The Knights: A Family Affair
By her own admission, Kathy Schmidt did not pay a lot of attention to the organization that her husband, Gerald “Jerry” Schmidt, joined in 1981.
With six children under her wing, Kathy was busy caring for the family and also working as a hairdresser when Jerry joined Parkersburg (W.Va.) Council 594. In fact, since she wasn’t Catholic and was unfamiliar with the Knights, Kathy was even a little resentful of the time her husband spent away from home.
But talk to Kathy today — 34 years after Jerry became a Knight — and she can’t say enough about the positive effects that the Order has had on her family and marriage.
“As I got into it more and traveled more with my husband, I realized this is something important, and it just opened up doors for me,” she said. “My spiritual life became stronger. Our married life became stronger. I became not only closer to my husband through it, but much, much closer to God.”
Jerry, 70, a retired mechanical engineer for DuPont, is currently vice supreme master of the Father Edward Sorin Fourth Degree Province, which covers Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia. According to Kathy, 68, he’s held just about every office for the Knights on the state level, including state deputy for West Virginia (2004-2006).
As Kathy saw the Knights in action — organizing children’s coat drives, Lenten fish fries, nationwide disaster relief and more — she was struck by all the good they accomplished. The witness of that outreach, together with personal study, led her to convert to Catholicism in 1989.
In many ways, Kathy Schmidt’s experience is not unique. Since Father Michael J. McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882, wives of members have discovered just how much the Order can enrich their faith and their families.
‘A REAL IMPACT’
Like the Schmidts in West Virginia, the Knights of Columbus has become a family affair for the Burgos family in Hawaii. Ricardo Burgos, 48, a neuroradiologist and a colonel in the U.S. Army, joined in 2010 while on deployment in Iraq.
According to his wife, Danielle, 47, the Knights provided Ricardo with a way to “feel connected to his Catholic faith” while overseas in a war zone.
“He was a very practicing Catholic,” she said. “He was looking for a group to get involved in. I think he was trying to make sense of what was going on.”
Ricardo stayed involved in the Knights after returning home. Last year, he helped found the first Hispanic council in Hawaii: Father James “Diego” McFadden Council 16109, which meets at the family’s parish, St. John the Baptist Church in Honolulu.
The couple’s two sons, Christian, 21, a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and Michael, 19, a community college student, are Knights as well. Christian joined the West Point college council in 2012, while Michael is a charter member of Council 16109.
“I think it’s about them owning their faith and wanting to do something for the Church through the Knights,” said Danielle. “It’s a manly thing, and I think they’re very proud to be Catholics. They found a niche.”
Even though it’s an organization for men, Danielle and the couple’s youngest child, Camille, 16, have not felt left out. Just the opposite, in fact. Since Ricardo joined the Knights, Danielle said that her daughter sees Ricardo taking more ownership of the family’s own faith life. For example, he now takes the lead in praying the rosary together and planning family activities.
As the charter grand knight of his council, Ricardo organized a family hike for the community. In the past, Danielle explained, the women would have planned the event and the meals, but this time it was the men who did so. The moms welcomed the service, and the men have continued to become more involved and engaged.
“It’s had a real impact on our community and on me,” Danielle said.
The family is also very involved with their parish, assisting with things such as Cursillo and RCIA and baptismal classes. Ricardo is also studying to become a permanent deacon.
“I see him widening his horizon and asking more about our family’s faith,” said Danielle. “The Knights help him see more, and it helps him appreciate more what he has.”
In this way, Ricardo’s membership in the Knights has helped them as a couple. “On a deeper level,” Danielle said, “we are on the same page.”
With two active children — Emily, 14, and Evan, 10 — and two working parents, life is busy in Bishop’s Falls, Newfoundland, for the LeDrew family. In fact, it’s become so hectic that mom, Jackie, 39, decided that the family needed to step back from some outside commitments.
But one thing they won’t give up, she said, is their involvement with the Catholic Church — and specifically the Knights of Columbus.
Robert LeDrew, 42, is a Fourth Degree member of Msgr. Finn Council 5904 in Bishop’s Falls. A convert to Catholicism, he grew up in the United Church of Canada but began attending Mass with Jackie, a cradle Catholic, once the couple had children.
“He came with us even though he wasn’t Catholic for the simple fact we did not want our children to ask why Daddy wasn’t going to church with us when they were older,” explained Jackie.
Inspired by the example of a good friend, Peter Cook, who died at age 42, Robert joined the Catholic Church and the Knights about four years ago.
“If it hadn’t been for my husband wanting to be a Knight, he might not have done the RCIA course,” Jackie explained, adding that her husband always looked on the Knights as leaders in the community.
In the Knights, Jackie said, the couple has found an “extended part of our family.” Describing a minor medical issue that kept her husband out of work for a short time, Jackie said that she and Robert were overwhelmed by the concern their fellow Knights showed for him.
“Every [Knight] that I met, whether at the mall, the store or church, would ask me, ‘How’s Rob doing?,’” she said. “They truly care what’s going in your life and what’s going on in your family all the time.”
In addition to the social network they’ve found among other council families, Robert and Jackie appreciate the example that volunteering gives to their children.
“It’s the giving back, knowing that if I am helping someone else, the children will help someone when it’s their turn,” Jackie said.
Realizing that they’ve overcommitted themselves in the past, the couple has begun to step back from other volunteering commitments that haven’t left them much time for their children.
One benefit of the Knights, though, is the fact that they can do more together as a family, whether volunteering or attending social events.
“We have always been close, but I’ve found we do more with each other,” she said.
The LeDrews, like the Burgos and Schmidt families and so many others, have discovered that the Knights of Columbus is more than a fraternal organization, and even more than a charitable organization. It is also a family organization, involving the wives and children of members.
Back in West Virginia, Kathy Schmidt marvels at how much other K of C families she has met have affected her life.
“Because it meant so much to my husband and because he means so much to me, I wanted to be a part of it with him,” she said. “The family of friends we have met are so precious to me. Our [Knights] family gets larger and larger.”
MARYANGELA LAYMAN ROMÁN is managing editor of the Catholic Herald, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.