Thanks to the efforts of Father Michael J. McGivney, assistant pastor of St. Mary’s Church in New Haven and some of his parishioners, the Connecticut state legislature on March 29, 1882, officially chartered the Knights of Columbus as a fraternal benefit society. The Order is still true to its founding principles of charity, unity and fraternity.
The Knights was formed to render financial aid to members and their families. Mutual aid and assistance are offered to sick, disabled and needy members and their families. Social and intellectual fellowship is promoted among members and their families through educational, charitable, religious, social welfare, war relief and public relief works.
The history of the Order shows how the foresight of Father Michael J. McGivney, whose cause for sainthood is being investigated by the Vatican, brought about what has become the world’s foremost Catholic fraternal benefit society. The Order has helped families obtain economic security and stability through its life insurance, annuity and long-term care programs, and has contributed time and energy worldwide to service in communities.
The Knights of Columbus has grown from several members in one council to more than 13,000 councils and 1.7 million members throughout the United States, Canada, the Philippines, Mexico, Poland, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Panama, the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands, Cuba, Guatemala, Guam and Saipan.
The Knights have a tradition of supporting those with physical and developmental disabilities. More than $382 million has been given over the past three decades to groups and programs that support the intellectually and physically disabled. One of the largest recipients of funds in this area is the Special Olympics. In addition, the Order’s highest honor, the Gaudium et Spes Award, was given with its $100,000 honorarium to Jean Vanier, the founder of l’Arche, in 2005. L’Arche is a faith-based network that provides care, in a community setting, for people with severe developmental disabilities.
The triad emblem of the Fourth Degree features the dove, the cross and the globe. The dove, hovering over the orb of the Earth (globe), is the classic symbol of the Holy Spirit and peace. Columbus’ name in Italian (Colombo), also means “dove.” Both the globe and dove 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 from the pagans.
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.