10 May 2022

Knights celebrate 100 years of service

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The Southern Cross  |  May 2022

Knights celebrate 100 years of service

A gathering of 32 men in a room at the back of the Cathedral Hall was the early beginnings of an Order that has served the South Australian Catholic community with its good works over the past 100 years.

With strong interest shown by local lay men at the time, the South Australian Order of the Knights of the Southern Cross (KSC) was formed in 1922 under the guidance of inaugural Grand Knight, Jack Malone.

The principal motivating factor for the founding of the Order in Australia was to fight against the sectarian issues affecting the employment opportunities of Irish-Australian Catholics.

Paul Hawkes, who has written a book detailing the history of the Knights in SA, explains how in the early years they wanted to counter the influence being exerted by the Freemasons in the pursuit of jobs.

“The Freemasons were not overtly anti-Catholic but rather favoured their fellow masons in the employment market which, of course, disfavoured Catholics,” he said.

“The conviction amongst Catholic laymen in the 1920s was that ‘something had to be done’.

“One of the major motivations of the Order at this time was to assist fellow Catholics in their efforts to find work, advance their careers and other social needs, as well as providing mentoring or vocational guidance for those setting out on a career path after completing their education.”

Following the trend throughout Australia, the Order grew quickly in South Australia.

Initially, meetings were held in St Joseph’s Church in Pirie Street, with social functions organised in the gymnasium at Christian Brothers College. In 1929 a new State office opened in Angas Street and by the following year there were 540 Knights registered. Membership continued to grow and in 1940 there were 11 branches operating in regional SA.

Following World War II, the Order reached its peak membership with about 2500 Knights regularly attending meetings across the State during the 50s and 60s.

Changing times, however, also saw an adjustment in the work of the Knights.

“The diminution of sectarianism against Catholics in the modern age triggered an ongoing need for the Knights to reassess their fundamental purpose,” Mr Hawkes explained.

“It was this reassessment which led to the shedding of secrecy surrounding the Order and the founding of Southern Cross Care by the Order in the mid-1960s, which is perhaps its most profound legacy.

“In these changing times the Order has provided annual Year 12 scholarships to city and country students, as well being heavily involved in many charitable endeavours, both on its own and in partnership with other Catholic organisations.”

In researching the history of the Knights, Mr Hawkes said he was struck by the “level of secrecy” employed by the Knights.

“The secrecy was not a surprise but it was interesting to note that the South Australian Knights fought very hard at a national level for more than 30 years to lift this secrecy,” he said.

“The SA Order was nonetheless faithful to the edict’s continued imposition until secrecy was finally lifted in the 1970s.”

Mr Hawkes added that while the meeting minute books of the Order were a “valuable” source of information, it was the correspondence and reports with the Adelaide Archdiocese – preserved and housed by the Archives department – that provided a “much more human balance” to the story of the Knights.

“In addition, researching the history through the pages of The Southern Cross was akin to a cryptic crossword,” he laughed.

“The KSC was not named in any issue between 1922 and 1972 and therefore much reading between the lines was required to ascertain information on the work of the Knights which was in fact plentifully, if obliquely, reported on.

“The work done on the home front by the Knights during the Second World War was particularly interesting and well reported on, without once mention of the Knights of the Southern Cross!”

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