It is in the traditions of the history of the various Knightly orders of the Roman Catholic Church, including the Knights of Malta and the Order of St. John, both of medieval Europe, that the Knights of St. John was established, a tradition today’s Knights honor dearly today. These men carry a tradition of fidelity to the Church, honor and loyalty among its ranks, and charity and compassion to our communities.
Today’s Catholic fraternal order of the Knights of St. John was officially incorporated May 6, 1886, though its roots run older, amongst a spectrum of Catholic knightly orders of the late 19th century. Its most valued traditions have held constant ever since: inward traditions of loyalty, fidelity, Faith, and honor, and outward traditions like its uniforms and insignia.
Early commanderies could be found in Rochester and Utica, New York, Cleveland, Ohio, Detroit, Michigan, Washington, D.C., and throughout the northeast and Midwest. As the 20th century rolled through its second half, the order spread to our neighbor to the North, Canada, and across the Atlantic, to Europe an Africa. With Commanderies throughout the world, the order has become an international one.
Late 19th Century:
Building a New
In America during the middle of the nineteenth century, after the Civil War, there existed a number of uniformed military societies, the Knights of St. Paul, Knights of St. George, the Knights of St. Louis, and many more, which would be a modern counterpart of knights of old. The medieval knights fought well for God and the Church on the field of battle, but these new groups chose a different field, a spiritual one, whereupon they could strive to capture men’s hearts and minds for God.
These various groups of Catholic Knights were of many descriptions of uniforms, by-laws, aims and purposes. Some wore uniforms modeled after the steel armored uniforms of the ancient knights, coats of velvet, brass plumed helmets bedecked with feathers, shining breastplates, leggings with enormous boots with spurs. Some had by-laws to aid various segments of immigrants, others for the purpose of musical and literary enrichment, for the veneration of a certain saint, payment of sick benefits to members and their families, payment of death benefit to widows and orphans of deceased members. All had the central purpose to serve Almighty God and His Church.
Several of these organizations met by chance in Rochester, New York, in June of 1874, in a common convention. Visiting delegates were favorably impressed, and returned to their home cities, determined to form joint organizations at home. It was incorporated by a special act of the Legislature of the State of New York. Combined commanderies soon came into existence in Buffalo, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Detroit, Syracuse, Denver, Dayton, Toronto, Louisville, and Columbus. Each of these combined groups still had their own individual laws, and followed its own discretion in regard to uniforms
On October 15, 1879, some Commanderies of Catholic Knights from Baltimore, Washington and Cincinnati met in Baltimore to consider and discuss the question of the formation of a national organization that would result in a merger or union of the various Catholic uniformed societies of the country under one head. After deliberations it was decided to form such a body, and an organization was perfected with the election of officers and the selection of the name, “The Roman Catholic Union of Knights of St. John.”The next convention was held in Cincinnati in 1880,and more commanderies became affiliated with the “Union.” A resolution was later adopted to shorten the name to “Knights of St. John”
The first half of the twentieth century brought with it two world wars, changes to how we communicate with each other, and an intense need for a way for Catholic men, many of whom answered the Nation’s call to service, to share their experiences, their Faith, and camaraderie.
In service to the Church, the men of the Knights of St. John had this framework in place already, a framework that was strengthened through shared service, sacrifice, and a sense of duty and honor. In addition to the knightly presence of His Kingdom at The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Holy Solemnities and Feasts, Roman Rites, and other liturgical events, the Knights began adding activities to continue this strength, from service projects to sporting events and Memorial Day activities. These components of the Knights’ brotherhood continue to this day, from the annual Memorial Day service at the Knights’ cenotaph in Buffalo, N.Y., to the annual bowling tournament, and more.
It was also during the early 1900s that the Knights of St. John began to grow overseas. In 1913, Commanderies established up in Trinidad-Tobago and by 1929, in Panama and the Canal Zone. In 1933 the Order of the Knights of St. John was introduced into the Gold Coast, now Ghana. Men there applied to the United States for permission to form a commandery, at Saltpond, in the Central Region of Ghana. Over a short span of time, the Order was inaugurated in Lome, Togo; Monrovia, Liberia; Enugu, Nigeria; and Freetown, Sierra Leone. Today the order boasts over 16,000 members in West Africa, alone.
Meanwhile, the order in the United States continued to evolve, adding commanderies across the country from Minneapolis to Los Angeles and beyond. As our ability to communicate has become faster and the world that much smaller, the brotherhood became closer than ever before.
Keeping the Order Strong
For Tomorrow’s Men
Recently, the Knights of St. John have been found by younger men searching for a way to deepen their relationship to, and participation in, the Faith of the Catholic Church. An increasing number of Knights of St. John commanderies can be found at parishes that celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass, and the men in uniform present an extraordinary compliment to the beauty of the mass.
Joining the Knights of St. John is a rewarding experience, but a solemn one that each member enters into after serious contemplation. To begin your own journey toward brotherhood, click here to learn more.