Late-19th century Connecticut was marked by the growing fraternal benefit societies, anti-Catholic prejudice and dangerous factory working conditions that left many families fatherless. Recognizing a need in his community, Father Michael J. McGivney, the 29-year-old assistant pastor of St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Conn., gathered a group of men at his parish on Oct. 2, 1881. He proposed establishing a lay organization to prevent Catholic men from entering secret societies antithetical to Church teaching, uniting Catholic men and helping families of deceased members.
To demonstrate their loyalty to their country as well as their faith, these men took Christopher Columbus — recognized as a Catholic and celebrated as the discoverer of America – as their patron. The Knights of Columbus elected officers in February 1882 and assumed corporate status on March 29.
In addition to the Order’s benefits, Catholic men were drawn to the Knights because of its emphasis on serving one’s Church, community and family with virtue. Fraternity and patriotism were added to the Knights’ founding principles of charity and unity in 1885 and 1900, respectively.
1882: The Knights of Columbus is born on Feb. 6, 1882, when the first members choose Columbus as their patron. Immediately after the Order’s March 29 incorporation, Father McGivney sends a diocesan-wide appeal for new members to priests.
1886: By the end of his four-year term as supreme knight, James T. Mullen presides at the institution of 22 of the first 38 councils. John J. Phelan is elected and is the first supreme knight to see the Order’s future as a national society.
1890: Father McGivney dies Aug. 14, 1890.
1892: The Order passes laws allowing noninsurance (associate members) to join.
1892: 6,000 Knights march in the New Haven Columbus Day parade to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of the New World.
1895: The Vatican’s first acknowledgment of the Knights comes when Archbishop Francesco Satolli, apostolic delegate to the United States, writes a letter extolling the “merits of this splendid Catholic organization” and giving the Order his apostolic blessing.
1897: On Nov. 25, 1897, Canada’s first council — Montreal Council 284 — is chartered.