The major uniform change recently announced by the Knights of Columbus has drawn a decidedly mixed reaction from its members.
A change in the traditional regalia worn by the fraternal organization’s fourth-degree, or patriotic degree, was announced on Aug. 1 at the annual Supreme Convention in St. Louis.
The tuxedos, capes and plumed chapeaus that have made the Knights instantly recognizable at liturgies, funerals and other events for more than 40 years are being replaced. Instead, fourth-degree members will now wear a blue blazer, tie and beret with the fourth-degree emblem on them, dark grey slacks and a white shirt. Ceremonial swords can still be worn as part of the new regalia.
The Knights’ leadership said a need to attract younger members was one of the key reasons behind the change. Fourth-degree assemblies must change to the new look by June 30, 2018.
The decision has been praised by some Knights but also drew wide backlash across the country. Hundreds of comments regarding the regalia have flooded the organization’s Facebook page, and local officers are hearing complaints and concerns.
“I haven’t heard from anyone who likes it,” said Michael Mancari, district deputy for District 16 and faithful navigator for Assembly 1072 in Columbia. “I’ve heard from Knights who say the new look is not distinctive or ceremonial enough, others who don’t like the beret or are concerned about the cost.”
Mancari said he has also spoken with members who inherited the current regalia from family or friends. Mancari’s own dress uniform belonged to a close friend who has since died.
“You get a personal attachment to the regalia when it is handed down to you,” he said.
State Deputy Michael Allen said he has been fielding comments about the new uniform almost nonstop since it was announced.
A few members have said they liked the new look, saying it evokes the Knights’ role as soldiers of God, an opinion that Allen shares.
The financial burden is also a problem. He said many men purchase the current attire a piece at a time, but the new set has to be bought all at once at a cost of about $500.
Members are also upset about the decision-making process itself, joining a chorus of complaints from around the country that they were not consulted in advance about the change.
Comments on social media indicate that, nationwide, some fourth-degree members are considering leaving the Knights over the change, and some third-degree Knights may not make their fourth-degree because of it.
Allen said he has heard similar sentiments but hopes the men “are just blowing off steam for now.”
He said it is too soon to tell if the organization’s leaders make any changes to the new look in response to the backlash.
While he sympathizes with those who are unhappy, Allen said he also understands why the apparel has been updated.
“They came to this decision after several years of research that showed the current regalia was not attracting younger members,” Allen said. “Human nature being what it is, change can be tough. The leaders are serious about attracting younger Catholic men and I do give them props for trying something new. It might not have been done the way I would have done it, but I think the time was right.”
Miscellany file photo/Christina Lee Knauss: In this May 2017 file photo, two Knights decked out in their regalia attend the 50th anniversary Mass for the Church of the Infant Jesus in Marion.