BOCA RATON | Osmany Periu, dressed in a black tuxedo, purple plumed hat, cape and white gloves, stood in front of the altar gripping his drawn sword as holy water was sprinkled on him and his shiny family heirloom.
“It was my father’s sword,” said Periu, a parishioner of St. Joan of Arc in Boca Raton.
He held in his hand the 60-year-old Spanish sword that was passed down to him by his father, who was a fourth-degree Knight of Columbus. Periu, also a fourth-degree Knight, is color corps commander of Knights of Columbus Assembly 3092.
“I will pass it along to my son,” he said about keeping the treasured sword in his Catholic family.
Periu was among the assembly’s men attending the group’s “Blessing of the Swords Ceremony” Jan. 29 at host St. Jude Parish in Boca Raton. The blessing took place during Mass.
Carmelite Father Richard Champigny was main celebrant and presided during the blessing. A sword blessing is occasionally organized by various Knights assemblies of the Diocese of Palm Beach, and is an annual event for the fourth-degree Assembly 3092.
The ceremony is a good opportunity to shine a spotlight on men of the Knights of Columbus and the acts they do throughout the year focused on service and charity and representing unity, fraternity and patriotism. Father Champigny praised the Knights of Columbus and pointed out that they provide great witness of faith and love of Church.
“The Knights of Columbus are Christian gentlemen,” Father Champigny said. “They are followers of Christ. They are Catholic men willing to support each other. They are willing to be defenders of the Church, the faith and the country. The Knights of Columbus are well known and active. There are many wonderful things that they do.”
The Knights of Columbus is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization. Founded in 1882 by Father Michael McGivney, a Connecticut priest, the organization, named in honor of Christopher Columbus, is nearly 2 million members strong. Worldwide the organization has more than 15,000 councils.
In the early 1900s the fourth degree was established to represent the patriotic spirit of the Knights of Columbus. After taking their third degree, Knights are eligible to receive their fourth degree, which is all about fostering the spirit of patriotism and encouraging Catholic citizenship.
In addition to being members of their individual councils, fourth-degree members make up assemblies and hold the title Sir Knight. According to statistics, there are more than 3,000 assemblies worldwide.
Sir Knights religiously devote time and efforts to patriotic outreach. “We distribute flags to the churches,” said Ed Souza, a fourth degree of Andrew Doherty Assembly 0155 in Palm Beach Gardens. “We work with the local Veterans Administration.” The assembly also raises money for the nonprofit organization Honor Flight Network, which honors veterans by arranging trips for them to travel to Washington, D.C., to tour military memorials. “We believe in God and country. That is really the fourth degree’s thing,” he said.
Fourth-degree Knights may optionally purchase and wear the full regalia and join an assembly’s color corps, the visible arm of the Knights seen at formal events, funerals, ordinations, processions and at diocesan Masses with Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito.
Color corps members wear regalia including a black tuxedo, white shirt, black bow tie, cummerbund, black shoes, baldric sword belt, white gloves, cape and chapeau, or hat, with a tall plume designed in a specific color indicating the office the Knight holds within the degree.
The sword is an important part of the Knight’s regalia. Some of the swords presented during the assembly’s blessings were family treasures passed down from generation to generation, a long-time tradition among Catholic families. Others were inherited from other brother Knights or an uncle, brother or cousin.
Assembly 3092 consists of men from various parishes including Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Joan of Arc, St. John the Evangelist and St. Jude, all in Boca Raton. Member Sir Knight Ron Hollander, a parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes, participated at the assembly ceremony. “I became a knight May 1, 1969,” he said. “I inherited my sword from my brother, Gerald Hollander. He became a Knight in 1969 and died March 12, 1998. The sword was passed down to him by my father, Elmer Hollander. He became a Knight June 1, 1950, and died in 1984.”
Bob Gearing, a fourth degree, is a past faithful navigator of Andrew Doherty Assembly 0155 in Palm Beach Gardens. “I was presented swords by two distinguished Sir Knights and I treasure them greatly,” he said. “One I have since given to another Sir Knight who was just getting started in the color corps. These items have great sentimental value and are usually passed on within the family or the council.”
The Knights of Columbus swords, for symbolic, decorative use only, are shiny but not very sharp. According to Hollander, the design has been slightly changed since the first Knights of Columbus sword back in 1903, when the fourth degree was officially approved.
T.C. Gleason Manufacturing Company in Chicago was one of the first businesses to get involved with sword making. Some swords were made in Germany and elsewhere and imported into the country.
“I purchased mine back around 1970,” said Ken Kelly, a parishioner of the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola a fourth-degree Knight of Andrew Doherty Assembly 0155. “Most new Sir Knights purchase from the two recognized outfitters, Lynch and Kelly and The English Company,” both in New York.
The entire sword, including handle, measures three feet. The words “Knight of Columbus” are etched on the long blade. An image of an eagle is displayed at the top of the sword. The eagle through history has represented strength. Shown as well are oak leaves and acorns, a symbol of faith and endurance, the fourth-degree emblem with a dove for the Holy Spirit and peace, and a cross and globe symbolizing Jesus Christ the redeemer of the world.
“The sword symbolizes that we are soldiers of Christ,” said Souza. “We are supposed to fight for our faith. We do the Lord’s work. We need these soldiers in our world today.”