Knights celebrate 125th anniversary

COLUMBIA — It has been a time of celebration for the Knights of Columbus both nationally and around the Diocese of Charleston.

On March 26, the Knights of Columbus fraternity celebrated its 125th anniversary. Founded in 1882 by Father Michael J. McGivney and a few of his parishioners in the basement of a church in New Haven, Conn., it has since grown into the world’s largest lay Catholic organization. The Knights have more than 1.7 million members worldwide, according to a statement released by the group’s headquarters.

In the Diocese of Charleston, the Knights of Columbus currently has 59 councils and 20 Fourth Degree Assemblies.

The Knights are known for their dedication to promoting the Catholic faith, social fellowship, patriotism and charity. The assembly is one of the most successful fraternal benefit societies in the United States providing life insurance and other products for members and their families.

Knights of Columbus councils worldwide in 2005 donated more than $139 million and 64 million hours of volunteer work to charitable causes, including hurricane relief for the Gulf Coast areas affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the statement said.

Around the Diocese of Charleston, councils regularly organize events to help the needy and disabled and support the rights of the unborn. The South Carolina Council is a dedicated sponsor of Special Olympics, and many councils take part in the annual Operation Hope Tootsie Roll sale, which benefits the mentally handicapped.

The Knights are a regular and strong presence at the annual march and rally for life held at the State House in Columbia, and councils around the state have taken part in protests and prayer vigils at abortion clinics. Many councils and assemblies in the diocese also have dedicated monuments to the unborn.

The Rev. George F. Moynihan Fourth Degree Assembly of Knights, based at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in North Myrtle Beach, had an honor guard present at the dedication of a monument at the church on March 26. The dedication was held to coincide with the Feast of the Annunciation as well as the International Day of the Unborn, which is celebrated worldwide by the organization.

Between Feb. 23-25, 132 Knights from the state took part in the fourth-degree rite of exemplification in Columbia.

It is one of the largest groups of new fourth-degree Knights in recent history, according to Roosevelt Cummings of Columbia, master of the fourth degree for the South Carolina District of the DeSoto Province. Cummings presided over the exemplification ceremonies.

He noted that this was also one of the most diverse groups of new  fourth-degree Knights in diocesan history, including 14 Hispanic men from St. James Church, Conway.

They are part of the San Miguel Assembly of Myrtle Beach/Conway. With 17 men, they also had the largest group of candidates, according to Jim Delaney, grand knight of the council at St. James.

The council has 14 members who are Hispanic, all of whom attend St. James. Delaney said many of the members are bilingual, but the organization also provided headsets for those who didn’t speak English to use during the exemplification ceremony.

In order to receive the fourth degree, a member must be a third degree Knight in good standing. Prospective candidates are interviewed before they receive the fourth degree, and are taught during the rite of exemplification what the degree entails. Cummings said the process usually takes about two and a half hours.

“Making fourth degree means you’ve come the distance — you have arrived at a point that sets you aside from anyone who has made a lesser degree,” Cummings said. “It also puts you in a visible spot, because the fourth degree is the visible part of the Knights of Columbus.”

Fourth degree Knights are the only ones permitted to appear in full dress uniform at special Masses and events, and are addressed as “Sir Knight,” said Richard Koehler, master of the South Carolina council.

To achieve the highest degree, a man must exemplify the principle of patriotism. He must show respect for the nation and good citizenship before achieving it, Koehler said.

“Each year we’re seeing an increase in the number of fourth degree members we have,” Cummings said. “One of the main reasons is because of people moving into the area, especially third degree Knights who are settling down here. Some are retired, and now getting more involved in the church and the community.”

Cummings said the candidates came from all parts of the diocese, and ranged in age from about 19 to 60. After the rite, the members celebrated with their spouses and others.