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Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft tries to balance her traditional Mexican-American cultural heritage and Catholic identity, personified by her grandmother La Lupe, with her roles as a young wife and mother.

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July 26th, 2011

Rethinking the Knights of Columbus

 
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Credit: CNS photo/Sam Lucero, The Compass

Before I met Brandon, whenever I heard of the Knights of Columbus, I pictured a bunch of old, crotchety, white men sitting around selling chicken or pancakes after Mass. I think we’ve probably all had the experience of being at a church event and instructed to do something by a surly old man in a Knights polo that acts as if he is running the show. Needless to say, my impression of the group was negative and I have met a lot of people who are not shy about voicing this same opinion.

Being a Knight, Brandon is always telling me stories about them. He told me how the Knights were actually founded during a time of rampant Catholic discrimination.  The Knights of Columbus wanted to give men a strong Catholic community to help support their family values and maintain their faith during a time of persecution.  Brandon has also told me about how much good they do. It really is amazing. Just a couple of neat facts about them: Every year they give away about $150 million to charitable causes. All the members combined work 70 million volunteer hours a year. After Hurricane Katrina they gave New Orleans $10 million to get the schools back up and running. Every year they give the Pope $1.6 million to use for whatever charitable causes he sees fit. But on a smaller scale, the parish and its members can always count on the Knights for whatever they need. Here in Brandon’s council they helped a widow who was recently confined to her wheelchair. Along with building her a ramp, they raised her flowerbeds and added a walkway in her backyard for her wheelchair so she could still get out there and do gardening from her wheelchair.

I’ve never really encountered or witnessed the Knights in action until a couple of weeks ago. We went to a wedding in a small town outside of Austin. It was for the son of one of Brandon’s fellow Knights. I’ve honestly never been so impressed with a group of people as I was with the Knights that day. The council in that town is H-U-G-E and they have their own hall, which is where the reception was held. The reception had about 600 people at it and the Knights ran everything. Along with setting up all the tables and chairs and decorations, they cooked all the food – good barbecue will all the fixings – and served it, and did clean up. I heard they smoked 420 pounds of brisket that day. It was such a community effort. And during the reception, lots of people who knew Brandon came up and introduced themselves to me and asked if I needed anything. With so many Knights around I always had a full cup, I never got up to throw anything away because they did it for me, and I was never standing around awkwardly without anyone to talk to. They immediately made me feel like family. It was overwhelming hospitality. I seriously did not have to do one thing. I felt so welcomed and taken care of. It was such a show of community.

Within the church, there are a lot of groups that are easy to stereotype negatively and while they all have their gruff and pushy members there are definitely more good members than bad. The Knights, along with many of the other church groups, are a good vehicle to help put one’s faith into action.  Helping the world is a big task; being part of one of these church groups helps us better facilitate how we want to live out our faith in service to others. As a whole, these groups are a force of good. And if they can also cook a mean fish fry, then more power to them.

 
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The Author : Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft
Vanessa, a Notre Dame grad, loves the Catholic Worker Movement, Catholic education, and overbearing Mexican mothers, which she may or may not be. She lives in Austin with her husband and three daughters and is a freelance writer. You can find Vanessa at v.kraft.im or follow Vanessa on Twitter @laluped.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Martin Leal

    As the Knights of Columbus District Deputy for District 168 in Texas, I thank you for your article and encourage you to do more research on the Knights, you will find out about how diverse we are in our cultural and ethnic backgrounds, yet united in defending the Catholic faith and protecting family values. One more thing, when you say the pledge of allegiance remember that ” One Nation Under God” was placed into the pledge thanks to the efforts of the Knights of Columbus Vivat Jesus

  • David James

    The Knights have a long history of charitable work. That’s I’m very disappointed with their recent financial backing of political campaigns against same-sex marriage. I’m uncertain why they feel it necessary to spend millions supporting these campaigns when there is so much charitable work left undone.

  • Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft

    Thank you, Guillaume for pointing this out and thank you for understanding that I did not mean this out of disrespect. The reason why I included “old” and “white” in my description of the Knights is because they seemed like an exclusive group that only wanted other “old and white” men. I did not see that they were a diverse group and they seemed rather stuck in their ways and didn’t want anything to do with new ideas or young people. Obviously I could not have been more wrong. The Knights are very popular in Mexico and have been established there for over a century along with many other countries. Even here in Austin there are many councils with a large Hispanic population. And while sometimes the average age of the councils tends to be a little older, there are still many young Knights that fill the ranks. And even if there are “old” men in the council, I have found that they have great new and vibrant ideas to share with the group.

  • Guillaume

    Hi Vanessa,
    I’m glad you’ve overcome your negative preconceptions and chosen to share. As a Frenchman, I didn’t know much about the Knights. But as a member of Catholic Boy and Girl Scout organisation, I’ve been stereotyped myself, sometimes negatively, sometimes overly positively in a way that is equally inaccurate.
    I must however say that I was a bit taken aback by your initial characterization of the knights as “old, crotchety, white men…”.
    I certainly understand how being crotchety is not a desirable trait, but the sentence makes it sound as if being white and old only make things worse.
    I’m not a big defender of PC speech, and I’ve read enough of your excellent previous posts to know that you mean no disrespect or harm. But if the people getting on your nerves at church had been, for instance, Pilipino ladies of a certain age, your description probably would have been structured quite differently.
    Thanks nevertheless for giving us some insight into the Knights of Columbus which seem to be a fantastic organisation!
    Yours in Christ,
    Guillaume

  • Michael Welch

    As the Grand Knight of St John Bosco Council #12864 in Springfield, Va I can echo many of the activities of my fellow Worthy Grand Knights as well as point out the strong Pro-Life aspect of the Knights. We support the annual March for Life in DC with money and bodies (as Marshalls). Most councils have and maintain a Memorial to the Unborn. Each year our council sponsors an at-risk (of abortion) mother through Tepyac Center. State-wide last year the first of many-more-to-come ultra-sound machines were donated to Tepyac. Additionally, the Knights were instrumental in getting the Choose Life plates in Virginia and I’m very humbled and proud to say that more than half of all the pre-ordered plates (needed to get the bill passed) came from just our parish of St Raymond of Penefort.

    What do the Knights do? What DON’T they do?

  • Jamie

    As Grand Knight of St. Joseph’s Council #443 in NYC, we’re involved in numerous initiatives to support our parishes, schools and community. We’re a strong fraternal organization that forms life-long bonds through charitable activities, including raising funds for Calvary Hospital, Special Olympics, we support a mission in Guatemala and a grass roots organization in Haiti, we’ve raised funds for veterans organizations and participated in Memorial day and Veterans Day events.

  • Mike Atkinson

    As the Grand Knight of Norfolk Council 367 in Norfolk, VA I must say I glad to hear you were treated so well at that Council. The Knights of Columbus is a Catholic men’s organization, but we all strive to place a strong emphisis on the family. All Knights are our brothers and their families are part of our family. From your story I would say that Council is truly living the dream of Fr. McGiveny, our founder. I would ask that you forward your story with the Council’s name and number to the Supreme Council so that they may be recognized as such a fine example.

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