KofC founder Bl. Michael McGivney was an avid baseball fan and player who used the sport to help bring American Catholics into the fold.
The Knights of Columbus are celebrating their historic connection to the timeless American Pastime, baseball. On October 1, the Knights launched an online exhibition featuring their connection and contributions to the inception of the sport. The exhibit and webinar were organized through the Blessed Michael McGivney Pilgrimage Center, in New Haven, Connecticut.
Baseball is the oldest professional American sport, formally established in 1903 when the American and National leagues began to cooperate. Its roots, however, stretch back into the 19th century, when scrappy amateur teams were formed from workers’ unions for little else than the love of the game.
Among these working-man teams were the Knights of Columbus, as exhibit curator Andrew Fowler explains in the webinar:
“At the time of the order’s founding Catholics were not held in high esteem. They were seen as Papists, loyal only to Rome. Because of that perception Catholics often lacked the opportunity to rise in society, especially economically. Catholic men took the most dangerous jobs they could and often died as a result of those jobs.
“It’s the primary reason why Fr. McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus in the first place; to provide a safety net to those Catholic families who were now without a father or without a bread-winner … Catholics wanted to be viewed as patriotic Americans, so what did they do? They formed baseball leagues that also served the purpose of promoting inter-council fraternity.”
For the Knights of Columbus, the game served as an early avenue of assimilation for Catholic immigrants and first-generation Americans. After all, it’s very hard to hold on to a social grudge when your perceived enemy carries your team to glorious victory. In this, baseball can be considered the fire under the American melting pot.
The Knights of Columbus exhibition looks beyond the fame and legends of the sport to examine the unifying dimensions of the game. Baseball has a way of bringing people together, be it in a professional stadium or a church picnic pick-up game. Even today, baseball continues to serve as a path toward spiritual bonds and friendship, values attributed to Fr. McGivney, who founded the fraternal organization on the principles of charity and unity.
The Knights of Columbus baseball exhibit is chock full of little-heard stories and baseball trivia. One of the things we liked best from Andrew Fowler’s concise webinar was hearing all the differences in the game between the 19th century and today. Fowler accents his points with vintage photographs from early KofC baseball games.
This is just the first release that has been planned for the exhibit. Another three webinars, along with historical photos, will be released in 2022. In true baseball fanatic form, the releases are referred to as bases. The first base is the October 1 release, “Knights of Columbus: An American Story,” but second base, third base, and home plate will come out throughout the 2022 baseball season.
Subsequent segments will explore the growth of the game as a professional sport and chronicle developments during significant events in American and world history. For now, one can explore the roots of baseball and the contributions of the Knights of Columbus to the timeless sport at the Blessed Michael McGivney Center.