Knights of Columbus Celebrate 140th Anniversary

On March 29, 1882, the newly formed fraternal organization became formally recognized by the state of Connecticut.

The Founder’s Day Mass at St. Mary Church in New Haven, Connecticut, on March 29 marked the 140th anniversary of the founding of the Knights of Columbus by Blessed Michael McGivney.
The Founder’s Day Mass at St. Mary Church in New Haven, Connecticut, on March 29 marked the 140th anniversary of the founding of the Knights of Columbus by Blessed Michael McGivney. (photo: Aaron Joseph / Archdiocese of Hartford)

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Tuesday, March 29, was a day of great joy at St. Mary Church as the Knights of Columbus celebrated the 140th anniversary of Founder’s Day. The Mass and event commemorated the momentous occasion of March 29, 1882, when the newly formed Knights of Columbus became formally recognized with an official charter from the state of Connecticut.

Scores of Knights, some with their families, braved the blustery 39-degree day to attend the votive Mass in honor of their organization’s founder, Blessed Michael J. McGivney. The anniversary day was unlike that inaugural 1882 day, which saw a clear sky, light breeze and a bit higher temperature as Father McGivney and his newly formed Knights celebrated.

The Mass began with 42 Fourth-Degree Knights leading the processional to the altar, followed by several concelebrants, including Archbishop Emeritus Daniel Cronin of the Hartford Archdiocese, who began the blessed’s canonization process; Auxiliary Bishop Juan Miguel Betancourt of Hartford; Knights Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore; and Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford, the principal celebrant.

Archbishop Lori began his homily by asking for Blessed Michael’s intercession for St. Mary’s, the Archdiocese of Hartford, “which he served so lovingly and effectively as a parish priest,” and for the Knights of Columbus, “which he founded as a pathway for men to grow in their faith, to become better husbands and fathers, to serve as men of charity, unity, and fraternity, and to provide financial security for their families.”

The Knights’ founding took place at St. Mary’s, which was only three years old when Father McGivney arrived for the first time on Christmas Day 1877 for his first priestly assignment. Four years later, in the church basement, the 29-year-old curate held the first informal meeting of what, four months later in March, would officially become the Knights of Columbus.

Archbishop Lori also asked for the founder’s prayers, “that the Knights may experience continued growth in its mission to form men after the mind and heart of Christ, and that it may continue to practice with ever-increasing effectiveness in a charity that evangelizes, a charity that strengthens the Church at every level.”

The daily Lenten Scripture readings for this votive Mass — about the cure of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda and Ezekiel’s vision of the holiness of the temple — fit the occasion, as they offer “insight into Blessed Michael’s life and ministry” and “shed light on the holiness and effectiveness of our founder,” Archbishop Lori said.

He explained how the reading about “the cure at the pool of Bethesda reveals Jesus’ pastoral heart,” adding that “Jesus’ compassion, however, never remained an abstraction” as he cures the man, restoring him to health.

“Perhaps we can see the image of Father McGivney’s ministry in this Gospel episode,” Baltimore’s archbishop said, drawing a parallel. 

“As a newly ordained priest, Father McGivney came to this parish, and like Jesus, he encountered the tremendous pastoral need that was here. He encountered the sick and dying and prisoners; men who worked in dangerous industrial jobs and often died prematurely; families left penniless by the death of the breadwinner; mothers separated from their children. Father McGivney saw men drifting from the faith, men in need of faith-filled companionship and financial security for their families — all this and more.”

He said that Father McGivney responded to human suffering as Christ did.

“Like Jesus, he waded into the midst of human suffering, interceded for his people, and sought to bring them relief. He tended to the sick and dying, championed a man on death row, ministered to the young with a wise mixture of truth and love.”

And in the midst of his pastoral priorities, “he founded the Knights of Columbus as a lay-led organization, and he did it for the men of his parish, their families and for us.” Father McGivney “made his way into the drama of his people’s lives, bringing to them the curative powers of Jesus’ mercy and compassion.”

In 1884, the New Haven Evening Register acknowledged: “There was never a more energetic or hardworking young priest stationed in New Haven than he.”

Yet some were not happy with what Father McGivney was doing, including some fellow clergy, Archbishop Lori said, noting the founder experienced persecution.

Through it all, Father McGivney had a “holy determination, which drew its source, not from his will power, but from the strength of the Lord’s love.”

Archbishop Lori went on to emphasize, “We would truly misunderstand Father McGivney if we saw him merely as an activist.” Active, yes, but “too wise and too holy to rely only on his talents, considerable as they were. Rather, he prayed in the temple of the Lord, this temple, and as he prayed, the Spirit of holiness, the fountain of Trinitarian love, flowed through him, just as miraculous waters flowed through the Temple in Ezekiel’s vision.”

“As the Holy Spirit coursed through his priestly mind and heart,” Archbishop Lori continued, “Father McGivney became a vessel of mercy, brought help and healing to those to whom he ministered, and he created the living, breathing, growing, organism we call the Knights of Columbus, which, to this very day, is bearing abundant fruit for Church and world. In this temple, this Church of St. Mary, we feel especially close to Blessed Michael McGivney, and we know that his ministry continues, not only to influence us, but also to help us.”

Underscoring these thoughts, he added:

“For just as Father McGivney interceded for his parishioners in his day and brought healing and hope to them and especially to the Knights, so now Father McGivney continues to intercede for us in heaven, and his intercession is powerful and effective.”

Since his beatification, the archbishop continued, scores of reports of favors have come in, “including a number of remarkable healings.” Testimonies can be found on the Blessed Michael McGivney Guild website.

“Like Jesus, he is ushering many, no longer to the pool of Bethesda, but to that river of life and healing that is the Holy Spirit,” Archbishop Lori said, before concluding, “With confidence and hope, we the Knights of Columbus celebrate our 140th anniversary, looking towards that day when Blessed Michael McGivney will be canonized, and in the meantime, we are grateful to the Lord for the example of our holy founder and grateful, too, for his powerful intercession on our behalf. Blessed Michael McGivney, pray for us! Vivat Jesus!”

At the conclusion of Mass, with the Knights honor guard lining the main aisle, the celebrants and others processed to Blessed Father McGivney’s tomb to prayer for his canonization.

Edward Drew, a fourth-degree Knight at Council 1 at St. Mary’s, attended “the beautiful Mass” and was happy to see how “Father McGivney and the Knights of Columbus have prospered all these years” as a fraternal organization.

After Mass, Neville Brooks, a fourth-degree Knight from Council 14216 in West Hartford, Connecticut, said that “having all the brothers together reinforces” the Knights’ commitment and their Catholic faith.

From St. Joseph’s Residence in Enfield, Connecticut, Little Sisters of the Poor came to attend the Mass. Mother Maureen, the superior, mentioned how the Knights of Columbus had given the congregation the Gaudium et Spes Award in recent years. The sisters wanted to attend the Mass because, she said, “We feel very grateful for all the things the Knights do for us.”

Sister Frances added how supportive the Knights have been to the Little Sisters of the Poor. She gave one example. During the pandemic, “they called us and asked what they could do for us and truly for the poor. Father Michael McGivney was for the poor,” she explained, and the Knights are carrying his legacy.

Longtime Knight David Quinn, the fraternal organization’s state deputy of Rhode Island, looked on the anniversary Mass’ message as a reminder that “even as the world changes, his vision has not changed. If Father McGivney were alive today, he would be doing the same things today as he did back then.”