The first fraternal benefit societies came into being after the Civil War and by 1880 had grown quite popular.  They answered a real need--the need for affordable life insurance in an age when the loss of a breadwinner frequently meant instant destitution for his family.  Unfortunately for Catholics, the Vatican did not approve of Catholics belonging to secret orders.  And poor Irish Catholics desperately needed the security the fraternal benefit societies offered.  One early solution was the formation of Catholic branches of existing societies.


  Reverend Michael J. McGivney, Founder of the Order

On October 2, 1881, Father Michael J. McGivney, 29-year-old assistant pastor at St. Mary's Church in New Haven, Connecticut, brought together a group of laymen with whom he discussed his dream for a Catholic fraternal benefit society. It not only would assist widows and orphans of deceased members through its life insurance program, but also would boost members' sense of pride in their Catholic religion, then frequently challenged in the anti-Catholic climate of 19th-century America. Father McGivney and his associates met several more times over the next several months to continue planning, and the new organization --the Knights of Columbus -- was formally launched in early February, 1882.

The officers of the new Catholic organization chose the name Knights of Columbus to honor Christopher Columbus, the Catholic discoverer of America. The word knights is also significant. We are ever mindful of the knightly qualities of spirituality and service to church that is embodied in the Knights of Columbus. The Order has evolved into a service organization with a strong family orientation. By the end of 1897 the Order was thoroughly rooted in New England, along the upper Atlantic seaboard and into Canada. Within the next eight years it branched out from Quebec to California, and from Florida to Washington.

Supreme Office, New Haven, CT

The Knights of Columbus remains headquartered in New Haven, but is now present with nearly 12000 Councils in the United States, Canada, the Philippines, Mexico, and several other countries. One of the primary missions of the Knights of Columbus is to support local charities. The Knights are a familiar sight around town during the annual Tootsie Roll® drive, which raises funds for charities that support the retarded and handicapped. We also support other fund raising drives to aid local parishes and charities. The Knights of Columbus promotes family values by providing numerous activities throughout the year that the entire family can participate in. Additionally, the organization provides an opportunity to ensure that a knight's family is provided for in the event of his death.

Hierarchical Structure of the Knights of Columbus

All members of the Knights of Columbus are Brothers, and belong to a local Council, and any group of at least thirty men may apply to found a new Council in their area. The highest elected officer of each Council is the Grand Knight, who, with the other Council Officers, is elected by the membership each year. The Grand Knight appoints various Program Directors and Chairmen to run the Council's activities for the year. All Council activities except Membership activities, fall into one of five Program Areas, each with a Director. The five Directors of Church Activities, Community Activities, Council Activities, Family Activities and Youth Activities report to a General Programs Director, who in turn reports to the Grand Knight. Several Councils within the same geographic area are grouped together in a District under the guidance of the District Deputy and his assistant, the District Warden.

The District Officers are appointed by the State Deputy, the highest elected officer of the State Council. State Officers and Program Chairmen are analogous to those at the Council level and coordinate the activities of all the Councils throughout the State. Each Spring, the State Deputy hosts a Convention to elect officers and conduct other State business. Every Grand Knight and one elected Delegate represent every Council in the state at this Convention. The highest level within the Knights of Columbus is the Supreme Council, headed by the Supreme Knight. At the Supreme Convention each summer, State Deputies and Representatives from each State, Territory, or Country meet to conduct business concerning the international operation of the Order.

Ceremonials of the Order

There are four "Degrees" of Knighthood within the Knights of Columbus. The initiation ceremonies into each of these Degrees (the ceremonies themselves are also called "Degrees") are the only facets of the Order which are not made known to non-members.

Each of the Degrees is designed to exemplify one of the four Principals of the Order: Charity, Unity, Fraternity and Patriotism. The Degrees must be taken in order. Every applicant must take the First, or Membership, Degree before he can be considered a Member of the Knights of Columbus. Once he has taken his First Degree, he becomes a member in good standing in the Order. To reach full Knighthood, members must also take the Second and Third Degrees, and all members are strongly encouraged to do so.

Members must have taken the Third degree to be elected to Council offices or to enter into the Fourth Degree. Once a man has been a member of the Knights of Columbus for a year and has taken his Third Degree, he is eligible to join a Fourth Degree Assembly. The Fourth Degree has its own structure separate from that of the Council. Fourth Degree Assemblies gain their membership from Third Degree members of several Councils within a larger geographic area. The most visible members of the Order are often the Fourth Degree Color Corps, with their colorful capes, chapeaux and sabers.

The Fourth or Patriotic Degree


Knights of Columbus 4th Degree Faithful Navigator (President) and 4th Degree District Marshall Jewels


Knights of Columbus District Deputy and District Warden Jewels

Another degree open to members of the Knights of Columbus is that of the Fourth (or Patriotic) Degree. On February 22, 1900, the first exemplification of that degree was held in New York City. The ritual added patriotism to the three original principles of the Order: Charity, Unity and Fraternity. Any Third Degree member in good standing, one year after the anniversary of his First Degree, is eligible for membership in the Fourth Degree. The primary purpose of the Fourth Degree is to foster the spirit of patriotism by promoting responsible citizenship and a love of and loyalty to the Knights' respective countries through active membership in local Fourth Degree groups called assemblies. Fourth Degree members must retain their membership as Third Degree members in the local council to remain in good standing. Certain members of the Fourth Degree serve as honor guards at civic and religious functions, an activity which has brought worldwide recognition to the Knights of Columbus organization.

Robes and Jewels of Council Officers

Each Council Officer has his own ceremonial robe and a metal emblem called a jewel worn on a ribbon around the neck. Officers' robes are all of the general design called the Columbus Robe. It is a flowing robe with inserted yoke, usually white. The opening is in the back with invisible clasps. There are inner or coat sleeves and outer or flowing sleeves. There is a standing collar, open in front, and a cowl or hood. Three belt straps are provided around the waist for a cincture or belt containing two tabs. The cincture is worn so that the tabs hang down along the left side of the body, but not on the hip. The tabs are ended in fringe. The mantle, as prescribed for the State Deputy, Grand Knight and Chancellor, is a sleeveless coat with large arm holes, and is worn over the Columbus Robe.

The Chaplain provides spiritual guidance to the Council. His emblem is the Cross, worn on a black ribbon. The robe, too, is black with black trimming and yoke with white projecting collar. The cincture is black with silver fringe.

The Grand Knight is the Chief Executive Officer of the Council and is responsible for all aspects of Council operation. He presides over Council meetings and is ex-officio member of all committees. His emblem, the Anchor carried on a purple ribbon, is indicative of Columbus, the Mariner. It has also been a variant form of the Cross for centuries. His is a royal purple robe with white cincture with silver fringe. A purple mantle with white roll collar is also worn.

The Deputy Grand Knight acts on behalf of the Grand Knight in his absence and also serves as General Programs Director at Fr. Rosensteel Council. His emblem, the Compass, was also used by Columbus, the Mariner. The Knights of Columbus Compass, with its points being Charity, Unity, Fraternity and Patriotism, is known as the Compass of Virtue; its 32 flame-like rays represent the 32 virtues which may be possessed by men. It is hung from a purple ribbon. His robe is the same as the Grand Knight, but without the mantle.

The Chancellor is the third ranking Council Officer. He is in charge of Vocations and indoctrinating new members into Council activities. At Fr. Rosensteel Council, the Chancellor usually acts as Council Activities Chairman as well. His emblem is the Isabella Cross, with Skull and Crossbones; it is worn on a black over white ribbon. The Cross is self-explanatory, while the Skull and Crossed Bones are symbolic of man's mortality. The Chancellor wears a black robe trimmed with white and a white cincture with silver fringe. He also wears a black mantle with white roll collar.

The Financial Secretary records all money transactions, issues and collects bills, issues membership cards, and is otherwise responsible for all financial matters of the Council except those allocated to the Treasurer. His emblem is a Crossed Key and Quill. The Key has always been associated with an office concerned with money, safekeeping and secrecy. The Quill is the symbol of a scribe - a record keeper - one who writes letters, documents, etc. This jewel is worn on a white over yellow ribbon. His robe is black, trimmed with black, and a white cincture with silver fringe.

The Treasurer keeps all funds, maintains the accounts of the Council, and issues Council checks upon receipt of a proper voucher from the Financial Secretary. Crossed Keys worn on a blue ribbon are symbolic of his complete authority over funds, particularly responsibility for their safekeeping. His robe is black, trimmed with black, and a white cincture with silver fringe.

The Warden assures that all members at meetings possess the current membership card. He is custodian of all Council property except funds and is in charge of properly setting up the Council Chamber. He directs the activities of the Inside and Outside Guards. His emblem, an Axe Bound with Rods, known as a Faces, was traditionally carried by the guards or protectors of Roman magistrates as a symbol of authority. The Warden ideally has and exercises that authority. The ribbon is colored red over black. His robe is black trimmed with scarlet with a scarlet cincture with silver fringe.

The Recorder keeps the minutes of the meetings, conducts correspondence as directed by the Grand Knight, and keeps official historic documents of the Council. In the absence of the Grand Knight and Deputy Grand Knight, he presides at Council meetings. Crossed Quills hung from a white over yellow ribbon are symbolic of his responsibilities for letter and document (records) writing and preservation. His robe is black, trimmed with black, with a white cincture with silver fringe.

The Lecturer provides entertainment for the members after meetings, particularly the second meeting of the month, which is our social meeting, and handles certain other major social events of the Council such as Family Dinners. His emblem consists of Lyre and Scroll. These are traditionally symbols of music and literature and the arts. Hence, the Lecturer is in charge of entertainment. His ribbon is white over blue. The Lecturer wears a black robe with national blue trimming and blue cincture with silver fringe.  

The Advocate is the Chief Legal Officer of the Council, resolving procedural matters, acting as parliamentarian, and otherwise handling all legal activities. His emblem is the Scroll with Crossed Sword hung from a yellow ribbon. The Scroll is emblematic of legal literature and law, while the Sword indicates the power to defend and enforce the law. The Advocate's robe is black with golden yellow trim and yellow cincture with silver fringe.

The Trustees (three in number) oversee the financial transactions of the Council, review all bills and financial reports and audit the Council's financial records semi-annually. Their emblems, Crossed Key and Sword, indicate this financial authority and are worn on green ribbons. Trustees wear black robes trimmed in green.

The Inside Guard (1) and Outside Guards (2) are charged with the security of the Council Chamber and assist the Warden in meeting the duties of his Office. Their emblems, Crossed Key and Axe hung from a white ribbon, represent their power as sentries at the door. Their robes are gray with black trim and yoke. The cincture is also black with silver fringe.

College Councils

Not only are the Knights of Columbus concerned about young adults being able to attend college, as demonstrated through the scholarship and student loan programs, but they have implemented a plan to allow Catholic young men to associate with others through membership in a Knights of Columbus council on their college campus. Membership in one of the nearly 140 college councils offers the student an opportunity to associate with fellow Catholics, to participate in an active campus organization and thereby accept positions of responsibility.

It also enables him to become involved in the college and local community through the activities and projects sponsored by the council. A national conference of representatives meets annually to discuss the particular situation of college councils and makes recommendations for the growth and improvement of the college council program.

Members in college councils are encouraged to transfer their membership to the community council in which they locate after graduation. Their field of education and their experience as an active knight on the college campus can be of substantial benefit to the local council into which they transfer.

The Fraternal Survey

Each year, reports of the annual survey of fraternal activity conducted for the National Fraternal Congress of America reveal an impressive Knights of Columbus donation of time, money and energy. In one recent year alone, for example, with approximately 78% of all units reporting, the Order generated $100 million and 43 million volunteer hours of service for charitable causes. In the category of charitable or benevolent disbursements, including assistance to the sick, handicapped, disaster victims, hospitals and other institutions, civic and community projects, schools and libraries, the Knights contribute in the area of $80 million, in addition to substantial amounts from the Supreme Council.

Another $48 million is spent on activities, in addition to $12 million for work with young people. The Knights also average 4.3 million visits to the sick and bereaved, give 300,000 donations of blood, contribute 43.3 million volunteer hours of community service and 6.2 million hours of labor for sick or disabled members.

In a world where the golden rule - "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" - sometimes becomes "Do unto others before they do unto you," the Knights of Columbus stands out as an organization that takes fraternity seriously.

The dictionary defines fraternity as "the state or quality of being brothers."

lt also describes it as a "group of men joined together by common interests" or "a group of people with the same beliefs, interest, work." The Knights of Columbus form real fraternity in all three senses. As practical Catholics, Knights carry fraternity to the limits of love: unselfish service to their Church, country, community and council.

Faith, fellowship, philanthropy. These are the distinguishing marks of the Knights. This brief record of some of their achievements shows that they have remained true to their heritage and that they have continued to build on it for future generations.


Established in 1883 at Holy Family Parish in Chicago, Catholic Order of Foresters (COF) fraternal insurance society began as a way to offer financial support to families who suffered the loss of a breadwinner. Back then, impoverished immigrants came seeking a better life in the United States. When tragedy struck, friends and neighbors often collected money to cover burial expenses and keep survivors from starving.


Those making burial collections gradually formed associations, usually based on religious or ethnic background. These associations became focal points for community life. Fraternal benefit societies, such as Catholic Order of Foresters provide many needed social services throughout the nation. They offer material and financial assistance to individuals and communities in times of disaster and are often among the first to respond. Responding to the 9/11 tragedy, fraternal benefit societies raised and contributed more than $16.8 million.


COF’s Founders chose the name “Catholic Order of Foresters” to symbolize true foresters who care for and protect woodlands and natural resources. That is still Catholic Order of Foresters’ mission today—offering members not only financial security, but also opportunities for spiritual, social, and charitable growth.


Today Catholic Order of Foresters ranks among the largest not-for profit membership-based fraternal life insurance societies in the United States. Headquartered in Naperville, Illinois, since 1983, Catholic Order of Foresters’ membership numbers more than 139,000 Catholics and their non-Catholic family members.


Unique added-value fraternal benefits enhance COF membership, setting the society apart from commercial competitors. These benefits include twenty $5,000 college scholarships awarded annually to qualified members as well as ten $600 educational grants for post high school education, as well as tuition assistance for member youth attending Catholic school or religious education programs.


Catholic Order of Foresters also provides its members with outstanding financial protection and security through quality term and whole insurance and annuities. A field force of more than 300 professional agents, in 30 states and the District of Columbia, provides customers with friendly, personal service.


Catholic Order of Foresters’ business success allows the society to develop, support, and provide resources for charitable and fraternal activities, as well as community, school, and church outreach and programs. At the local level, COF members raise money for school, parish, community, and humanitarian needs through the organization’s Matching Funds Program of charitable giving. COF member groups (courts) may organize fundraisers to support a food pantry, build a habitat for humanity home, and help a family with a critically ill child by providing assistance with medical expenses.


Catholic Order of Foresters’ commitment of service to those in need is further exemplified by nationwide fundraising efforts during 2005 that enabled Catholic Order of Foresters to present $100,000 to Catholic Charities relief efforts in the hurricane ravaged states of Louisiana and Mississippi.


Catholic Order of Foresters is a not-for-profit fraternal benefit organization with more than 139,000 members nationwide. Operations are conducted through a field force of nearly 300 representatives in 30 states and the District of Columbia. COF ranks among the largest fraternal benefit societies in the United States.


Mission Statement

We are a trusted, century-old Catholic fraternal society dedicated to providing our members with financial security and opportunities for spiritual, social, and charitable growth.

Core Beliefs

We pledge to accomplish our mission guided by the following principles:

§         Recognize our interdependency and the need to work in partnership to secure the society's success.

§         Listen, communicate openly, respect other's ideas, and encourage initiative.

§         Encourage flexibility, willingness to change, fairness and compassion.

§         Foster, support, and provide resources for charitable and fraternal activities, community, school, and church outreach.

§         Offer opportunities for personal and professional growth; honor other's achievements.

§         Respond to changing needs by developing new products and fraternal benefits that ensure the society's growth.

§         Maintain the highest standard of quality and accuracy.

§         Respect life and uphold Christian values and ethics.

About COF

A.      140,000 members in 31 states.

B.      Admits both Catholic men and women on an equal basis, admits children and non-Catholic spouses and family members on non-voting basis.

C.      No longer uses ritual to initiate new members.

D.      No longer uses regalia, passwords, or signs.

E.      Sells fraternal items to members.

F.      Members earning 50-year, 75-year, and Legion of Honor, Third Degree status receive commemorative pins.

G.     Had three degrees: The Degree of Protection, the Exalted Degree, and the Legion of Honor Degree

Catholic Order of Foresters - A Fraternal Benefit Life Insurance Society Since 1883 • Toll-free: 800-552-0145 • TTY 800-617-4176

Updated 11/2006


  The Catholic Daughters of the Americas was founded in Utica, New York in 1903 by John E. Carberry and several other Knights of Columbus as a charitable, benevolent and patriotic sororal society for Catholic ladies. It was originally called the National order of Daughters of Isabella," and is dedicated to the principles of "Unity and Charity," the order's motto.  In 1921, the order changed its name to the Catholic Daughters of America (CDA). By 1928, the CDA had 170,000 members in 45 states, Canada, Puerto Rico, Panama and Cuba.

In 1954, the order changed its name to the Catholic Daughters of the
Americas, with 115,000 Catholic Daughters in the 1,450 local units called "courts" throughout the United States, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Saipan, Guam, and the Virgin Islands. Its international headquarters are located in New York City. It donates generously to several charitable causes, provides scholarships, works with Habitat for Humanity, and supports the aged and infirm retired Catholic clergy, and is very pro-life.  


This is a ladies Catholic benevolent and charitable society that was
established in New Haven, Connecticut in May 1897 originally a ladies
auxiliary to the Rev. John Russell Council of Order of Knights of Columbus.  It presently operates as an independent order.  It is open to women, 16 years of age or older, who are practicing members of the Catholic tradition.

The local units are called "Circles," with State Circles and Provincial
Circles governed by an International Circle. The order has 75,000 members and is located in the United States and Canada. The Daughters of Isabella headquarters are located in New Haven, Connecticut. Its motto is "Unity, Friendship, Charity," and its emblem is similar to the Knights Templar. It is a gold crown with the inscription "D. of I" with a red Cross of Christ in its center. The Daughters of Isabella uses degrees that are conferred on new members when they are initiated into the order.



The Catholic Knights of America was established by James J. McLoughlin in Nashville, Tennessee in April 23, 1877. It is composed of 25,000 Knights organized in local "Branches" (lodges) throughout the United States. It is a fraternal, patriotic and benevolent insurance society. It has a Uniform rank with plumed chapeaux, uniforms and swords similar to the Knights Templar of the York Rite.


Established at St. James R. C.  Church on Oliver Street in New York City on May 4, 1836, the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America (AOH) is a fraternal order of Catholics of Irish birth or heritage. Dedicated to the principles of "Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity," the order traces its origins to County Kildare, Ireland, where it was founded as "The Defenders" by Rory O'Moore.  Adopting the title of Ancient Order of Hibernians in 1648, from the Latin literary name for Ireland, "Hibernia."
The AOH in America utilizes four degrees, the first being the Degree of the Shamrock, and the remaining three are exemplified at the same time, usually on a Sunday afternoon. There are presently 100,000 Hibernians organized in local "Divisions" (lodges) throughout the United States and Canada. President John F. Kennedy was a Fourth Degree Hibernian.
There are also the Ladies AOH, founded in 1898 in Omaha, Nebraska, Junior Divisions for boys and girls, and the original parent body, the Ancient Order of Hibernians Board of Erin, located in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

A) 191,000 members in the United States and Canada   
B) Local Divisions governed by County Boards, with State Boards in the United States and Provincial Boards in Canada, all governed by the National Board.


The Order of Alhambra was founded in on February 29, 1904, in Brooklyn, NY by William Harper Bennett, principle author of the Fourth Degree ritual of the Knights of Columbus. Originally limited in membership to Sir Knights of the K. of C. Fourth Degree, the order is now open to all Roman Catholic gentlemen 18 years of age or older.

Using a Shriner-like organization with Moorish titles for its officers, the
"Sir Nobles" of the Alhambrans wear white fezzes, use a two-degree form of initiation, are organized in local "Caravans" (lodges), and are dedicated to the care and well-being of persons who are disabled from mental retardation.



This Irish Catholic fraternal order was founded in 1895 in Cleveland, Ohio.  Governed by a Supreme Council headed by the Supreme Sir Knight, the order's local units are called "courts." It operates in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan.

The Knights of Equity utilizes a four-degree system of initiation. The first degree is called the "Hall of Emania," and the symbols of this degree are the scales of justice, signifying "equity with justice," and augmented by crossed, symbolizing "aggressive determination."

The second degree is called the "Hall of Curchan," named after a seminary of learning and a burial place of Irish kings of Ulster. the emblem of the degree is the Red Hand of Ulster and the O'Neill Clan.

The third degree is called the "Hall of Kincora," and is when a member
receives the ceremonies of knighthood. Third Degree Knights of Equity are called "Sir Knights." Its symbol, is the Celtic Cross, symbolizing Christianity and Irish heritage.

The fourth degree is the "Hall of Tara," the ancient site of Irish kings,
scholars, lawyers called "brehons," and warrior knights. Its symbol is the shamrock, symbolic of the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

There order is under the patronage of the martyred Saint Oliver Plunkett, the Archbishop of Ireland who was hanged, drawn and quartered by the English on July 1, 1681 in London for "treason against the crown."  
 The order's ladies auxiliary is the Daughters of Erin, founded on October 9, 1954. It uses an initiation ceremony called the "Conversion at Tara."


The Knights of Peter Claver is an African-American Catholic men's fraternal order that was founded in Mobile, Alabama in 1909 by four priests of the Order of St. Joseph (Josephite Fathers) and three Catholic laymen after African-American men had been denied membership in a local Council of the Knights of Columbus.

The Order is patterned after the Knights of Columbus, and takes Saint Peter Claver as their order's patron. Saint Peter Claver converted 300,000 slaves to Christianity, and cared for and ministered to the slaves of the Spanish colonies in South America in the 1600s.  He brought slaves fresh food and water, and brandy and tobacco for those who wanted it.  He would preach the Good News of the Gospel of Christ to the slaves and tried to comfort these poor people in their misery. In his 44 years of ministry, Saint Peter Claver is credited with performing many miracles, including the cure of leprosy.

The Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver is presently composed of 100,000 men and women, 25% of which are white members. It is organized in local units in 47 states called Councils for the men, with Courts for the ladies, and utilizes a four-degree ritual of initiation.  It often cooperates with the local membership of the Knights of Columbus, and both provide uniformed honor guards for religious and patriotic occasions and processions. There is a junior branch for young men and one for young ladies, making it a family organization.

A special "Thanks" to Brothers Bart P. Snarf and Michael L. Persyn who provided the pictures of the above jewelry and to Brother Denis McGowan, Past Grand Knight, Henry J. Stolzenthaler Council No. 1675, and Sir Knight of Governor Thomas Dongan Assembly of the Fourth Degree, Knights of Columbus.




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