Council History

History of Council 279

Introduction: On October 2, 1881, a small group of men met in the basement of St. Mary's Church on Hillhouse Avenue in New Haven, Connecticut, to discuss the formation of a fraternal benefit society. Convened at the request of Father Michael J. McGivney, a 29 year old priest, this meeting marked the foundation of what has become the world's largest catholic fraternal service organization.

Four months after this meeting, the group adopted the name "Knights of Columbus." It was founded in New Haven, Connecticut on February 2, 1882 and was incorporated under the laws of Connecticut on March 29, 1882. Their organizers and incorporators were Rev. Michael J. McGivney, Rev. P.P. Lawlor, James T. Mullen, Cornelius T. Driscoll, Dr. M. C. O'Connor, Daniel Colwell, William M. Geary, John T. Kerrigan, Bartholomew Healey and Michael Curran. Shortly after the turn of the century, Knights could be found in every state of the united States, in most  provinces of Canada, in Mexico and the Philippines, and they were prepared to enter Puerto Rico and Cuba. 

Why Columbus? In choosing Christopher Columbus as their patron, the first knights demonstrated their pride in America's Catholic heritage. To the Irish-American Catholics who incorporated the organization, the name "Knight of Columbus" evoked allegiance to the Church and affirmed the discovery of America as a Catholic event. 

The need to assert their pride in their faith, and to do so in such a demonstrative way, was a direct reaction to the social-political movement of the 19th and 20th centuries known as nativism.  Thus, the Order of the Knights of Columbus sought to promote assimilation in the New World rather then look back to the European countries whence the first members came. 

The state of Connecticut granted the Knights of Columbus status as a legal corporation on March 29, 1882. The anniversary is observed as Founder's Day by the Knights. 

Almost immediately after the incorporation of the Knights of Columbus, Father McGivney wrote a letter to all the pastors of the diocese of Hartford, Connecticut, outlining the organization's aims. He wrote: " Our primary object is to prevent our people from entering secret societies by offering the same if not better advantages to our members. secondly. our object is to unite the men of of faith in the diocese of Hartford, that we may thereby gain strength to aid others in the time of sickness; to provide for decent burial; and to render pecuniary assistance to families of deceased members."  The Founder's letter concluded with his hope that the Knights of Columbus would be represented in every parish in Connecticut. Today, the order aims to have an active Knights of Columbus council in every Catholic parish.   

Currently, there are nearly 11,000 local Knights of Columbus councils. While most of them are based in single territorial or national Catholic parishes. Still others are based on collage and university campuses and are comprised of Catholic students, faculty, and staff. Each reflects the diversity of the Church. 

James T. Mullen, a new haven native and civil war veteran, served the order as its first supreme Knight from 1882-1886. He presided over the institution of 22 of the Order's first 38 councils, and watched it grow beyond Connecticut into Rode Island  (1885). The emblem of the Order dates  from the second supreme council meeting, May 12, 1883. It was designed by Supreme Knight Mullen.

On February 22, 1900, the first instance of a forth degree exemplification took place in New York City, when more than 1200 candidates from all parts of the United States received this degree.         

Knights of Columbus in Vermont

The first state Convention of the Vermont State Council, Knights of Columbus, was held at Burlington, Vermont, on November 29, 1899. The meeting was called to order by Supreme Knight Edward L. Hearn, who presided during the entire meeting.

Up to this time seven councils were in existence: DeGoesbriand 279 at Burlington, St. Albans, Bennington, Montpelier, Barre, Sheridan at St. Johnsbury and Rutland. All were under a territorial Deputy; Brother M. D. McMahon of DeGoesbriand Council, Burlington served in this capacity from 1897 to 1899.

The Delegates present at this first Convention were as follows: F. A. McCarty and T. W. Maloney from Rutland. J. S. Haley and J. J. Goodwin from Montpelier. Maurice Walsh and C. D. O'leary from St. Albans. Rev. A. J. Barron and D. A. Guiltnan from Bennington. D. M. Miles and F. A. Duffy from Barre. 

View a List for Past Grand Knights for Council 279