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Knights of Columbus elect new Supreme Knight

Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly

Knights of Columbus

John Burger - published on 02/05/21 - updated on 02/06/21

Patrick E. Kelly has served in many roles for Knights, military and government.

A former Navy captain and director of the John Paul II Shrine in Washington has been elected Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus. Starting March 1, 2021, Patrick E. Kelly will succeed long-serving Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson as chief executive officer and chairman of the board of the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization, with more than 2 million members.

Kelly, 57, was elected February 5 by the Knights’ Board of Directors. He will be the 14th Supreme Knight in the organization’s 138-year history. He has served as Deputy Supreme Knight since 2017 and has had a multifaceted career in the Knights, the U.S. military and in public service.

Anderson will retire February 28, after more than 20 years of service as Supreme Knight and upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70. He served long enough to see the beatification last fall of the Knights’ founder, Blessed Michael J. McGivney.

“The Knights of Columbus board has elected an extraordinarily well-qualified new Supreme Knight in Patrick Kelly,” Anderson said in a statement. “He is ideally suited to carry on the work of the Knights of Columbus as we enter a new era, faithful to our principles of charity, unity and fraternity, and in close collaboration with the Holy See and the bishops throughout the world. As Deputy Supreme Knight, Patrick has played a leading role in several major initiatives, including our international religious freedom efforts, our pro-life Ultrasound Initiative, and our new public initiation ceremony…. Most recently, Patrick led the Knights’ grassroots response to the COVID-19 pandemic titled ‘Leave No Neighbor Behind.’ Through this initiative, brother Knights around the world are serving those isolated and alone in quarantine, supporting food banks and blood centers in need of vital supplies, and providing other essential services.”

“I am honored, thankful and blessed,” Kelly said Friday. “I am blessed to have worked beside Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, who has done so much to strengthen the Knights of Columbus and fulfill our mission through acts of love, kindness, compassion and prayer that have helped countless people here at home and around the world. … I look forward to continuing Carl’s great work and will strive to guide the Knights of Columbus by the principles of charity, unity and fraternity according to the vision of Blessed Michael McGivney.”

Public service

Kelly also served as Vice President for Public Policy for 11 years, spearheading the Knights’ interaction with the White House, Congress and federal agencies. He has also served as State Deputy in the District of Columbia. 

Kelly served as the first executive director of the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C., and oversaw the renewal of the facility after its purchase by the Knights in 2011. 

Prior to his work at the Knights, Kelly pursued a lengthy career of public service. Most notably, he was Senior Advisor to the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom at the State Department from 2005 to 2006. His responsibilities included serving as the Department’s principal liaison with the Holy See and assisting with the formulation of U.S. foreign policy on religious freedom worldwide. He led U.S. delegations to the World Summit on Islamic-Christian dialogue (2005), the UN conference on interfaith cooperation (2005), and annual Sant’Egidio conferences.  He has also held advisory roles on the House Intelligence Committee and the Department of Justice, where he specialized in counterterrorism and national security.

Kelly served in the United States Navy for 24 years, on land and sea and on active duty and reserve status. As a Judge Advocate General, he specialized in international and operational law and served as the Commanding Officer of the international law unit at the U.S. Naval War College. He served on the staff of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations and aboard the USS Guam as the Staff Judge Advocate for Amphibious Squadron Two. His personal awards include three Navy Achievement Medals, five Navy Commendation Medals and the Meritorious Service Medal. He retired from the JAG Corps Reserve in 2016.

Kelly has served as consultant to three committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) for more than a decade: The Committee on Pro-life Activities, the Committee on Religious Liberty, and the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

He has been the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the March for Life since 2012. He has also been a member of the Board of Directors of the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) since 2013. He has helped guide the NCBC in its mission to promote respect for the dignity of each human being through an understanding of how the moral teachings of the Church apply in health care and the life sciences.

Kelly holds a master’s degree in theology from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America, a law degree from Marquette and a bachelor’s degree in economics from Marquette, where he joined the Knights of Columbus in 1983.

He and his wife, Vanessa, have three daughters. They live in Connecticut.

Read more:
Knights of Columbus leader gives 4 principles for success of pro-life work


Read more:
Pope Francis recognizes Knights of Columbus for building “fraternal, just and equitable world” 

Knights of Columbus
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