The Knights of Columbus was founded in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1882 in the basement of St. Mary’s Catholic Church by Fr. Michael J. McGivney and a handful of Catholic laymen.
The aim of the founder and those first members was to set up a parish-based lay organization that offered insurance benefits. In an era when parish and fraternal societies were popular, Father McGivney felt there should be some way to strengthen the religious faith of his flock and provide financial support for families overwhelmed by illness or the death of the breadwinner.Today we have grown from that one local unit, or council, to nearly 12,500 councils in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Panama, the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands, Guatemala, Guam and Saipan.
Membership is over 1.68 million dues-paying members plus their families - approximately 5 million people total - many of whom are actively involved in volunteer service programs for the Catholic Church, their communities, their families, young people and one another.
The Knights of Columbus, at all levels of the organization, contributed a record high aggregate $130 million to charitable efforts and volunteered more than 61 million hours of personal service to the Catholic Church, community projects and youth programs in 2003. The figures are based on reports of activity received from 73 percent of Knights of Columbus councils, Fourth Degree assemblies, Columbian Squires circles and other jurisdictional entities responding to the Knights’ annual Survey of Fraternal Activity.
From 1994 to 2004, the Knights gave more than $1.1 billion and volunteered 545 million hours. Independent Sector estimates that the dollar value of a volunteer hour in 2003 was $17.19. Using that figure, 545 million hours of volunteer service was worth $9.3 billion!
The early system of fraternal benefits has grown into a top-quality life insurance society, offering a variety of policy plans to members and their families. Both A. M. Best Co. and Standard & Poor’s rate K of C insurance “Superior” - A++ and AAA, respectively - their highest designations.
The Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest organization of Catholic men and their families, has been called “the strong right arm of the Church,” and has been cited by popes, presidents and other world leaders for support of the Church, for programs of evangelization and Catholic education, for civic involvement and aid to those in need.
“Protecting Families for Generations” is a motto that captures the Knights’ adherence to the legacy of its founder and fidelity to his vision.