The Knights of Columbus have four initiation ceremonies into four successive Degrees, the contents of which are the only aspects of the activities of the Order that are kept secret from the general public. The Degrees are Charity, Unity, Fraternity and Patriotism.
The Knights of Columbus is a Catholic order which originated in 1882 along with other fraternal benefit societies that sprung after the Civil War. The combined purpose of the establishment of the order was providing life insurance to the families of its male members and upholding the Catholic identity, which was under threat at the time.
The order has a hierarchical structure, with the basic unit being a local council with an elected Grand Knight as its head. Each council runs five programs: community, church, council, family and youth activities. The next level is District, followed by State. The highest level is the Supreme Council.
Each member of the Knights of Columbus first undergoes the First, or Membership, Degree — the initiation ceremony — in order to join the Order. The Second and Third Degrees take the member to the full status of the Knight. The most active and dedicated members of the Order, about 10 percent, are initiated into the Fourth Degree. This Degree has its own structure, and the members strive to uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church and promote patriotism in society.