"Mom, who are those guys in the funny hats?"

(This photo was taken of the honor guard of the Knights of Columbus at the Consecration and Rededication of Old St. Patrick Oratory. This essay was written by Oratory member Joe Farris who has been associated with the Knights for over 40 years.)

"Mom, who are those guys in the funny hats?" As a former Commander of the Fourth Degree Honor Guard, I used to hear that a lot, and I’m sure the Honor Guard continues to hear little guys and gals asking their parents the same question. Perhaps you yourself, if not a member of the K. of C., have had questions about the Knights of Columbus.

Well, I have been asked to share a little bit of information with you and hopefully enlighten you about this organization, which happens to be the largest organization of Catholic laymen in the world.

First, of all, let me tell you what it IS NOT. It is not a secret society. The only secrets of the K. of C. are the ceremonials that a Knight must go through in order to be accepted into each degree in the Order. There are four degrees in the Order:
  • The first degree is Charity. 
  • The second degree is Unity.
  •  The third degree is Fraternity. 
  • After a Knight has been a third degree Knight for a period of one year, he is invited to take the fourth degree which is Patriotism. As a Fourth degree Knight, you can volunteer to join the Honor Guard. 
The Honor Guard is often referred to as “The Knights on Main Street” because their presence is most often the only time the public really gets a look at the Knights in action since most of the good works they do are seldom seen. We are 1.7 million strong, and I could be writing for hours just on the good works done by the K. of C. – most of which you will never know about, but just for teasers, the bell tower at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in our nation’s capital was paid for by the K. of C. and is often referred to as “the Knights tower.” The organ in Camp David’s chapel was donated by the Knights and when you see the Holy Father saying Mass on T.V. at Christmas and most other times the uplink to the satellites is underwritten by the K. of C.  We are the largest Pro-Life organization in the world and do more for the mentally handicapped than any organization anywhere, bar none! The words, “under God” in the pledge of allegiance are there because the Knights of Columbus led the charge to get those words included and the American Legion the year after these words were added, at their national convention, lauded the Knights of Columbus and gave us the credit and recognition for getting these words added. President Ronald Reagan, in a public address once said, “If you want a job done and done right, give it to the Knights of Columbus.” The Knights of Columbus Insurance Company is the first and so far the only life insurance company that insures the life of a baby while in its mother’s womb. This is done to demonstrate to the world that it is human life, not just “a fetus.”

Our founder, the Venerable Servant of God, Father Michael J. McGivney, (his cause for canonization is in progress) founded the Order in the basement of St. Mary church in New Haven, CN in 1882. From that humble beginning 126 years ago has grown the largest order of Catholic lay men in the world. When Fr. McGivney is canonized, he will not be the first Knight of Columbus to bear the title “Saint”, as five priest-martyrs in Mexico and one Bishop, who was also a Knight of Columbus have been canonized by the Church. There is also a lay Knight who’s cause is pending and he has been named Blessed but sadly I do not recall his name. Our Supreme Knight meets face to face with the Holy Father several times annually.

Well, back to the original question, “Mom, who are the guys in the funny hats”? And what do the different color capes and ostrich feathers mean? Sometimes in an Honor Guard you will see Knights wearing different colored capes and ostrich feathers on their chapeaux (funny hats). (By the way, a Knight purchases and maintains his own regalia) 
  • The guy in the purple is the Commander. A white cape signifies either the present or past Navigator (President). 
  • A gold cape and ostrich feather signifies either the present or past Grand Master of the Fourth Degree (one in each state). 
  • Green means he has the title of Marshall of the Fourth Degree (two in each state). 
  • Red is a Knight of the Fourth Degree. 
There are other colors worn by members of the Supreme Assembly but rarely ever seen by the public. The chapeaux is an Admiral’s hat because Columbus was an admiral as well as a knight. The baldric, (the sash that crosses the chest of the Knight and to which his sword is attached bears the colors of our nation, or in Canada their nation, or in Mexico their nation, etc. etc... There is a metal plate at the end of the baldric that holds the sword’s scabbard. It bears the initials, TFMM for “Tempus Fugit, Memento More”. Time flies, remember death. The honor guard is never permitted to deviate from the prescribed regalia which is “set in stone” by the Supreme Council in New Heaven. Only in the Philippine Islands, do the Knights wear a white jacket with their tuxedoes instead of black. This rule assures uniformity among Honor Guards.

I joined Council # 571 in St. Joseph, MO in April of 1961. The Council number tells you how old the Council is. Number 571 means it is the 571st Council formed and is the second oldest Council in the State of MO. I now belong to my fourth Council which is number 7199 which I helped Charter and served as the Charter Deputy Grand Knight. Oratory member, Don Deister is also a Charter member of this Council. Council # 7199 is named in honor of Pope John Paul I. Councils are usually named in honor of a deceased priest, bishop, Pope or sometimes a Saint or sometimes named to honor a Parish. The Charter members of the Council propose the name for the Council and then vote on its acceptance. Members of the Fourth Degree, in addition to belonging to their respective Councils also belong to an Assembly. I belong to the Msgr. Wogan Assembly number 2315, which is named in honor of Msgr. Wogan, the first priest in Clay County. I helped charter this Assembly and was the Charter Scribe (Secretary).

Someday, I am sure we will charter a council at Old St. Patrick Oratory. (There was a time when Councils were comprised of men from several parishes but in recent years the Supreme Council now prefers a Council in every parish). In the meantime, I hope that you have found this article informative and now know how to answer your little ones when asked, “Who are those guys in the funny hats.”

Joe Farris
Council #7199, Pope John Paul I
Assembly #2315, Msgr. Wogan 

1 comment:

Craig said...

Thanks Joe

I belong to 14489 (how new do you think we are?), and am waiting to get a Council at OSP as soon as we can, you got my help.