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Pushing Boundaries - A History of the Knights of Columbus

Father Michael J. McGivney
Over the course of its history, the Knights of Columbus has been an unstoppable force for good in the Church and society.

Learn how a handful of immigrant Catholic men, led by one visionary priest, Father Michael J. McGivney, seized the spirit of their times to found an organization whose appeal is timeless because its goals are for all eternity.

by Kevin Coyne

At each crossroads, each hamlet, each farm town it passed on its way south through Nebraska, the festive campaign train was met by curious onlookers straining for a glimpse of the man who hoped to be the next president of the United States.

They sat in their Model Ts as it sped past them into the next cornfield. They waved from station platforms when it stopped long enough for Al Smith to step out and doff his signature brown derby.

Al Smith

In Fairbury, 800 of them cheered as a band struck up “The Sidewalks of New York,” a song about a place few of them had ever seen. A local banker welcomed the governor from the East, predicting a “tidal wave” of votes six weeks hence.

Kansas, reliably Republican Kansas, greeted the Democratic nominee with even bigger crowds as the train sped south through the sun-baked afternoon: more than 1,000 at Belleville and Clay Center, 4,000 at Manhattan. At nightfall the train reached Topeka, home of the vice-presidential nominee on the opposing ticket. Spectators climbed the sides of the campaign car and Governor Smith walked back and forth across the platform in the ghostly light of white flares, swinging his derby and shaking every hand he could reach.

On days like this, it was easy to believe that he might actually win. The voters of a largely Protestant nation might set aside fear and prejudice and elect a Catholic to lead them.

About the Author

Kevin Coyne is the author of numerous magazine articles and books including Domers: A Year at Notre Dame (Penguin, 1996) and Marching Home: To War and Back with the Men of One American Town (Viking Penguin, 2003).

He is a professor of journalism at Columbia University and a columnist for the New Jersey edition of the Sunday New York Times. Coyne is working on a new  history of the Knights of Columbus.

The train left Topeka and sped through the night toward Oklahoma. There, Smith was scheduled to deliver a major speech meant to show the farmers of the nation’s vast midsection that a man from the teeming streets of the Lower East Side of Manhattan could understand their problems.

It was in the last hours before dawn, after the train had crossed the state line and Smith was asleep, that some of the passengers looked out the windows and noticed a light in the distance — a cross burning in a field, a poisonous welcome from a group that was particularly active in Oklahoma, the Ku Klux Klan.

Part I | Part II

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