Led by the quiet, unassuming curate of St. Mary’s Parish in New Haven, Conn., a small group of men established the Knights of Columbus in the church basement early in the spring of 1882. The priest, Father Michael J. McGivney, saw clearly that both Catholics and the Church faced serious problems in the last half of the nineteenth century such as anti-Catholicism and ethnic prejudice; under-employment; lack of social standing and early loss of the breadwinner.
To resolve those problems Father McGivney conceived the idea of an organization of Catholic men who would band together:
- To aid one another in times of sickness or death, by means of a simple insurance plan, so that their wives and children would not face abject poverty.
- To strengthen themselves and each other in the Faith.
- To strengthen families and family life.
- To be a strong pillar of support for their priests and bishops.
- To be of service to Church and community by coming to the aid of those most in need in society.
They called themselves Knights of Columbus – Knights to emphasize chivalry’s ideals of charity and support for Church and state, and Columbus as a reminder that Catholics had been the backbone and bulwark of America’s growth and greatness from the very beginning. The State of Connecticut officially chartered the Order on March 29, 1882. It’s founder, Father McGivney, and those first Knights dreamed of the day when there would be a council in every parish in Connecticut. Little could they know that their small group would grow into a global organization of more than 1.6 million members in nearly 12,000 local councils in 13 countries: the United States, Canada, the Philippines, Mexico, Panama, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Cuba, Virgin Islands, Guam and Saipan.
In the years since 1882 the Knights of Columbus has become one of the largest and strongest life insurance companies in North America with more than $53 billion of insurance in force. More than $5 billion in new insurance is sold annually and last year the Order paid $145 million in death benefits to the families of deceased members and $329 million in dividends to insurance members.