My high school biology teacher was a bachelor and fresh out of Boston College. It was his first year as a teacher. Biology was our sophomore science subject. My class was pretty much evenly divided between boys and girls, but Mr. Hefernan, affectionally known as “Hef,” did have a small problem. Six of the school’s 10 girl cheerleading squad were sophomores, and they all were in my biology class. When we got around to the subject of reproduction, they showed poor Hef no mercy. I never knew a guy could blush and sweat that much. The class didn’t get into the specifics; that was left to the athletic department, and those classes were segregated by gender.
Hef did teach me one trick that, for some reason, I have retained for almost 60 years and will probably never forget. He taught us that associating something you need to remember with something you already know will help you. Hef’s example was “King Philip Came Over For Great Sport.” The letters are the classification order for every living organism: K is for Kingdom. There are basically two “Kingdoms,” “animal” or “plant.” He was quick to point out that there are a few organisms that could be either, but for the overwhelming majority organisms are one or the other. P is for phylum, C is for class, O is for order, F is for family, G is for genus, and S is for species. There are two other classifications above Family, Life and Domain. But for sophomore biology in 1959, “King Philip” was all you had to remember.
I didn’t keep up with Hef’s career, but I do remember that he married the new Latin teacher that summer. She was the same knockout Latin teacher who had senior-class football players signing up for freshman Latin I. Set that aside for a minute or two.
Knighthood as we experience it has little to do with the knights of the Middle Ages. We have been indoctrinated with the idea that knights were loyal, honorable, chivalrous. Defenders of the poor and downtrodden. Champions of the faith. Most of these stories are fiction. There is no evidence that King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table ever existed. At best, the stories we know are the glorification of possible persons and events that may have lived or taken place. Robert Locksley probably never existed as we know him. The story we are familiar with makes him a foe of King John and a noble and supporter of King Richard. The earliest stories make him a foe of King Edward, an oppressive ruler who was known for excessive taxation and a habit of outright brutality.
The knights of old were sons of the nobility. The practice of having the oldest son inheriting all the property of the father left basically two choices for any younger sons. They could join the clergy, or they could pursue a career based on their military prowess.
The idea of the noble, chivalrous knight has been part of our folklore since the Middle Ages. And so, this is what our founding brothers based their choice of the name “Knights of Columbus” when they convinced Father McGivney that it was a better name than the “Sons of Columbus.”
What is today’s Knight?
Today’s Knight is kind. The greatest act of kindness is charity, the first principal of our order.
He is noble, meaning he is righteous, virtuous, honorable, upright, decent, worthy, moral, ethical, reputable, magnanimous, unselfish and generous.
The Knight of today is involved in and with his family, his council, his parish and his community. A true Knight places his family first. He encourages his children to do well in all their endeavors, he supports his wife in raising the children, running the household, and he enables her to succeed in her career should she choose to have a career outside the home. He takes part in council activities as he can, contributing his time and talents. He may also be involved in parish activities outside the council. And he spreads the good news to his community by his actions and activities.
Knights are generous. They freely give of their time and talents never expecting a reward or compensation. A word of thanks is reward enough. Knowing that they have done their best is compensation enough.
A true Knight is honorable. His word is his bond. His pledge is given with the understanding that he will never compromise his honor, the welfare of his family, his council, his parish or his community.
Today’s Knight is as trustworthy as an Eagle Scout. Many of us were members of a boy scout troop. Some were cub scouts, and many more, although never being a scout, were exposed to the ideals of the scouting movement. The scout’s code of conduct formed the basis of how we live our adult lives.
So, what is today’s Knight? He is kind, noble, involved, generous, honorable and trustworthy.
One more thought:
Robert Lewis Stevenson said, “We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend.” I married my best friend. I have noticed over the past few years that Supreme has placed great emphasis on the importance of the family. Perhaps we need to explore ways to include our wives and families into more of our council activities.