For the last five years, the Knights of Columbus in Tennessee have been on a journey to help Catholic men strengthen their faith. Bill Markiewicz’s mission as the newly-elected state deputy is to continue to lead the order on that path.
“The goal is to build on what we’ve done,” said Markiewicz, a parishioner at St. Therese of Lisieux Church in Cleveland, Tennessee, and a member of Council 4572. “There’s a great foundation there, and we want to build on that and grow.”
Markiewicz was elected state deputy, the highest officer at the state level, during the Tennessee Knights’ state convention, held April 28-29 at the Franklin Marriott in Cool Springs. His election capped a process that began eight years ago when he was elected state warden and continued as he progressed through the other state offices every two years.
Markiewicz succeeds Fred Laufenberg as state deputy. Laufenberg is a parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Fairfield Glade and is a member of Msgr. Philip Thoni Council 16088.
The other state officers elected during the convention were:
• Eric Pelton was elected state secretary. He is a member of Council 8576 at St. Jude Church in Chattanooga and a parishioner there.
• David Zwissler was elected state treasurer. He is a member of Council 17578 at St. Michael Church in Memphis and a parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Cordova.
• Alan Stanley was elected state advocate. He is a member of Council 9168 at St. Luke Church in Smyrna and a parishioner there.
• Donald Castillo was elected state warden. He is a member of Council 7447 at St. Catherine Church in Columbia and a parishioner there. A native of Venezuela, Castillo is the first Hispanic to be elected a state officer in Tennessee.
Father Gervan Menezes, the pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Cookeville, will become the new State Chaplain.
Markiewicz and the other state officers officially begin their new roles in July.
“I’ve been active with the Knights since before I joined,” Markiewicz said. “Dad was a grand knight and a district deputy. The council here in Cleveland, Tennessee was a social thing for families. They had a council hall here. Part of it was they did activities like dinner theaters as fundraisers. They did picnics. They actually did art shows on the council grounds. … It was something the families could easily participate in and enjoy.”
He left his hometown of Cleveland for college and later to work for the Olin Corporation. When Olin transferred him back to Cleveland, he reconnected with the council there, which had sold its council hall and were meeting at the church.
“I saw that they were in the parish,” Markiewicz said. “It was really focused on doing things for the church and the community. … I think that made a huge difference.”
The state council has been on a similar journey to become more Christo-centric.
“The goal is to create a prayerful and fraternal setting where we set the stage for the Holy Spirit to work,” Markiewicz said.
In the last year, the Knights have launched the Cor program, encouraging councils to establish small faith groups. Cor is Latin for heart, and the theme Markiewicz has chosen for his term as state deputy is “Knights to Our Cor.”
“A lot of this is from the heart and working on setting the stage where we can work with each other talking heart to heart in an environment where we have prayer, faith formation, and fraternity,” he said. “To me this has been an exciting journey.”
Markiewicz is planning a meeting for the new state officers and his leadership team on May 20 in Cookeville where he will lay out his vision for the order going forward. It is based on the four promises launched by Laufenberg. They are:
• We will help all men grow closer in their relationship with Jesus Christ.
• We will provide opportunities for all Catholic men to serve Christ in his Church.
• We will provide opportunities for all Catholic men to serve those most in need in their community in the name of Christ.
• We will help ensure no Catholic family experiences unnecessary financial hardship due to the loss of a primary breadwinner or an underfunded retirement plan.
“To me this is our mission,” Markiewicz said of the promises. “This is the theme of what we’re trying to achieve. There’s a Christo-centric leadership that we’ve got to provide and really help to develop.”
The four promises are based on the things the Knights’ founder, Blessed Father Michael McGivney, was focused on as a parish priest in the 1880s, “trying to get these men focused on their family and their Church,” Markiewicz said.
‘Focus on our faith’
During his two years as state deputy, Laufenberg worked to build on the work of his predecessors. “Tracy Staller (of Seymour) and Michael McCusker (of Memphis) started this thing that we’re going to be Christo-centric,” he said. “We’re going to focus on our faith, we’re going to focus on our Church, we’re going to focus even more on the needs of our priests to help our brothers grow in their faith.”
Laufenberg and his leadership team reimagined the annual kickoff meetings in the summer and the mid-year meetings in January to be faith retreats.
“We really wanted men to focus on helping Catholic men get back into where practicing their faith was really the most important thing that they could do. That they’re getting closer to God, is one of the most important things that they could do. That helping other men get closer to God was one of the most important things we could do,” Laufenberg said.
That was followed by introducing the four promises.
“We’re not shying away from the fact we are a charitable organization, it’s our first principle,” he explained. “We’re not shying away from the fact we need to grow the order, we need to bring more Catholic men into the order. But instead of saying you need to conduct membership drives, what I’m saying is you need to go ask that good Catholic man come join you on your faith journey, come help you on your faith journey to get to heaven.”
The approach is working to attract young Catholic men and their families to the order, Laufenberg said. Knights have to offer Catholic men an opportunity to grow in their faith, he said. “You have to offer that we’re Catholic men. It resonates.”
The leaders of the Knights’ Supreme Council overseeing the entire international order of 2 million men have noticed what’s been going on in Tennessee and are taking a similar approach.
Laufenberg noted that in Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly’s video shown at the state conventions for all the jurisdictions in the order, “he’s got our four promises entwined in there. They’re not exactly the same words, but they have the exact same meaning. They’re not in the exact same order, but the four promises are all there.”
Laufenberg has enjoyed his time as a state officer.
“I might have known some of the brother Knights we have wandering around the state, a few of them,” he said. “But what this has done is given me an opportunity to meet so many more of them, and have this relationship where I truly care about them and they truly care about me.”