The emergence of the Order of the Knights of the Southern Cross lay in the discrimination, prejudice and sectarianism confronting Catholics in Australia, in the early years of the 20th century. Religious bigotry was so strong that young Catholic men and women were finding it impossible to gain employment. Newspaper advertisements openly stated 'No Catholic need apply'. Application forms for many jobs contained the question, 'Where were you educated?'
The joint founders of the Order in New South Wales and across Australia was Patrick J. Minahan, a successful boot and shoe manufacturer and Joseph P. Lynch, a secondary school teacher. Twenty three other Catholic men at the inaugural meeting of the Commercial Men's Association on 22 March 1919, and 15 more who joined by 4 August 1919 are listed in its minutes as foundation members.
A delegation had a meeting with His Grace, Archbishop Dr Michael Kelly on 4 August 1919 to acquaint him with the organisation's aims and objectives. On 19 August, His Grace gave approval for the operation of the organisation. The name, the Order of the Knights of the Southern Cross, was selected and approved.
On 1 September 1919, the Order held its first general meeting. At this meeting, the first Grand Council was installed:
Grand Knight P. J. Minahan
Deputy Grand Knights
J. P. Lynch
E. R. Green
Grand Secretary J. S. Reardon
Grand Treasurer H. Mooney
J. E. Barron
E. C. Barry
L. P. Gehrig
E. A. McTiernan
H. M. Moran
M. J. O'Neill
During the next few months, work commenced on the preparation of a constitution. This was subsequently approved and adopted by the membership. The Order's first work, the organisation of Catholic Youth in the Parishes, was inaugurated.
Approximately 40 members attended a special meeting on 11 January 1920 to discuss the purchase of premises for the Order. The Order had commenced negotiations to purchase Concordia Hall (formerly the German Club). This was approved by the membership.
The Order in New South Wales demonstrated its capacity to support the operation of large events when it was entrusted with responsibilities in organising various ceremonies associated with the International Eucharistic Congress held in Sydney, in 1928. These included the large children's display and Mass, the women's ceremonies, the Men's night at the Showgrounds, and the Eucharistic Procession for which the Order provided the bodyguard, augmented by hundreds of members from other States.
Nine years of effort seeking an amendment to the Local Government Act to free churches and schools from taxation ended with success in 1928. In the ensuing years, the burden of millions of dollars was removed from the Church and the Catholic School system.
During the Great Depression, the Order established an Employment Committee to assist Catholics in finding employment. This task of finding work for Catholics has been an ongoing activity for the Order over the years.
Committees formed by various groups, such as teachers, police, chemists, and accountants led to the formation of professional and trade associations, such as the Medical Guild of St Luke, Legal Guild of St Thomas More, and the Water Board Guild of St Bernard. Not all had their origins in the Order; however, the inspiration came from Order activities.
Through its various service activities, the Order in New South Wales contributed enormously to the wider community during the ensuing decades.