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Crosses, Not Swords, For These Knights

Harvard becomes the fifth college in the state to host the all-male Catholic order

By Liz C. Goodwin, Crimson Staff Writer

It’s a new day for Harvard’s Knights.

The long-dormant Harvard Knights of Columbus will hold their first induction ceremony in recent memory tonight, and 50 male students are expected to attend, according to Grand Knight Michael V. Brewer ’07.

The Knights—an all-male Catholic organization that encourages service and fellowship—have chapters at only five other colleges in Massachusetts, according to the group’s official Web site.

Because it excludes members based on gender and religion, the chapter will not be seeking recognition as an official College group, although the College-recognized Catholic Student Association (CSA) will sponsor the society.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Brewer, who is also president of the CSA.

Both Brewer and Father William Murphy, the CSA’s undergraduate chaplain who will also be the chapter’s chaplain, said that the women of the campus-wide Catholic group feel positively about the Knights chapter, but that there is no significant interest among them in forming a sister organization.

“We discussed that at length before giving [the Knights] the green light,” Murphy said. “Basically the women in the CSA said it’s not a problem.”

But Sarah E. Stein ’08, a member of the CSA’s steering committee, said that the formation of the Knights of Columbus chapter is serving as “an impetus for us girls to get our act together.”

Stein said that the CSA is starting an informal female-only dessert-and-discussion group, though it hopes to soon create a more formal women’s organization within the CSA.

The Knights chapter’s membership is restricted to men, but Brewer said the group plans to throw inclusive events and organize service projects for the larger community.

“I’m definitely excited about [the Knights of Columbus],” Stein said. “It’s a really great organization.”

Brewer said that the organization will also advocate for certain political issues.

“Pro-life activism is very important of the Knights of Columbus,” Brewer said.

Nationally, the Knights have advocated for laws barring gay marriage, euthanasia, and abortion. The Knights have also opposed an immigration reform measure that would make it a criminal offense to provide humanitarian aid to undocumented aliens.

The Knights, first established in New Haven in 1882, have grown to include nearly two million members worldwide. “At the turn of the century there was a legacy in certain areas of anti-Semitism or reluctance towards integration,” Brewer said, but added, “that sort of legacy does not exist at all anymore.”

The fact that the chapter’s meetings will be closed to non-members does not mean that there is anything particularly exciting going on, Father Murphy said.

“It’s kind of like watching C-SPAN,” he said. Murphy added that, “I don’t think that the Harvard community will notice the presence of the Knights of Columbus.”

The chapter “does not act independently of the Catholic community, so you wouldn’t find the Knights taking initiative on any particular issue,” Murphy said.

While little is known about the Knights’ previous presence at Harvard, The Crimson carried several announcements in the early 1920s of dances and lectures sponsored by the group.

—Staff writer Liz C. Goodwin can be reached at goodwin@fas.harvard.edu.

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