The St. Agnes Knights of Columbus was founded in Catonsville in June of 1957. The St. Agnes Knights were given council number #4449. The following is a brief history starting with Council #1.
Michael J. McGivney, an American Catholic priest, founded the Knights of Columbus in New Haven, Connecticut. He gathered a group of men from St. Mary’s Parish for an organizational meeting on October 2, 1881. It was incorporated on March 29, 1882. McGivney had originally conceived of the name “Sons of Columbus”. James T. Mullen, who later led the organization, coined the name “Knights of Columbus”, which expressed the ritualistic nature of the new organization and drew from positive historical associations.
The Order was intended to be a mutual benefit society. As a parish priest in an immigrant community, McGivney saw what could happen to a family when the main income earner died. This was before most government support programs were established. He wanted to provide insurance to care for the widows and orphans left behind. In his own life, he temporarily had to suspend his seminary studies to care for his family after his father died.
St. Mary’s Church
Because of religious and ethnic discrimination, Roman Catholics in the late 19th century were regularly excluded from labor unions, popular fraternal organizations, and other organized groups that provided such social services. Papal encyclicals issued by the Holy See also prohibited Catholics from participating as lodge members within Freemasonry. McGivney intended to create an alternative organization. He also believed that Catholicism and fraternalism were compatible and wanted to found a society to encourage men to be proud of their American–Catholic heritage.
Fraternal organizations, which combined social aspects and ritual, were especially flourishing during the latter third of the nineteenth century, the so-called “Golden Age of Fraternalism. New Haven’s Irish Catholic men of the era could have joined one of many other organizations, and Catholics of other ethnicities had additional options.
McGivney traveled to Boston to examine the Massachusetts Catholic Order of Foresters and to Brooklyn, New York to learn about the recently established Catholic Benevolent League, both of which offered insurance benefits. He found the latter to be lacking the excitement he thought was needed if his organization were to compete with the secret societies of the day. He explored establishing a New Haven Court of the Foresters, but the group’s charter in Massachusetts limited them to operating within that Commonwealth. McGivney’s committee of St. Mary’s parishioners decided to form a new club.
Although its first councils were all in Connecticut, the Order spread throughout New England and the United States in subsequent years. The Order experienced “unparalleled success” in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It outpaced all other Catholic fraternities of the era. By 1904, only five states had no council.
By the time of the first annual convention in 1884, the Order was prospering. The five councils throughout Connecticut had a total of 459 members. Groups from other states were requesting information. By 1889, there were 300 councils comprising 40,000 knights. Twenty years later, in 1909, there were 230,000 knights in 1,300 councils. The one millionth member, Ferdinand Foch, joined the order in 1921.
As the order expanded outside of Connecticut, structural changes in the late 1880s and 1890s were instituted to give the Knights a federalist system with local, state, and national branches of government. This allowed them to coordinate activities across states and localities.
Select Text from History of the Knights of Columbus – Wikipedia
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