Because of the social distancing restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the state convention of the Tennessee Knights of Columbus was boiled down from its typical three days to three hours.
Instead of meeting at a hotel, the Knights held a virtual convention on May 2-3 with delegates calling in to participate.
“We knew from the very beginning that we were still going to have a convention,” said State Deputy Michael McCusker of Council 9317 at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Cordova, a suburb of Memphis. The question was, “How were we going to do it,” he said.
Tennessee’s convention committee of State Warden David Zwissler, Joe Pede and John Beattie, all of the Cordova council, and Jimmy Dee of Knoxville, worked with the Knights’ Supreme Council in New Haven, Connecticut, to organize the convention, McCusker said.
Participating in the convention were 147 delegates representing 85 councils, which is 93 percent of the councils in the state.
“We’ve had good feedback,” McCusker said. “There was a lot of appreciation for the efforts we had to go through to make that happen.”
The activities of the convention were stripped down to the basics, including the re-election of the state officers: McCusker, State Secretary Fred Laufenberg of Council 16088 at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Fairfield Glade; State Treasurer Bill Markiewicz of Council 4572 at St. Thérèse of Lisieux Church in Cleveland; State Advocate Eric Pelton of Council 8576 at St. Jude Church in Chattanooga; and Zwissler of Council 9317 at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Cordova.
The annual programming awards and other honors will be presented at the three kick-off meetings this summer: July 11 in Knoxville, July 18 in Memphis and July 25 in Nashville.
Another highlight of the annual convention, the reading during Mass of the names of all the Knights who have died in the previous year, will also be moved to the kick-off meetings.
The year has been marked by the challenges of the March 3 tornados that crossed the state killing more than two dozen people and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“None of this could have been predicted, nor in our worst nightmares, even imagined, and yet, one thing was never in doubt. No matter what, the Tennessee Knights of Columbus would be there, standing tall, ready to help, to heal and to love as the most powerful force for good, not only in the Catholic Church of Tennessee but in the entire state,” McCusker said in his State Deputy Report, which was shared via video during the Convention.
McCusker praised the efforts of Knights across the state in helping the victims of the March 3 tornadoes. Those efforts have been followed by the work of Knights to support their neighbors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tennessee Knights have participated in the Leave No Neighbor Behind program that was developed by the Supreme Council. The program calls for Knights to reach out to their brother Knights and their families, fellow parishioners and their neighbors to support them during the pandemic.
“We all go through this and we deal with our friends and our families, but suddenly we’re cognizant of our neighbors,” McCusker said. “We’re so much more attuned of the needs of others. It’s become a much more selfless time.”
Councils across the state have launched a variety of efforts to help others through the pandemic. Among them are:
• Members of Council 6645 in Cookeville have been going grocery shopping for elderly members. The council was also heavily involved in St. Thomas Aquinas Parish’s efforts to help the victims of the deadly tornadoes that struck the city on March 3.
• Council 7170 in Bartlett collected more than 3,000 pounds of food in two days to support the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Memphis, all during a time when grocery store shelves were depleted.
• Council 14521 in Signal Mountain, with help from a $3,000 donation from a parishioner, provided drive-through meals to those in need of assistance on March 23 and 27, using excess fish and supplies from planned fish fries that had been cancelled.
• Council 16088 in Fairfield Glade conducted a Forty Cans for Lent program to support both the Peavine Care Center and the Crab Orchard Food Bank. The council donated 3,310 pounds of canned and dry goods and $6,083.
Since its founding in 1882, the Knights of Columbus have been serving their Church and neighbors, inviting men to make their lives more meaningful as Catholics, McCusker said. In the light of the tornadoes and the pandemic, the importance of Knights serving their communities is brought home again, he said.
The vision of the order’s founder, Father Michael McGivney, “was never more apparent,” McCusker said in his state report. “Our call to charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism was never more necessary.”
The Knights have also been providing spiritual support. Several councils, including Council 9282 at St. Stephen Catholic Community in Old Hickory, have sponsored online rosaries to pray for those affected by the coronavirus.
Dan Schachle, the general agent for Knights of Columbus insurance in Tennessee and a member of Council 8241 at St. Christopher Church in Dickson, used his plane to fly Associate State Chaplain Father Gervan Menezes around the Diocese of Nashville as he held the Eucharist and blessed the people below during the pandemic.
And the Supreme Council offers several video series on different spiritual topics, including “Into the Breech,” a 12-part video series that examines different aspects of Catholic masculinity. “It’s a very powerful video series,” McCusker said. “In an ideal setting, brothers could watch together and discuss them.”
It could also be a program Knights could offer to the whole parish, he added. For more information on the series visit www.kofc.org.
Despite the restrictions caused by the pandemic, the Knights have continued to bring in new members to the order, one of the largest organizations of Catholic laypeople in the world.
This year, the Knights, a fraternal organization for Catholic men aged 18 and older, unveiled a new ceremony for inducting new members. Previously, there were separate exemplification ceremonies to induct members into the first three degrees of the order dedicated to the principles of charity, unity and fraternity. The new ceremony combines the induction into all three degrees in a single exemplification, which for the first time is no longer secret and is open to the public.
On April 16, the Supreme Council held an online exemplification for councils across the country to bring in new members, and more than 2,000 men participated. Tennessee initiated 38 new members, McCusker said.
More than 100 Tennessee men who were First or Second Degree Knights also participated in the online exemplification to advance to the Third Degree, a benchmark for full membership in the organization, McCusker said.
More online exemplifications have been held since and more are planned, McCusker said.
The State Council had planned to hold special Masses in the three cathedrals of Tennessee for a Founder’s Day celebration on March 28, that would have been followed by the new exemplification. But the pandemic forced the cancellation of those plans.
“We had put so much emphasis on the three different Founders Day celebrations in each diocese,” McCusker said, with money invested in advertising and plans for receptions. “All of that, pffft, went away.”
The online exemplifications helped recapture some of that momentum, McCusker said.
Although the pandemic slowed Tennessee’s momentum, the state council was only about 45 short of its goal of 520 new members by mid-May.
Councils have also been encouraged to conduct meetings online, McCusker said, and Council 10010 at St. John Vianney Church in Gallatin, Council 4563 at St. Rose of Lima Church in Murfreesboro and Council 9317 in Cordova are three that have.
The Gallatin council not only hasbeen conducting its meetings online, McCusker said, “They were the first council to do a virtual degree for new members.”
The Knights’ focus is to reach out to all Catholic men in the state “and make their lives more meaningful as Catholics,” McCusker said.