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
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.