A heavyweight boxing champion, a Korean statesman and a spy-catching priest would seem to have little in common. But the men who call themselves “brothers” in the Knights of Columbus are not united by similar life experiences, but by faith, fraternity and charity.
The new book The Knights of Columbus: An Illustrated History, by Andrew and Maureen Walther, is a comprehensive history of the Order featuring fresh research and over 500 images. In addition to telling the story of the Order’s founding, mission and growth, it shines a spotlight on more than 20 “Notable Knights” — such as baseball great Babe Ruth, U.S. presidential candidate Al Smith and Canadian prime minister Louis St. Laurent — who have brought distinction to the Order over the years. Four of these profiles are excerpted here.
Defender of Democracy: John Chang Myon
Although later known for his active political career in South Korea, Chang Myon — or John Chang Myon, as he was known in the United States — began his professional life working for the Church. In 1925, after graduating from Manhattan College in the United States, he was employed by the Pyongyang diocese, where he translated religious terms into the Korean language and assumed other teaching and administrative duties. Chang would remain a devout Catholic throughout his life.
After World War II ended and Korea was divided into North and South, Chang entered politics, filling several positions for the Republic of Korea (South Korea). … In his role as ambassador to the United States from 1949 to 1951, Chang successfully appealed for international and United States military assistance against North Korea, eventually leading to U.S. involvement.
The Knights of Columbus would not be established in Korea for another six decades, but in December 1949, Chang joined Washington Council 224 in Washington, D.C. He attended the 1950 Supreme Convention, where he was widely acclaimed as the Order’s first Korean Knight.
Chang Myon’s political service continued as he became deeply involved in South Korea’s struggles for democracy. In 1950, he became prime minister. In 1956, he won the vice presidential election. In 1960, when he ran for reelection, he lost by such a wide margin, there was suspicion that the election had been compromised.
The government then fell and the “Second Republic” adopted a parliamentary model, shifting power from the president to the prime minister, a position to which Chang was elected in 1960. However, that arrangement was shortlived, and when a violent rebellion overthrew the government and instituted martial law, Chang was forced to take refuge in a convent.
After Chang’s forced exit from the political arena, he dedicated himself to his faith and is said to have inspired the conversion of many of the people who had worked with him. He often attended daily Mass and was a Third Order Franciscan. … His religious convictions also helped shape the lives of his nine children, who included Sister Benedict Chang Yi-sook and Bishop John Chang Yik.
Champion With a Heart of Gold: Floyd Patterson
Raised in an impoverished Brooklyn family, young Floyd Patterson struggled. Shy, virtually illiterate, and often truant or stealing food, Patterson ended up in reform school. Surrounded by supportive instructors, he was introduced to boxing — and it helped him rebuild his life. His skill swiftly catapulted him to the top. A protégé of Constantine (Cus) D’Amato, the teenage Patterson won the 1952 middleweight Olympic gold medal. At age 21, he become the youngest world heavyweight champion, holding the title for three years, then regaining it in 1960 — another first. Along with his hallmark “peek-a-boo” style, his sportsmanship stood out in gestures like helping an opponent up off the mat or refusing to gain an “unfair advantage” by watching a future opponent train.
There were battles outsides the ring too. Patterson strongly promoted civil rights and integration, despite opposition. In 1957, a hostile crowd of white locals impeded his arrival in Fort Smith, Ark., where he had a scheduled stop on an exhibition tour. A priest — himself an integration supporter — intervened, bringing Patterson and his entourage to the church and hosting them at the rectory. Soon after, Patterson demanded integrated venues for boxing.
He later traveled to Birmingham, Ala., standing with Martin Luther King Jr. amid death threats, and he decried his opponent Muhammad Ali’s embrace of the Nation of Islam for its divisive outlook on race, stating that it “preach[ed] hate and separation instead of love and integration.”
While heavyweight champion, Patterson converted to Catholicism in 1957. He later joined the Knights of Columbus in New Paltz, N.Y., and became, in biographer W.K. Stratton’s words, “a mainstay” of Knights’ events. He also helped the parish by distributing holy Communion at the local nursing home, calling himself “the eucharistic minister with the biggest hands.” Despite his love of his sport, he once mused that if the Church forbade boxing, he would give it up. When an interviewer later recalled these words for Patterson and asked if his faith was still as strong, he replied that it was even stronger.
A Coach for the Ages: Vince Lombardi
A man with strong Catholic faith and an unparalleled coaching career, Vincent “Vince” T. Lombardi is rightly one of the most revered coaches in NFL history. Within two years of taking over the struggling Green Bay Packers in 1959, he led them to two consecutive NFL championships, soon followed by a third championship, as well as victories in Super Bowls I and II. When he retired, Lombardi’s career coaching record stood at 105 wins, 36 losses and six ties.
But beyond his coaching expertise, he earned regard for his values, which he both lived on his own and instilled in his team, urging hard work and discipline for overcoming problems and achieving goals. Believing faith was important in every life, he considered daily Mass and Communion the source of his strength, and he often led his Catholic players to Mass. Lombardi joined Msgr. Basche Council 4505 in Green Bay, Wis., and later became a Fourth Degree Knight.
A believer in civil rights, Lombardi famously would not tolerate racial prejudice — and not just among his players. He made it clear to local shops and restaurants that if they refused to serve any of his players because of their skin color, they would be boycotted by the entire team. And players who displayed any act of prejudice would be dropped from the team.
When Lombardi died in 1970 at age 57, thousands attended his funeral at New York City’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Decades later, he remains one of the most notable sports figures of all time. Despite his success and the high regard in which he was held, Lombardi never lost sight of his purpose in life. This was perhaps best expressed by the following words, which he spoke to his players:
“After all the cheers have died down and the stadium is empty, after the headlines have been written, and after you are back in the quiet of your room and the championship ring has been placed on the dresser, and after all the pomp and fanfare have faded, the enduring thing that is left is the dedication to doing with our lives the very best we can to make the world a better place in which to live.”
Espionage Expert: Father Robert Graham, S.J.
Known as “the Vatican spy catcher,” Jesuit Father Robert Graham spent his life both researching Church history and making it.
Born in 1912 and ordained in 1941, the California native spent two decades at the Jesuit magazine America, including as an editor, and published his first book, Vatican Diplomacy, after earning a doctorate in political science and international law from the University of Geneva.
With Soviet-backed disinformation slandering Pope Pius XII as pro-Nazi, Graham was brought to the Vatican to research and report the truth. … Although best known for making public Pope Pius XII’s efforts to save the Jews during the Holocaust, Graham’s research also uncovered anti-Vatican espionage by Nazi, fascist and Soviet entities. …
Father Graham also wrote a monthly “Vatican” column for Columbia magazine from the 1960s to the early 1990s. Combining his knowledge of the Church with diplomatic acumen and journalistic skill, his column analyzed Church affairs in a global light.
Working in Rome during the Cold War, Graham’s knowledge of tactics against the Catholic Church proved particularly relevant. As Soviet-era documents continue to reveal, the KGB and its affiliates attempted to destabilize the Church with “active measures.” … Occasionally he even discussed such issues in Columbia. One 1969 column was titled “The story of bugging at the Vatican.” In it, Graham wrote: “The Vatican telephones have been tapped, confidential messages by radio or telegraph intercepted and decoded, files rifled, and the Holy See’s representatives abroad surrounded by informers. It has had to cope with hidden radio transmitters, fake students planted in Roman seminaries, traitorous workers in its offices and agents sent from the world’s capitals to gather classified information.” …
Graham’s ability to detect and expose those spying for the Soviets became legendary. … His efforts were highlighted in the book Spies in the Vatican by John Koehler, a former Associated Press journalist and American OSS intelligence officer. …
A member of Msgr. John T. Dwyer Council 9851 in Saratoga, Calif., Father Graham witnessed the rise and fall of both fascism and communism in Europe during his lifetime. He moved back to the Golden State, publishing two more books related to World War II — one with David Alvarez on Nazi espionage against the Vatican, another on the Vatican’s experience with communism — before his death in 1997.
The Knights of Columbus: An Illustrated History
In this new history of the Order, inspiring stories from more than 135 years of charity and fraternity are paired with hundreds of the best photos from the Knights of Columbus archives.
The hardcover book is available online and at local bookstores with a price of $34.95. It can be ordered at Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.
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