The purpose of the Fourth Degree is to foster the spirit of patriotism and to encourage active Catholic citizenship. The Fourth Degree is the highest degree in the Knights of Columbus and its members are addressed as Sir Knights. A Knight is eligible to join the Fourth Degree after six months from the date of his First Degree, providing he has completed the second and third degrees beforehand.
Assemblies are distinct from Councils and have separate leadership. The Supreme Board of Directors appoints a Supreme Master and twenty Vice Supreme Masters to govern the Fourth Degree. Each Vice Supreme Master oversees a Province which is then broken up into Districts. The Supreme Master appoints District Masters to supervise several Assemblies.
Each Assembly is led by a Navigator. Other Assembly officers include the Comptroller, Captain, Admiral, Scribe, Purser, Pilot, Sentinels and Trustees. A Friar and Color Corps Commander are appointed by the Navigator. Assembly officers are properly addressed by using the title “faithful” (e.g. Faithful Navigator). Assemblies are numbered in the order in which they chartered into the Order and are named by the local membership.
Why join the 4th Degree?
History of the 4th Degree
Creation of the Fourth Degree of the Knights of Columbus is directly linked to the social and political climate in the United States at the turn of the last century. It is in that light that the connection between the Fourth Degree and its Color Corps, that has grown to be the most visible aspect of the Knights, must be seen.
The idea of adding new degrees to the Order’s original three (Charity, Unity, Fraternity) first came to light in 1886. Supreme Knight James T. Mullen appointed a committee to look into forming two new “commander” degrees. That same year the Connecticut Catholic, a local newspaper, carried an advertisement calling members of local Knights of Columbus Councils to meet to form a “uniformed legion.” The idea for this new unit arose from a growing nation wide sense of nationalism – what we would call today patriotism. The unknown author in Connecticut was not alone in wanting a visible organization.
At first, very little happened because there was not enough wide spread interest in creating additional new degrees. The Order’s leaders balked at the idea of a uniformed legion for the simple reason that the cost. The “uniform” would be well over $100.00. They also feared the “legion” could cause an economic class split between wealthy and poorer members of the Order.
Later, following the Spanish American War, it was decided that there should be one new degree added based on the principle of patriotism. In 1899, Edward L. Hearn was elected Supreme Knight and he immediately appointed a committee to establish and format the new degree to be given the following year.
In order to qualify for this degree each candidate had to be a Third Degree member of the Knights of Columbus in good standing and show evidence of distinctive service to the Order, church and community. Finally the candidate had to have a letter from his priest stipulating that he had received communion within the past two weeks.
The first exemplification of the new degree was scheduled to be held in the Astor Hotel in New York City on February 22, 1900. There were so many candidates that the Exemplification had to be moved to a larger venue. The new site was the Lenox Lyceum. At this first Exemplification of the Fourth Degree 1,100 Knights, being in good standing “took their fourth.” The second Exemplification, held in Boston on May 8, 1900 saw another 750 Knights expand the ranks of Sir Knights.
In the early years of the Fourth Degree, members met as part of their Councils, mostly after meetings. In 1910, during a reorganization of the Order’s leadership, the first Assemblies were created. Additionally the position of Supreme Master was established to lead the Fourth Degree internationally. Vice Supreme Masters lead Provinces and Masters head Districts. This system has spread and flourished as Sir Knights not only serve their local Church through their service to local Councils but also their joint efforts in these Assemblies.
The Honor Guard, first called for in 1886 was officially formed in 1902, for ceremonial purposes. Since that time, the uniforms of the Color Corps have continue to refine. All have shared the similar theme of mariners. Most noticeable in today’s uniform is the distinctive chapeau worn with ostrich feathers.
The triad emblem of the Fourth Degree includes the Dove, the Cross and the Globe. The Dove, the classic symbol of the Holy Spirit and Peace, is shown hovering over the orb of the earth or Globe. Both are mounted on a variation of the Crusader’s cross, that which was found on the tunics and capes of the Crusading Knights who battled to regain the Holy Land.