Knights of Columbus updates honor guard’s look

Teak Phillips | teakphillips@archstl.org

When Carl Anderson read his lengthy annual report Aug. 1 at the Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention, a small blurb — wedged between mentions of membership growth, a visit to South Korea, investment returns and future projects — generated considerable buzz.

It seemed almost a mention in passing: After 77 years, the distinct tuxedos, capes and chapeaus of the Fourth Degree Honor Guard will be retired. Blazers, ties and berets will take their place. "The Board of Directors has decided that the time is right for a modernization of the Fourth Degree uniform," Anderson said.

The announcement raised more questions than gave answers. Anderson provided some clarity in an Aug. 4 convention-summary email to members:

• The cape and chapeau are dated and are a reason young men don't join the order. Some members said they didn't want to advance to the Fourth Degree because of the regalia, though the regalia isn't a requirement of Fourth Degree membership.

• Ceremonial swords will remain part of the uniform.

• The new uniform is considered to be more versatile than the older regalia.

• The cape and chapeau regalia will be permitted as assemblies and districts transition to the new look.

Locally, that means Fourth Degree assemblies will take direction from district masters, who supervise groups of assembly color corps.

Chatter on social media began shortly after the announcement of the new uniforms, as word spread among members. The hashtag #SaveTheRegalia was born. Memes were quickly generated and spread on Twitter.

The Knights issued a statement Aug. 6 on Facebook and Twitter: "Thank you for your comments and concern regarding the 4th Degree regalia. The VSMs (vice supreme masters) will be providing additional information that addresses these issues in the days ahead." The Facebook statement elicited more than 460 comments, more than 760 "likes" and other reactions.

Among the criticisms common on social media were that men signed up for the honor guard because of the regalia, that young men looking for tradition would be put off by the new uniform, and that the change took members by surprise — that they hadn't even been alerted that an announcement was being made.

Joe Miller, commander of the honor guard of St. Louis Assembly 565, said many members had expressed frustration either with the new uniform or with the lack of clarity from the Knights.

"Right now I believe the general thought is that most people are upset," he said. "This era of knights that we currently have have only seen one set of regalia. ... You have people who have just purchased the regalia and look forward to using it. I'm advising people to stay put, and step back for a moment and let's hear how it's going to be implemented."

In an email to the heads of Fourth Degree assemblies in Missouri, district master John Applebaum wrote:

"It is my hope that this issue does not become a distraction from the important and significant work that we as an Order provide to our Church and to our communities. It is important — perhaps now more than ever — that we stand together, united, to continue our works of charity, reaffirm our patriotic commitment to our Country, and be the right arm of the Catholic Church. "

That echoed Anderson's conclusion of the topic in his email to members: "Our choice of uniform, while important, has always been ancillary to the work we do carrying out the principles of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism, and this should always be the case." 

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