Knights of Columbus flourished in Industrial Age

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Knights of Columbus flourished in Industrial Age insurance

This undated postcard shows the Quincy Knights of Columbus Council No. 883 building at 804 1⁄2 Maine. It was the lodge headquarters from 1911 until 1968, when the present complex on South 36th was completed. | Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County

The United States’ Industrial Revolution burgeoned in the late 19th century along with the Golden Age of Fraternalism, as labor unions, insurance companies and social service agencies formed and spread across the land to help newly employed workers mainly toil in factory jobs.

Most of these groups, though, excluded Roman Catholics because of their largely immigrant origins and as part of the time’s widespread "anti-papist" sentiment.

When the breadwinner working in these flourishing industries was injured or killed, recently created insurance companies helped alleviate the burden.

Catholics, though, were usually left out and their families bereft of a means of support. Some organizations, such as the Ancient Order of the Hibernians, formed to provide its Catholic members with sick benefits and cover funeral expenses, and on May 21, 1899, Quincy’s St. Rose of Lima church at Eighth and Chestnut founded a local chapter. This order, though, restricted itself to Irish-Catholics and did little to dovetail immigrants into their new homeland’s culture. Indeed, these organizations often only further isolated ethnic groups from an increasingly polarized American society.

At St. Mary’s Parish in New Haven, Conn., a young priest named Father Michael McGivney began meetings to establish an order to provide Catholic families with insurance, whatever their country of origin, and to help immigrants become proud of both their religion and their U.S. citizenship.

In 1882, he founded the Knights of Columbus (K of C) — choosing this name as an ironic rebuke to those groups esteeming Christopher Columbus, a devout Catholic, as a great American hero but barring Catholics from membership.

By 1904, the K of C had spread from New Haven into local chapters in every state, most provinces of Canada, in Mexico and in the Philippines. On June 3, 1901, Quincy Council No. 583 was established with 38 members in its original class. Meetings were initially held in any convenient place of sufficient size to hold a quorum, often in the law offices of Thomas A. Scherer, the council’s first grand knight, and in the Kadeski Garment Co. The Quincy Council’s first established meeting place at 508� Maine was used until completion of the lodge building at 804� Maine in 1911. Local No. 583 continued to grow in its early years and within two decades had fostered neighboring councils in Mount Sterling, Macomb, and Nauvoo, and Edina, Hannibal, and Monroe City, Mo.

The early Quincy K of C had an athletic club, a choral society, a weekly study club, and held an annual Columbus Day parade. Much like the ranks of medieval chivalry, the Knights of Columbus organizes itself into a series of degrees for members, the first three being charity, unity and fraternity. In 1917, Quincy Local No. 583 followed suit with the national organization and established a fourth degree, patriotism, to honor senior members and give knights a chance to achieve more recognition. On June 9, 1925, Martin Heinen, athletic director of Quincy College, founded an allied group for youngsters known as Columbian Squires and in 1912 the council formed a Ladies Auxiliary to complement this all-male organization.

The Knights of Columbus gained world prominence in 1914 when the United States named it the official Catholic service agency for the armed forces in World War I, with the Quincy Council aiding in this war effort by selling liberty bonds and war savings stamps.

After the Irish War of Independence between the Irish Republic Army and British security forces, Local No. 583 officially endorsed recognition of an independent Republic of Ireland on June 3, 1921.

As McGivney was launching the Knights of Columbus, he participated in the Total Abstinence Society at St. Mary’s Parish. The temperance movement was gaining momentum at that time, and on March 8, 1902, the national K of C barred members who were liquor dealers from receiving death benefits. The group later supported the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which banned the production, importation, transportation and sale of intoxicating beverages. Early K of C councils, including No. 583, prohibited alcohol and did not serve it widely until after World War II, 12 years�after Prohibition ended.

McGivney’s vision of meeting the insurance needs of Catholic families has, 134 years later, turned into the largest Catholic service organization and one of the highest rated insurance companies in the world. From its earliest days in striving to fulfill its motto, "In service to One, in service to all," the Knights of Columbus has shared the fruits of its benevolence with people regardless of race or religion.

The early Local No. 583 funded both St. Mary Hospital and the construction of St. Aloysius Orphanage Asylum on 20th and Vine (later to become College Avenue), both having open admissions policies. In 1924, four decades before the civil rights movement, the national Knights of Columbus published the black scholar W.E.B. DuBois’ book chronicling African-American contributions to American life, "The Gift of Black Folk." Local No. 583 soon donated this book, along with other Catholic and Knights of Columbus publications, to the Quincy Free Public Library for all citizens to read and discuss.

Joseph Newkirk is a local writer and photographer whose work has been widely published as a contributor to literary magazines, as a correspondent for Catholic Times, and for the past 23 years as a writer for the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project. He is a member of the Knights of Columbus Local No. 583.

"Ancient Order of Hibernians" The Quincy Daily Journal, May 15, 1899, page 3.

"Auxiliary to Knights of Columbus" The Daily Herald, Feb. 14, 1912, page 10.

"Ban of Knights of Columbus" The Quincy Daily Whig, March 9, 1902, page 2.

Genosky, the Rev. Landry. "People’s History of Quincy and Adams County: A Sesquicentennial History," Quincy, IL, Jost & Kiefer printing Co., 1973. Page 498.

Kauffman, Christopher J. "Faith & Fraternalism: The History of the Knights of Columbus 1882-1982." New York: Harper & Row publishers, 1982. Page 1.

Thompson, Joseph. "A History of the Knights of Columbus in Illinois." Chicago: Universal Press, 1921.