Honoring Our Legacy, Serving Our Mission
8/1/2017by Joseph O’Brien
K of C members are transforming properties formerly used by their councils into opportunities to strengthen Catholic parishes
A lively crowd of about 60 people gathered on a June evening in Madison, Wis. Members of Our Lady of the Lakes Council 4527 were hosting an annual “Volunteer Night” dinner at their parish to honor the many volunteers who have made the council’s success look easy.
The event took place in what appeared to be a typical “K of C hall” – with lots of floor space, a bar, a kitchen and a staging area for presentations. But last year, the home corporation facility where Council 4527 met was donated to the parish, and the property now serves the council, parish and community more than ever.
“More money is now going into our council’s charity fund, because we don’t have to pay the bills on the building anymore,” explained Grand Knight Daniel Kelly.
Historically, such buildings were a common component of Columbian life around the United States and Canada during much of the 20th century. With dramatic cultural and economic shifts, however, many members discovered that maintaining these halls began to undercut their council’s primary mission.
As a result, many councils have chosen to stop using home corporation buildings and become parish-based. Doing so has allowed them to reach new heights of service and to honor their charter members through a legacy of sizeable charitable contributions benefiting the Church and community.
HALLS OF HISTORY
Though K of C councils are prohibited from owning property, members began forming associations to build and maintain halls by the end of the 19th century. This was done through the establishment of independent legal entities known as home corporations. The need was social and sometimes even essential to the life of councils in North America, where the facilities served as bulwarks for a growing yet vulnerable Catholic population beleaguered by prejudice.
Home corporations arose from the desire of Catholics, mostly immigrants entering the industrial milieu, for property and land they could call their own. Finding that home corporation buildings could serve as a “permanent home” for their councils, members often supported halls through the venue’s sale of food and alcohol, and through rental fees for wedding receptions and other functions.
However, as times and sentiments changed, and Catholics became integrated into mainstream America, the cultural necessity of halls declined. By the late 1970s, the Supreme Council was encouraging councils to become more closely integrated with their local parishes. From economic challenges to the Church’s call for a new evangelization, additional circumstances have further accelerated the transition toward parish-based councils.
When announcing the Orderwide Building the Domestic Church While Strengthening Our Parish initiative in November 2015, Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson noted, “Because of the need to generate a constant stream of revenue just to maintain their buildings, many home corporations have been forced into the facilities rental business, in which they are now subject to market forces, government regulations and liability risks. Needless to say, this situation has diluted the mission integrity of the councils that use those buildings.”
With such concerns in mind, councils such as Council 4527 in Madison have chosen to turn their focus to parish life. The spacious 9,500-square-foot hall that Council 4527 once called home now belongs to the Catholic Multicultural Center, an outreach ministry of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish.
According to William Thielmann, past grand knight and current financial secretary, the idea to donate the hall, valued at $700,000, to the CMC began with a lighthearted suggestion by Msgr. Ken Fiedler, pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace.
“Then, we found out he was only half-joking,” Thielmann said with a laugh. “After much negotiation and talking to council members and convincing people about the wisdom of such a decision, we voted that we would do it.”
The CMC, a 1,000-strong Catholic volunteer organization, offers many services to those in need, including faith-based financial skill-building and job-training programs.
In July 2016, the home corporation deeded the hall to the CMC, said Deputy Grand Knight James Costello, because the cost of maintaining the hall – an estimated $3,000 per month – was distracting the council, especially in its charitable work.
“The money went to offset the expenses of the hall’s operation here,” Costello said of the council’s fundraising efforts. “As a result, the charities weren’t receiving the benefits to the degree that we wanted them to.”
The new arrangement, worked out through council and parish lawyers, grants Council 4527 continued use of the hall at no charge and allows CMC activities to thrive.
The CMC’s “Culinary Creations” catering program, for example, will put the hall’s professional-grade kitchen to good use and help train clients, including ex-convicts, for a possible career track.
“It’s a win-win for everyone involved,” said CMC director Andy Russell.
Msgr. Fiedler also sees the benefits to both the Knights and the parish.
“Suddenly, the council has surfaced big time in the parish,” he said. “The young people of the parish see that the Knights’ mission is the same as the Church’s mission – to care for the poor and the needy. That’s attracting people, younger people especially.”
A TRADITION OF CHARITY
A thousand miles south, Pensacola (Fla.) Council 778 has experienced a similar resurgence after becoming parish-based. Though a home corporation had been part of its history since 1925, the 2008 economic crisis, combined with rising maintenance costs, caused the council to reconsider its commitment to using the property.
By 2012, Council 778 had already relocated to St. Paul Parish in Pensacola, but the hall – and the growing accrual of bills attached to it – remained the home corporation’s problem. In 2014, the building was put on the market and fetched a price good enough to benefit the council, the parish and even the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee.
Members voted to give about a fourth of the proceeds to the diocese’s endowment fund to establish an annual grant in the council’s name for diocesan programs and ministries; another fourth was donated to St. Paul’s for necessary church repairs; and most of the remaining balance is invested with help from Knights of Columbus Asset Advisors.
“The basic strategy,” said Past Grand Knight John Dickinson, “is that the principal will remain, and any interest we make – something around $15,000 annually – will go to charity.”
Having served as president of the home corporation that oversaw the maintenance of the building, Dickinson did a lot of the heavy lifting for the transaction. He said that the toughest sell on the deal came from the older Knights who had countless memories of the old hall.
“The building was the place where they accomplished much of the Lord’s work; I explained to them that we were merely converting the resource to accomplish the Lord’s work in a different way,” Dickinson explained. “I let my older brother Knights know that I understood this sale to be a big step for them, but I needed their support. I also shared that we were putting a substantial portion of the funding from the sale of the building into the Diocesan Endowment Fund as a perpetual gift that would honor our past brother Knights who built the building. They appreciated the respect I gave them and the brother Knights of the past.”
According to Father Doug Halsema, pastor of St. Paul and chaplain of Council 778, the council’s integration with the parish has been a windfall for the church and others.
“The money is going toward a building the parish is renovating, which the Knights can use as a meeting room,” Father Halsema said. “Since being here in the parish for the last couple years, it seems to me they enjoy raising money for charitable causes. And they’re good at it, too.”
The council has always done its duty in helping the parish, Father Halsema added, but now that duty seems suddenly doubled.
“There’s a much more visible presence from the Knights,” he said. “And it’s been a good partnership – the Knights like to cook, and the parish likes to eat.”
More than a decade ago, Bristol (R.I.) Council 379 recognized that its meeting space – a converted Chinese restaurant – was dragging on the council’s ability to fulfill its mission and grow membership. Thanks in part to the proceeds from the sale of the hall, the council has disbursed more than $120,000 over the last 10 years in scholarships to Catholic school students around the state.
Grand Knight Warren Rensehausen said the council has also seen a resurgence in membership during the same period.
“Our numbers have since increased, and the scholarship program has increased,” he said. “We have a lot of younger brother Knights come in because of the scholarship program. It’s been great for the parish and the community as a whole.”
The council increased its membership by 30 members in the last two years, Rensehausen reports – far exceeding the 12-member quota that the Supreme Council set for them.
The council’s success, Rensehausen said, has also translated into greater enthusiasm for such activities as the Keep Christ in Christmas poster contest at the local Catholic school.
“There were 94 entrants out of a school that has 125 students,” he said. “It’s going great. Part of that has to do with the fact that our faces are being seen more in the parish.”
North of the border, too, councils have chosen to exchange halls for parish life. Some 30 years ago, the home corporation used by William E. Prentice Council 1429 in Sarnia, Ontario, sold its hall and, in conjunction with neighboring councils that emerged from Council 1429, members have donated $120,000 (Canadian) of the profits to Our Lady of Mercy Parish to renovate the parish’s own hall. They also gave smaller donations totaling $40,000 to other Sarnia parishes.
According to Norman Monteiro, grand knight of Council 1429, the dispersal of the funds helped the men better understand who they are as Knights of Columbus.
“The Knights are called to be men of faith in action first,” he said, “not merely men of property and money.”
The sale of the hall has allowed members to focus their attention on other initiatives.
Dave Pirt, financial secretary of Council 1429, said, “We’re doing a 12-hour, 185-mile bike-a-thon to raise money for the St. Joseph Hospice in Sarnia. But I have to say, the sale of the hall has helped lead to this ride – freeing us up for these sorts of activities.”
Father Jim Higgins, who until recently served as pastor of Our Lady of Mercy and chaplain of Council 1429, recalled with gratitude the council’s willingness to help the parish with renovations – especially the new adoration chapel, which many faithful from the Sarnia area frequent on a regular basis.
“The whole focus of the Knights of Columbus is to be of service to the parish, to support the work of the parish priest and to find opportunities of being able to better the standards of community life within the parish,” Father Higgins said. “I think the donation that Sarnia’s Knights made truly did that. It was a great sign to the community of the Knights’ willingness to participate in the goodness of the parish and promote a sense of well-being for both parish and council.”
JOSEPH O’BRIEN is a freelance writer who lives in Soldiers Grove, Wis. He is a member of St. James the Greater Council 12606 in Gays Mill.
FROM HOME CORPORATION TO PARISH
The Office of the Supreme Advocate has developed the Handbook for Councils Using Home Corporation Facilities to help councils using home corporation facilities discern whether and how to successfully move from a home corporation to a parish. Councils that choose to continue using home corporations are required by a Supreme Council resolution adopted in 2014 (No. 340) to enter into two agreements that serve to clarify the relationship between the council and corporation and establish a framework for a possible future return of the council to the parish. These agreements protect the council, its members and the Order from potential liabilities that may result from the home corporation’s operations. Questions about the agreements and related matters can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org or (203) 752-4017. Additional information for councils using home corporation facilities can be found on the Officers’ Desk Reference. In addition, the investing team of Knights of Columbus Asset Advisors® is prepared to help councils invest in Catholic-compliant funds for the councils’ future charitable work. More information can be found at kofcassetadvisors.org.