Two Problems, One Solution
The drive to offer financial protection for Catholic families comes from our venerable founder, Father Michael J. McGivney.
In the summer of 1873, as a young seminarian in Canada, he was forced to leave theological studies and return home to aid his family after the sudden death of his father, Patrick. “He was reeling,” it says in his biography Parish Priest. “He packed his belongings, knowing that he would never return to Sainte-Marie, and went home.”
“Money for tuition was no longer available,” the authors continue. “Even if the McGivney family could survive without Michael’s financial support, it was not clear that he could survive without help from them — or someone.” Michael was able to continue his studies only after receiving a scholarship from the then-Diocese of Hartford.
Less than a decade later, as an associate pastor at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Conn., Father McGivney was faced with an all-too-similar situation.
One of his parishioners, Edward Downes Jr., was forced to quit the seminary after his father died unexpectedly. He returned home to New Haven to support his mother and 12 siblings.
In those days, the court had the right to assign children to public institutions if it had reason to believe that their families could not properly care for and support them. Unless they were represented by a financially secure guardian in court, the teenage Downes boys would be removed from their family.
On Feb. 6, 1882 — the very same day as the first meeting for what would become the Knights of Columbus — Father McGivney appeared in court to stand as guardian for Edward’s brother Alfred. The court accepted, yet Father McGivney was frustrated by the recurring nightmare of financial hardship.
“Even though he was only a young man,” Parish Priest says of Father McGivney, “he was filled with a lifetime of anger and frustration at the sense of doom that settled over nearly every family that lost its wage earner. … On the afternoon of February 6, he was more determined than ever that what had happened to the Downes family need not happen to anyone else.”
The Mission Begins – And Continues
In that spirit, Father McGivney set off with “entrepreneurial zeal” to found the Knights of Columbus. In his own words, Father McGivney wanted the organization to “to unite the men of our Faith throughout the Diocese of Hartford, that we may thereby gain strength to aid each other in time of sickness, to provide for decent burial, and to render pecuniary assistance to the families of the deceased members.”
He knew what life was like without that assistance. The initial system of “life insurance” designed by Father McGivney was a simple one, a pass-the-hat system through which each member could help support his brother Knights.
As the organization grew council by council, state by state, and country by country, so too did the insurance program. The pass-the-hat system was transformed into one of the largest and most highly rated life insurance programs in North America.
The Knights of Columbus has passed many milestones and received many accolades along the way: $100 billion of life insurance in force, 40 consecutive A++ (Superior) ratings for financial strength from A.M. Best, 14 consecutive years of sales growth, and designation as a 2015 “World’s Most Ethical Company,” but all that is secondary.
What matters most is that we continue to fulfill Father McGivney’s mission of offering and providing financial protection for Catholic families. 2015 is not 1882. Times are different. Laws are different. Economies are different. But even for those families who may have slightly more than next-to-nothing, insurance protection can be the difference between getting by and getting evicted. In its role as the premier Catholic life insurer, the Knights of Columbus continues to provide a valuable and noble service.
That’s why we offer life insurance.
It’s not for the $8 billion in annual sales volume, or the $100 billion in force, or the 2 million policies on the books. It’s not the amount that counts, but the impact of those dollars.
It’s the homes saved, the college tuitions provided, the Catholic funerals paid for and the families shielded that create the legacy of protection that would make Father McGivney proud.
It’s those things that are the hallmark of the Knights of Columbus Insurance program.
Find him by visiting kofc.org/findagent or by calling 1-800-345-5632.