When Fr. Michael J. McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882, he had two goals. The first was to provide a social and financial safety net for widows and orphans. The second was to provide a viable alternative for the men in his parish – particularly the young – to strengthen their faith in the midst of a hostile environment. For Father McGivney, who was only 29 years old when he founded the organization, the Knights of Columbus provided an opportunity for men to strengthen their faith, establish new and lasting friendships, serve their communities and participate in wholesome, family-centered social activities.
Established less than 30 years after Fr. McGivney founded the first council in New Haven, Conn., the Knights of Columbus’ College Council program has been a natural extension of the founder’s mission.
With long-standing councils at major institutions such as the University of Notre Dame, home of the first college council, The Catholic University of America and Texas A&M University, the College Council program has been a bright beacon of faith and service on their college campuses and in their local communities for decades.
That success has inspired the creation of new councils at schools all across the country — at places like the Air Force Academy, Louisiana State University and Harvard University. Currently, the program boasts over 275 councils and more than 24,000 members.
In the Knights of Columbus, college students find a place where they can express their faith through service, grow in their knowledge of themselves and their beliefs, and find friends who are experiencing the same challenges and who share the same Catholic faith and desire to make a difference in their community and church
“I firmly believe that joining [the Knights of Columbus] has allowed me to jumpstart my journey toward authentic Catholic manhood,” said James Holt, grand knight of the Harvard University Council.
“It’s given me great confidence in who I am and who God has made me to be,” echoed David Burkey, grand knight at the University of Maryland.
These groups of men on campuses throughout North America provide a tremendous service to each other and their surrounding areas. “The role of the Georgetown council,” explains grand knight Kiernan Raval, “is first to offer Catholic men a place to grow in their faith and in fraternity with one another. In the community, we exist as a force for charity and service. On campus, we are here to defend and promote the Catholic faith and the Church’s teachings, even when unpopular. We exist as the ‘strong right arm of the Church’ to bear witness to Georgetown’s Catholic, Jesuit identity and to build that up.”
College councils provide these services in many ways.
For forty years, the Notre Dame council has run a successful fundraiser by selling steak sandwiches prior to all home Notre Dame football games, raising more than $1 million for charity. The proceeds go to a mix of local, national and international organizations, many of which the council works with regularly.
After noticing a lack of reading materials at many local schools, Knights at Louisiana State University organized a book drive that collected over 4,300 books for these schools. They created such a lasting impression on their community that even though the event has ended, the council still receives calls from individuals who wish to donate more booksand the Knights continue to coordinate these donations.
College Knights have also reached out to help members of the military. When the council at Texas A&M learned through a fellow Knight serving in Afghanistan that his chaplain lacked essential Catholic supplies, they collected funds and purchased catechisms, prayer cards, hand-outs and other religious items to aid soldiers in deepening their faith.
“We are servant leaders for our community,” explained Thomas Comberiate, grand knight of the council at the University of Illinois, at Urbana-Champaign. His council embarked on an ambitious outreach program called “Labre Runs”, through which council members provided clothing, food, and companionship to the homeless in their community.
The College Knights also stand on the front lines of the New Evangelization. “While it may be convenient to keep our evangelization within the walls of our Catholic Student Center or the council chamber,” explained Burkey, “we’re called to a greater mission in working to engage our campus community in the work of Christ and His Church.”
Following the announcement of the controversial Health and Human Services mandate this Spring, Knights at Georgetown quickly answered that call. Many students at Georgetown University sought to convince the school to provide birth control and contraceptives in its student health insurance plan. As part of a larger campaign for religious liberty, Georgetown’s Knights Council 6375 created a petition urging the university to clarify their position and to uphold Catholic teaching. After collecting signatures from more than 100 students and alumni, the Knights sent the petition to the University president. He responded by sending an e-mail to students that reaffirmed the Catholic identity of the University and the school’s continued policy to not include health options that are contrary to Church teaching.
These opportunities for charity and evangelization have lasting impacts on college Knights. For many, it becomes a way of life and they stay active in their Knights of Columbus memberhsip long after they leave campus. “The Knights of Columbus [is an organization] for young and old alike,” said James Holt. “It’s an institution meant for men ready and able to build up the Church.”