The Knights of Columbus were founded 125 years ago to help the families of members who died young and unexpectedly. They’ve come to be known as the men who carry swords in church, wear purple feather hats and raise money for charity by selling Tootsie Rolls.
But, in addition to their insurance program for members, their work in protecting human life and encouraging vocations is at the core of who the Knights are. Not to mention evangelization.
And a new way to help spread the faith is the organization’s monthly Supreme Knight’s Book Club.
Launched in January, the Internet-based club features questions and answers on books like Parish Priest: Father Michael McGivney and American Catholicism by Douglas Brinkley and Julie Fenster, and Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth.
The idea for the club, with its monthly one-hour live online chats, originated with Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. According to Andrew Walther, director of media relations for the Knights, Anderson’s idea was to have a club that would give people solid Catholic reading material and help form the conscience.
“The book club is designed to give members of the Knights and Catholics everywhere a list of books that will address the issues related to our external life in the world, the interior life of our souls, and the interaction between the two,” Anderson explained.
The selections are significant books but easily readable. Choices cover a wide range of topics. During Lent, it was Pope John Paul II’s The Way to Christ: Spiritual Exercises, and Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons. May’s recommendations were Joan by Donald Spoto and Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters by Meg Meeker. Men and women e-mailed their questions or comments.
From Minneapolis: “We think of Joan of Arc as an independent spirit, but she was really very traditional: committed to her family, to her country, to her Church. How do you explain this?”
From Ontario: “How do we create our modern day Joan of Arcs? How can fathers encourage their daughters to make a difference in the world?”
Anderson answered, in part, “What [Joan] represents uniquely is that to a knight, the odds of battle or the length of battle were irrelevant to the knight’s mission. Especially today, when we confront the culture of death in so many different disguises, this is something we must keep in mind as Knights of Columbus.”Finding Lost Treasures
From Laramie, Wyo., regular book club participant Bill Briere found this pair relevant because he has two daughters, 7 and 10.
“I would not have known about these books without the book club,” said Briere, the Knights’ immediate past Wyoming State Deputy. “Some of the books in the club are obvious ones, like the one by the Pope. But there are gems here that I would otherwise not have known about.”
Briere finds another good thing: “This club brings some of the forgotten classics back into the forefront.”
An example is the short novel Mr. Blue by Myles Connolly. The 1928 classic gives a sparkling, thought-provoking look at someone whose Catholic spirituality guides him through the materialistic culture.
June’s single selection was immediately recognizable — Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth. Participants asked Anderson and Supreme Chaplain Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., lots of questions.
“In both Deus Caritas Est and Jesus of Nazareth, a common theme emerges,” Anderson commented. “In both, Pope Benedict is leading us to a greater understanding of who God is. In his encyclical, the focus is on God generally — and the fact that God is love.”
Bishop Lori explained, “To bear witness to Christ in today’s world can be daunting, although it has never been easy. Time and again, Pope John Paul II repeated the words of Jesus, ‘Do not be afraid.’ The first way we can be evangelizers is to deepen our life of prayer and our attachment to him and to the Holy Spirit, who made the apostles evangelizers ... explaining the faith to someone in doubt, inviting a colleague to Mass.”
Even an indirect book club participant like Dorothy Pratt has found her involvement “helped me grow and in general given me a deeper appreciation of the Catholic religion.”Open to All
Pratt has a personal connection to the Knights of Columbus. She was baptized at St. Thomas Church in Thomaston, Conn., the last parish where Knights founder Father Michael McGivney served before he died in 1890.
But she is also an information technician at the Knights’ headquarters in New Haven, Conn., and processes the chats the day after they take place. That includes checking things like Bible quotes for accuracy.
But anyone can go to the Knights of Columbus website (kofc.org), scroll down to the book club, and find out the current choice. Participants can submit questions before the online chat hour or during the hour itself. Viewers can read responses immediately or in the transcripts on the website later.
Ultimately, the book club’s purpose and aim falls into John Paul II’s call for the New Evangelization.
As Anderson put it, “These are books that will speak to the Catholic conscience and help readers build a culture of life and a civilization of love starting with themselves and their own families.”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.