Knights board of directors keeps its Tennessee flavor

Directors leaving and joining have Knoxville ties

By Andy Telli
Tennessee Register

At the recent 140th Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention held in Nashville, one Tennessean rolled off the Knights’ board of directors and another rolled on.

Michael McCusker of the Memphis suburb of Germantown, the immediate past state deputy of the Tennessee State Council, was elected to the board, which oversees the operations of the Knights, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization with more than 2 million members. His three-year term began on Sept. 1.

Meanwhile, Mike Wills of Knoxville, a past state deputy in Tennessee, finished the third and last of his three-year terms on the board on Aug. 31.

“It’s been a busy but fun nine years,” said Mr. Wills, a retired attorney for the Tennessee Valley Authority and a member of Council 15706 at All Saints Church in Knoxville.

As a member of the board, “We help the Supreme Knight steer the ship of 2 million-plus Knights of Columbus,” said Mr. McCusker, who served as Grand Knight of Council 9317 at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Cordova before being elected to state office for the Tennessee State Council. “We run the business of the Knights, which is a multi-billion-dollar business.”

After Mr. Wills was elected to the board in 2013, he was appointed chair of the Audit Committee, a position that drew on his experience serving as the secretary to the TVA audit committee, he said.

“For nine years, I’ve been able to see the finances of the Knights. That’s very interesting to understand how it all works,” Mr. Wills said. “You don’t usually see that as a state deputy.”

Blessed Michael McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus in part to protect Catholic families who had lost their breadwinner by implementing a life-insurance program. Today, the Knights insurance program is one of the top-rated insurance programs in the country, with more than $119 billion of insurance in force.

The Knights also have an investment portfolio worth more than $28 billion and have created an in-house investment group, Knights of Columbus Asset Advisors, that invests in companies that operate in accordance with Catholic teaching, Mr. Wills said. “We’ve continued to have a very good track record in the market.”

Earnings from the insurance program and investments fund much of the Knights of Columbus’ many charitable initiatives around the world, including its Persecuted Christians Fund, Special Olympics, the American Wheelchair Mission, Ukraine Solidarity Fund that provides relief supplies for the people of Ukraine during the war there, Culture of Life Fund that helps pay for ultrasound machines for pregnancy resource centers, scholarships for seminarians, Warriors to Lourdes program that helps pay to send military veterans to Lourdes for physical and spiritual healing, and others.

Being a member of the board also provides several opportunities to travel, Mr. Wills said. “We’ve been to some really interesting places.”

While visiting the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Mr. Wills and the board received a private viewing of St. Juan Diego’s tilma, he said. He also was part of a board pilgrimage to Poland, where members visited sites associated with St. John Paul II and St. Faustina Kowalska, whose apparitions of Jesus inspired the Divine Mercy devotion.

The board has an audience with the pope once every five years, Mr. Wills noted. After celebrating Mass for the board, Pope Francis spent some time with the members during an impromptu visit.

“He said, ‘Please say a prayer for me. This is not an easy job,’” Mr. Wills recalled. “It sounded so human, very relatable.”

During his tenure on the board, the Knights made several changes that have improved the insurance program and helped increase membership, Mr. Wills said.

The Knights have instituted a program that allows Catholic men to join the order online. Also, the order revamped its initiation ceremony, which is designed to teach new Knights about the mission and principles of the order. Previously, there were separate initiations for each of the four degrees of membership that only Knights could attend. The changes combined the initiations for the first three degrees into one and opened it to the public.

“That spoke to families,” Mr. Wills said. “They got to see what their husbands and fathers were getting into.”

The new initiation ceremony was videotaped just before the COVID pandemic. That allowed councils to conduct initiations online.

“It put us in really good stead during COVID,” Mr. Wills said, and membership grew even during the pandemic.

Mr. Wills joined the Knights in 1983 as a member of Council 5207 at Sacred Heart Church (now the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus) in Knoxville. After a council was established at All Saints, where he is a parishioner, he transferred his membership to Council 15706.

Mr. McCusker served as Tennessee state deputy from 2019-21, and during his leadership, the Tennessee State Council received the prestigious Circle of Honor award for exceeding its objectives in new members, net growth, and the number of councils achieving the Star Council designation.

He also served as manager of the Supreme Convention held in Nashville Aug. 2-4, leading efforts to organize the state council’s responsibilities during the event.

Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly “and I have spent a lot of time together the last three years,” Mr. McCusker said. “He got to know me and Tennessee’s success during my time in office.”

Among those successes were the Tennessee State Council’s efforts to be more Christo-centric and to develop evangelization programs for its members.

“He has taken an interest in what we’re doing with evangelization,” Mr. McCusker said of Mr. Kelly.

As a member of the board of directors, Mr. McCusker can offer insight into his experience with Tennessee’s efforts as the Supreme Office prepares to launch an order-wide evangelization and discipleship effort.

“I’ve seen the model here, and we’re the state kind of leading the charge,” Mr. McCusker said.

Mr. McCusker joined the Knights in 1988 at Immaculate Conception Church in Knoxville, where he grew up. He transferred his membership to Council 9317 in Cordova after moving to the Memphis area, where he currently serves as an assistant district attorney general for Shelby County.

He retired from the Army Reserves as a major, and served in Afghanistan in 2005-06, where he was awarded the Bronze Star.

He was one of eight board members either re-elected or elected for their first term at the Supreme Convention.

Mr. McCusker was nominated for the board at the Tennessee State Convention last spring. The Supreme Council staff reviewed the nominations they received from various jurisdictions and whittled the number down to several finalists, Mr. McCusker explained.

He was interviewed during the Supreme Convention, and Mr. Kelly informed him just before the opening Mass that his name would be among those put forward for a vote. All eight nominees were unopposed and were elected unanimously.

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