Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo Bill Corrigan, of Barre, calls a bingo game at the Knights of Columbus hall on Friday night.
Editor’s note: Where We Belong is a Times Argus series that looks at the social clubs and service organizations that have come to define central Vermont.
By KATHRYN EDDY
BARRE — Though the name is recognizable, the objectives and deeds of the Knights of Columbus are not as widely known, even here where their roots run deep.
“The biggest question we get as Knights is, ‘What do you do?’ We don’t advertise, so people don’t necessarily know what we’re all about,” says Grand Knight John Santorello of the Barre-Montpelier Council 399, whose leadership duties include the running of the Knights’ hall on Pine Hill Road in Barre. “If they did, it might bring in some younger members. It’s not a dying organization by any means, but we’re in a lull as far as membership is concerned.”
The Rev. Michael J. McGivney, son of Irish immigrants, founded the order in 1882. As a child, he had been exposed to poverty and hardship, and his aims in starting the organization were to unite Catholic men and provide financial assistance to families who had lost their sole breadwinner or were burdened by illness. From these grew both a group of men devoted to improving their communities with strong ties to their local parishes and the Knights of Columbus Insurance, which according to Santorello is one of the highest-rated insurance organizations in the United States.
Today, there are more than 1.5 million members in 12,000 councils across the United States and Canada, as well as in Guam, the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas and parts of Central America. It is the largest society of Catholic men in the world.
“We still have the drive,” says Santorello. “Across the country and in other countries it’s a popular organization, but in some sections of the U.S., it’s slowing down. We are at a crossroads trying to figure out how to build up our organization to include the younger generations.”
The four degrees of the order are charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism. As men join they learn these tenets — representing, respectively, involvement in the order’s charitable works, recognition of the power of a group to accomplish more than the individual, the camaraderie of a brotherhood in faith, and loyalty to their country of birth. The fourth degree, patriotism, is also recognized by an additional assembly of Knights who have been members for one year and are in good standing. The Fourth Degree assembly covers a wider area, which includes much of central Vermont, and its members serve as honor guards in both religious and civic occasions.
To be a Knight one has to be a man 18 or older and be a practicing Catholic. There is also a women’s auxiliary, which functions in support of the men and the council; to be a member one must be 18 or older, a practicing Catholic, and the spouse, widow, sister or daughter of a Knight.
In the Barre and Montpelier area the Knights give quarterly donations to the St. Monica, St. Augustine, St. Sylvester, St. Edward, St. Cecilia/St. Frances Cabrini and North American Martyrs’ parishes. They also donate money and hours to the Montpelier, Onion River, St. Monica, St. Augustine and Salvation Army food banks, and regularly give to Vermont Right to Life, Morality in Media, Circle — the Washington County battered women’s shelter and service, the Special Olympics and the Vermont Association for the Blind.
The Knights sponsor a local Cub Scout pack and donate their hall and catering services to the pack for functions, as well as to other organizations and local schools and sports teams. They have done fundraisers for troops overseas and discuss and vote at their monthly meetings where to donate the money they raise over the course of the year.
Every year the Knights have Tootsie Roll drives and a special sweepstakes dinner to raise money for charitable donations and scholarships for the local schools.
“Weekly bingo is the main lifeline for covering the costs of this building, overhead and taxes and the like,” says Santorello. He cites the recent changes in tax laws as a big obstacle for the council, as now its operating budget is $13,000 higher than it used to be. “Yes, the state is collecting income, but what people don’t realize is that limits the amounts we can give to food banks and other organizations, which then adds to the burden on the state to make up for it,” he adds.
The Knights also hold spaghetti suppers every second Tuesday of the month from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., which are open to the public.
“It’s mainly having functions and building up money for community organizations and people in need,” says Santorello. “We’re here to help, but our biggest challenge is ensuring the strength and longevity of our council. We need younger members for their leadership and new ideas and for the older members to know that someone will be carrying our work on.”
For more information, visit www.kofc399.org or call 479-0912.
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