By Henry M Holden
In the late 1800s, Connecticut had growing fraternal benefit societies, anti-Catholic prejudice and dangerous factory working conditions that left many families fatherless. There was no protection for the wives and the widows or children of the deceased men who back then were the only breadwinners.
In 1881, a 29-year-old assistant pastor of St. Mary’s Church, in New Haven, Conn, gathered a small group of men at his parish. His goal was to provide a service and charity to meet the needs of immigrants, refugees and families suffering from the death of the breadwinner, usually the father.
“That group of men, led by Father Michael J. McGivney, began as a small service organization on Feb. 6, 1882,” said Steven Niblett, Knights of Columbus Membership Director.
Father McGivney formed an insurance company where members dropped $.50 into a bucket each time they met. When a brother knight needed help, or a wife needed help because her husband had died the Knights would provide for her. “The founder 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 Niblett. “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.
“It was not a good time to be a Catholic or Irish in America” said Niblett. “There were the NINA Laws, and signs in store windows proclaiming, No Irish Need Apply. It was in a time when there was no Social Security and basically no social services or safety net for the poor.
“Charity is at the heart of our work and our faith — and it always has been,” said Niblett. “For the Knights of Columbus, charity means supporting a virtually boundless variety of projects.
“We are men who lead, serve, protect and defend, whether we are giving out Coats for Kids, lending a hand in disaster relief efforts, or supporting local pregnancy centers by donating ultrasound machines.”
The most effective pro-life program which the Order has undertaken is the Knights of Columbus Ultrasound Initiative which has funded 979 ultrasound machines in all 50 states and Canada, with a total value of more than $48 million.
July 18, 1968 saw the Mount Olive Knights of Columbus Council 6100 established with 85 knights. “When our former chaplain Father Joseph Cassidy passed away, we wanted a way to honor and remember him, so we renamed the council on July 26, 1998 the Father Joseph A. Cassidy Council 6100,” said Niblett.
“It was through the efforts of many of the founding Knights that the Mount Olive Squires were formed,” said Niblett. “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 is affiliated with the Knights of Columbus. They range in age from 10 through 18,” said Niblett. “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.
“As the coronavirus pandemic continues, our duty is to lead our families, protect our parishes, and serve our communities, remembering always that where there is a need, there is a Knight.
“Many families have already stocked their personal pantries in preparation for a quarantine. This has resulted in reduced donations to local food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens. So, now we have a need that we must fill.”
Today, the Knights of Columbus is almost 2 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.”
One hundred forty years later, the Knights are still true to their founding principles of spirituality and service to Church, country, and fellowman. “Join us to help make a difference, and enjoy the fellowship of your brother knights,” said Niblett.
For more information see www.kofc.org or call Steve Niblett (201) 874-2007.
Caption: “Charity is at the heart of our work and our faith — and it always has been,” said Steve Niblett. “For the Knights of Columbus, charity means supporting a virtually boundless variety of projects. (Credit KOFC)