20. Knights of Columbus Museum

KFC: We Do Insurance Right!
New Haven
(Google Maps Location)
July 21, 2007

mq20a.jpgOn my massive list of over 650 museums, there have always been a few that have stuck out in my mind as being oddly fascinating to me. The KFC Museum in New Haven was one – for no reason that I can explain. I suppose I was just sort of surprised that KFC’s museum was in Connecticut and not Kentucky. But no matter, I made my way over there and…

What? It’s KofC?! As in Knights of Columbus? Oh… darn. I was really looking forward to getting to the bottom of the 11 secret spices. I immediately switched gears and got on board with the KofC idea – in fact, I was totally into it. Maybe because, for the life of me, I didn’t know what a Knight of Columbus was or maybe because the modernist building was so non-Knights of Columbus-y. What better way to kick off a MegaQuest day with Friend of CTMQ, RobC.

Rob (born and raised in CT, and certainly not lacking useless CT knowledge) took a train up from his home on Manhattan’s upper East Side. My man is dedicated – and plans to do this every few months or so. I planned our day well in advance (the switch from KFC to KofC wasn’t a big deal) and had it meticulously scripted out, pretty much down to 15 minute intervals. (Welcome to my world.) The plan was to take in 4 museums and 3 curiosities; and the plan was completed to perfection.

I took this image from the museum website. It’s certainly a very un-Catholic building.

I picked up RobC from the train station at precisely 10 AM as agreed upon. Seriously, I was there on the dot. After the fast food debacle, getting to the KofC museum would have been easier if we walked the half mile or so, but we instead drove around and got screwed up due to some wacky one ways and construction. No matter, we got to where we needed to be and parked for free in a very nice garage. Men in dark suits stared at us as they smoked their cigarettes. Were the Knights like the Masons or the Bilderbergs? Awesome!

We took the short elevator up and entered the spacious lobby. Wow… this place was stunningly nice. Super clean, very professionally designed; impressive. We were greeted by a very nice security guy who gave us a very quick overview of the Knights, asked us if we were Knights (Rob spared us his Monty Python routine), and gave us the lay of the land. Cool, I thought, we were on our own.

mq20b1.jpgYeah, right. I have never – and probably never will again – be in a museum (or any building, for that matter) with more closed circuit cameras following my every move. They were EVERYWHERE. This was especially foreboding when you are me and need to document your visit with as many pictures as possible; pictures that were not allowed. As a result, all my pictures here are without flash and taken surreptitiously or from behind statues or in what I deemed to be camera blind sports. Yes, I jeopardized my safety at the hands of the mysterious smoking men in suits and took all the pictures you see here. (This is also the reason for so few pictures – and the obvious ones I lifted from other sites.)

We ascended the wide staircase off the lobby and passed underneath a massive 400 year old copper cross. Check this out – the cross was a gift from Pope John Paul II himself and it used to stand on top of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I think that’s a pretty good introduction to this museum – it contains some invaluable stuff that I’d wager 98% of New Haven isn’t aware of. I can’t say it enough: This museum is very impressive.

mq20a1.jpgPlease note that I am not a Catholic, nor do I ever intend to become one. So bear with my ignorance when it comes to crucifixes versus crosses and this Pope or that Pope. I will try my best (the museum does not lack for nice brochuresm, which certainly helps.)

Anyway, at the top of the stairs was a temporary Swiss Guard exhibit. The Pontifical Swiss Guard is celebrating their 500th anniversary and is the world’s oldest military organization. Their mission has remained unchanged: Protect the pope. This exhibit will be the only one like it in America as all the stuff is on loan from The Vatican and art museums in Italy, Austria, and Switzerland. There are all sorts of old helmets and suits of armor and outfits from the years gone by. Some of the items were from the 16th century – including some old paintings. Right there! In this heretofore unknown (to me) museum in New Haven! I kept saying to RobC, “Is this stuff real? You mean The Vatican actually cares about the Knights of Columbus?” Yes, they do.

What a bunch of clowns

So what are they? Ok, back in 1881 some New Haven priest named Father Michael J. McGivney gathered up some friends in the basement of St. Mary’s church. McGivney was a quiet and unassuming young priest who came up with the idea that a Catholic fraternal organization should be put into place to protect Irish immigrant families from financial disaster if the breadwinner were to die. He set forth the bedrock principals of charity, unity, fraternity, and patiotism and somehow, this grew to a massive 1.7 million members today.

There is a whole room dedicated to McGivney – lots of different paintings and statues and artifacts of his life. Apparently he’s even being considered for sainthood. If they need his burial clothes well, they’re here too. I think I saw some used McGivney tissue too, but I’m not sure. Moving on from the room of all things McGivney, we entered a room of all things Christopher Columbus.

mq20c1.jpgWhich was good because at this point I was asking, “RobC, why did an Irish priest trying to help Irish immigrants select a 500 years dead Italian guy to immortalize?” Sadly, I don’t really have an answer other than he was a pretty darn important Catholic guy, and had “an epic impact on the course of world history,” according to the KofC Museum brochure. In this room were some artifacts dating back to 1493. No joke. I’m not sure many other things in CT museums date that far back.

There were some other smaller off-shoot rooms and theaters, but nothing really memorable. We then hit the Papal Gallery which was full of exactly what you’d expect; a 17th century statue of the first pope, St. Peter. There are all sorts of Catholic Church artifacts and old crucifixes and pope statues and on and on. I must mention that upon seeing a large photograph of Lithuania’s “Hill of Crosses,” RobC noted, “I’ve been there.” FYI, RobC has been everywhere random on earth.

On to the multi-room “History Gallery.” Here, we learned about a bunch of famous Knights through it’s history. There were extensive displays on the Knight’s involvement in the life insurance industry – which is apparently how most non-Knights know of the Knights. Father McGivney actually dreamt up the whole idea and to this day, the Knights are highly successful insurance salesmen. I don’t feel like explaining it… so I’ll grab from a couple sites:

mq20e1.jpgKnights of Columbus insurance has been “Making a Difference for Life” for more than 120 years. Since our founding in 1882, our primary mission has been to protect families against the financial ruin caused by the death of the breadwinner. Today we do this, and help families secure their financial futures, through our top-rated portfolio of life insurance, long term care insurance and annuity products…

With more than 49 billion dollars of insurance in force, we are recognized among the top 5 percent of the 2000 companies in North America. Some of the reasons behind our phenomenal ongoing growth are:

  • Security. AM Best rates us A++, while Standard and Poors rates us AAA, which are the highest ratings any company can achieve. We also carry the IMSA designation (Insurance Marketplace Standards Association), for ethical marketing. Only 6 of the 2000 insurers have received all three designations in 2003.
  • Profits. The Knights of Columbus profits are distributed back to its members in the form of dividends and are donated to the countless charitable works financed and supported by the Knights.
  • Familiarity Factor. The Knights of Columbus Insurance is sold by qualified and highly trained Knights of Columbus Agents, to fellow members of the Order and their families. All of our agents are on schedule to received their degree as a Fraternal Insurance Counselor. Many have completed Life Underwriters Training Course and several have their Fellowships. Your K of C representative is a fellow Knight whom you see at Mass, the one who helps the council with memberships, and one who deals only with our members and their families.
  • Boring, I know, but if I didn’t include the insurance stuff, someone would complain. We passed by the library (which probably has a Guttenberg Bible in it for all I know) and then entered the temporary exhibition galleries. The first one was “Crosses and Crucifixes” which will be here until April 2008. I’m not really all that interested in religious iconography but again, this was a very impressive collection.

    Here’s a chunk of the World Trade Center for some reason

    There are 167 crosses and crucifixes here, the oldest is from the Balkans which was fashioned more than 800 years ago. (That still doesn’t come close to beating my favorite CTMQ find thus far: The bell from 815 in a random church in East Haddam.) I was perusing the KofC Museum website to grab a cool picture for this report. I came across the one below and said to myself, “That looks kind of cool, but it also looks like the things my siblings and I made for our mom at Christmas.” Sure enough, it’s a USA cross from 1980… when I was 8 and making this type of stuff. That’s MY CROSS!

    Merry Christmas, Mom!

    The last exhibit was a traveling Joan of Arc display. It was interesting in that the exhibit was a depiction of Ms. of Arc throughout history and how her image has been used to inspire and motivate. I certainly had a favorite – during WWI Joan of Arc became totally hot:

    No wonder she inspired thousands of men to fight for her.

    And then we were done. There was a gift shop selling all sorts of religious junk than any self-respecting Catholic wouldn’t waste money on – money that could be well spent at next Friday’s bingo game! (I couldn’t resist at least one Catholic joke.) We checked out the courtyard (which was beautiful) and took a moment to check out the wall inscribed with all KofC war-dead.

    I was happily surprised by this museum and obviously impressed by some of its contents. And oh yeah… on top of everything, it’s free. While New Haven has 20 other things that are more widely known and visited, I’m sure glad I got to check this place out. (Though I still don’t know who designed the building… my Architecture Degree holding wife says Yale grad “brutalist” Paul Rudolph.)

    RobC gets his CTMQ thumbs their first ever workout


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    Cost: Free, donations accepted
    Hours: May 1-Labor Day, 10-5, 7 days a week. “Winter” Wed-Sat 10-5
    Food & Drink? New Haven is such a good food town, you can’t go wrong
    Children? I’d guess not
    You’ll like it if: You like old stuff, insurance, and/or the pope
    You won’t like it if: You’re a vampire
    Freebies: parking in New Haven (best freebie so far…)


    For the Curious:

    Museum Website

    Sponsored Links


    1. Jenny says

      I’m inspired to go to church or buy some life insurance…I’m not sure which one!

      I have to admit that this is the first Museum Quest that I’ve read, but it was very entertaining! Thanks, JO

    2. says

      This building was built in 1965, designed by the firm of Orr deCossy and Winder (Douglas Orr was a prolific local architect from the 1920s through the 60s) and was known as the Community Services Building (as in social services) of the City of New Haven until it was sold to the Knights of Columbus and re-purposed as their museum.
      The New Haven Preservation Trust is currently working on a survey of Modernist architecture, documenting more than 100 additions to the “”Urban Museum of Modern Architecture” – plans are for the survey to be done by year end.


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