Re: ARE THEY WHO THEY SAY THEY ARE? And that is...?
I'm a Knight of Columbus. It was Catholicism's attempt to do a couple of things. One, it was designed for women who became widows to be taken care of - as well as their children. In the upper east of the U.S., Catholic men - mostly Irish, made up a significant portion of the general workforce. This typically meant that they didn't have a lot of reserve funds on hand in the event of their death and the widow wasn't able to afford a traditional funeral or take care of herself and her children. It was founded in the late 1800's by Father Michael J. McGivney in Connecticut. By joining, a member knew that his family would receive some assistance in the event of his death - not much, but some. This was done by giving them a life insurance policy. To this day, a member can receive the standard policy, or they can purchase other policies through their Knights of Columbus financial representative. This gentleman will handle all of the financial matters for the widow for the funeral. In the event that the widow doesn't want to plan out the funeral, he would also help to oversee the arrangements. They would be a typical KofC service. A member is not required to take out a policy, and many don't.
Another reason was to create a sense of Catholic male comradery. Because men put so many long hours into their day, there wasn't a lot left for a social life. This comradery helped them establish some networking, too. It's no secret that Irish Catholics were hard pressed to find safe,decent jobs paying a livable wage when they first came over. Discrimination ran rampant by the WASP dominated northeast. That's why so many became cops - to go along with the stereotype. The networking along with the degree system is similar to masonry, but that's where the similarities end.
There are four degrees to the KCs - each one espousing a particular ideal; Unity, Charity, Fraternity, and Patriotism. I sometimes have a hard time with the fourth degree in that most of these guys are WWII old timers and they don't take kindly to young punks talking trash about the government. That's just because of the era in which they grew up.
There is an initiation, and an oath taken. But, that oath is to Jesus the Christ, not to each other. That, first and foremost, is the biggest difference between the two. The other difference is that the ideals are based on everything that is common Catholic knowledge. The only thing that's secret is how the initiation is performed and the meetings of the 3rd and 4th degree. I belong to one of the oldest councils in existence. One would have to go to the upper east of the U.S. to find one that's older. It is by far the oldest council in our state. I can tell you that our meetings are made up of planning funerals, charity drives, different designated acts of charity for needy individuals - usually someone who is very ill, has just lost a loved one, etc.
The major charity drive is the "Tootsie Roll Drive" for the mentally handicapped. This money goes to the planning and expenses of the Special Olympics and other institutions for the sole purpose of helping them and their families out. We get audited every year by a different independent firm each time and everything is accounted for - unlike the Shriners.
So that's pretty much it. About the only major impact we've had besides charity work is that the Pledge of Allegiance used to say "One nation, indivisible, with libery and justice for all." That changed back in the 50's when a strong KC lobby pushed for the words "under God" to be added.