The Catholic service organization was the first national organization to have a blood donor program.
By being the first national organization to sponsor a donor program, the Knights of Columbus became a pioneer in blood donation.
In 1938, two years before the Red Cross’s wartime blood drive, Knights of Columbus councils worked with local hospitals to organize blood drives in centers set up by Knights.
That year, Supreme Physician Edward Fahey said at the annual Supreme Convention, “It is our hope that many councils and chapters will become interested in this movement and, under proper medical direction, organize a group of blood donors who will be available should any of our members and their families require their services.” The Knights offered their blood free of charge — at the time, donors were paid — and therefore lifted the financial burden for those receiving blood donations.
The program quickly caught on.
The first mention in Columbia magazine’s “Knights in Action” column came in December 1938, when Minneapolis Knights demonstrated “true fraternal spirit” when a Knight’s son needed blood transfusions for a rare blood disease.
In Santa Fe, New Mexico, Grand Knight Mony Pesenti of Council 1707 gave a transfusion to a poor Mexican woman who had given birth to a baby during the middle of the night, according to the January 1939 edition of Columbia. The sisters at the hospital reported that the mother “rallied,” and she and her baby were “alive and well.” As a local Santa Fe newspaper wrote, “The local Knights of Columbus have, in offering theirs free of charge where necessary, set a precedent which other organizations and cities might well follow. They give their blood that others might live.”
By the end of 1939, more than 400 councils had blood donor groups.
During World War II, councils ramped up blood drives, joining the Red Cross campaign for 100,000 blood donations to benefit of soldiers and air raid victims. Bishop Dollard Council 1942 in New Brunswick, Canada, was the first local unit to volunteer as a group to aid the Red Cross blood donor service.
Today, Knights of Columbus blood drives collect an average of more than 400,000 pints of blood annually.
Patrick Earley, a 94-year-old Knight from Pope John Paul I Council 6020 in Huntington Beach, California, was the Red Cross’ oldest platelet donor in the nation, having given more than 1,000 units. At the most recent annual Supreme Convention, Knights from around the world participated in a blood drive held at the event. With them were distinguished guests Dave “The Ghost” Casper — a Knight and Pro-Football Hall of Famer— along with the University of Minnesota’s Goldy the Gopher.
Local councils around the world continue to regularly organize blood drives. Our Lady of Lourdes Council 9953 in Richmond, Virginia, has hosted six blood drives each year for more than a quarter century.
“We are privileged and honored to help people,” said Knight Michael Roby. “It reinforces our concept of Knights believing in pro-life. The blood drive is just one of many activities that supports life.”
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