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Knights serve Nebraskans for 100 years

Alfred Hanus (right), grand knight of Columbus Council #938 in Columbus, accepts a "Hundreth Anniversary Certificate" from Knights of Columbus Supreme Director Ron Gay of College Station, Texas, on behalf of Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. Council #938 celebrated its centennial in 2005, the same year as the Nebraska State Council.

By Brian Fuchser
The Catholic Voice

As the State Council of the Nebraska Knights of Columbus celebrates its centennial this year, Knights around the state know the celebration means more than just 100 years of fish fries and pancake breakfasts.

At the annual state convention April 22-24 in North Platte, members of the Knights of Columbus not only recognized the centennial of the state council, but also celebrated more than 100 years of service to church, community and brother Knights in Nebraska through the state's 154 local councils.

"It's astounding to go to a convention and hear what people have done," said Kevin O'Connell, grand knight of Father Flanagan of Boys Town Council #652, the oldest council in Nebraska. "The impact on lives and on communities is unbelievable."

One of the main things the Knights of Columbus is known for is its service, and the numbers bear that out.

The more than 22,000 Knights of Columbus members in Nebraska donated more than 791,000 hours of volunteer service during the 2003-04 year and 9,600 members donated blood. More than $1.4 million was donated to church, community and youth activities.

Working in solidarity

Although the numbers are impressive, O'Connell said it's an intangible that makes the Knights special.

"It's more than the pancake breakfasts and all this and that. You can erase all that and we could not raise a dime next year for charity, although that's our big thing," he said. "But it's not the money. It is the idea that you have that many people who are like minded, share the same values and have the same goals on issues. You're working in solidarity."

O'Connell said that solidarity can be seen in his own council because it serves 11 parishes in Omaha – Blessed Sacrament, Holy Name, Immaculate Conception, Sacred Heart, St. Ann, St. Cecilia, St. Frances Cabrini, St. Joseph, St. Patrick, St. Peter and St. Mary Magdalene.

O'Connell said members of his council must work together to get things accomplished. Serving Omaha religious communities is one area of interest for the council. Members hold an annual brunch and Mass for the religious sisters of the archdiocese at St. Cecilia Cathedral. They also do cemetery clean-up at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Omaha.

When the State Council of the Nebraska Knights of Columbus was chartered at a meeting in Omaha on March 4, 1905, members of Council #652 were there, along with representatives of two other councils in the Diocese of Omaha – Charles Carroll of Carrollton Council #701 in O'Neill and Columbus Council #938 in Columbus.

The second council chartered in Nebraska, the O'Neill council was founded in April 1903 and concentrates its efforts on state and national Knights programs, as well as local projects.

Grand Knight Neil Liewer said the council's biggest charitable service comes in the form of the Knights' annual Tootsie Roll drive for those with special needs.

"That's one we just pick out and specifically have a fund drive for," said Liewer, a member of St. Patrick Parish in O'Neill.

Council #701, which serves the O'Neill parish, St. Joseph Parish in Amelia and St. Peter de Alcantara Parish in Ewing, does other, smaller charitable things throughout the year as well.

"We just kind of fit in where we're needed," Liewer said. "You have your little fund raisers and different things to help with some of the charitable things that happen in the church.

"Some funds go to our school, some to our church and some to help people in the community, who are not necessarily members of our church," he said. "They in turn are helpful to us by just being in the community."

Council #938 in Columbus, chartered in January 1905 as the fourth council in Nebraska, focuses much of its attention on Catholic education in Columbus.

Grand Knight Alfred Hanus said the Columbus council, which serves St. Bonaventure Parish in Columbus, St. Stanislaus Parish in Duncan and St. Lawrence Parish in Silver Creek, pledged money to the capital campaign for a new preschool addition at St. Bonaventure School and offers scholarships and tuition assistance to junior and senior high school students at Scotus Central Catholic.

Beyond community service

While local projects are important, the Knights of Columbus was founded as more than a community service group, said State Deputy John Melena, a parishioner at St. Mary in Wayne. It's also a fraternal organization and the right hand of the church.

"It's the largest Catholic fraternal organization and growing," Melena said. "We feel like we're the right hand of the church and we're all united for Christ. If the priests need something done, they can just come to the Knights and somehow we get it done."

O'Connell agreed.

"We are at their service, as opposed to them being at our service," he said. "Our priority is what we can do for the priests, never the other way around."

O'Connell also mentioned the fraternalism of the Knights and the resulting sense of community.

"The Knights of Columbus, as an organization, affects my whole point of view," he said. "When we have members in trouble, we help them out. Certainly they are in our prayers. We visit them and they are part of our community, which is larger than our parish. There's just that sense of community and a sense of a spiritual family."

Hanus, a member of St. Bonaventure Parish in Columbus, said the Knights of Columbus over the years has become part of the larger community and culture of the state of Nebraska.

"I think the Knights of Columbus has found a niche in Nebraska that's recognized by people of all religions and the general public in Nebraska, probably more so than any other organization in the state," he said. "They have developed a name for themselves."

O'Connell said the history of the Knights of Columbus in Nebraska has mirrored the history of the Catholic Church in the state.

That history is "slow, steady growth, stronger today than it was 10 years ago, stronger than it was 40 or 100 years ago," he said. Hanus said the organization's growth is likely to remain steady as the Knights' service continues to have an impact on their communities.

"I think it's going to continue to grow as people learn about it," he said. "As people see what the Knights do, they want to become a part of the organization. Many times it's deeds that do more good than words."

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