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Co-Workers in Christ’s Vineyard


Pope John Paul II meets with Past Supreme Knight Virgil C. Dechant and Supreme Officers in Washington, D.C., Oct. 7, 1979. (L’Osservatore Romano via Knights of Columbus Multimedia Archive)

Over the course of his 26-year pontificate, Pope John Paul II addressed more than two-dozen messages of appreciation for and encouragement to the Knights of Columbus. In many ways, his speeches to the K of C Board of Directors and his letters to the annual Supreme Convention highlighted the Order’s role as collaborators in the Church’s mission to radiate the Gospel and cultivate a civilization of love.

The Knights worked closely with John Paul II throughout his papacy, from co-sponsoring his 1995 Mass at Aqueduct Racetrack in New York and assisting with other papal trips to restoring the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica and bolstering the Vatican’s telecommunication capabilities. In the pages that follow, a timeline and photos highlight these and other significant collaborative efforts between the Knights and John Paul II.

Recalling these signposts of solidarity with the pope, we also remember that the Order’s unity with John Paul II is grounded in the Church’s pastoral work. In a private audience with the supreme directors in October 1988, the Holy Father said, “The greatest joy and consolation that [the Knights] bring to the heart of the pope are the result of all that you are doing to protect the Christian family and the right to life from conception until death, to promote evangelization, Catholic education, parish life and vocations to the priesthood and religious life.”

Today, the Knights’ friendship with John Paul II endures amid the communion of saints, as the Order is inspired to continue the work of building a culture of life and a civilization of love. 

  • 1978: The Order underwrites the costs to telecast the inauguration of Pope John Paul II’s pontificate and funds a film of the pope’s first trip to Mexico.

  • 1979: In October, the Order collaborates with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to provide funding to film the entire journey of Pope John Paul II to the United States.

  • 1981: The Order establishes the Knights of Columbus Vicarius Christi Fund in the amount of $10 million, the earnings of which are presented to the pope in perpetuity for his charitable purposes.

  • 1983: The Order provides financial assistance to the pope to help offset the annual operating budget of the San Lorenzo International Youth Center in Rome.

“Whenever I think of the Knights of Columbus, I am reminded with joy of a rich heritage of faith, fraternity and service, and of a shining example of Catholic laity involved in the mission of the Church.”

— Message to 101st Supreme Convention, Columbus, Ohio, July 21, 1983

  • 1984: The Supreme Council authorizes a special $1 per capita assessment on Canadian members to assist the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in defraying expenses related to John Paul II’s visit.

  • 1985: The Order provides funding for the Vatican Television Center (CTV) to purchase a mobile television production studio, which enables CTV to document the words and activities of John Paul II for use by the world press and to produce other programs on the pope’s journeys, activities and speeches.

  • 1985: At the pope’s wish, expressed through the Fabbrica di San Pietro, the Order is presented with the opportunity to restore the entire façade of St. Peter’s Basilica, which had not been cleaned for 350 years.

  • 1986: Pope John Paul II presents the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, Conn., with the copper cross that, since 1614, was held in the arms of the statue of Christ at the top of St. Peter’s façade. The gift is given in appreciation for the Order’s collaboration in restoring the façade and related work.

“The financing of the repair and maintenance of the façade of Saint Peter’s Basilica and the colossal statues above is yet one more symbol of the dedicated spirit of your esteemed organization and of your devotion and fidelity to the successor of St. Peter.”

—John Paul II’s speech during ceremony for the completion of renovations on the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica, Feb. 23, 1987

  • 1989: The Knights of Columbus provides funding for the publication of The Pope Speaks to the American Church, a complete collection of the pope’s addresses to Catholics in the United States 1979-88.

  • 1990: The Order develops and distributes a study guide on the pope’s 1989 apostolic exhortation Christifideles Laici, on the vocation and mission of the laity.

“By reason of your Order’s distinguished record of concern for the poor, the disadvantaged and the unborn in particular, I am confident that the Knights of Columbus will continue to be in the forefront of the Church’s efforts to promote a ‘culture of life’ (cf. Centesimus Annus, 39).”

—Message to 109th Supreme Convention, St. Louis, July 4, 1991

  • 1991: August marks the launch of an Orderwide Quincentennial Prayer Service centering on replicas of the cross presented by Pope John Paul II to the bishops of the Americas in 1984 in the Dominican Republic.

  • 1995: On Oct. 5, Pope John Paul II blesses the new headquarters of the Permanent Observer Mission at the United Nations in New York City, which was funded by the Order. The Knights and the Diocese of Brooklyn co-host the pope’s Mass at Aqueduct Racetrack Oct. 6.

  • 1996: The Order publishes a study guide for John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life).

  • 1997: Supreme Knight and Mrs. Virgil C. Dechant represent the Order at the Rio de Janeiro International Conference on Family attended by Pope John Paul II in October.

  • 1997: John Paul II receives the Supreme Officers in audience Dec. 11. A spiritual bouquet of prayers is offered by Knights to mark his 50th anniversary as a priest.

  • 1998: The Order provides a grant to the bishops’ conference of Cuba to help with expenses of Pope John Paul II’s visit there.

  • 1998: The pope receives the Board of Directors in audience Oct. 15. He blesses a mosaic of Our Lady of Guadalupe commissioned from the Vatican Mosaic Studios for the Knights of Columbus Museum.

  • 1999: In January, the Order announces funding for the restoration of the 17th-century Maderno Atrium and the Holy Door in St. Peter’s Basilica as a gift to the pope and to the universal Church for the jubilee year 2000.

“In a society that urgently needs to rediscover the true face of manhood, the quiet example of men whose lives are shaped by the virtues of faith, integrity, fidelity, hard work and generous concern for others, can be an immensely effective testimony to the Gospel. …

“The history of the Knights of Columbus shows how a small group of men inspired by Christian faith and charitable concern were able to inspire a movement of immense fruitfulness for the advance of God’s kingdom on earth.”

—Message to 117th Supreme Convention, St. Paul-Minneapolis, May 21, 1999

  • 2000: On May 21, Pope John Paul II canonizes 25 Mexican martyrs, victims of the religious persecution of the 1920s. Six of the priests canonized were members of the Knights of Columbus.

  • 2000: The Order funds the telecast of the pope’s visit to the Holy Land in March.

  • 2001: On April 29, John Paul II beatifies Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, a member of the Knights of Columbus in Puerto Rico.

  • 2002: As a sign of solidarity with the pope, the Order establishes in March the $2 million Pacem in Terris Fund, the earnings of which are used to promote peace initiatives in the Holy Land and to assist the Latin Patriarchate in supporting the Christian community there.

  • 2002: Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson is granted a private audience by John Paul II April 26, at which time they discuss the cause for the canonization of the Order’s founder, Father Michael J. McGivney.

“I express once more my gratitude for the Knights’ unfailing commitment to promoting vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. Experience has shown that the more the lay apostolate develops, the more strongly the need for priests is felt; and the more the laity’s own sense of vocation is deepened, the more deeply is the unique role of priests appreciated.”

—Message to 120th Supreme Convention, Anaheim, Calif., July 10, 2002

  • 2002: For Christmas, the Order collaborates with the Pontifical Council for Social Communications on a streaming video production of a 24-hour television program celebrating the 25th Christmas of John Paul II’s pontificate.

Pope John Paul II blesses an image of Divine Mercy while meeting with Supreme Knight Anderson and his wife, Dorian, and Dr. Stanisław Grygiel in 2003. The image was used in a yearlong K of C prayer program for the pope and all priests. Also pictured (left) is then-Bishop Stanisław Dziwisz, the pope’s secretary. (L’Osservatore Romano via Knights of Columbus Multimedia Archive)

  • 2003: In response to the pope’s call for support of vocations, the Order undertakes a program centered on the 40th annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations, observed May 11.

“Father McGivney’s vision remains as relevant as ever in the changed circumstances of today’s Church and society. … By their example as Catholic men, husbands and fathers, their witness of love for the Church and their fidelity to her teaching, the Knights have contributed significantly to the Church’s interior renewal and her mission of evangelization. I am particularly grateful for the support that the Knights have given in the public forum regarding freedom in education, the truth about marriage and family life, and the need to respect the dignity and rights of each human person, from conception to natural death.”

—Message to 121st Supreme Convention, Washington, D.C., July 25, 2003

  • 2003: In October, the Order begins a yearlong prayer program in honor of John Paul II and priests through a Divine Mercy Prayer Service. The program features an image of Divine Mercy blessed by the pope.

  • 2003: In September, the Order begins its celebration of the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s pontificate with a special issue of Columbia.

  • 2003: In connection with the opening of the 2003 academic year, the Supreme Council presents some 4,000 seminarians with copies of a special edition of John Paul II’s book Gift and Mystery. The book commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Holy Father’s priesthood, celebrated in 1996.

  • 2005: Supreme Knight Anderson, Past Supreme Knight Dechant, their wives, and Count Enrico Demajo (director of the Order’s Rome office) represent

the Knights of Columbus at Pope John Paul II’s funeral April 8.

  • 2011: On Aug. 2, four months after John Paul II’s beatification, Supreme Knight Anderson announces the Order’s plan to open a shrine in Washington, D.C., dedicated to preserving the legacy of Blessed John Paul II.