In 1882, in the basement of St. Mary's Church in New Haven, Connecticut, Father Michael J. McGivney organized the Knights of Columbus as a fraternal benefit society that would protect the widows and children of working men and foster their faith and their social progress. Today the Order has taken root in many parts of the world and has more than 1.6 million members, making it one of the largest Catholic lay organizations.

Plans for St. Mary's were launched in 1851. Over the next 20 years this ambitious and impressive edifice developed—at a time when the city's Catholic population was steadily increasing. Built on New Haven's finest residential street, Hillhouse Avenue, St. Mary's represented the faith, the pride, and the high hopes of New Haven's struggling Catholic families.

The church was dedicated in 1874, celebrated for its beauty but burdened financially. Because a debt of $150,000 had to be paid off by a congregation of working people, the original plans for a steeple were dropped and the facade of St. Mary's for more than a century featured an untopped stone tower without belfry or spire. Still, the church was from the first a remarkably handsome, forthright, and lasting symbol of Roman Catholic devotion in the city.

Continue + Tour Page

Copyright© 1999-2003 by the Knights of Columbus. All rights reserved.