|Knights of Columbus
In February of 1882, Father Michael J. McGivney, a second generation Irish American priest
gathered sixty men, most of them also American-born Irish, in the basement of St. Mary's
Church in New Haven, Connecticut. The men signed the register for a new, 'original'
organization, the Knights of Columbus, and gave birth to an American Catholic phenomenon.
There were a number of Catholic fraternal and insurance societies founded at the turn of
century, the Catholic Knights of America, the Massachusetts Catholic Order of Foresters
(1879), and the Catholic Benevolent
Legion (1881). Many of these were like the Knights, 'post ethnic' societies, appealing to
young men, born or at least brought up, in the United States, for whom America was home
and the old country, whether Ireland, Germany or French Canada, was their parent's memory.
None of these societies was more fiercely patriotic, so passionately assimilationist, and
yet devoted to
Catholicism than the Knights of Columbus, and thus none was more successful in appealing
to emerging American-born generations of not only Irish but other Catholic ethnics. By
1899 there were 40,000 Knights of Columbus in 300 councils; by 1909 there were 230,000 in
Ceremonial for the Fourth Degree Themes of Citizenship
Proud in the olden days was the boast: "I am a Roman Catholic;" prouder yet
today is the boast, " I
am an American citizen;" but the proudest boast of all times is ours to make, "I
am an American
Catholic citizen." Knights of Columbus
A New Generation of Women
As sharp observers like Finley Peter Dunne's Mr. Dooley often noted, American born
daughters of immigrants played as important a role in defining standards of success and
respectability among the new Catholic middle class as their brothers did. Changes in the
economy in the late nineteenth century opened up vast numbers of new white collar jobs to
women, such as stenographers, sales clerks, and telephone operators. In some big northern
cities lay Catholic women - the vast majority of them American born - dominated the ranks
of public school teachers and administrators. Some of these women never married,
preferring to follow their professions. Those who did wed brought their ambitions and
refinements with them to their families and passed them on to their children.