Knights of Columbus Bishop Busch Council 4863


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About the Knights of Columbus



Father Michael McGivney and the Knights of Columbus

The first Knights of Columbus council meeting took place in the St. Mary's church basement in New Haven, Connecticut on February 7, 1882.

Local Knights of Columbus council number 2 joined number 1 in 1883.

Number 11 started in 1884, and had a bishop as its chaplain.

Number 4863 formed in Sauk Centre in 1959. By now, there are more than 11,000 councils. The Knights of Columbus is the world's largest Catholic family fraternal service organization today, with 1.6 million members in 13 countries.

Offering everything from Turkey Bingo in Sauk Centre to a top-rank insurance program, the Knights of Columbus is the brainchild of an Irish priest named Michael McGivney.

Life for Irish Catholics in the late 19th century USA wasn't particularly easy. Many had low-paying jobs. And nearly all of them were Catholic.

Although this country's constitution guaranteed religious freedom, many in the dominant Protestant culture didn't like having Catholics around. For example, when a Catholic church was built on an upper-class New Haven street in 1879, the New York Times ran this headline, "How An Aristocratic Avenue Was Blemished By A Roman Church Edifice."

In times like that, a Catholic family could be in serious trouble if the breadwinner died or was too sick to work. Some folks turned to secret societies for help.

Father McGivney wanted to give the heads of Catholic families better advantages than secret societies offered, when faced with death or illness. He knew how a father's death could affect a poor family. Michael McGivney's father died while Michael was in Montreal to attend seminary classes at St. Mary's College.

Later, the bishop of Hartford asked Michael McGivney to enter another St. Mary's: a seminary in Baltimore, Maryland. On December 12, 1877, McGivney was ordained in Baltimore's Cathedral of the Assumption by Archbishop James Gibbons (who later became Cardinal).

Father McGivney said his first Mass at Immaculate Conception Church in Waterbury, with his widowed mother present. His first parish was St. Mary's Church in New Haven. That's where, in 1881, Father McGivney started working with laymen, exploring the idea developing a Catholic, fraternal benefit society.

Parish clubs and fraternal societies were popular then. Father McGivney talked about his idea with Bishop Lawrence McMahon of Hartford, getting the bishop's approval. He traveled around the area, talking with other priests of the diocese, and the Massachusetts Catholic Order of Foresters, the Catholic Benevolent Legion, collecting information to help Catholic laymen organize themselves into a benefit society.

That's how the Knights of Columbus started. The Connecticut legislature formally established the Knights as a legal corporation on March 29, 1882. At that time the Order's principles were "Unity" and "Charity." "Fraternity" and "Patriotism" were added later.

Father McGivney's name for the new organization was "Sons of Columbus." Irish-born Civil War veterans in the group felt that "Knights of Columbus" would help put a noble ritual on the side of the emerging movement for Catholic civil liberty.

Father McGivney was named pastor of St. Thomas. Church in Thomaston, Connecticut, in 1884. He served this factory town parish for six years.

In January of 1890, Father McGivney developed pneumonia. On August 14 of that year, he died.

The Knights of Columbus continued to grow, continuing his efforts to help Catholic families. During one year recently, the 1.6 million Knights of Columbus contributed more than $110 million and over 55 million hours of volunteer service in charitable causes.

In 1997, some Knights of Columbus began an effort to have Father McGivney declared a saint. The Father Michael J. McGivney Guild now has more than 83,000 members. They launched a website,, promoting Father McGivney's cause for sainthood, in 2004.

There's already a report of a miracle that came through the intercession of Father McGivney. In January, 2005, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints received the final piece of documentation for this report. Father Gabriel B. O'Donnell, O.P., said, "we have submitted to the Holy See for consideration and judgment. This means that we have, to date, completed everything that can be done to promote Father McGivney's beatification." There's no way of telling how long the Vatican will take to decide whether to grant Father McGivney the title "Venerable Servant of God," one step on the way to being declared a saint.

(Facts from Associated Press articles and EWTN (

Brian H. Gill, Editor, Sauk Centre K of C Bulletin

November 2005

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This page last updated December 19, 2010