By Jeff Miller
Special to The Texas Catholic
The Knights of Columbus are often referred to as “the strong right arm” of the Catholic Church. Across the Diocese of Dallas, that arm often grips a power tool, a spatula or simply helps provide a warm hug.
About 10,700 members of the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service group are spread across the diocese among 55 councils. Dallas ranks fourth in the state in total members behind San Antonio, Galveston-Houston and Austin.
Knights assist within both their parishes and the greater community in many ways, from holding breakfasts and dinners to raising funds for Catholic causes to earning Special Olympics’ Civic Service Organization of the Year award locally for 2015.
“They’re huge,” said Katy Williams, program director for the Dallas-area Special Olympics organization. “When I see Knights, I think, ‘These guys can handle it.’ ”
Membership is open to practicing Catholic males at least 18 years old. There are 1.8 million members worldwide in more than 14,000 councils.
Brother Knights are divided in categories called degrees – first, second and third – meeting in groups called councils that are typically affiliated with one or more Catholic parishes. Third-degree Knights can ascend to the fourth and final degree, its members meeting in groups called assemblies while still belonging to their councils. (President John F. Kennedy was a fourth-degree Knight.) The Dallas diocese is home to 12 fourth-degree assemblies.
“I’m proud of where we are,” said Roger Scott, who will enter his 12th year as the highest KC office holder in the diocese — the diocesan deputy — when the new fraternal year begins July 1. Scott identified the Dallas Knights’ greatest supporter as a gentleman who joined the order shortly after moving to the area early in 2007— Bishop Kevin J. Farrell.
“For more than a century, Third and Fourth Degree Knights have been at the center of every important Catholic event and activity in the Diocese of Dallas,” said Bishop Farrell, noting in particular the organization’s contributions to the areas of vocations, pro-life, ministry to the disabled, Special Olympics and youth activities through the Columbian Squires and other youth programs.
“During the past six decades, thousands have been brought to the faith through the Knights-sponsored Catholic Information Service pamphlets, correspondence and new online Catholic Correspondence Courses and Catechism,” Bishop Farrell added. “I am very grateful for all that the Knights do in our community and I am proud to be a Knight of Columbus.”
The Knights were founded in 1882 in New Haven, Conn., by Father Michael J. McGivney, a 29-year-old assistant pastor. Father McGivney sought to form a men’s group that could provide monetary assistance to local widows and orphans and as a gathering place at a time when Catholics were barred from many fraternal groups. The Knights instituted a voluntary insurance program that remains part of the organization’s foundation.
With the Dallas diocese founded in 1890, its first KC council was started in 1903 – Council 799, which still exists and serves five parishes in North Dallas.
While each council determines its own activities and emphases, Scott mentioned pro-life efforts as first on the KC’s agenda across the diocese. The Dallas Knights began an annual Hike for Life fundraiser soon after the Roe v. Wade abortion decision in 1973, an activity that has since spread to other dioceses in the state.
Second, Scott said, is support of bishops and priests. And that includes seminarians. One of the Dallas KC’s annual initiatives provides financial sponsors for seminarians. In noting the recent increases in enrollment at Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving, Scott joked, “If Bishop Farrell keeps being successful, we’re going to go bankrupt.”
Volunteering at Special Olympics events is an example of the Knights’ service beyond the Catholic community. Members hand out medals at competitions and generally facilitate wherever they can. That includes encouragement and support, which typically elicits emotional responses from the enthusiastic participants.
“It’s one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll ever have,” said Jim Massey, who recently ended 17 years as the Dallas Knights’ primary liaison to Special Olympics. “When you get a hug, you get a hug.”
When asked to identify the biggest challenge facing Dallas’ Knights, Scott cited reaching out to the diocese’s increasing Hispanic membership. He hailed the council at Good Shepherd parish in Garland for such efforts, which include bilingual communications both in writing and during the monthly meetings.
“It takes only 20 minutes tops in the meetings,” said Nick Flores, the council’s Grand Knight, “but it allows us to better inform our members.”