Similar to Catholic Family, Catholic Knights has its roots in the years following the American Civil War. The diocese of Nashville, Tennessee, ravaged by cholera and yellow fever, was also hard hit by bank closures and the depression of 1873. Bishop Patrick Feehan encouraged a group of men to create a fraternal organization that would be known as Catholic Knights of America. It was chartered in the nearby state of Kentucky in 1877.
The group soon spread throughout Catholic America, finding particular success in Wisconsin. Within a few years, the Wisconsin membership had outgrown the national organization and a disproportionate amount of the "Badger State" membership premiums went to pay for members in other parts of the nation. In 1885 the proposition to create regional rates was turned down by the national organization. Therefore on January 21, 1885, 22 laymen and eight priests attended the organizational meeting of what would become the Order of the Catholic Knights of Wisconsin. These two organizations would come together again in 2005 when the Catholic Knights of America merged into Catholic Knights.
The first membership meeting of the new Wisconsin group was held at the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist in Milwaukee. Within five months the Order had grown to 1,000 members. Patrick Henry Martin became member No. 1 of Branch No. 1 in Fond du Lac.
The organization grew dramatically over the years and in 1952 moved its office into Milwaukee’s 16-story Tower Hotel. In 1958 the Society changed its name to Catholic Knights Insurance Society to mirror the modernization of its financial offerings. By 1970 Catholic Knights had moved again, this time into its present location.
Prior to the merger with Catholic Family on April 1, 2010, Catholic Knights had some 85,000 members located in 141 branches in 17 states primarily throughout the Midwest and the South. It has more than $873 million in assets and $3.5 billion of life insurance in force.
The year was 1868 and the ravages of the American Civil War were still evident in the State of Wisconsin. With widows and orphans left behind following the war, the Most Rev. John Martin Henni, first Archbishop of Milwaukee, saw a need to provide for those less fortunate and to develop a system of financial security for Catholics and their families. In August of 1868, he gathered 21 men from a variety of occupations and they established The Family Protective Association.
The new organization was officially incorporated in March, 1869. Its name changed to Catholic Family Life Insurance (CFLI) in 1949. As the oldest Catholic fraternal benefit society, CFLI would go on to become the first to adopt the legal reserve system, first to insure women and children, and first to provide Masses for living and deceased members. Over the years several societies merged with CFLI, including Rhode Island-based Union Saint-Jean-Baptiste in 1991, and Northern Fraternal Life, headquartered in Milwaukee, two years later. At the time of merger with Catholic Knights, CFLI, with headquarters in the northern Milwaukee suburb of Shorewood, had a total of 45,000 members in 78 chapters located primarily in the upper Midwest and New England.
Toward the end of the 19th Century, Americans of French-Canadian and Acadian descent organized small mutual aid societies in their ethnic parishes across the upper Midwest and the Northeast. These were called “Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste.”
At a meeting in Holyoke, Massachusetts, in 1899, Franco-American leaders from 18 such parish mutual aid groups decided that for greater solvency and stability they should come together. In Woonsocket, Rhode Island, after receiving a charter for incorporation by the state, “L’Union Saint-Jean-Baptiste d’Amérique” (The Union of Saint John the Baptist Societies in America) was founded on May 7, 1900. In 1969 the name was shortened to Union Saint-Jean-Baptiste. In 1991 USJB merged with Catholic Family Life Insurance and until 2014 operated a regional office in Rhode Island.
Degree of Honor Protective Association has a proud history rooted in the first fraternal benefit society in the United States: Ancient Order of United Workmen. United Workmen was founded by John J. Upchurch on October 27, 1868, to financially protect railroad workers and their families. From its humble beginnings in Pennsylvania, the organization grew to become the largest fraternal benefit society in the nation in 1886.
On May 14, 1873, Degree of Honor was created granting a membership class to the wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers of members of the United Workmen. A bold step was taken in 1882 when members of Degree of Honor created a separate beneficiary jurisdiction to allow for women to contribute to their own financial security. In 1896 in Buffalo, New York, the Society had grown so dramatically that the Superior Lodge of Degree of Honor was established.
Frances Buell Olson envisioned a Degree of Honor distinct from the United Workmen and existing as its own Grand Order. On December 10, 1910, United Workmen granted their independence and Olson was re-elected as Superior Chief of Honor. By 1917, Degree of Honor had moved into its new national headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Over the years, youth clubs were formed, a summer camp facility for members was built on Lake Minnetonka, scholarships granted, and more flexible service clubs established. Over much of that expansion, Frances Buell Olson served as National President for 45 years. Six inspirational women have held the position of National President over the Degree’s history.
Several societies have merged into Degree of Honor over the years including two Minnesota-based fraternal benefit societies, the Polish White Eagle Association in 2001, and the Hibernian Life Insurance Fund of Minnesota. Degree of Honor merged with Catholic Financial Life in 2017 to ensure the protection of its members for generations to come.
The Catholic Knights of America was founded in April of 1877 in Nashville, Tenn. The Society was the result of an inspiration of a man named James J. McLoughlin. This inspiration was received after a very powerful sermon by The Ordinary of the Nashville Diocese, the Most Reverend Patrick A. Feehan, who later became the first Archbishop of Chicago. Our country was trying to heal the wound of the Civil War, and McLoughlin felt it was time for Catholics to unite. The initial meeting took place at Emmett Hall in Nashville on April 23, 1877.
On May 29, 1877, Branch #1 received its formal Charter from the State of Tennessee, and McLoughlin was its first president. Bishop Feehan became the first spiritual director. First known as “The Order of United Catholics,” its name was changed to “Catholic Knights of Honor” on June 5, 1877. Following a suggestion proposed by Bishop Feehan, its name was again changed to “The Catholic Knights of America” on June 19, 1877. Also at that time, St. Joseph, Protector of the Christian Home, was chosen as the Patron Saint of the Society. The Catholic Knights of America quickly expanded, and some of the first states in which it became active in were Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Missouri and Indiana.
The Society’s first death claim was paid on July, 17, 1877. Members offered prayers for the deceased and paid the widow a sum of $101. The Catholic Knights of America’s first national convention was held in Louisville, Kentucky, July 9-11, 1878. At this convention, the objectives of the Society were to:
The Catholic Knights of America celebrated its 125th Anniversary in 2002.
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