South Bend, Ind., Jan 30, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has encouraged students at the University of Notre Dame to join the Knights of Columbus.
Rhodes, whose diocese includes the college, made the invitation in a January 30 letter to the editor in The Observer, a student-run newspaper for the universities of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s. The letter asked all male students to consider joining the fraternal society.
“In the years that I have been involved with the Knights, and particularly in the years since my ordination as a bishop, I have come to appreciate the many ways in which this fraternal order enhances the lives of its members and families and also serves the Church in many and diverse ways,” Rhoades said in the letter.
Rhoades highlighted the extensive charitable work done by the group, pointing out that last year the Knights donated more than $177 million to charitable purposes ($185 according to the Knights themselves) as well as completing more than 75 million volunteer hours for various service projects. There are about 2 million members of the Knights worldwide.
The Knights of Columbus has been in the public eye in recent weeks, after senators questioned a judicial nominee about his membership of the group, asking whether it could disqualify him from serving impartially as a judge.
In December, Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) questioned a judicial nominee about his membership in the Knights of Columbus, and asked if he would quit the organization if he were confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska. The senators characterized the group as one with “extreme positions” on abortion and gay marriage.
The nominee, Brian C. Buescher, said that he had no plans to resign from the Knights of Columbus.
In response to the questioning from the senators, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) wrote an op-ed defending the Knights of Columbus and characterized the line of questioning used against Buescher as “religious bigotry.”
In his letter to students, Rhoades praised local Knights of Columbus councils.
“As Catholics, we are called by Christ to put our faith into action by works of mercy and charity,” the bishop wrote. “The Knights in our diocese are exemplary in responding to this call with faith, zeal and dedication.”
The University of Notre Dame is already home to Council 1477, the Knight’s oldest college presence, dating back to 1910. The group is well-known on campus for selling steak sandwiches to tailgaters prior to football games, a tradition that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for local and national charities since it began in the 1970s.
In 1924, Notre Dame students, reportedly including members of the Knights, clashed with Indiana members of the Ku Klux Klan. The racist and anti-Catholic hate group was attempting to march through the streets of the nearby city of South Bend.
According to some reports of the incident, as many as 500 students marched into the town to confront klansmen, tearing off their hoods and robes and engaging in open confrontation with the marchers. According to Notre Dame records, 6 students were arrested.
More recently, the figure of Christopher Columbus – in whose honor the fraternal society is named – has come under scrutiny on campus.
Last week, University of Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins C.S.C. announced that several 130-year-old murals featuring the life of Christopher Columbus would be covered up. Jenkins said that many people had “come to see the murals as at best blind to the consequences of Columbus’s voyage for the indigenous peoples who inhabited this ‘new’ world and at worst demeaning toward them.”
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