Knights of colombus
Our story begins on the East Coast of the United States in 1882, shortly after the civil war.
Upon learning that a father had died leaving his widow and numerous children in need, Father Michael McGivney, a young parish priest at St. Mary’s church in New Haven, Connecticut, convened a group of twenty men in the church crypt.
Catholics were in the minority at the time, and many lived in poverty. Young Father McGivney urged these men to acknowledge the urgent need to band together in solidarity and unity to help each other and better support their families, to stay faithful to the Church’s teachings, and to help evangelize their continent.
Convinced by their pastor’s words, they decided to found a charitable organization of Catholic men, united around their parishes.
They chose Christopher Columbus as their patron, a respected and recognized figure among the Catholic laity and the discoverer of America.
They also decided to call themselves “knights,” in tribute to the devotion of their Christian ancestors in Europe.
In founding the “Knights of Columbus,” Father McGivney’s most ardent wish was to serve and support families, the primary vehicle for teaching social values and transmitting the faith.
A mutual fund, which later evolved into a fraternal benefit society, was established to protect families in the event of an accident.
Groups of men called “councils” soon began to form in parishes and in no time spread beyond the borders of the US and Canada.
Foreshadowing the advent of creative minorities and the vision of the Second Vatican Council, the call of a young parish priest thus led to the creation of a vast movement of Catholic laymen mobilized in service of the Church.
The Knights of Columbus is a unique Catholic organization with nearly two million members in over fifteen countries.
Knights are especially active and numerous in the United States (founding country), Canada, the Philippines, Mexico and Poland. The support they provide to parishes and the unique spirit of fraternity they offer their members have inspired many bishops and priests to charter Knights of Columbus groups called « councils. »
From its inception, the Knights of Columbus has been dedicated to meeting people’s basic needs: material support, mutual aid, and spiritual devotion. Active at both the local and international levels, the Order is organized around three main activities:
1 – Leading a brotherhood of men mobilized around 16,000 parishes throughout the world,
2 – Managing a life insurance company (for Canadian and American members); and
3 – Developing charitable and missionary activities.
From the start, the Knights of Columbus has provided auxiliary support to the Catholic Church.
The Knights’ attachment to the Holy See and to the figure of the Pope, successor of Peter, guides them to act in the service of the universal Church, sowing the seeds of unity through charitable actions and evangelization. Every year during their annual convention, the Pope reiterates his message of encouragement for their actions to spread the Catholic Church’s influence in the world and to protect the dignity of all people.
The organization’s top leader, Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson, regularly meets with the Holy Father to present the Knights’ activities and discuss the Church’s main projects. The Knights actively participate in major events such as World Youth Day (WYD) and the World Meeting of Families, providing material and organizational support.
Any Catholic man 18 years of age or older who wishes to lead a more godly life by following the Church’s teachings may join the Knights of Columbus.
Many members of congregations, families, and religious and spiritual communities have sought to join the Knights of Columbus brotherhood, which is not a spiritual movement or a Catholic action group, but a fraternal organization that supports parishes.
Through the diversity of their members, councils seek to promote a genuine « spirituality of communion, » as described by Pope Jean Paul II, by embracing the twofold goal of community service and missionary discipleship.
When Knights from different regions gather, we see the ties that bind us and we are motivated to serve and love Christ in the diversity of our backgrounds and cultures.
The monthly magazine Columbia, with a circulation of nearly 1.4 million copies, is a strong component of this connection. It opens readers’ minds to the concept of “Catholicity” and thus to the universality of the Church of Christ.
Knights of Columbus are guided by four principles: charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism.
This theological virtue is the core of all Knights of Columbus activities. Charitable actions help us grow in faith and selflessly give more of ourselves. Charity is based on relationships and communion with our neighbors. It evangelizes on its own.
None of us is as good as all of us. Alone, we can go fast, but together, we can go far. Knights of Columbus serve the Church, banding together in their parishes and using their diverse and complementarity talents to promote a spirit of harmony and unity within the Church.
We are brothers because we are sons of the same Father, sharing the same land. Knights of Columbus act like brothers when they gather to share times of prayer and fellowship. On the material and spiritual level, they care for and about each other in the fraternal sharing of their vulnerabilities.
Knights of Columbus are patriotic citizens, conscious of their civic duties. They love, defend and serve their country because they are proud of its heritage and spiritual calling. Whether in public or private, Knights work to serve the common good through their civic, cultural and political activities.
At the end of the 19th century, Catholics in the United States were in the minority and often scorned by a society dominated by the Protestant religion at the time.
To promote the spread of the budding Knights movement to other parishes, the founders chose as their patron an emblematic Catholic figure whose fame and contribution to American society were both indisputable and admired.
For the Church, Christopher Columbus was a shining example of a layman who accomplished his mission guided solely by his Catholic faith and offering the discovery of America to the Lord.
In his final letter to King Ferdinand of Spain, Columbus summed up his life as follows: “I did what I set out to do; may God, who has always looked favorably upon me, do the rest according to his divine justice. » At the end of the 19th century, France went to great lengths to promote recognition of Columbus’ Christian values through the voices of its bishops.
Father Henri Didon, who inspired Pierre de Coubertin to create the modern Olympic Games, paid tribute to Columbus, calling him the architect of the movement to spread Christian civilization across the Atlantic.
In his first homily, Pope Francis quoted French writer Léon Bloy, saying “Anyone who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil.” The first Pope from the American continent took this phrase from Bloy’s first book Le révélateur du Globe [“The Man Who Opened the World”]. Published in 1884, the book advocates for the beatification of Christopher Columbus.
Like Columbus, men are explorers driven by the desire to do, to discover, and to venture out in the world, but also, on a more personal level, to explore the depths of their souls, drawing ever closer to God.
France’s history with the Knights of Columbus dates back to World War I, when the American army was sent to reinforce allied troops in Europe. As part of that effort, numerous supply stations and shelters were set up in France to assist the troops and local populations.
At the end of November 1918, the Knights of Columbus held a Te Deum mass that drew thousands of believers to L’Église de la Madeleine (Church of St. Mary Magdalene), along with France’s senior civilian, military and religious authorities.
Pilgrimages were organized to various French sites such as Lourdes or the Saint Martin route in Tours.
The congregation in Verdun presented the Knights of Columbus with a relic of an ostensorium in tribute to the Knights’ active presence during WW I.
Marshal Ferdinand Foch, a devout Catholic and war hero, was an honorary member of the Knights of Columbus.
In 1919, several hundred Knights embarked upon a pilgrimage to visit France (Paris, Versailles, Verdun and Metz) and to meet with religious and lay leaders.
On this occasion, the French Republic awarded the Legion of Honor to the greater Knights of Columbus family, in appreciation for services rendered during the First World War.
In November 2017, to commemorate 100 years of its presence in France, the Knights of Columbus sponsored the production of a major sound and lights show, entitled Dame de Cœur, designed to celebrate Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral and the relevance of its cultural and spiritual message.
Knights of Columbus encourages the French to continually strive to assimilate their spiritual and intellectual heritage, not as a source of pride, but as part of their duty to educate other nations.
ESTABLISHED PRESENCE IN FRANCE
Other Catholic leaders in France have subsequently worked with the Knights of Columbus (such as Jean Vanier and Professor Jerome Lejeune).
Since 2013, Knights of Columbus has sponsored several hundred veterans and wounded military personnel for the International Military Pilgrimage to Lourdes. This participation facilitated initial contacts with French laypeople.
The establishment of the first Knights of Columbus councils in France was officially announced in August 2016 at the Annual Convention in Toronto.
To date, fourteen parish councils have been set up in France with about 220 members in eight dioceses.
Numerous other projects are being developed under the impetus of a passionate commitment to community service and missionary discipleship.
The founder’s vision is relevant still today: serving families, supporting priests and the parish, and promoting evangelization.
In 2013, a group of friends in France, including priests and laymen, committed to serving the Church and encouraged by their bishops, contacted the Knights of Columbus and its leader, Carl Anderson.
Shaped by the teachings of Jean Paul II, inspired by Scouting, guided by a spirit of sportsmanship, and sharing a strong international vision for the Catholic Church, they sought to establish an enculturated Knights of Columbus presence in France.
The key was to present Father McGivney’s vision to Catholic men in France: a simple and tangible commitment to serving people in our parishes and communities through missionary discipleship.
On August 4, 2016—the feast day of St. John Vianney—the establishment of the first five councils in France was officially announced at the 134th Knights of Columbus Annual Convention in Toronto.