About the Knights of Columbus

The Strong Right Arm of the Church

The Knights of Columbus was founded in 1882 by a 29-year-old parish priest, Father Michael J. McGivney, in the basement of St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Connecticut. Today, more than a century later, the Knights of Columbus has become the largest lay organization in the Catholic Church.

In Solidarity With Our Bishops and PriestsThe 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. As recently as 1992, Mother Teresa of Calcutta praised the Knights in a speech on the occasion of her reception of the first Knights of Columbus Gaudium et Spes Award.

Thanks to the inspired work of Father McGivney–as well as that of millions of other Knights over the past century–the Knights of Columbus now stands at its pinnacle of membership, benefits, and service. Currently, there are over 1.6 million Knights of Columbus–more than ever before in our Order’s history. Together with their families, the Knights are nearly 6 million strong. In addition, from the first local council in New Haven, the Order has grown to more than 12,000 councils in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Panama, the Virgin Islands, Guatemala, Guam, and Saipan. Each year, the Order continues this strong growth.

Volunteer Service and Insurance

AAgency Departments the Order has grown, its benevolence has multiplied. The Order continues to break all previous records for charitable contributions and volunteer service. In the past decade, the Knights donated nearly $1 billion to numerous charitable causes and nearly 400 million hours of volunteer service. In 1999 alone, the Knights donated nearly $109 million and 55 million volunteer hours to charitable causes.

Father McGivney’s founding vision for the Order also included establishing 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 and annuity products to its members, along with many other fraternal benefits.

Charity, Unity, Fraternity, and Patriotism

Knights of Columbus are Catholic gentlemen committed to the exemplification of charity, unity, fraternity, patriotism, and defense of the priesthood. The Order is consecrated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Order is unequivocal in its loyalty to the Pope, the Vicar of Christ on earth. It is firmly committed to the protection of human life, from conception to natural death, and to the preservation and defense of the family. It was on these bedrock principles that the Order was founded over a century ago and remains true to them today.

If you want to join this great organization of Catholic men, it is likely that there is a local council near you. There you will find brother Knights working to fulfill the central mission of the Order: striving in charitable works; serving the Church and unified in following its teachings; supporting brother Knights in their temporal and spiritual needs; acting for the good of their country; and giving aid to widows, orphans, the sick and the poor. This is Father McGivney’s dream, echoing across the century, and living today in the hearts of his brothers and all of those they touch. Vivat Jesus!


Emblem of the Order

James T. Mullen, a New Haven native and Civil War veteran, served the Order as its first Supreme Knight from 1882-1886. He presided over the institution of 22 of the Order’s first 38 councils, and watched it grow beyond Connecticut into Rhode Island (1885). The emblem of the Order dates from the second Supreme Council meeting, May 12, 1883. It was designed by Supreme Knight Mullen.

Knights of Columbus logoThe emblem incorporates a shield mounted upon a formée cross (having the arms narrow at the center and expanding toward the ends). The shield is associated with a medieval knight, and the formée cross is an artistic representation of the cross of Christ. 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 is from Roman days, carried before magistrates as an emblem of authority. The anchor is the mariner’s symbol for Columbus. The short sword is the weapon of the knight when engaged in an errand of mercy.


Organizational Structure

The following chart shows the organizational structure of the Knights of Columbus. An overview of a few key points indicates the importance of this structure.

The Supreme Council is responsible for the development of the organization as a whole, establishing it 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. The majority of the Knights’ beneficial work, however, is carried on by members working in local, or subordinate, councils. Therefore, the organizational and financial structure of the Knights of Columbus plays a vital role in the success of the Knights’ mission.