It’s hard enough to win a major award once. But, as any defending champion will tell you, it’s doubly hard to repeat the achievement — especially when there are more than 200 competitors on the field.

Georgetown University Knights of Columbus Council 6375 has overcome the long odds. The Knights recently honored the group with their Outstanding College Council Award for 2006 — four years after recognizing the Washington, D.C.-based council for the first time.

“Certainly we built on the shoulders of the guys who won before,” says current Grand Knight Alex Miller, a junior theology and philosophy major. “They paved the way and set up a solid council that we’ve inherited.”

But today’s members aren’t just coasting downhill. They’re rolling up their sleeves and building a legacy of their own, doing everything from sponsoring Eucharistic adoration to providing hands-on help to Katrina victims and other people in need.

For example, they’re active with the Northwest Center, a crisis pregnancy center in Washington that includes a maternity home for pregnant women.

“In the beginning of the year, before the students came back to school, we had a real drought of diapers — we were completely out of them,” says Jenny Graves, Northwest’s program director. As it happened, other regular helpers of the center were away on vacation.

As soon as Georgetown council members returned to school and Graves alerted them to the problem, the young men organized a drive that filled the center with more than 16,000 diapers.

“In two days they brought two huge vans full of diapers,” recalls Graves. “They came through in a pinch when we needed it.”

She lauds the way the council responds quickly to urgent needs while maintaining such ongoing projects as parties for the other children of pregnant mothers living in the center’s maternity home. The council also holds diaper drives every other month and raises money for baby formula. All this plus college studies and activities, too.

Jesuit Father Philip Boroughs, Georgetown’s vice president for mission and ministry, credits these young Knights with doing “enormous service for the university” and supporting his office in many areas.

“They’ll do manual work, clean up, volunteer to be ushers, Eucharistic ministers, lectors,” he says. “They do service things, religious things, all kinds of practical things on campus.” He also praises their leadership promoting and working on the many activities of annual Jesuit Heritage Week on campus, and their unflagging dedication to disaster victims.

‘Someone Really Cares’

Last year, instead of spending spring break partying, several members headed to southern Louisiana.

“It was an opportunity to take what resources we had as college students — time and energy — and put them to use in helping relieve a national tragedy,” says Miller. While the students didn’t have a lot of money to give, he says, they could go down and help people with the hard work of rebuilding homes.

And lives. After the young Knights left, one family member they helped wrote: “I could not believe college kids were going to give up their spring break to help me. … My whole outlook on the disaster started to change. Someone really cares.”

This is a humble lot, too. “We went there wanting to give, but I think they gave us so much more,” says Georgetown junior Darwin Young, 2006 grand knight. “Their joy, hope and courage were so infectious there among the trials. Most of us had a real life-changing experience.”

Several members returned in the summer to help families in a parish in Pass Christian, Miss.

Closer to the campus home front, council members reach out regularly to do painting and maintenance work. In 2006, they worked at three convents in the area and painted the interior of a house that helps people with disabilities.

During the year, the council regularly visits a Kennedy Institute facility. They play bingo with the residents or throw a Christmas party with carol singing and cookies baked by the college guys.

“A lot of times college kids have good intentions, but don’t make things really happen,” observes Robert Lee, the Georgetown council’s financial secretary and a 2003 graduate. “These guys not only have the good will and the desire to help out; they put it into action and make it happen.”

Christian to the Core 

At the heart of the Georgetown council’s service projects is a strong spiritual core. “The work of the council is centered on Christ,” explains Lee, who sees the spiritual benefits of adoration extending to all on campus who participate. “We’re not just doing social-service activities, which others can do too. We have that spiritual center from which to launch the service activities.”

Nor is the “spiritual center” a fuzzy concept vaguely grasped at. It, too, is a lived reality. There’s morning and evening prayer, the Angelus and nightly Rosary (which Katrina-relief members made part of their day). There’s ushering at campus Masses and at the Vigil for Life Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. And there’s organizing the Stations of the Cross each Friday of Lent. 

“The spiritual and contemplative parts are important,” says 2006 Grand Knight Young, citing the council’s annual fall retreat. This, he says, “is a great opportunity for the guys to bond in a spiritual setting, get away from high-stress life at Georgetown and concentrate on building their relationship with God.”

This year Miller and some other council members began saying morning and evening prayer together in the chapel. Little by little, they’ve been joined by fellow students who aren’t council members: another kind of outreach.

Meanwhile, growing out of the inspiration flowing from Eucharistic adoration, members have called for a weekly short adoration period with Benediction after Tuesday evening Mass. On Fridays without the 24-hour adoration, there’s a holy hour followed by vespers and a council dinner.

“We try to really play to personal devotion and sense of community and fraternity based in faith,” says Miller.

This vision and goal is what attracted more than 45 new members in 2006. As Young sees it, one of the best ways to be a Catholic male on campus at Georgetown is to be a Knight of Columbus.

“I joined as a freshman, hoping to become more involved in active service and more grounded in my Catholic faith,” Young says. “The Knights involve both. These two things have allowed me to grow tremendously as a Catholic man and ground me as to what’s really important.”

Good things come to students who answer Christ’s call right where they are. Better things than winning multiple awards, even.

Staff writer Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.