Knights of Columbus

By: William H. Dunn, C.S.C.

Type: General Entry

Published: March 1, 1995

The Texas State Council of the Knights of Columbus is a branch of the Order of the Knights of Columbus, a fraternal and service organization of Catholic men with headquarters at New Haven, Connecticut. The order was founded at New Haven in 1882 under the leadership of a local priest, Father Michael J. McGivney. In founding it, McGivney sought to provide for its members insurance benefits, support in their Catholic faith, and an entry into American fraternalism. Working with second-generation Irish Americans who still encountered bigotry directed against their religion and ethnicity, McGivney thought that a fraternity claiming Columbus as its patron would be a way of asserting the Americanism of its members. From the original San Salvador Council at New Haven other local councils, each headed by a grand knight and other officers, quickly spread around and beyond New England and included various ethnic groups. At the head structure was the Supreme Council, presided over by a supreme knight. Three degrees of membership, with the respective mottos of unity, charity, and fraternity, soon evolved. A fourth degree, patriotism, was established in 1900 and is considered the "visible" degree because its members are authorized to wear Columbian regalia at public ceremonies and other appropriate occasions. On February 28, 1907, the Southern Messenger reported that the first Texas showing had occurred that month in Dallas.

By 1900 the order had crossed the Mississippi. The first local council in Texas was El Paso No. 638, founded on April 13, 1902. Its prime movers were James Clifford, who became its first grand knight, and his friend E. V. Berrien, a territorial delegate and organizer for the region. In the spring of 1903 Berrien and others chartered a Pullman car, the Tisonia, and made a tour of the state on which they helped to found councils at Dallas, Fort Worth, Galveston, and San Antonio. One followed at Houston in 1905.

On the pattern of the order in other states, the Texas knights in 1904 established a state council headed by a state deputy. For years it lacked permanent headquarters. In 1953 a secretariat was established in rented quarters at Austin, where a headquarters building was constructed in the early 1960s. Another tier of the state structure is the district, a cluster of local councils assisted by a district deputy. In 1989 the Texas State Council comprised 436 local councils. It holds annual conventions at rotating sites. Local councils carry out many of their activities in conjunction with the state program. The Texas State Council has sponsored a number of major projects in addition to insurance. In its early days it was much occupied with fighting defamation and with educating the public about Catholicism in environments where it was often misunderstood. The rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1920s added to the urgency of this effort. Related to this and to the order's longstanding aim of getting American Catholics accepted as fully American was the State Council's decision in the early 1920s to form a historical commission to oversee the publication of a history of Catholicism in Texas from its beginnings under the Spanish flag. Documents collected for that purpose grew into the Catholic Archives of Texas at Austin. This and other collections were used for the writing of the multivolume history, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas, of which Carlos E. Castañeda was the author and Paul J. Foik the editor. Its volumes were issued successively between 1936 and 1958.

Higher education was another early interest of the TSC. A student loan fund, especially for the benefit of students at Catholic colleges in Texas, was initiated shortly after 1920 and continued for many years. It has been replaced by a program of scholarship that may be used at any college. TSC has also given substantial assistance to Catholic campus ministries at state universities.

Patriotic causes figure largely in the history of the Texas Knights. In 1916 they initiated for soldiers on the Mexican border a program of canteens that expanded into a project of the order nationally during World War I. With their slogan, "Everybody welcome, everything free," the "huts," as the servicemen called them, became familiar around military camps at home and abroad. During World War II the Knights contributed to the USO. From the "Red Scare" through the Cold War they maintained a stout anti-Communist position. Their Columbus Day celebrations are traditionally patriotic as well as fraternal occasions.

Youth and recreational projects have been important in the history of the TSC as well as in that of the order generally. TSC sponsors a junior branch of the order, the Columbian Squires. A free-throw tournament for youngsters as well as tournaments in golf, bowling, and softball are major annual events in the state recreational program. Since the early 1970's the religious education of the deaf has been TSC's main charity. In 1989, TSC was reported to have a membership of 58,200. In 1994 membership had increased to 64,000.

Mayellen Bresie, Paul J. Foik, C.S.C., Librarian and Historian (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1964). William H. Dunn, C.S.C., Knights of Columbus in Texas, 1972–1977 (Austin: Texas State Council, Knights of Columbus, 1978). Christopher J. Kauffman, Faith and Fraternalism: The History of the Knights of Columbus, 1882–1982 (New York: Harper, 1982). Sister Claude Lane, O.P., Catholic Archives of Texas: History and Preliminary Inventory (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1961).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

William H. Dunn, C.S.C., “Knights of Columbus,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 19, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

March 1, 1995