidelity to Christ's Church
and his Vicar, the Knights of Columbus continue to be what they were
called long ago: "The Strong Right Arm of the Church."
Knights of Columbus Archives
The Knights of Columbus Supreme Council Archives exists to preserve
the history of the Knights of Columbus. The collection includes
correspondence, pamphlets, publications, programs, newspaper
clippings and books relating to the history of the Order. The
collection focuses on Supreme Council activities, but does contain
some material relating to state and local councils. Some topics
relating to the Supreme Council include anti-Catholicism such as the
Mexican Persecution and the Bogus Oath, the Historical Commission,
the Roman Playgrounds, the Oregon School Case, Columbian Squires,
World War I, Reconstruction, World War II, and the James Cardinal
Gibbons Memorial Statue papers. Material relating to the founder
Father Michael J. McGivney and St. Mary's Church are also collected.
The Archives includes material relating to the Catholic Church as
well as an over three hundred volume library on Christopher Columbus
and Columbus related materials such as the World's Columbian
Exposition of 1893.
The Archives is located in New Haven, Connecticut at the Supreme
Council Headquarters. Access to the archives is available by
appointment and with the permission of the Archivist. Some materials
are restricted. The Archives is usually open Monday through Friday
8:00 am - 4:30 pm. It is closed on major holidays.
Knights of Columbus Museum
The Knights opened a museum at their headquarters in New Haven,
Connecticut during the organization's 100th anniversary in August
1982. The Museum is dedicated to the acquisition, preservation,
interpretation and exhibition of information and materials deriving
from or relevant to the history, formation and activities of the
Knights of Columbus. It also contains material on the Catholic
Church, Christopher Columbus, as well as secular history in America.
To view some of the exhibits, visit the online tour of the Knights
of Columbus Museum and view the Gallery of Supreme Knights.
The Museum has grown over the years, and is now housed in a separate
building. The grand opening of the Knights of Columbus Museum at One
State Street, New Haven took place on March 8, 2001. The Order's
history is now showcased in an attractive setting, and interactive
computer stations enable visitors to conduct research. You can take
a cyber-tour of the museum via the link below. We soon will be
updating our cyber-tour to allow you to see displays from the
Council #739 - Fort Madison,
Council 739 was started in 1903. For
many years they rented the third floor of the Lee County Bank
building, at the corner of 8th Street and Avenue G. Then on January
28, 1951, they dedicated their present home, at 807 Avenue H - the
first council owned home. We are affiliated with Holy Family Parish
of Fort Madison and also the Holy Trinity Schools.