Church Knights

June 22 2007 | by

CARL ANDERSON is the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, a worldwide fraternal organization of Catholic men. Mr Anderson and his wife Dorian are also members of the Pontifical Council for the Family, having been nominated to that role by Pope Benedict XVI on May 24 of this year. Messenger of Saint Anthony recently interviewed Mr Anderson to discuss the history and mission of the Knights of Columbus as they celebrate their one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary.

Mr Anderson, the Knights of Columbus recently celebrated their one hundred and twenty-fifth year. For those not familiar with the Knights could you tell us about their founding and some of the history of the Knights, and how the Knights are serving the Church today?

The Knights of Columbus was founded on March 29, 1882 by a parish priest named Father Michael J. McGivney and a small group of Catholic laymen at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Connecticut. Fr. McGivney was the oldest of 13 children born to parents who had immigrated to the United States from Ireland. His father died when he was only 20, and he had to help support his family, so he was acutely sensitive to the plight of families in similar situations. In those days, it was not uncommon for men to die from disease or work-related accidents, leaving wives and children in serious financial difficulty.

When Fr. McGivney became a priest, he soon began discussing ways of protecting families with men in his parish. He was also concerned that certain anti-Catholic secret societies that were popular at the time were drawing some parishioners away from the Church. Catholics were a persecuted minority in 19th century America, and to find acceptance – and employment opportunities – some men turned their backs on the Church and joined these societies.

The Knights of Columbus helped deal with both concerns: it provided a fraternal death benefit to the families of deceased members, and it was a thoroughly Catholic society that provided the kind of social benefits that Catholic men were looking for.

From the original group of about 60 men, the Knights of Columbus has now grown to a great international organization with more than 1.7 million members on four continents. At all levels, we donated million $139 million and 64 million volunteer hours to charity last year. $1.6 million was given to Pope Benedict XVI from our Vicarius Christi Fund, an endowment which supports the Holy Father’s charitable initiatives.

What are some of the highlights of the anniversary celebration?

The Knights commemorated the March 29 anniversary, which we call Founder’s Day, by joining Connecticut’s bishops and more than 100 priests in the celebration of Mass at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, the Order’s birthplace. Hartford Archbishop Henry Mansell was the homilist and his predecessor, Archbishop Cronin, who initiated the cause of Fr. McGivney, also joined us. At the conclusion of the Mass, the entire assembly recited the prayer for the canonization of Father McGivney, whose tomb is in the nave of St. Mary’s Church. Later, at a banquet for the bishops and priests and leaders of the Connecticut Knights, I reminded everyone of the Knights of Columbus tradition of being the ‘strong right arm of the Church’, and asked that we now commit ourselves to also become the strong right arm of every parish priest. This anniversary year is dedicated to our renewed solidarity with our bishops and priests.


I’ve heard you have spoken on Catholics in the United States being prepared for the eventual overturning of Roe v. Wade. Do you think it is just a matter of time until Roe v. Wade is overturned?

The recent Supreme Court decision upholding the federal ban on partial-birth abortion represented the first time since Roe that the Supreme Court has upheld a law banning a particular kind of abortion which did not contain a ‘health of the mother’ exception. Such exceptions are always interpreted so broadly as to be meaningless. It is the first bit of good news we’ve had from the courts in the US in a long time. It’s impossible to say at this point whether it will lead to overturning Roe. But we Knights will never accept Roe v. Wade as ‘settled law’, and we look for every opportunity to overcome the culture of death in which abortion has become a commonplace.

How do you see the mission of being a Catholic – and I use the word ‘mission’ very deliberately – as well as being a Knight in Western society today which sometimes seems all but taken over by the Culture of Death?

 ‘Catholic’ is not simply a label. Being Catholic is a way of life, and our mission as Catholics is to be a leaven in society. This often means that we must be counter-cultural. In today’s society, our response to the culture of death is to do everything within our power to build a Culture of Life in which the dignity of every life, no matter how tiny, is recognized and protected in law.

Besides the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family and the annual telecast of the Christmas Eve Papal Mass from the Vatican, what are some of the other projects the Knights are involved in?

At the state, provincial and local level, there are almost as many activities as there are councils! The Order has also provided much support recently to the (US) Archdiocese for Military Services, and its ministry to the members of the armed forces and their families. We do a great deal to promote vocations, and provide aid to seminarians, educational scholarships, and support to evangelization efforts. We provide major funding for the operations of the Pro-Life Office at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Knights form the core of the volunteers who organize and manage the annual Washington, DC, March for Life. Knights in Canada perform a similar function at the annual March for Life in Ottawa, and are partners with the Canadian bishops in the Catholic Organization for Life and Family. We provided $10 million in relief and reconstruction support for the people affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita along the US Gulf Coast.


What are the Knights involved in internationally, that is, outside of the United States? For example as we conduct this interview, you are in Poland.

One of the remarkable things about looking back at our first 125 years is the realization that our international expansion came so quickly. We have had councils in Canada since 1897, and in Mexico and the Philippines since 1905. We’re now growing quickly in Poland, where enthusiasm for Columbianism is very strong. Our approach to providing Catholic men with an opportunity to work together in faith and charity has proven very successful in a variety of countries on four continents, and in diverse cultures. Any Catholic man who wants to provide for the welfare of his family, live out his faith united in brotherhood, and support the Church in spreading the Gospel will find the Knights of Columbus a very good place to be.

How do you see the future of the Knights and, in fact, the Church as we continue into the third Millennium?

Both the Church and the Knights of Columbus are vibrant and growing. The western hemisphere is truly a Catholic hemisphere. The Church is growing quickly in Africa and I am encouraged about its influence in Asia. In Europe its roots run deep. The Knights has grown continuously for decades, but there is still great opportunity for further growth. Father McGivney saw the Knights of Columbus as a parish-based organization. We continue to follow that model, and with each successive parish council seek to expand our devotion to charity and service to the Church.

Please tell us about the congress of families meeting you are attending in Poland, its importance and the role of the Knights in it?

The Knights are one of strongest pro-family organizations in the world, so it was a natural for us to be there. And it was very important that this Congress took place in Poland, which is under attack by forces that want to destroy the natural family. But Poland knows a very simple truth: a nation has no future without healthy families that welcome children and educate them in cultural and religious values.

The Order of the Knights of Columbus is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization. Founded in the United States in 1882, it is named in honor of Christopher Columbus and dedicated to the principles of Charity, Unity, Fraternity, and Patriotism. There are more than 1.7 million members in 14,000 councils, with nearly 200 councils on college campuses. Membership is limited to practical Catholic men aged 18 or older.

The Knights’ official junior organization, the Columbian Squires, has over 5,000 Circles. All the Order’s ceremonials and business meetings are restricted to members though all other events are open to the public. A promise not to reveal any details of the ceremonials except to an equally qualified Knight is required to ensure their impact and meaning for new members; an additional clause subordinates the promise to that Knight’s civil and religious duties.

Updated on October 06 2016