National Catholic Reporter
Tom Roberts | May. 15, 2017
The Irish Catholics who poured into the United States by the hundreds of thousands in the mid-19th century, hoping to escape famine and professing a faith that was despised by many, strained to gain a toehold in a hostile culture.
The Knights of Columbus was born out of that struggle, one of a spate of fraternal and beneficial organizations to emerge in Catholic circles in an effort to provide protection and a path to assimilation into a new country. Founded in 1882, the Knights' original mission was to save women and children from poverty through an insurance program.
But today, one wonders what Fr. Michael McGivney, the charismatic young priest who founded the Knights of Columbus in a church basement in New Haven, Connecticut, would make of his organization. Almost 2 million men call themselves Knights of Columbus, and the organization reported revenues of more than $2.2 billion in 2015, the latest year such information is available. Moreover, in the past decade, the organization has donated $1.55 billion to charity, according to the Knights.
Much of the Knights' influence occurs behind the scenes, but it's not hidden. Most of it is contained on tax forms that are public and that nonprofits are required to file annually. The data in this report is largely contained in Knights of Columbus' 990 tax forms filed for the years 2013, 2014 and 2015, as well as from news releases and other statements contained on the organization's website. While no simple means exists to measure the effect of the Knights' spending, there is hardly a corner of the Catholic world where the resources of this international force have not left an impression.