By Henry M. Holden
The Knights of Columbus is a global fraternal service organization for Catholic men. The organization was founded in 1882 as a mutual benefit society for working-class and immigrant Catholics in the United States.
“Back in 1882, it wasn’t a good time to be a Catholic worker in America” said Grand Knight Tom Rohe. “There were the NINA Laws, “No Irish Need Apply.”
“Father Michael J. McGivney, a young assistant pastor of St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, CT., saw the discrimination and formed a group of Catholic men and Catholic families who would help each other since no one else would. This was during a time when there was no welfare no Social Security and basically no social services for the poor.”
On March 29, 1882, the Connecticut state legislature on officially chartered the Knights of Columbus as a fraternal benefit society.
“His purpose in calling them together was to help Catholic men remain steadfast in their faith through mutual encouragement, and promoting closer ties of fraternity among them,” said Rohe. He also set up a basic system of insurance so that the widows and children of members in the group who died would not find themselves in dire financial straits.
“There was no protection for the wives and the widows or children of the deceased men who back then were the only breadwinners. So, Father McGivney formed an insurance company where members dropped $.50 into a bucket each time they met. When a brother needed help, or a wife needed help because her husband died the Knights would provide for her.”
In 1968, ten men sitting around a table discussed the possibility of forming a Knights of Columbus Council in Mount Olive. With the blessings of Father Leo P. Carey, pastor of St. Jude’s Church, the formation of the Mount Olive Columbian Club became a reality.
On July 18, 1968 saw the Knights of Columbus Council 6100 established with 85 knights. The organization was well on its way to becoming one of the township’s largest with a current membership roll of 300 members.
“It was through the efforts of many of the founding members that the Mount Olive Squires were formed,” said Rohe. On January 17, 1971 twenty-two young Catholic men put their signatures on the charter of the St. Jude Columbian Squires 2192.
“The Squires is a youth group that’s affiliated with the Knights of Columbus. They range in age from 10 through 18,” said Rohe. “We are a faith-based organization, that serves God and our fellow man. We try and teach these boys leadership skills. We feel the quality of the young men that come out of this program is probably better than ever because it takes so much more to make it happen.”
1998 saw the renaming of the council. Prior to that it was known as the Men’s Council of the Knights of Columbus.
“When our former chaplain Father Joseph Cassidy passed away, we wanted some way to honor and remember him so we renamed the council on July 26, 1998 as the Father Joseph A. Cassidy Council 6100,” said Rohe.
Today, the Knights of Columbus is 15,900 councils and 1.9 million members throughout the United States, Canada, the Philippines, Mexico, Europe, and the countries in the Caribbean, and South Pacific.
Their charitable activities encompass local, national and international projects. From international charitable partnerships with Special Olympics, the Global Wheelchair Mission, and Habitat for Humanity, to our own Food for Families and Coats for Kids projects and other local charities. The opportunity to work together with fellow Knights and their families is virtually endless.
In 2017, the Knights of Columbus set a new all-time record for the 19th consecutive year. Charitable donations increased from $177 million in 2016, to a new total of $185,652,989 in 2017. “In addition, we achieved our highest level of charitable service in 2017, volunteering more than 75 million hours of service.”
“The founding officers of the fledgling organization chose the name “Knights of Columbus” because they felt that, as a Catholic group, it should relate to Christopher Columbus, the Catholic discoverer of America,” said Rohe. “This would emphasize that it was a Catholic who discovered, explored, and colonized the North American continent. At the same time “Knights” would signify that the membership embodied knightly ideals of spirituality and service to Church, country and fellowman.”
One hundred thirty-eight years later, the Knights is still true to its founding principles of spirituality and service to Church, country and fellowman. “Join us and you can make a difference,” said Rohe.