Annual Report of the Supreme Knight
My brother Knights, today we meet in the city of Philadelphia, the birthplace of American Liberty.
It was here in 1776 that the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, a document whose opening words have been called “the greatest, most consequential statement of political philosophy of all time.” (1)
- We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
These words do not carry the power of law. But they have a power greater than law in the minds of those around the world who are determined to be free.
Thomas Jefferson, who authored the Declaration’s first draft, wrote, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable.” But it was a Philadelphian, Benjamin Franklin, who with one edit made one of the most significant contributions. He struck out the words “sacred and undeniable” and replaced them with a single word: “self-evident.” (2)
With a stroke of his pen, Franklin shifted the entire foundation of the Declaration from religious doctrine and a matter of faith to that of reason and the universal nature of the human person.
As the delegates prepared to consider the resolution of independence, news reached Philadelphia that a British fleet of 300 ships carrying 30,000 troops had entered New York Harbor. Soon, Philadelphia would come under British control.
Delegate John Adams described the temperament of the assembly. “We were not,” he said, “in a very submissive mood.” (3) And so, the delegates pledged their lives and their “sacred honor” to the cause of liberty and declared independence.
Eighty-seven years later, President Abraham Lincoln visited a small Pennsylvania city. While overlooking the fields of Gettysburg, he recalled how “a new nation, conceived in liberty” was struggling to defend the principles contained in the Declaration of Independence. And he promised that “this nation, under God,” would “have a new birth of freedom.”
At Gettysburg, President Lincoln defended America’s founding principles in order to secure its future.
So too did another president, who nearly a century later began his inaugural address by recalling the cause for which he said our forebears fought — “the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.”
President John F. Kennedy continued, “We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution.”
He then announced “to friend and foe alike” that his generation of Americans was “unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed.” (4)
And so, my brother Knights, in that same spirit and with that same determination, I announce the theme of this 133rd Supreme Convention: “Endowed by their Creator with Life and Liberty.”
This theme is particularly appropriate this year, since we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) and the 50th anniversary of Dignitatis Humanae (On the Dignity of the Person), the Second Vatican Council’s document on religious freedom.
It is also appropriate since we are meeting in the city of Philadelphia — a city steeped in Catholic history.
This was one of the few places in the 13 colonies where Catholics could freely practice their faith. And at times, it was the only place.
Maryland was founded for Catholics. In 1632, King Charles I gave Charles Calvert, a Catholic, the land grant that established Maryland. In 1649, that colony enacted the first religious tolerance law in America.
But by 1681, Protestants outnumbered Catholics 30 to 1 and laws began to change. Catholics were prevented from inheriting or purchasing land. They were denied the right to vote or hold public office.
Priests were subject to life imprisonment for the crime of celebrating Mass, and a 100-pound reward was offered to anyone who reported seeing a priest do so. Then, in the early 1700s, the government ordered the closing of Maryland’s only Catholic church. (5)
Thus, Pennsylvania became home to a large Catholic population, second only to Maryland. With anti-Catholic winds blowing in Maryland and elsewhere, Philadelphia was home to the only Catholic parish in the 13 colonies, and Pennsylvania was the only colony to allow Catholic schools.
By 1765, because of this unique tolerance, Catholics
in Pennsylvania numbered about 6,000. Yet Catholics remained a despised minority throughout much of colonial America. (6)
Despite the widespread hatred of Catholicism, the delegates assembled in Philadelphia came to realize that Catholics were indispensable to the cause of independence. Thus, how Catholics were treated became a vital consideration.
This point was brought home when the Continental Congress sent a delegation to Québec to convince French-speaking Canada to join the American cause. It was led by Benjamin Franklin and included the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll.
But the Canadians refused to become involved.
They reminded the Americans that England had recently enacted the Québec Act, which recognized the Catholic Church as the official church of Québec. Catholics were, therefore, treated much better in Canada than they were in America. And the American delegation was told as much.
Without the support of Catholic Québec, America’s struggle for independence would be much more difficult. But it would have had no chance of success without the strong support of France, a Catholic country.
It was only with time, as George Washington and others worked to keep this support, that things began to change for Catholics in the colonies.
Washington banned anti-Catholic demonstrations in the Continental Army, such as “Pope Day,” which he called a “ridiculous and childish custom,” (7) and delegates to the Continental Congress eventually accompanied Charles Carroll to Catholic Mass. The Continental Congress also offered all German troops, many of whom were Catholic, both citizenship and religious freedom if they would leave the British and instead join the American cause — and as many as 12,000 did so.
Throughout the American Revolution and the creation of this country, Catholics played an important role.
A Catholic church — Old St. Mary’s Church in Philadelphia — was the site of the first public religious commemoration of the Declaration of Independence. George Washington later attended a solemn Mass of Thanksgiving there to celebrate victory over the British on Nov. 4, 1781. And two decades later, on Feb. 22, 1800, Congress met in that same church for a memorial service following the death of President Washington.
Yet it wasn’t just Catholic churches that played a role in the life of the new nation. Individual Catholics, despite their small numbers, also played an active part.
Charles Carroll signed the Declaration of Independence, and his cousin, Daniel, signed both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. It was Daniel’s younger brother, John Carroll, who became America’s first Catholic bishop. All three put their life on the line for the cause of liberty.
And we remember the stunning defeat of the British army at the Battle of Yorktown, achieved by the combined actions of the French fleet under Admiral de Grasse, the French army under Rochambeau, and the American force led by Lafayette.
Following the battle, a Mass of Thanksgiving attended by the Continental Congress and the Pennsylvania Assembly was celebrated in St. Mary’s Church. The homilist, a French chaplain, declared the victory a modern miracle, saying that it was “the wonderful work of that God who guards your liberties.” (8)
From Philadelphia came Thomas FitzSimons and George Meade, who together raised a battalion for the Continental Army, and John Barry, who is regarded as “the father of the American Navy.”
And from farther afield came Tadeusz Kościuszko and Casimir Pułaski. These Polish natives, commissioned to the Continental Army by Benjamin Franklin, fought as colonel and general, respectively, alongside George Washington.
Philadelphia has also been important in the life of the Knights of Columbus. It was the home of our sixth supreme knight, James Flaherty. Elected in 1909 and serving into 1927, he oversaw the work of the Knights of Columbus in its support of our troops during World War I.
After the Great War, Supreme Knight Flaherty brought the Knights of Columbus Board of Directors to France and Italy. Following their audience with Pope Benedict XV, he began the Order’s work of providing athletic fields for Italian youth — an initiative that continues to this day. In the 1920s, Supreme Knight Flaherty also led the Order’s efforts to combat the racism and bigotry of the Ku Klux Klan.
And he led the Order’s efforts to defend the persecuted Catholics of Mexico. It was in Philadelphia during the 1926 Supreme Convention that Supreme Knight Flaherty took up the cause of the oppressed Mexican Catholics, saying, “The religious crisis in Mexico will be the most important question discussed by this convention.” That campaign, which would last a decade, ultimately helped end the war and the persecution of Catholics there.
Under Supreme Knight Flaherty’s leadership, the Order earned the description given to it by Pope Benedict XV: “The noble Knights of Columbus.”
But our meeting this year in Philadelphia is not only a time to remember the past; it is our time to plan for the future. Next month, Pope Francis will visit this city, and many brother Knights are already busy with preparations for this visit.
Pope Francis has said that “to love God and neighbor is not something abstract, but profoundly concrete; it means seeing in every person the face of the Lord.” (9) When we look into the face of each person, we see the source of life, liberty and human dignity, and therefore we see a brother.
And as Knights of Columbus we know this: Authentic brotherhood is the true foundation of authentic freedom.
When Pope Francis visits this City of Brotherly Love, he will help all Americans understand that love is the true foundation of every city. He will also call all of us to a deeper faith and a deeper commitment to charity. Knights of Columbus have already heard that call and are acting on it.
My brother Knights, this is the 15th time that I will fulfill my responsibility as supreme knight to report on the accomplishments of our Order during the past fraternal year.
Today, I report that the Knights of Columbus has never been stronger and more relevant. We have set new records in charity, membership and insurance.
Millions of Catholics are now more secure because of the financial protection we provide. Millions of people around the world have been helped because of our service. Our parishes and neighborhoods are now better places because of the efforts of our nearly 1.9 million members.
We are building a better world, one council at a time.
Knights of Charity
My brother Knights, we have answered our Holy Father’s call by serving the Lord and our neighbors as never before.
For the 16th consecutive year, we set new records in charitable giving. Our charitable contributions increased last year by more than $3.4 million to a record $173,550,680.
Texas led all jurisdictions with charitable donations of $9,066,514. Illinois was second with $7,839,940, followed by California, Ontario, Florida, Michigan, Québec, New Jersey, Missouri, British Columbia, New York and Ohio.
We also set a new record in charitable service, volunteering 71,560,617 hours. Experts value each hour donated in 2015 at approximately $23.07. This means the time we donated to charity last year was worth $1,650,903,434.19.
In the past decade we donated more than 691,352,169 hours. The value of those efforts total nearly $14.4 billion.
Brother Knights in the Philippines led the way in volunteering, with Luzon contributing a total of 6,898,549 hours. Texas was second with 4,536,659 hours, followed by Florida, California, Mindanao, Ontario, Illinois, Visayas, Pennsylvania and Missouri.
When it comes to time volunteered per member, Alaska was first with nearly 95 hours per member. Nova Scotia was second with 93 hours, followed by Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, Delaware, Utah, Florida, Nevada, the District of Columbia and Oklahoma. Last year, each Knight donated an average of nearly $93 and about a full workweek of 38 hours.
From July 25 to Aug. 2, we saw another milestone when our $1.4 million sponsorship of the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles helped make those games a tremendous success. We covered costs, including food and transportation, for every American and Canadian athlete during their time in Los Angeles. And for our support, we were designated a “Founding Champion of the World Games.” Additionally, more than 1,000 brother Knights and their families were among the volunteers supporting the 7,000 Special Olympics athletes.
The Knights of Columbus has stood alongside Special Olympics and its founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, from the very first World Games in 1968. Eunice’s husband, Sargent Shriver, was a longtime brother Knight. I cannot help but think of my meeting with Sargent Shriver during the first Special Olympics World Summer Games held outside the United States, in Dublin, in 2003. Holding his rosary in one hand, he spoke of the importance of our families affirming the dignity of these athletes.
Our work with Special Olympics continues, now stronger than ever. Leading up to the World Games, our councils donated $15,327,401 to Special Olympics and other programs for people with intellectual disabilities. And more than 146,000 individual brother Knights gave nearly 818,000 hours of their time at more than 21,000 Special Olympics events.
Just prior to this year’s Super Bowl, the Arizona Knights of Columbus brought together Special Olympics athletes and NFL players for a flag football game and skills clinic. Seattle Seahawks tight end Luke Willson joined Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive tackle Anthony Muñoz and his son, Michael, along with former Kansas City Chiefs player Chris Horn. They were joined by Catholic Athletes for Christ President Ray McKenna and Arizona State Deputy Laurence J. Becker.
In February, as college athletes attended the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Special Olympics athletes showcased their talents at a clinic hosted by the Indiana Knights of Columbus, Catholic Athletes for Christ and Special Olympics Indiana. This marked the third year that the Knights has sponsored this event. This year, Indianapolis Colts player Joe Reitz and former Colts wide receiver John Standeford hosted the clinic at the Colts training facility.
Knights of Columbus support Special Olympics in an even more direct way. For example, Brother Knight Christopher Dooley of Regina Coeli Council 2274 in Easton, Md., was part of the four-person U.S. kayaking team at the Special Olympics World Games. Chris also served as master of ceremonies for Special Olympics Maryland Athlete Congress and worked at the control center of the Maryland Winter Games.
The Knights’ assistance extends beyond that given to Special Olympics. Last year, our councils donated more than $4.26 million to benefit those with physical disabilities.
Since 2009, we have partnered with the Global Wheelchair Mission. Last year we distributed nearly 6,885 wheelchairs worldwide, bringing our six-year total to almost 50,000. Among the countries receiving aid in 2014-15 were the Philippines, Mexico and Vietnam.
When California Knights traveled to the Philippines to help distribute wheelchairs, one of the recipients was a 96-year-old man who fought alongside U.S. forces in the Pacific during World War II.
Knights helped with other important needs as well, giving $4.1 million to benefit the elderly, $3.1 million to assist hospitals and health care facilities, and $7.6 million for community projects. Knights also provide housing for those in need. Last year, we donated $669,259 and 1.2 million volunteer hours to Habitat for Humanity.
These charitable works take a great deal of planning, but we also stand ready to help those affected by unexpected disasters.
This year we continued to help victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines through our Livelihood Project. In March, we delivered 100 motorized boats to Filipino fishermen whose boats were destroyed. That brought the total delivered to 226.
This project has helped not only fishermen, but also local carpenters who were hired to build these boats. The project was financed by donations of more than $850,000 from Knights and other donors to our emergency relief fund, which also received $250,000 from the Supreme Council.
The boats were blessed by Bishop Crispin Varquez of the Diocese of Borongan. Overseeing their delivery was Luzon Supreme Director Alonso L. Tan, former Visayas Deputy Rodrigo N. Sorongon and former Luzon Deputy Arsenio Yap.
Msgr. Pedro Quitorio, director of communications for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said of the donation: “[It was] a perfect example of a charity that evangelizes, and of neighbor helping neighbor. It showed exactly what the Knights of Columbus are all about. ... Everyone now knows that the Knights keep their promises, and when they help, it is not just for today, but for the long haul.”
We also provided assistance last year to those suffering from man-made tragedies in Ukraine and the Middle East. The conflict in Ukraine has created an enormous humanitarian catastrophe, especially during the freezing winter months. During that time, we provided $400,000 to relief programs sponsored by the Catholic Church in Ukraine. The Ukrainian-rite and Latin-rite Catholic communities each received $200,000 to feed and aid homeless children and refugees living in the capital city of Kiev, and to assist orphans and children separated from their families.
Also this year, British Columbia Knights led by Past State Deputy Edward J. Shawchuk distributed 280 wheelchairs in western Ukraine. Assisting the Canadian Knights were members of Councils 15801 and 16130 in Lviv, Ukraine.
The Knights of Columbus began working in Ukraine at the urging of His Beatitude Cardinal Lubomyr Husar in 2005. A formal presence was established in 2013, and we now have nine councils with 346 members in that country.
As we meet in the birthplace of American independence, we remember in a special way our brother Knights and their families — and indeed all the people of Ukraine. And we remember, too, the words of Benjamin Franklin: “Where freedom dwells, there is my country.”
Likewise, Iraqi and Syrian Christians, as well as other religious minorities, continue to face violent persecution and the very real prospect of extinction. Thousands have fled their homelands to escape forced conversion or martyrdom.
Our Knights of Columbus Christian Refugee Relief Fund donated $2.2 million to help these families in Iraq. Our donation paid for the construction of new homes on property owned by the Chaldean-rite Archdiocese of Erbil.
The houses were built mostly for Iraqi Christians who were driven from their homes in Mosul and the surrounding area — many of whom have been unable to find room even in emergency shelters. We also gave $150,000 to provide emergency medical care for refugees in Erbil this summer.
Our Christian Refugee Relief Fund has also sent $200,000 in general aid to the Melkite-rite Archeparchy of Aleppo, Syria. More recently, an additional $150,000 was donated after the diocesan facilities were bombed.
After learning of the Knights’ refugee fund, students at Holy Cross Academy in Oneida, N.Y., raised money to help. Students found donors who pledged to pay for every goal the school’s soccer team scored during the 2014 season. E. Bart Hanifin Council 473 in Oneida was the first to sign up. With the addition of other sponsors, the Holy Cross Academy team raised $3,325 for the fund.
In the United States and Canada, our Knights of Columbus Coats for Kids program is providing thousands of children in need with warm winter coats. Last year, 1,304 local councils purchased and distributed 60,000 coats — an increase of more than 8,000 from the previous year. Since 2009, we have distributed more than 230,000 new coats to children.
In Connecticut, Knights started an annual tradition of distributing coats on the day after Thanksgiving. As many people set out to shop on “Black Friday,” these Knights delivered 2,500 coats to children at seven sites throughout the state. This past year, similar Black Friday distributions were held in Minnesota, North Dakota, Arizona, Ohio and Washington, D.C.
This year, the Connecticut Coats for Kids program also established a partnership with police to bring warmth to even more children. The Connecticut State Council provided New Haven police officers with coats to distribute in local neighborhoods. The idea came from a conversation between a New Haven Police lieutenant and State Deputy Thomas J. Vita. We hope this program will expand in the future, as it is a great example of how Knights of Columbus can bring both charity and unity to our inner city communities.
Brother Knights also made a tremendous difference last year by providing millions of meals through our Food for Families program.
Simon’s Soup Kitchen, operated by Rev. Gebhard Braungart Council 8415 in Seaside Park, N.J., has served more than 100,000 meals. When it first opened in 2004, the kitchen served 50-75 people a week. It now serves 500 meals a week for 30 weeks a year. And in New Haven, the Knights of Columbus Supreme Council donated $100,000 to assist the Connecticut Food Bank in providing meals during the Christmas season.
In the Philippines, brother Knights work to break the cycle of poverty by encouraging microbusiness initiatives. Diego Silang Council 7656 of Quezon City, Luzon, sponsored a new-business seminar at Our Lady of Fatima Church, which drew 29 participants. The event made recommendations on identifying opportunities, as well as advice on how to use recycled materials to cut costs.
Ever since our sponsorship of the first national blood drive in the United States in 1938, we have continued to lead in this effort. During the past year we enlisted the support of 404,532 blood donors.
The work of many of our councils has been truly outstanding. For example, over the past decade, Father Richard C. Joyce Council 2270 in Montgomery, N.Y., has collected 2,120 pints of blood.
Our charitable work seeks to change lives even where we do not have local councils.
Through the sponsorship of the Knights of Columbus, three Haitians journeyed to Rome for a meeting marking the fifth anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010. The three men — members of the Haitian amputee soccer team sponsored by the Knights of Columbus — were introduced to Pope Francis, to whom they presented a team jersey and a ball signed by their fellow teammates.
They also showed off their remarkable skills with Italian soccer players at our Knights of Columbus soccer field in Rome. The three players — Wilfrid Macena, Mackenson Pierre and Sandy J.L. Louiseme — had all received prosthetic and rehabilitation care through our partnership with the University of Miami’s Project Medishare. This partnership, through the Healing Haiti’s Children program, also made free prosthetics and rehabilitation services available to every child who lost a limb in the earthquake. With Medishare’s medical expertise and the Knights of Columbus’ funding of nearly $1.7 million, approximately 1,000 people received prosthetic limbs and more than 25,000 people received rehabilitation services.
Councils have looked beyond their own communities in many ways. Last summer, Troy (Ill.) Council 9266 raised more than $9,000 to pay for educational costs, school supplies, clothing and food for children in Kenya.
Elsewhere in Africa, the Knights of Columbus continues working with the Apostles of Jesus to provide care and shelter for children in Uganda and Kenya who have been orphaned because of AIDS. We built a school in Uganda, where a dormitory for students was recently completed. In addition, our funds provided a new bus to transport students safely to and from school in Kenya.