Since Christopher Columbus’ arrival in 1493 during his second voyage, Puerto Rico has been a stronghold of the Catholic faith in the Caribbean. When Columbus landed upon the island of Boriquén in November 1493 during his second voyage, he christened it San Juan, in honor of St. John the Baptist.
Four centuries later, with help from the New York State council degree team, the Knights of Columbus officially expanded to Puerto Rico on Jan. 13, 1911. Council 1543 in San Juan was named after St. John the Baptist — an homage to the legacy of Christopher Columbus. Today, the Knights’ presence there consists of 77 councils and approximately 3,700 members. All of Puerto Rico’s bishops are Knights, and Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves, O.F.M, of San Juan began his membership with the Order as a Columbian Squire.
“The Knights in Puerto Rico are strong and active today,” said Past State Deputy (1987-90) Manuel Rivera-Santiago, noting that the Knights have rekindled in the Puerto Rican Catholic Church the faith brought there by Columbus. “The Catholic faith from Spain entered into our people very strongly.” According to Rivera-Santiago, this faith is strengthened today through “our example as practicing Catholics, dedicated in our daily lives to our families, to brotherhood, to Columbian principles. We stand together and back the Church, our clergy — and the needs of the people, which are often many.”
These experiences have fashioned a strong emphasis on service projects in the field. And of the Order’s 75 worldwide jurisdictions, Puerto Rico was one of only 15 to donate more than $100 per member in charitable giving, according to the 2009 Survey of Fraternal Activity.
For more on the rich history of the Knights of Columbus in Puerto Rico, see the February 2011 issue of Columbia magazine.