Guest Columnists

A Challenge for Catholic Men of Good Will

by John Fitzgerald

IN 1492, a young 40-year-old mariner set sail on an uncharted course to find a new route to India. Christopher Columbus and his brave crew left Spain with three ships and an incredible amount of faith. Man plans and God changes the course. There was to be no India but the New World of America would be opened to the explorers of Europe.

Four hundred years later, another mariner was looking for a new world where families would not be devastated because of the death or illness of the breadwinner (almost exclusively the father). Father Michael McGivney, the pastor of St. Mary’s parish, New Haven Conn., and a small crew of the faithful began their journey in the basement of a small church.

It was the wish of Father McGivney to start a mutual aid and fraternal insurance organization. After a few meetings, electrified by the joy and spirit of Father McGivney, the “Knights of Columbus” was born. At first, Father McGivney thought “Sons of Columbus” would be the name of this fraternal organization. Many foreign-born immigrants who fought in the Civil War encouraged him to give a more noble name to an organization that would fight for religious civil liberty. He agreed.

Today there are four principles that guide the organization: charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism. The first two charity and unity were the guiding principles with fraternity and patriotism coming later.

Charity – Our Catholic faith teaches us to “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Members of the Knights of Columbus show love for their neighbors by conducting food drives and donating the food to local soup kitchens and food pantries, by volunteering at Special Olympics, and by supporting, both spiritually and materially, mothers who choose life for their babies. Knights recognize that our mission, and our faith in God, compels us to action. There is no better way to experience love and compassion than by helping those in need, a call we answer every day.

Unity – None of us is as good as all of us. Members of the Knights of Columbus all know that – together – we can accomplish far more than any of us could individually. So we stick together…we support one another. That doesn’t mean that we always agree or that there is never a difference of opinion. It does mean that – as a Knight of Columbus – you can count on the support and encouragement of your brother Knights as you work to make life better in your parish and community.

Fraternity – Venerable Michael J. McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus, in large part, to aid the widows and children left behind when the family breadwinner died – often prematurely. The Order’s top-rated insurance program continues to do this today, as do the good works of individual Knights, who gave more than 73.5 million service hours in 2015, illustrating how Catholics serve each other in fraternity and mercy.

Patriotism – Members of the Knights of Columbus, be they Americans, Canadians, Mexicans, Cubans, Filipinos, Poles, or Dominicans, are patriotic citizens. We are proud of our devotion to God and country, and believe in standing up for both. Whether it’s in public or private, the Knights remind the world that Catholics support their nations and are amongst the greatest citizens.

The small gathering in 1882 had one priest and 24 faithful and willing participants. Today there are millions of “Knights” on every continent. In Brooklyn and Queens, you will find no less than 30 councils. Each council defends the Catholic church and supports the clergy and religious. There has been no time in recent history when the Catholic Church needed defenders and supporters more. Religious liberty is being attacked on all sides.

If charity, unity, fraternity, patriotism and the defense of Catholicism are important to you, then here is a suggestion: On this upcoming Columbus Day, take a moment to find a council near you and give a call. It might take a few days for someone to get back to you. Officers and members are not paid and membership is completely voluntary. The Knights invite all Catholic men of good will to visit a meeting and see who “These men we call Knights” are.

Fitzgerald is a parishioner of St. Joan of Arc, Jackson Heights, and a lay pastoral minister.