Knights of Saint Columba 

Brief history

Liverpool was the home of the first council in England, perhaps naturally enough, for it had close links with Glasgow, where the Order was founded, mainly through its large Irish population. As reports of the activities of the Knights of St Columba in and around Glasgow appeared regularly in the Catholic press enquiries from places in England began to come in to the order’s headquarters and it became obvious that a rapid move southwards would not be too long delayed.

The Catholic Congress of 1920 had been fixed to take place on Merseyside in the July of that year. The Knights’ board of directors decided to take the opportunity to explain to such a large audience the aims and objects of their order, and P J O’Callaghan (Supreme Knight) and C McCaffrey (Supreme Secretary) travelled down from Glasgow to address the Congress at St George’s Hall.

The result was that Council No.9 was established the following November 7. The ceremony took place in St. Mary’s School in Highfield Street, close to Exchange Station, which is in the oldest parish in Liverpool (founded by the Benedictines in 1707). The board of directors themselves carried out the initiation, installing as the first Grand Knight in England, Mr Chris Cain. Founder mem­bers included Messrs. Joseph Belger, James O’Hare, T. Murphy, J. Farrelly, James Bolger and D. J. Logan. All of these were or later became Irish Nationalist Party members of the Liverpool City Council. Davy Logan, later leader of the Liverpool province, some years afterwards became the first Labour M.P. to represent the Scotland Division of Liverpool and remained in Parliament long enough to be “Father of the House”. (He died in 1964, aged 92).

Shortly afterwards a public meeting was held in the Picton Hall. The board of directors came down in force again to join the local members in a recruitment drive. The meeting had a similar effect in Liverpool to the one held the previous March in St. Andrews Halls, Glasgow. The membership went up by leaps and bounds so that within a few months no less than 1,500 members had been enrolled in Liverpool alone. It was obvious that the first Liverpool council would have to be sub-divided and in April, 1921, the following councils were set up, No.9 (Western) remaining: No.12 (Northern); No.13 (Eastern); and No.14 (Southern).

The Knights’ organisation had quickly spread and soon a Province became necessary. Liverpool Province No.2 was set up with Joseph Belger as its Provincial Grand Knight. He was the man who had been the moving spirit in having the first council set up in Liverpool and now he was equally assiduous in spreading the order throughout the North. The line of progress seems to have been in an easterly direction to Manchester, Leeds, and then on towards the North East coast, to Hull and Newcastle. Provinces came in the following order: Newcastle No. 4 (No. 3 was Edinburgh), Leeds No. 5, Cumberland No. 6, Lancaster No. 7 and Salford No. 8, all of course with a number of subordinate councils. They were established rapidly, illustrating how much the new organisation had “caught on”. From Liverpool also it went south to the Midlands (Nottingham No. 9) and then on to the South of England.

In 1933 Supreme Council was held at Liverpool for the first occasion; Province 2 was honoured when Brother Thomas P Davis was elected Supreme Knight. Previously the first Grand Knight of Council 13 in Liverpool, he was he was given the responsibility of guiding the Order, as its fourth Supreme Knight, through probably the most critical period of its history. He died on 19 October 1940.

It was also during the 1930s that the Province were asked to take part in the great education campaign; a task which was undertaken wholeheartedly. The largest halls obtainable in Liverpool and other towns of the Province were packed to capacity as the Order galvanised Catholics in these parts into an overwhelming act of protest against palpable injustice. The Order closed its ranks and wrote a glorious chapter in its history. At the conclusion of the campaign His Grace the late Archbishop Downey publicly thanked the Order for the work it had done, saying “They have not only conducted the campaign but in addition have footed the bill”. The Province had in fact defrayed all the expense incurred.

In 1936, Province 2 was again honoured by the election of Brother William J. Loughrey as Supreme Knight of the KSC. “WJ” as he was affectionately known, a Barrister at Law, ranks among the most distinguished of those elected to the office of Provincial Grand Knight. His name was a household word in Catholic circles, due in no small measure to many years spent in every activity connected with the church. As a Knight of St. Columba he had enhanced the name of the Order and became a legend in his own lifetime. When Brother Loughrey retired from the office of Supreme Knight in 1945 he had held the premier position in the Order for nine consecutive years, a record not likely to be equaled. By sheer tenacity of purpose he piloted the Order through the war years and made an immeasurable contribution to a record of national service of which we are justifiably proud. He died 14 June 1968 in his 89th year.

In 1958 the Province was divided to form Province No.32 (South Lancashire), leaving the Liverpool Province with 17 Councils. Councils transferred included Warrington (36), Wigan (50), Leigh (54), St Helens (73), Earlestown (126), Sutton Manor (156), Ashton-in-Makerfield (165) and Tyldesley (461).

It was also around this time Archbishop, later Cardinal Heenan, expressed his anxiety that Catholics passing through Liverpool had difficulty in finding suitable and reasonably priced accommodation for overnight and short term periods - he approached the Order to consider the matter and let him have our views. After deliberation it was decided to embark on the project of a residential hotel and ultimately Adrian House was purchased and opened in 1959. The hotel in Sandringham Drive was widely known and appreciated and over the years it provided a great service to the catholic community and to travellers of other denominations. It was also the headquarters of the Liverpool Province and the meeting place of Councils No. 9 and No. 13.

1970 was an eventful year for the Province, with Bishop Harris of Liverpool requesting that the Knights of St Columba take upon themselves the project of raising £10,000 to enable him to open part of the Cathedral Crypt as a shelter for Homeless men. The £10,000 was raised within 12 months, resulting in the shelter being opened shortly after. 

One of the Province’s oldest Councils - Council 12 (Bootle) celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1971 but after a period of 56 years, their home, at lona House in Balliol Road, closed, due to re-development of the area. However, on 16 March 1977, Bishop Harris formally opened and blessed their new Home in Stanley Road.

1978 was a year that had a tinge of sorrow for the Liverpool Province. Mainly due to declining business, Adrian House - the Order’s Hostel, had to close its doors after fulfilling the request of Archbishop Heenan for a Catholic Hostel for Catholics passing through Liverpool. Adrian House had served both as a Hostel and Provincial Bureau for 19 years  (1959 - 1978).

1982 was of course, the highlight for Roman Catholics in England - the Visit of the Holy Father, Pope John Paul, and on the occasion of his visit, to Liverpool, over 500 Knights had the honour and privilege to be asked to be stewards along the entire route. Many Brothers were on duty from 7 am until 10 pm and, indeed some were on duty throughout the night, guarding the home of the Archbishop to ensure The Holy Father was undisturbed.