Knights of Columbus: Giving Back Globally and Locally

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By Audrey Harman, Contributing Writer

The Knights of Columbus is a Catholic fraternal organization established by Father Michael J. McGivney in 1882 in New Haven, Connecticut to serve low-income Catholics. The focus was on offering support to widows and children, with a vow to serve the country and church.  Before the rise of the insurance industry or government welfare programs, fraternal organizations (also known as mutual benefit societies) provided their members with benefits such as insurance, cooperative banking and pensions.  Named after Christopher Columbus, the Knights also sought to offer social and intellectual fellowship through “educational, charitable, religious, social welfare, war relief and public relief works.”

Today, the organization still adheres to its founding principles of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism, and remains the world’s “foremost Catholic fraternal benefit society,” helping families within its communities by offering insurance programs and charitable services. There are now over 14,000 councils and 1.8 million members around the world. Within each country they serve, Knights of Columbus see patriotism as a way of life.

At the local level, Knights are organized into councils, primarily based on the community or “parish” served by a Catholic church. Charitable activities include conducting food drives and volunteering at Special Olympics. The Knights of Columbus still offer their own insurance plan to members, and work together to help sick and disabled members and their families.

Within Prince William there are two councils: John Paul I Council 7165, associated with Holy Family Catholic Church in Dale City, and the Ascension Council 9285, part of the Sacred Heart parish in Manassas. Grand Knight, or top ranking officer, of John Paul I Council Ed Fairbairn explained, “One Prince William council serves one parish.” So, though the councils are unified under the Virginia State Council, they serve the community as separate councils connected to individual parishes, allowing them to each focus more on the specific needs of their communities.

John Paul I Council has 300 members, making it one of the largest in Virginia. Juan Martinez, the council’s lecturer–or officer in charge of entertainment–said the group helps the church by raising money for repairs and offering logistical support during festivals. Martinez said council members can be found “setting up and breaking down, providing food, and administering security overnight when the festivals last for more than one day.” In turn, the church welcomes the council to sell Christmas cards as a fundraising effort for their own expenses. Martinez said John Paul I volunteers also organize a clean-up along Dale Boulevard in Dale City four to five times a year, help Pope John Paul the Great High School with projects, donate money to various charities and renovate homes to make them more accessible for disabled veterans.

Every year at the Dale City Fourth of July parade these Knights can be found as security marshals.  Other activities include hosting a

John Paul I Knights serving as Marshals at the various intersections along the Dale City 4th of July parade route. Photo courtesy Holy Family Knights

community yard sale in October and a Christmas tree sale in December. “All fundraising we do for our council goes towards internal expenses, and any money we have left we donate to a charity,” said Martinez.

Ascension Council works with Sacred Heart to provide people and funds for various church  projects. Some of these projects occur monthly and are as low-key as serving donuts and coffee after mass or participating in Keeping Christ in Christmas, a movement to emphasize Christmas first and foremost as a holy day to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. On Wednesdays, Ascension members also wrap and freeze bread donated from Panera Bread for their food pantry. In September, the council hosts a fundraising golf tournament at Old Hickory Golf Club in Woodbridge. According to the council website, one of their primary goals for the  community is to “enrich the spiritual involvement of individual members in their Church and its activities.” After a child is baptized into the church, a council member presents a rose to the mother.

Each May, both councils participate in KOVAR–Knights of Virginia Assisting Citizens with Intellectual Disabilities. Since its founding in 1971, more than $12 million has been raised through KOVAR to fund home loans, transportation, group home furnishings, infant intervention programs and training. The group also donates over $50,000 each year to the Virginia Special Olympics, making it a “Platinum Sponsor.”
“KOVAR is our largest fundraiser,” said Martinez. “The Knights deliver Tootsie Rolls in major stores throughout Prince William— they are not for sale—and people can take one and give whatever money they wish to donate. Last year we collected $1,200.” Both Prince William-based councils raise funds for KOVAR in this fashion. The Ascension Council has collected over $100,000 in its 26 years of supporting KOVAR.If you’ve ever heard of the Knights of Columbus and wondered what they stand for, now you know more about how this international fraternity positively impacts the Prince William community—and the wider world. Some of the Knights’ work may even support projects and causes that you are involved in; visit to find the council near you and learn how to volunteer.Author Audrey Harman has a B.A. in English and Spanish fromHollins University and is currently pursuing an M.A. in PublicationsDesign at the University of Baltimore. She resides in Woodbridge and can be reached by email at

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