Father Michael McGivney was born in Waterbury Conn. U.S.A., on the 12th of August, 1852. He was the eldest of a family of thirteen children of which six died at a young age. His parents, Patrick and Mary (Lynch) McGivney, arrived in the United States during the great 19th century Irish migration.

Michael J. McGivney attended working class schools in Waterbury. After the Civil War, he quit school at the age of thirteen to go to work, when the Connecticut metal industry was in full expansion. His work in a copper spoon factory helped to supplement his family's income. In 1868, at sixteen years old, he quit his job at the factory.

Wishing to enter the priesthood, he traveled to Quebec in the company of Waterbury's pastor. Enrolled at the College in St-Hyacinthe , he worked hard on subjects which would prepare him for the seminary. Two academic years followed, one at the Our Lady of the Angels seminary and one at St. Mary's College in Montreal.

Short of money and worried about his family, he returned to live in the United States. Then, at the invitation of the Bishop of Hartford, he entered St. Mary's seminary in Baltimore, Maryland. After four years of study, he was ordained as a priest by the Archbishop Monsignor James Gibbons in the historic Cathedral of the Assumption, in Baltimore, on December 22nd, 1877. A few days later, accompanied by his mother, he celebrated his first Mass in the Church of the Immaculate Conception, in Waterbury.

Father McGivney began his ministry on Christmas Day, 1877, as Curate of St. Mary's Church in New Haven. He devoted himself tirelessly to the young people of the parish, giving catechism classes and organizing a group devoted to total abstinence from alcohol.

In 1881, he started to explore, with a group of laymen, the possibility of founding a Catholic fraternal benefit society. In a period when parish clubs and fraternal organizations were very popular, the young priest thought he had discovered a way to work for the affirmation of faith while assisting poor families decimated by sickness or the death of their breadwinner.

He shared his idea with Monsignor Lawrence McMahon, Bishop of Hartford, who approved it. He traveled to Boston, Massachusetts to discuss his ideas with representatives of the Massachusetts Catholic Order of Foresters; then he went to Brooklyn, New York to talk with the Catholic Benevolent Legion. He also spent time talking with other priests in his diocese. Wherever he could, he collected information which would assist Catholic laymen in organizing a benefit society.

Seeing the possibility of linking Catholicism with Americanism through faith and through the audacious vision of the discoverer of the New World, Father McGivney first suggested the name "Sons of Columbus" for the new Order but, at the suggestion of others, the name "Knights of Columbus" was adopted. On March 29, 1882, the Connecticut Legislature issued a charter to the Knights of Columbus, establishing them as a legal corporation.

After seven years of ministry in St. Mary's Parish, he was named Pastor of St. Thomas Parish in Thomaston, Connecticut, an industrial town located sixteen kilometers from his birth town. While working fiercely to wipe out the parish deficit and devoting himself to his flock, he continued to serve the Columbian Order as Supreme Chaplain. He became more and more involved in promoting the Order in the other States of the Union.

In frail health, Father McGivney came down with a serious case of pneumonia in January of 1890. The illness persisted and he died the 14th of August that same year, at the age of thirty eight.

Presided over by the Bishop of Hartford, and attended by seventy priests, his funeral Mass was heavily attended, Attendees included many civic leaders and Knights from almost all of the then existing fifty-seven Councils.

In the thirteen years of his priesthood, the devotion and compassion of Father McGivney made him loved by those whom he served. His profound piety, his leadership and his natural administrative abilities brought him the loyalty and affection of thousands who knew him both as a priest and as the founder of the Knights of Columbus.

The Knights still work on with the aim of having the saintliness of this faithful servant recognized by the Church.

Our roots

In February 1882, in New Haven, Connecticut, Father Michael McGivney and his companions established the movement.

The movement became an Order from the beginning. Men brought together in this Order bore the name "Knight". Christopher Columbus was chosen as Patron of the Order.

Its Nature

The first element of its nature: it is a movement which unites men of faith and who, by the wishes of its founder, is not a part of the formal structure of the Church. It is not a religious or a Catholic movement, nor is it a social movement, but is essentially a "CATHOLIC LAY ORDER CALLED THE KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS".

The second element of its nature: it is a FEDERATIVE FORM OF FRATERNAL MUTAL HELP SOCIETY; insurance constitutes a link with the movement and its objectives; it is a way to attain those objectives related to helping the widow and the orphan; characteristically, it issues no shares and is not-for-profit - its activities are based upon charity and upon fraternity - its field of activity is demonstrably social.

Its Objectives

Article 2 of the Charter, Regulations and Constitution of the Order define the objectives of the Founder as follows: to provide financial assistance to its members, to their families and, having the right; to provide assistance to members who are sick, invalid and needy, including their families; to encourage, amongst it members and their families, social and intellectual relations; to promote and direct educational, charitable, religious and social works; to provide help in time of war and civil disaster.

Its characteristics

A Catholic Lay Movement

From its foundation, it has been a movement founded for laymen, belonging to laymen and administered and directed by laymen.

A Parish Movement

Its character as a Catholic, family-based and protective movement of faith has made it readily acceptable in Quebec. Over the years, Councils have multiplied to a point where, today, there are over five hundred and forty (540) councils. It is safe to say that the Knights of Columbus cover and are involved with the greater proportion of the Dioceses of Quebec.

An Exclusively Male Movement

The Knights of Columbus, a fraternal mutual help society, consists of MEN of faith. It is, since its foundation, an EXCLUSIVELY MALE movement.

A Quasi-secret Movement

Only the initiation ceremonies are strictly reserved to members, which make it a "quasi-secret" movement.


In 1882, Father Michael McGivney adopted for the Order, the principles of CHARITY AND UNITY. Several years later, two other principles were added: FRATERNITY and PATRIOTISM (1899).

Even though they are not inscribed in the original "Charter, Regulations and Constitution", these four principles constitute the four poles of the initiation ceremonies and are considered the pillars of Columbian life. They must guide the actions and attitudes of Knights in daily life.

Membership Criteria

Knights of Columbus membership requirements were clearly stated in the beginning of the Official Charter of 1882 (Article 101). They are as follow:

Membership in the Knights of Columbus is open to practicing Catholic men
in union with the Holy See, who are at least 18 years of age.


In recent years, the expression "PRACTISING CATHOLIC" has been questioned and given to improbable interpretations. It was with a view of settling such questions and interpretations that, at a Provincial conference held in Montreal in April 1993, the assisting delegates adopted Resolution 12A (based upon recommendations stemming from a general consultation of the membership). The following is the essence of that resolution:

  • To be baptized a Catholic;
  • To profess the Catholic Faith;
  • To live Christian practice in its dimensions:

  • of fraternity
  • of celebration
  • of the education of faith
  • of engagement with one's community

It is to be noted that marriage involves a dual reality:

  • to a life of stability, that is to say, to involve oneself in a condition intended to be
    of a prolonged nature;
  • to live a life of responsibility, that is, manifested by the assumption of parental obligations.
  • This local interpretation of the expression "practicing Catholic" applies only to Quebec.