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Who Are the Fourth Degree Knights?

The Patriotic Degree reminds us of our duty to God and country.

by Andrew Butler11/8/2019

They are the Knights on Main Street, the men you probably envision when someone says Knights of Columbus to you. They’re present in their distinct regalia at civic and Church events, acting as honor guards and color corps, or standing in respect at the funerals of members or during adoration of the Eucharist.

But there is more to being a Fourth Degree member of the Knights of Columbus than a uniform. They are the men who have chosen to embrace the Order’s fourth principle of patriotism, the men who lead the efforts to reach out to veterans and active military and to embody the fact that one can be a faithful Catholic and also be a faithful citizen.

When the Knights of Columbus was founded in 1882, three principles united its members: charity, unity and fraternity. At that time people feared that members of the Catholic faith owed their entire allegiance to the Church and could not be trusted as citizens of their country. Patriotism was added to the Order’s principles in 1900, based on the idea that Knights are loyal to both God and country.

Members who wish to live out patriotism together can join “the Fourth Degree.” Members of this degree have the special honor of holding the title “Sir Knight,” participating in color and honor guards and organizing programs that promote Catholic citizenship. They also become part of a Fourth Degree Assembly in their area. There are more than 3,500 Fourth Degree assemblies around the world.

“It is important, particularly in this day and age, that our Fourth Degree Assemblies encourage active Catholic citizenship and foster the spirit of patriotism in our members and the community at large,” Supreme Master Dennis Stoddard said.

The Serving Those Who Served program is a major initiative of the Fourth Degree supporting Veterans Affairs facilities. The Knights of Columbus has representatives at almost every Veterans Affairs medical clinic in the United States, where they recruit and manage K of C volunteers in developing activities and programs that aid patients’ most essential needs.

The Fourth Degree has also supported priests, in particular those who go on to serve as military chaplains. Through a special scholarship program, the Knights helped fund the education of seminarians preparing to become Catholic chaplains in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Supreme Knight Calls On Fourth Degree Knights


The “primary mission” of the Fourth Degree Knights is to bring unity, brotherhood, mentorship to Catholic men

By Andrew Fowler10/12/2020

Catholic patriotism is “needed now more than perhaps during any other time” in the nation’s history, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson told attendees at the 110th Supreme Assembly Annual Meeting, which was held virtually on Sept. 22.

He stressed that members of the Fourth Degree, also known as the Patriotic Degree, must serve as mentors and role models for young Catholic men during these times.

“Many of our communities are being torn apart and they’ve lost a sense of brotherhood, lost a sense of unity, lost a sense of patriotism and what unites us as citizens,” Supreme Knight Anderson said. “This must be our mission: to call, especially Catholic men, back to a sense of brotherhood and unity. To me, this is the primary mission of the Fourth Degree.”

The Supreme Assembly, which oversees the Fourth Degree, met under the leadership of Supreme Master Dennis Stoddard. During the meeting, the attendees discussed opportunities for welcoming more Knights into the Fourth Degree, as well as implementing patriotic mentorship for Hispanic Catholics, Native American Catholics and other minorities.

Supreme Knight Anderson said the miracle attributed to K of C founder Father Michael J. McGivney, recently recognized by Pope Francis, is a “clear sign from heaven” about the importance, relevancy and necessity of the Knights of Columbus in today’s culture.

“In the year in which we have such a divinely-inspired sign from heaven to us, this is the year we must grow,” he said. “This is the year we must have the courage to tackle the tough issues. This is the year we have to do the hard and necessary work that only Catholic men can do — and I believe that only the Knights of Columbus can do.”

The supreme knight also compared recent desecration and vandalism of Catholic churches to the discrimination faced by the Irish-Catholics who formed the Knights of Columbus under Father McGivney’s leadership in the late 19th century.

“They knew the value of religious freedom and of being a respected citizen with full rights of citizenship,” Supreme Knight Anderson said. “When we look around today, we see a similar need for Catholics to have their religious liberty respected, to have their churches, statues and religious symbols respected and protected.”

Patriotism has been one of the four principles of the Knights of Columbus since the Fourth Degree was established in 1900. The Fourth Degree consists of Knights who have the special honor of holding the title “Sir Knight,” participating in color and honor guards, and organizing programs that promote Catholic citizenship. When taking the Fourth Degree, Knights become part of a Fourth Degree Assembly in their area. There are more than 3,500 Fourth Degree assemblies around the world.

EARLY GROWTH: 1900-1910

The first exemplification of the Fourth Degree takes place Feb. 22, 1900 in New York.

Along with the addition of “patriotism” to the Knights’ principles came the first Fourth Degree exemplification, which took place Feb. 22, 1900, in New York City, with 1,100 Knights participating. A similar event took place in Boston in May with another 750 candidates taking the patriotic degree.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the fledgling Order was growing dramatically. Councils had been chartered throughout the United States and Canada, and international expansion continued to Mexico and the Philippines in 1905, along with Cuba and Panama in 1909.

The Knights also turned their attention to college campuses, and in more ways than one. In 1904, more than 10,000 Knights and their families attended ceremonies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in which the Order presented the school with a grant for more than $55,000. The funds, used to establish a K of C chair of American history, began a long history of support for CUA. In addition, students at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana soon organized their own K of C council. Chartered in 1910, Notre Dame Council 1477 was the Order’s first college council, launching a subset of the Knights that today includes councils at 244 schools worldwide.

  • 1900: The first exemplification of the Fourth Degree takes place on Feb. 22, 1900, in New York City; 1,100 Knights receive the degree. The following May, another 750 Knights take the degree in Boston.

  • 1904: More than 10,000 Knights and their families attend ceremonies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in which a check for $55,633.79 is presented to the school for the establishment of a K of C chair of American history. From 1909 to 1913, Knights raise $500,000 to establish a permanent endowment for CUA.

  • 1905: The first council in the Philippines — Manila Council 1000 — is chartered by U.S. citizens after the Spanish-American War. The same year, the Order expanded to Mexico, establishing Guadalupe Council 1050 in Mexico City.

  • 1909: U.S. workers in the Canal Zone institute Balboa Council 1371 in Panama City. A degree team from Mobile, Ala., then visits Cuba and institutes San Agustin Council 1390 in Havana.

  • 1909: A reported 5,000 Knights meet James A. Flaherty’s train in Philadelphia in 1909 when he arrives at the annual convention where he is elected s

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