Patrick Kelly, the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, highlighted the group’s charitable work amid the COVID-19 pandemic, announced plans to support faith formation initiatives, and lauded the group’s newly-beatified founder in a speech Tuesday.
“Make no mistake: Now is a time for Knights. The past 18 months have amplified old challenges and given rise to new ones. They face our families, our faith, and our culture as a whole,” Kelly said during the August 3 virtual address.
Being a Knight means “a life of faith in action, a life of boldness in brotherhood, a life worth living. Catholic men are looking for nothing less. In the Knights of Columbus, they will find it,” Kelly said.
The Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization, has over 2 million members in 16,000 councils worldwide. The order was founded in 1882 by a Connecticut parish priest, Blessed Michael McGivney. Initially, the organization was intended to assist widows and their families upon the deaths of their husbands.
Father McGivney was beatified October 31, with Pope Francis praising his “zeal for the proclamation of the Gospel” which “made him an outstanding witness of Christian solidarity and fraternal assistance.”
“These words are a powerful validation of our Founder’s vision and of our own work. They remind us that Father McGivney’s life is an inspiration to the Church and to the world,” Kelly commented.
Kelly’s speech follows the opening Mass of the Knights’ 139th annual convention, held at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, where Blessed McGivney is buried. The Knights normally convene in-person each year, but 2021 marks the second year in a row that the meeting has been held virtually.
Kelly succeeded Carl Anderson as Supreme Knight in March. The new Supreme Knight praised his predecessor’s leadership, noting that in Anderson’s 20 years of leadership, the group gained more than 400,000 members, charitable donations rose by more than 60%, and the order expanded to Europe and mainland Asia.
Kelly pointed to Pope Francis’ declaration of a Year of St. Joseph, and highlighted the pope’s call to imitate the “creative courage” of Christ’s foster father.
“In St. Joseph, we see our mission and mandate. Guard the family. Guard the truth. He led through service and creative courage. So must we. It is the only way to overcome the hurdles facing our families, the Church and our culture,” he said.
Kelly announced that the Knights will, this fall, debut on network TV a documentary on St. Joseph, which he said will explore why St. Joseph is the ideal model for Catholic men.
In particular, Kelly lauded St. Joseph in his role as “Guardian of the Truth”— in his case, guardian of The Truth Himself, Jesus Christ.
“We, too, must defend this truth,” Kelly said.
“We live in a time of bigotry and intolerance. Key truths — about life, marriage, the nature of the family, and the meaning of freedom — are increasingly denied and even vilified. Yet, this makes our commitment to truth all the more important. Now is the time to inspire our fellow Catholics to stand for what’s right. St. Joseph is our guide. Let us pray for his intercession. And let us make his creative courage our own, for the sake of the family, and the truth.”
Kelly said the Knights will continue to be a sign of unity by standing for the truth.
“I have long admired the Order’s impact on men. As a Navy JAG officer for many years, I saw young men who had the courage to serve their country, but who nonetheless made poor decisions and got into trouble. My job was to represent them at courts-martial. Many lacked strong families or strong father figures. And too few had a living and real faith. This made a lasting impression on me and I came to appreciate that one of the best things about the Knights is that we can help fill this void.”
Kelly said that the truth is grounded in the Eucharist, and said the Knights are called to have a special reverence for the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Kelly announced that the Knights are and will continue to be major sponsors of the US bishops’ planned Eucharistic revival, set to take place over the next few years.
“As supreme knight, I will prioritize new initiatives to strengthen the faith of men, and the faith of our families. I firmly believe that, more and more, our success as an Order will be judged by this standard,” he said.
“Our growth depends on empowering men to be the husbands and fathers that God wants us to be. It is harder than ever, and for that reason, we must push forward as never before. It will require creative courage.”
In the past year, the Knights have provided more than $150 million in donations and more than 47 million hours of hands-on volunteer service, he said.
Some notable charitable projects include support for Special Olympics, scholarships for seminarians, and funds to rebuild churches in the Middle East and other aid for persecuted Christians both there and in countries like Nigeria.
In addition to financial aid, the Knights of Columbus have in the past advocated for persecuted Christians before the U.S. government, sending researchers to Iraq in 2016 to compile a 300-page report on the crimes of the Islamic State against Christians in the country.
The Knights announced a new initiative in mid-2020 to report on Christian persecution in Nigeria, where at least 60,000 Christians have been killed in the past two decades. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and the demographics overall are almost evenly split between Christians and Muslims.
The Knights are also working on a shrine to St. Kateri Tekakwitha in Gallup, New Mexico, and in July, Knights in South Dakota led a pilgrimage to the burial site of Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk, a revered Lakota medicine man and Catholic.
In discussing the Knights’ charitable work, Kelly focused strongly on the Knights’ response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“This was not our first pandemic. Father McGivney died during a pandemic less than a decade after our founding. A century ago, the Knights of Columbus confronted the Spanish Flu and emerged even stronger,” Kelly noted.
“This pandemic will be no different. Our duty was clear from the start. When loss and suffering struck our parishes and communities, the Knights responded, with service and sacrifice.”
In sum, Knights donated nearly $7.7 million to community and parish projects, Kelly said, as well as 1.2 million pounds of food, and almost a quarter million pints of blood. Through the Knights’ life insurance programs, the organization paid more than $524 million in death benefits, of which approximately $35 million was related to COVID.
Kelly highlighted several projects undertaken by local chapters during the pandemic, including donations to the Little Sisters of the Poor, and donations of truckloads of food worth more than $335,000 to the Acoma, Navajo, and Zuni nations in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah.
He also highlighted the Knights’ pro-life activities, including sponsoring numerous Marches for Life across North America. Kelly also highlighted the Knights’ Ultrasound Initiative, which since 2009 has placed more than 1,400 ultrasound machines in pregnancy resource centers.
In terms of policy goals, Kelly reiterated the Knights’ strong support for the Hyde Amendment, federal policy since 1976 that prohibits funding of most elective abortions in Medicaid. This summer, the appropriations committee of the US House of Representatives advanced a funding bill without including the usual prohibitions on abortion funding.
At the time, Kelly called the elimination of Hyde “an extreme measure” that “is not what most Americans want and is out of step with our democracy. We urge Congress to preserve provisions like the bipartisan Hyde Amendment that ban the use of taxpayer funding for abortions and affirm the desire of the American public.”
Kelly also urged prayers for a favorable decision in an upcoming Supreme Court case over Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, which if allowed to come into force could open the door for states to ban abortion before the age of viability.
The Knights’ life insurance program has $116 billion in life insurance in force. Its asset advisors program provides Catholic social teaching-compliant investment services to individuals and institutions and manages over $26 billion in assets.
In 2019, the organization launched the Knights of Columbus Charitable Fund, whereby donors can set aside money to benefit charities aligned with Catholic teaching. Last year, the Charitable Fund enabled donors to grant more than $1.9 million to charities around the world.
Kelly urged all Knights to pray for Blessed McGivney’s intercession. He also urged prayers to Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas and of the Knights.
The Knights’ virtual convention continues Wednesday, beginning with an awards session and culminating with a memorial Mass.
A message from Pope Francis, read during the opening Mass, included the pope’s gratitude for the Knights’ “unfailing support of our Christian brothers and sisters experiencing persecution for the sake of the Gospel,” as well as their “manifold charitable activities” during the COVID-19 pandemic.