The Quincentenary Celebrations
Prospects for a major celebration grew when the Knights of Columbus decided to open their Order-wide observance of the Quincentenary with Columbus Day ceremonies in 1991 at the national Columbus Memorial. Just as the American Italian Bicentennial Commission dominated the 1976 celebration, so the involvement of the Knights’ Supreme Office proved overwhelming, although the ceremonies remained under the nominal sponsorship of WCCA (whose primary interest was a good celebration, not who did it) and the National Park Service.
A special roofed stage was constructed and arrangements made for a larger-than-average crowd. All of the Supreme Officers of the Knights of Columbus and its international Board of Directors were present, and Supreme Knight Virgil C. Dechant served as Master of Ceremonies. There were remarks by Frank Donatelli, Chairman of the Christopher Columbus Quincentenary Jubilee Commission, and the Columbus Day Address was delivered by William P. Barr, Acting Attorney General of the U.S. Music was again furnished by the DeMatha High School Band and Wind Ensemble.
A special feature of the event was the reading of essays by the three local winners (from D.C., Maryland, and Virginia) in a Columbus essay contest sponsored by the Knights as a prelude to a national contest with the winning essay to be read at the Order’s national convention in New York in 1992. Topic for the contest was: “Christopher Columbus: Role Model for Today’s Youth.” (The winning essay from the D.C. student, Zulima Espinel, is printed in the 1994 program booklet.) An anti-Columbus protester who interrupted the ceremonies by defacing the monument with red paint was quickly hustled off by the Park Police.
There were 22 wreath presenters, including the Embassies of Spain, Italy, and the Bahamas; the National Park Service and the Office of the Mayor; the Washington Columbus Celebration Association (for the first time); five K. of C. groups (the Supreme Office, the state councils of D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, and the Insurance Agency); and ten Italian-American groups (NIAF, the Catholic War Veterans, the Lido Civic Club, and seven OSIA lodges). Following the ceremony, there was a large and elaborate reception hosted in the Columbus Club of Union Station by the Supreme Office of the Knights.
The civic ceremonies followed a special Columbus Quincentenary Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where Cardinal-Archbishop James Hickey of Washington was the principal celebrant. At this Mass the Supreme Knight presented the National Shrine with the Discovery Cross commemorating the Quincentenary of the evangelization of the Americas, now carried each year in the religious celebration. Similar crosses had been presented to each diocese.
For the major anniversary year itself, 1992, the Knights’ Supreme Office shifted attention to their forthcoming national convention in New York in August for their major celebration, with local celebrations throughout the country in October. The Washington ceremony, back completely in the hands of the Washington Columbus Celebration Association for 1992, had, for the first time, a souvenir program booklet of twenty-eight-pages was published with an attractive full color cover picturing Columbus’s ships at sea, and informative background articles and information. The booklet has been continued ever since, doubling in size and becoming more attractive over the years in content and appearance.
Although membership dues had not been contemplated in the initial WCCA organization or by laws, in order to support the development of the celebrations they were now introduced, based on organizational level (local, regional, national, etc.) or commercial status, and, for individuals, degree of financial participation desired (member, sponsor, donor). There were 34 dues-paying members listed in that first program book: fifteen K. of C. entities, headed by the Supreme Office and including all three local state jurisdictions and local Fourth Degree districts, as well as subordinate units); seven OSIA lodges; NIAF, the Lido Civic Club and Fr. DeCarlo Post of the Catholic War Veterans; one business; and eight individuals of varying degrees of affiliation. Advertising revenue from the program booklet itself also contributed substantially toward covering celebration costs.
The original Board had remained in place through the 1992 celebration, with some slight changes: in addition to the chairman (Moore), Secretary (Baccanari) and treasurer (Sullivan), it now included J. Kemp Cook and Daniel Quaid of the K. of C., Michael Catrone, Leonard Durso, and Robert Houston of OSIA, and Louis J. Figliozzi of the Lido Club (who had in earlier years served as co-chairman of the celebration with John Moore).
The 1992 ceremonies featured addresses by U.S. Attorney Joseph E. DiGenova (on “The Courage of Christopher Columbus,” subsequently reproduced in excerpted format in the 1994 program book) and Christopher Kauffman (“Culture and Religion: A Quincentennial Reflection”). Joseph A. DePaul again was Master of Ceremonies. The music was supplied by the Filarmonica Sestrese Genoa Concert, on tour from Italy, and there was a brief presentation by Louis Koerber, President of the National Flag Foundation, observing the 100th anniversary of the Pledge of Allegiance, originally composed in connection with the 1892 Columbus Quadricentennial and incorporated by Congress into the Flag Code of the U.S. in the Pledge’s fiftieth anniversary year, 1942.
At the general membership meeting on November 28, the Association voted to recognize chairman John Moore by presenting him with a plaque, dated on the Columbus Quincentennial, 1992 and containing the following inscription: “The Washington Columbus Celebration Association expresses its appreciation to John C. Moore, founding Chairman of the Association in 1989, for his exemplary service in organizing and coordinating the Columbus Day Celebrations since 1965.”