Knights’ Tale

March 30-April 5,06
VOL 125 NO. 12
Knights’ Tale
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) file photo(s)
In the mid-19th century, poverty and oppression dogged the first Irish immigrants who fled the Potato Famine in their homeland aboard the “coffin ships” that would take them to the U.S. and Canada.
In the working class parish of St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Conn., Father Michael J. McGivney founded a fraternal order comprised mostly of Irish-Americans committed to sustaining the nuclear family.

The early Knights of Columbus provided a safety net for the widows of bread winners and offered American Catholic laymen an opportunity to support and nourish the church. Just 10 men were present for the order’s humble beginnings in the basement of St. Mary’s. Now the order boasts 1.7 million members internationally. Councils have branched out from their roots in New England to Canada, Mexico and Central America, Saipan and the Phillipines. Recently, the order established councils in Poland. The Syracuse Diocese chapter alone has roughly 7,700 members, according to Marshall to the Master Jim Brown of the Christ the King Council No. 4114.

The modern manifestation of the support network is the Knights of Columbus’ excellent life insurance plan. Independent rating services IMSA, Poor & Standard’s and A.M. Best consider the Knights’ plan among the top providers. Approximately 1,200 insurance professionals work directly for the Knights of Columbus, according to the organization’s website www.kofc.org. The Knights are also present at many church ceremonies, marches and parades. Brown noted that the Knights make every effort to be present at each confirmation that takes place in the Syracuse Diocese and they frequently make an appearance as the bishop’s honor guard.

The Knights are present at the confirmation ceremonies at the request of the bishop. Brown believes escorting young people through the confirmation process is important to them. “If we can help one of those kids, we’ve done our job,” he said. One may recall seeing them at special events, their most committed members stand out in particular, with their plumed naval hats, their ceremonial swords, their sashes and tuxedoes. The Knights claim allegiance to the values of Christopher Columbus, who brought Christianity to the New World. Brown noted that one such value he connects to early American ideals is freedom from religious persecution. The order is based on four pillars: charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism. Each value reflects a degree one ascends through in the order.

While the organization is specifically designed to provide laymen with a vehicle for serving the church, priests are also allowed membership. Bishop James Moynihan happens to be an honorary Knight. Currently there is no base for any given council, although Brown noted that the goal of the Syracuse chapter is to have a council for each individual parish in the diocese. While the St. Michael’s Council, for instance, represents the Onondaga Hill community, Brown’s own council is parish-based, calling Holy Family Church in Syracuse its home. Meanwhile, just one council represents the entire Utica area. The William E. Burke Council No. 189 includes over 1,800 members. Past President Ed O’Toole explained that the reason the Utica council is so large is that early in its history the council purchased a large building that was expensive to maintain. The building, which bears the same name as the council, includes a gymnasium, a swimming pool, handball courts, a track for jogging, a weight room and a large auditorium. The council needed to be large just to finance the building.

O’Toole, whose home parish is St. Ann’s in Whitesboro, joined the Knights roughly 30 years ago at the invitation of his brother, Tom. Since then he has risen up through the ranks. For two years he served as state warden and then, after that, he served as state program director. Aside from his entrepreneurial career, O’Toole’s life has been committed to the order. “To be able to work with the Catholic Church, it’s been my lifetime work,” he said. The William E. Burke Council has worked extensively with the handicapped and with children in need. More recently, the paramount focus of the Syracuse chapter has been helping the diocese deal with the priest shortage. The Syracuse chapter encompasses each of the major communities in the Syracuse Diocese as well as a few beyond. “Promoting and supporting vocations should be the most important issue for any Catholic organization,” O’Toole said. Since the Knights placed vocations support on the top of their agenda, the Syracuse chapter has donated $1,000 for each seminarian’s personal expenses. More recently, they have extended the same support to postulants in the process of joining religious communities.

The Knights of Columbus have also figured prominently in supporting the Special Olympics. Over the course of the past 30 years, the national organization has raised $382 million for individuals with developmental or physical disabilities. Last year, the Knights made a commitment to donate $1 million to the Special Olympics and dedicated more volunteers to state and local events. In addition, the Knights frequently sponsor Little League teams and are involved in the National Free Throw Competition. The Knights are also very active in the pro-life movement. In 2001, the Sacred Heart Council No. 4937 of Sidney donated a building and many volunteer hours to a Birthright-affiliated crisis pregnancy center. Although Sidney is technically within the confines of the Albany Diocese, the council based there identifies with Syracuse parishes in the Bainbridge/Afton area. Brown believes that the Birthright Center has saved more than 60 infants since it opened.

The Knights of Columbus are very proud of their relationship with the late Pope John Paul II who dubbed the organization “the strong right arm of the church. “One of the main mottoes of the Knights is “in solidarity with our priests and bishops.” According to Brown, the Knights borrowed the word “solidarity” from Lech Walensa’s Solidarnosc movement in Poland. Brown believes that the organization also played a role in overthrowing the Communist regime in the late pope’s native Poland, noting that the Knights provided funding for anti-communist and anti-atheist literature distributed throughout the Eastern Block. In August of 2005, Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson announced that the Knights would establish councils in Poland. In the ensuing six months, the Knights opened several councils in Poland and announced that a recruiting drive had yielded nearly 100 new members by Feb. 24, 2006.

One of the highlights of the Knights’ year will occur April 1 during the Exemplification of the Fourth Degree at Holy Family Church in Fairmount in honor of Blessed Mother Marianne Cope. Brown found considerable significance in the word “exemplification” embedded in the name of the special ceremony, noting that it refers to “making an example of oneself.”

Brown’s membership in the Knights was initially casual but it has since grown to become what he describes as his “passion.” “It’s changed my life dramatically,” Brown said. “It’s a layman’s way into serving the church. It’s made me a better father, a better husband and a stronger Catholic. It’s also inspired me to become a Eucharistic minister.” Those seeking more information regarding the Knights of Columbus may visit the organization’s website http://www.kofc.org/ or http://www.newyorkknights.com/. Information on Father McGivney can be found at http://www.fathermcgivney.org/.
Brown is the local contact for prospective members. He can be reached at (315) 689-7921.

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