Lecturer's Notes

Brother Brian Bolduc, Worthy Council Lecturer

Inaugural Lecture, 13 May 2009
History of the Order and Our Council

Our Worthy Grand Knight, Juan Carmona, asked me to speak on the history of the Knights of Columbus, both as a whole and within our council. I’m happy to oblige, though I confess I have not committed my words to memory. With exams approaching, there isn’t much room up there between “The Renaissance in Florence” and “American Economic Policy.”

So how did we begin? In 1881, a twenty-nine-year-old priest, Father Michael McGivney, and a group of laymen decided to form a Catholic fraternal society at Saint Mary’s Church on Hillhouse Avenue in New Haven, Connecticut. The son of Irish immigrants, Father McGivney hoped the order would strengthen the men’s faith against their neighbors’ contempt. Indeed, the community had opposed the construction of a Catholic church on one of its finest streets, prompting The New York Times headline: “How An Aristocratic Avenue Was Blemished by A Roman Church Edifice.” But Father McGivney also believed the order should provide for families who had lost their breadwinners to Fortune’s tempestuous whims. Accordingly, the men started a life insurance program, which continues to this day.

When the time came to name the order, Father McGivney proposed the “Sons of Columbus” to capture the organization’s distinctly American flavor. Several members suggested “knights” in place of “sons,” however, because as Civil War veterans of Irish descent, they wanted a bold title in recognition of Catholics’ struggle for religious liberty. In 1882, the Connecticut legislature granted a charter to the Knights of Columbus, establishing it as a legal corporation. Standing on the principles of “Unity” and “Charity”—and later “Fraternity” and “Patriotism”—the order grew into the largest Catholic fraternal organization in the world, consisting of 1.7 million members in 14,000 Councils, across 13 countries.

Now how did the “Strong Right Arm of the Church” come to Harvard? In 1920, a law student, Pedro Albizu y Campos, and a group of undergraduates founded the Harvard Knights of Columbus Club to unite students who were members of their local councils. Drawing its ranks from the college, graduate schools, and MIT, the club was active for two years but ended in 1922 after most of its members left campus. Eighty-four years later, forty students from across the University and our chaplain, Father Bill, received our charter from the Supreme Council in December 2006. Today, our council is an integral part of the Catholic community.

So why did I bore you with the history lesson? Because to determine our end, we must remember our beginning. The founder of our order is relevant to us today. Last year, Pope Benedict approved a decree recognizing Father McGivney’s “heroic virtue,” a quality that we should emulate. While the ancients regarded heroism as bravery on the battlefield, St. Augustine defined it as dedication to good works. Heroic virtue is a habit, a habit so embedded that it does not restrain our natural selfishness; it supplants it. Father McGivney practiced prudence, justice, temperance and courage regularly. His example is one we should set for our peers, for good works are not to be special occasions, but daily habits. As we plan for next year, we should keep this truth in mind.

Now we turn to the part of the meeting where I hope I will have much less to say—uninterrupted at least. But if our history shows that one good thing has come from New Haven, I think it our duty to keep one good thing—our council—full of good men. To close, I wish to quote Psalm 15: “Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy mountain? Whoever walks without blame, doing what is right, speaking truth from the heart. Who does not slander a neighbor, does no harm to another, never defames a friend. Who disdains the wicked, but honors those who fear the Lord. Who keeps an oath despite the cost, lends no money at interest, accepts no bribe against the innocent. Whoever acts like this shall never be shaken.”