Fraternal organization working on bringing chapters into closer cooperation with churches
By Liz O’Connor, Andy Telli
The Knights of Columbus is working to bring the order into closer cooperation with parishes.
Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson launched the new initiative late last year. “We will use our resources of time, talent and money to strengthen parish-based and parish-sponsored programs,” he said.
According to Anderson, the 1.9 million-member Catholic fraternal group, organized into more than 15,000 councils operating in the United States and a number of other countries, will continue its focus on spirituality, charity, unity, brotherhood and patriotism. But it will strive to bring its activities into greater identification with parishes under the supervision of parish pastors, avoiding duplication or any perception of competition.
Among the changes involved, the Knights will not build or acquire any new council halls. This change, where parish rather than separate facilities are used for meetings and activities, has already allowed the formation of councils that would not have been able to afford a building, and will avoid members devoting too much time and effort to support the building by renting it for unrelated activities.
In another significant change, by the end of this year, the Knights of Columbus will no longer sponsor Scout groups. Instead, the group will work to support parish youth ministry programs, including parish-based Catholic Scouting.
The Knights, Anderson said, should strive to integrate the activities of their Squires Circles – affiliated groups of boys and young men ages 10 to 18 – with those of the parish youth ministry. He said councils and assemblies in the United States and Canada that do not currently have Squires groups should not begin new ones but instead should support xisting parish-based youth ministry programs.
The Knights, Anderson said, are devoted to building up the family as the domestic Church and to evangelizing family life, a work that can be done most effectively by working in and with the parish.
The Tennessee Knights of Columbus are following Anderson’s lead in integrating its activities more deeply with the parishes where its councils are located.
“We have to acknowledge the domestic Church is in need of help,” said State Deputy Steve Comm, the highest officer at the state level. “We’re not interested in competing with parishes,” but rather in being aligned with them, he added.
The move away from establishing council halls has been a focus of the order long before the latest efforts were announced, Comm said.
“That’s been an initiative for a long time,” he added.
Andrew T. Walther, vice president for communications and strategic planning for the Supreme Council, has said it is important to remember that the Knights of Columbus was founded in 1882 in a parish by a parish priest – Father Michael McGivney, recently declared venerable, whose sainthood cause has taken its first steps. In re-emphasizing its focus on the parish, Walther said, the organization is going back to its roots.
“Most of our councils are based in parishes,” Walther said, and Knights traditionally put themselves at the service of the parish.
The group “really wants to focus in a very specific way on what we’re doing in the parish,” which includes prayer and the sacramental life, charitable works, and taking a holistic approach to being united with the parish. Different parishes have different priorities, and the Knights of Columbus can be flexible to help with different needs, he noted.
The Knights in Tennessee are working with Scouting leaders to move the charters for Scout troops from the councils to parishes. The charters of seven Scouting troops in the Diocese of Nashville – one at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville, one at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Tullahoma, two at St. Edward Church in Nashville, and three at Immaculate Conception Church in Clarksville – will be moved to the parish, said Harvey Carter, a Knight and a member of the National Catholic Committee on Boy Scouting, which is an organization approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Although the Knights are giving up their Scouting charters, they aren’t giving up their involvement in Scouting, Carter said. Individual Knights and councils are encouraged to provide adult leaders and financial support to Scouting troops in their parishes, he said. “We need to stay involved in Scouting and help scouting grow.”
Tennessee has about 10 Squires Circles, said Comm, a member of Council 9282 at St. Stephen Church in Hermitage. “The Squires will be phased out over time, and we’ll integrate the people involved in the circles into parish youth activities,” he said.
The current initiative, Walther said, is designed to promote “the involvement of families in the parish. The parish is our home, and we should be working first and foremost through our parish.” Making the parish and interaction with the parish the top priority is, he said, is a re-assertion of the model on which the Knights were founded. ■