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  1. 1. John Kelley<br />102-008<br />Revised Final 11/28/2010<br />The Knights of Columbus and Fr. Michael J. McGivney, Founder<br />The Knights of Columbus are a Roman Catholic men’s fraternity whose aim is to help their neighbor. The story of the Knights is a telling symbol of perseverance and execution of goals, but also the deeper story reveals the rivets that masked much of what America had faced in its pre-World War era and what many groups faced during the course of their organization. Its inception was small, but its impact will remain unforgettable. The small group of men in the basement of the Church that founded the order 125 years ago reveals the community that persists today in the vision of missionary goals and social endeavors.<br />On 9 January 1882 Michael J. McGivney called together the preliminary meetings of the group that would become known as the Knights of Columbus for the purpose of helping the underprivileged families of the time, namely orphans and widows. The name “Knights of Columbus” beat out the alternative name “Sons of Columbus” and that’s what was put on the charter of the organization, a vote harkening back to their patriarchal militant group, the Red Knights, who fought in the Civil War. The charter from the State of Connecticut came for the newly planned insurance organization and was delivered in the year 1882; Fr. McGivney was 29. He was raised in a mill town in the revolutionary region along the rivers stretching across the area, the fertile piedmont of the textile and industrial revolutions. It was the families of these industries, and especially those working in the brass industry of Connecticut at the time. <br />One of the biggest problems facing the booming brass industry residents was the shortened life span set back by these rigorous industries. The Knights set out to correct these mishaps in a family’s life and intercede as an insurance company for the widowed and orphaned, making them one of the most affordable such sources. As an insurance source the Knights grew throughout the 20th century. <br />Although not ‘secret’ from the public, its secretive rites and procedures secured it as interesting to the higher authorities for which it stood. “Secret societies were officially condemned by the Pope in 1738” (Axelrod), a fact the bold young priest from Connecticut ignored throughout the entirety of his groups annexation of members from the church, even though remaining in both was the modus operandi. Fraternal orders are often found to follow the same rules but if there is one overbearing rule it would be that there are no absolutes when it comes to these secret societies. Secrecy is a key component to them all, but there is usually secondarily a ritual or initiation rite that is used to maintain the mystery of the order. Following the rite, it is common that the secrecy is conferred or passed down to share a sense of belonging. There are 7 aims of Orders and McGivney’s Knights register our categorization outline provided by “The International Encyclopedia of Secret Societies and Fraternal Orders” as social because of its degrees of Knighthood. In earlier Knighthoods the aristocracy saw degrees of knighthood as platforms for social clubs and significant of various involvement. (Axelrod.)<br /> The clergy eventually took to the group for the protection and the security of widows was accepted across 68 districts nationally. Admirably, it retains $450 million today to disburse to the poor widows and unfortunate orphans of its members. Officially, Pope John Paul II spoke to the members of the Order, “In fidelity to the vision of Father McGivney, may you continue to seek new ways of being a leaven of the Gospel in the world and a spiritual force for the renewal of the Church in holiness, unity and truth.” (His Legacy: The Knights of Columbus) This shows the renewed sense of Fr. McGivney’s mission in the new millennium from a higher order of power, a nice reversal from a little over a hundred years ago when the clergy were heavy pressed to fight the uprise of organization’s such as Michael’s.<br /> Its large growth through the social revolutions can be attributed to the outreach and social involvement programs the Knights have included in their fraternal organization. Its growth can also be attributed to its ties with the Anti-communist movement and its addition of the Fourth Degree in 1900 when it was submerged in anti-Catholic sentiment. This degree was intended to show the benevolent outreach of the Knights and the social involvement that was expected from the developed members of the group. Its prosperity continued through two world wars and in the 60s and 70s proceeded to help the unfortunate especially through its work with the deaf. In 1968 it absorbed the Catholic Benevolent Region of Brooklyn, NY. (Schmidt.) Although its mission in the new century may have changed in the form it took and the roles it provided the widowed and orphaned it interacts with, the same vision of Fr. McGivney shone through in its readiness to collaborate together for the common good of the participants.<br />The founder of this vast organization is Michael Joseph McGivney, who was born in 1852 as the oldest of 13 children in Waterbury, Connecticut. His dad was an Irish immigrant working in the booming brass industry, which at the time Connecticut was the world capital of. Patrick McGivney, he was named, was a part of the waves of Irish immigration who worked molding brass in high heat and fumes. Not only did Michael bring his craft with him he, like many others who immigrated, brought Roman Catholicism and that’s why there is a spike in the religion’s strength in the nineteenth century. Thirteen attempts at children by the McGivney’s were made yet only 7 remained, Michael had 4 little sisters and 2 brothers. Most of the others died in their infancy. This early grip on sorrow and poverty revealed to McGivney at a young age that love, faith and family fortitude are the cornerstones to a strong and healthy life.<br />Early on Fr. McGivney was schooled by Bishop Tom Hendricken at the “East Main Street School”, an arrangement in the St. Peter’s Church basement they had arranged to educate the youth of the brassworkers in Waterbury. Aged 13 years, McGivney finished his education unprecedentedly early, and knew that he wanted to be a priest. Prior to ever reaching a seminary he worked for 3 years producing spoons. In 1868 he reached St. Hyacinthe, a Quebec seminary he soon left for St. Mary’s College for 2 academic years of seminary classes. His father Patrick died in 1873.<br />His ministry was primarily in the vein of his own exposure to the darker aspects of life early on such as death, poverty, and sorrow: it was family oriented. He saw alcoholism as a problem not only to the abuser but those he was to be caring for, and as the spike in secret societies peaked McGivney thought an organization could be well used. He joined St. Joseph’s Total Abstinence and Literary Society, but still had the need to found the Knights of Columbus on 29 March 1882 with the goals of abstinence and to make insurance available to all, primarily his vision was to fund the unfortunate lives that widows and orphans are often forced to undertake.<br />Later in life following the foundation McGivney saw the need structurally for him to serve only as chaplain of the Knights of Columbus. From 1884 to his death from the flu on 14 August 1890 the Knights came second to him from his ministry within the church. His reassignment from St. Mary’s parish to St. Thomas in Thomaston, CT consumed him as he took on the parish’s debt problems for people with “few resources behind their faith;” they were underprivileged. He remained however at St. Mary’s as an extreme chaplain. (Devotion)<br />Although it has been many years, in 1997 Archbishop Daniel Cronin of Connecticut opened a Diocesan investigation whereby Pope Benedict XVI declared Michael McGivney venerable in the Roman Catholic Church for his heroic virtue in founding the Knights. He is currently waiting to be beautified.<br />Principles of the Knights of Columbus are practical and recognizably simple, as was the life of its founder. Knights find strength in solidarity, security through unity of purpose and devotion to a holy cause. They vow to defend country, family, and faith. These are corollaries from the highly regarded virtues of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism. Bound together by Christopher Columbus, the organization highlights the Christian ideals of manifest destiny and exploration that brought Europe to the New World. Early on the Order was called “the Strong Right Arm of the Church.”(Growth of the Knights of Columbus.) Praise has come from Popes, Presidents, and other worlds leaders. Knights have been lauded for Church support, civic involvement, Catholic Education, Evangelization programs and giving aid to the needy. Their Principles are core to the Knights’ Mission, they are Charity, Unity, Fraternity and Patriotism. Charity is exhibited through food drives, soup kitchens and the Special Olympics. They are pro-life, included in their mission is a provision that pro-life means to not only support life materially but also spiritually. A Knight’s Mission and Faith in God compels him to action. They view helping the needy as the best way to experience compassion and love. Unity is seen through the encouragement of Brother Knights. The obvious benefit to this principle is the simple fact that you accomplish more working together than you would individually. Fraternity is largely built in the vein of Unity, that it is largely a reason to assist and provide aid to those that need a Knight’s attention. Patriotism is the global principle: Knights are asked to show devotion to God and country and stand up for both. Publicly or privately the organization tries to show that Catholics are among the world’s best citizens.<br />The structural organization the Knights of Columbus implements is a Supreme Council, the national council responsible for the development nationally and to share the Order with new regions and install their authorities. Supreme defines and advances the values, goals and directives and undertakes organization wide activities and initiatives, as well as promoting the Knights globally. They are also in the business of protecting families as a result of their insurance program.<br />Under the direction of Supreme Council are 14 000 councils composed of 1.8 million members (Growth of the Knights of Columbus.) The councils of this Order stretch from the Global HeadQuarters in New Haven, Connecticut to Canada, Mexico, the Phillipines, Poland, the Dominican Republic, Perto Rico, Guam, Spain, Cuba, the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, and Panama. The sheer girth of its size is unbelievable, and with that many members internationally it’s no surprise to hear the compliments it has received such as the Statue Herbert Hoover dedicated to the Cardinal that ordained Fr. McGivney, the Order’s founder.<br />The history of the Knights of Columbus has been pushing the boundaries through forces of good: church and society. The immigrant men who founded it led by a visionary priest took to the spirit of their time and made the organization. Its longevity may also be attributed to these two facts: Its appeal is timeless, its goals are for eternity(History). After the Civil War, a lot of the Protestants were persecuted for not being ‘American’ enough. Many of the groups that fought in the war used red knapsacks and later banded together as the Red Knights when it came time to protect themselves from the oppression of allegations resembling treason. From these Red Knights, Fr. McGivney drew and informed his own collaboration to its form and purpose. Before this, religion was seen as scorned and suspicious when terms of patriotism were brought to the table. This time around, the practical additional value of citizenship was added to the spiritual value the church offered. At the same time, churches were more and more being left for secret societies because of the spirit of the times. The Order gave many of its members the ability to be “proudly American and defiantly Catholic.”(History) The prime theme was how to be a Catholic in America. It is now 125 years old and its name links its country with religion. It was an unassailable fact that Columbus’ descendents were entitled the same freedom to worship religion freely. The Order paid its first life insiurance policy out in 1885 and also had around 1000 members. The self entityship of the Knights finally pushed through during the 1898 Spanish American War. The Catholic Church took an official stance against the war but the Knights out of national duty proclaimed the war was a necessity to the American cause. Taking a stand was an essential part to being a Catholic man, and it was this defiance of the clergy that really helped shape the organization outside the church in a secular realm. In 1905 clerical opposition to the group melted away and there were councils in every state. The organization became a presence against international anti-church sentiment especially in the Mexican region. There was a memorial to Columbus dedicated in 1912 near Washington, D.C. At the ceremonies were President Taft, Supreme Court justices, and Congress as well as a number of Knights such as the Supreme Knight James Flaherty. History soon recognized that anti-Catholic sentiment was because of the immigration waves leading to World War I. The Knights respectfully fought back with libel suits, lecture tours, and commissions on racial prejudice. The sentiment from the knights became a memory of the war: “Everybody Welcome, Everything Free”(History). It is a testament to the charity of the group.<br />Al Smith ran for president in 1928 and his Catholicism scared many voters away. He spoke in Oklahoma City one night and spoke of a “whispering campaign of bigotry, hatred, intolerance, and un-American sectarian division.” This contradiction to the vision in which America was made put many people off. Not only was it unpatriotic, it was a mockery of the cross and false to God’s teaching. Al lost his bid at the White House however nationally Roman Catholics would have much to be proud of only 4 short years later. In 1932 a statue was dedicated for Cardinal James Gibbons, the bishop who ordained Fr. McGivney.<br />As an Order the Knights of Columbus have done well in their aims to aid the poor, orphaned and widowed through their insurance policy program for their members. As a social group they have excelled too, with over 68 districts nationally and 1.8 million members (History). Fr. Michael J. McGivney’s founded organization was a feat, and now at over 125 years of duration will continue their charitable works for generations to come.<br />