Left: current Knights of Columbus fourth degree regalia; Right: new proposed changes which, while retaining the sword and sash, eliminate the cape and plumed chapeau. The changes that were first adopted in 2017 finally take effect in Ontario on July 1. Left photo by CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz; right photo courtesy Knights of Columbus

Knights of Columbus saying goodbye to ceremonial cape and chapeau

  • May 28, 2019

A longstanding tradition is coming to an end this summer as the Knights of Columbus discard the ceremonial capes and plumed chapeaus of its Fourth Degree members.

July 1 will mark the end of a 79-year era when the Knights change the ceremonial regalia worn by the Colour Corps long associated with the fraternal Catholic order. The Colour Corps, which acts as an honour guard at religious and civic functions, is distinguishable by its official regalia of tuxedo, cape, chapeau, white gloves and sword.

The preferred dress will no longer include the cape and chapeau. The new uniform will be a jacket and beret, which bears a strong resemblance to the uniform of the Royal Canadian Legion. The ceremonial swords will continue to be part of the Fourth Degree.

It’s all part of the Knights’ efforts to attract new members, particularly younger men, said Dan Heffernan, Ontario State Deputy for the Knights. The Knights have been doing extensive research in how to attract new members and have heard one constant from men as to why they won’t join the order.

“If I had to wear that regalia, I wouldn’t join the Knights,” is the refrain Heffernan said he has heard often.

It was one of the major points raised in a roundtable in March at the Archdiocese of Toronto chancery when the Knights gathered a number of the men to get input into their impressions of the Knights. Several men in attendance noted the cape and chapeau as drawbacks.

Heffernan said there are some misconceptions about the uniform. Many believe all Knights must wear the regalia, but it’s only for Fourth Degree members, “and even then you don’t have to wear the regalia,” he said.

“You could become a member, be a Fourth Degree and never buy a uniform…. You’re just not part of the colour guard.”

The overall uniform of the Fourth Degree has undergone several changes since it was adopted in 1900. But it has remained relatively the same since 1940, consisting of a plumed chapeau, a tuxedo, a cape and a ceremonial sword. The modernized version will be a blue blazer with the Fourth Degree emblem, dark grey slacks, a blue Fourth Degree tie and a black beret.

In 2017 the international Knights’ board of directors unanimously voted to adopt a new uniform for the Fourth Degree and debuted the new look at the 135th Supreme Convention in St. Louis. The vote came after three years of testing and discussion within the membership. The board believes it will open the doors to a new generation of Knights.

The move has been met with significant resistance, much of it from Canada, said Heffernan. That included an online petition on change.org that garnered almost 10,000 signatures “to reconsider the consequence of this proposed change and keep the existing regalia of the Fourth Degree Assemblies that the Knights and the rest of the world has come to recognize and love.” 

Among comments on change.org, 25-year-old Knight Shawn Roche said it was one of the traditions that brought him to the Knights

“The regalia as it stands is a sign of regal manhood and modernizing gives that up,” he said.

Supporter Jaclyn Magee wrote that the cape and chapeau “wowed and impressed” people, and “by changing this to a school boy uniform you are taking away that wow factor and making them look childish.”

Heffernan understands and sympathizes with those seeking to keep tradition alive.

“You’re always going to have the diehards who are going to wear the old regalia,” he said. “If I was 80 years old I’m not going to go out and buy a new uniform.”

While there has been resistance, there has also been significant buy-in, said Heffernan. Overall, Knights numbers are stable, even growing worldwide, with almost two million members across the globe.

“It’s not holding people back from becoming Fourth Degree members,” said Heffernan. 

There are 55,000 Knights in Ontario, with 3,400 being Fourth Degree. Heffernan said the mandate is to bring in 2,000 new members this fiscal year, which ends June 30, and they are just shy of attaining that number. That will keep the membership stable since up to 1,500 members die each year, he said, and others leave for various reasons. 

That stability is reflected in demand for the new regalia. Heffernan said their supplier is having a hard time keeping up with orders and there is a long waiting period before a member can get their hands on the new uniform.

“Even as it is right now, the supplier is making the uniforms as fast as they can but if you were to order one now it would probably be the fall before you could get one,” he said.

(Note: This story has been updated to remove suggestion that a grandfather clause existed for the old uniform. There is no clause)

Comments (1)

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I assure you I have no issues with the KofC or the 4th Degree Assembly in anyway shape or form, nor am I bitter or resentful. Rather the opposite, I have been a 4th Degree Knight for 20 years and have approached this through a lot of prayer. The...

I assure you I have no issues with the KofC or the 4th Degree Assembly in anyway shape or form, nor am I bitter or resentful. Rather the opposite, I have been a 4th Degree Knight for 20 years and have approached this through a lot of prayer. The 4th is the visible arm of the order and I have attended many an honour guard. And as this is the main reason I became a member of the fourth. The change of regalia into a veterans uniform is not something I can reconcile.

Notably absent from this article is the response on mass on how this new regalia imitates veterans. It is improper for any organization to imitate veterans. And unless a stand is taken through prayerful consideration this mistake will not be corrected. Therefore I stand against a wrong and prayerfully ask for those who have the authority to hear, that this is a poor decision and to reconsider this decisions or forever have a negative impact on the ceremonials of the order. To modernize our regalia is one thing, to imitate a veteran organization is another.

Veterans and the veteran community do not respond well to imitation by non veterans. Believe me I know this first hand as I am a veteran. This is the reason the Legion has lost so many military members and the veteran community has openly boycotted the organization. Non veterans don medals and attire that make them look as if they are veterans when they are not. Supreme must be helped to see it's error and as you noted the Canadian Descent on this change, speaking out is the only tool I an many others have to use. I understand the concern of the order surrounding this, regretfully it is not going to go away.

Stephen Beardwood

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