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Pushing Boundaries - A History of the Knights of Columbus

Part III: The Origins of the Knights of Columbus

Father Michael J. McGivney

During the Civil War, many of the nation’s native Protestants had the same question about the tide of immigrant Catholics, overwhelmingly Irish, that had been surging across the Atlantic: Just how American — how real, pure, genuine American — were they?

Some New Haven men thought they had answered that once and for all by joining the Union Army and serving alongside scores of thousands of other Irish immigrants. So deep was the bond they formed among themselves while fighting for their new nation that they stuck together after they returned home. Their regular meetings evolved into a fraternal group that took its name, the Red Knights, from the color of the blankets they had carried in their knapsacks.

And when a young curate at St. Mary’s got the idea to start a Catholic fraternal organization, he borrowed many of his ideas about its form and purpose, as well as most of its first leaders, from this local group of patriotic Catholics.

Father Michael J. Mc- Givney was himself the son of immigrants. Like many other first- and second-generation Americans, he was concerned about what role the faith his family had brought from the Old World would have in a new world that often regarded it with suspicion, even scorn.

The Church provided spiritual sustenance to be sure, but what practical value might it additionally offer? How might it keep men from drifting away from the faith and into the competing rituals of the secret societies that were so popular? How might it help the families left behind, as his own had been, when fathers died too young, felled by hard jobs and heart-straining worries at the bottom of the economic ladder? How might it help Catholics become better Catholics at the same time that they became better Americans?

Part II | Part IV

Historical Highlights
125 Years in Review
The McGivney Legacy
Supreme Knights Gallery
St. Mary’s Church
Papal Moments
At Work Everywhere
His Timeless Message
Faith in Action
Knights of Columbus Photo Album