On March 29, 1882, the Connecticut legislature officially chartered the Knights of Columbus. Several months earlier, in October of 1881, the Reverend Michael Joseph McGivney and male parishioners of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic church in New Haven had founded the organization as a fraternal mutual benefit society. In addition to focusing on charitable works, the Knights of Columbus established a life insurance program to provide for the widows and orphans of deceased members.
At the time of the Order’s founding, an influx of new immigrants to the US had created, in some quarters, a prejudicial attitude toward outsiders. Indeed, many viewed Catholicism as a foreign, unwelcome influence. With this in mind, Father McGivney had proposed that the new society be called the Sons of Columbus. By taking the name of Christopher Columbus, who US citizens of the time celebrated as the discoverer of the “New World,” the Order would demonstrate that Catholics, too, embraced American values. Ultimately, the group chose Knights, rather than Sons, for the sense of dignity and purpose that it conferred.