In response, Catholics formed their own society. The Knights of Columbus were founded by Father Michael McGivney in the spring of 1882 in New Haven, Connecticut. Their goal was to unite American Catholics and provide financial security to the dependents of workers killed or injured on the job. In order bolster their patriotic credentials they named themselves after Christopher Columbus, who was both a Catholic and the first white explorer to colonize the Americas.
|Elmira Council centennial program, 1997|
|Daniel Sheehan, 1st Grand Knight of Elmira Council|
Over the years, the Knights of Columbus have been involved in a number of different causes. My personal favorite is their anti-discrimination work during the 1920s. During this time, the Ku Klux Klan was on the rise, even in Elmira (see ThingsWe Don’t Like to Talk About for details). The Klan smeared the Knights of Columbus claiming that they were a violent anti-Protestant group and pushed for an end to parochial schools. The Knights joined forces with Jews, Blacks and other minorities to protest Klan activities. They sponsored lecture tours and demonstrations, and by published books on the accomplishments and contributions of Catholic-, Jewish- and African-Americans. On one occasion, an inter-racial group led by the Knights stormed and broke up a Klan rally in New Jersey.
Unfortunately, I have to do a lot more digging before I can say whether or not the Elmira Council of the Knights of Columbus was involved in any anti-Klan activities. Stay tuned for future blog posts to see if I ever get around to doing that research.
|Postcard issued by The Knights of Columbus during World War I|