Our History, Our Future
8/1/2012by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson
Inspired by brother Knights of the past, we stand firm in our faith and dedicate ourselves to charity and justice
In 1827, Charles Carroll, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence and the only Catholic to do so, wrote this about the freedoms that the founders of the United States had secured: “God grant that this religious liberty may be preserved in these States to the end of time, and that all believing in the religion of Christ may practice the leading principle of charity, the basis of every virtue.”
A little more than half a century later, a young parish priest in New Haven, Conn., and a handful of the young “go-ahead” men of the city gathered in the basement of their church to establish a new organization dedicated to the principles of religious freedom and charity. These were men who had experienced the trauma of a bitter civil war and who had heard the stirring call of President Abraham Lincoln, declaring that their nation “under God” must have a “new birth of freedom” and become a place “with malice toward none, with charity for all.” And they took to heart Lincoln’s admonition to act with “firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right.”
The spark those men lit in the cause of Catholic fraternalism soon captured the imagination of a generation of Catholic men as the Knights of Columbus spread throughout the United States and into Canada, Mexico and the Philippines within its first 25 years.
For decades, Catholics throughout the United States suffered the indignity of being deprived of the right to vote or hold public office. “Know Nothings” and other bigots claimed that Catholics who remained faithful to the pope could never be loyal citizens in a democracy. It was the Knights of Columbus that finally challenged that slander, first with the creation of the Order’s patriotic degree in 1900 and later with a tremendous outpouring of support and service in the First World War.
When the history of the Catholic Church in America was maligned, we established the K of C Historical Commission and endowed a professorship in history at The Catholic University of America to set the record straight. When extremists such as the Ku Klux Klan sought the prohibition of Catholic schools throughout the United States, we stood with the Society of Sisters of the Holy Name of Jesus and Mary and helped them bring their case challenging the constitutionality of such a law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. When many in America were drawing barriers based on race and religion, we raised a banner saying “Everybody Welcome.” And when Catholics in Mexico faced the most dreadful persecution of Christians ever experienced in the Western Hemisphere, we launched a nationwide campaign to bring attention to their plight, even as many brother Knights in Mexico sacrificed their lives in witness to our faith.
Throughout our history, Knights have been men who were undeterred by adversity and discrimination. Some lived to see their sons and grandsons become governors, justices, premiers, prime ministers and presidents. They were men who, for the most part, joined the Knights of Columbus not to engage in the great controversies of the day, but to improve the lives of their families; to provide financial security for their wives and children; to strengthen their parishes; and to make their communities better. But when challenges and controversies came, they were men who did not step aside. In the words of Lincoln, they remained firm in the right as God gave them to see the right.
As we reflect on the astonishing accomplishments of the Order over the past 130 years, we might reasonably ask whether our founder, Venerable Michael McGivney, could have imagined all that his brother Knights would achieve. Would he even recognize the Knights of Columbus today?
I believe the answer to those questions is “yes.” I believe Father McGivney could see into the hearts of the men who gathered with him at St. Mary’s Church. He knew their aspirations and he knew what they were capable of. I believe our saintly founder sees exactly those same qualities in his brother Knights today. And 100 years from now, he will not be surprised by what his brother Knights have continued to accomplish.