College Conference Offers Tremendous Learning Opportunities
Energized and excited following the College Council Conference Awards Banquet Sept. 30, college Knights reconvened the following morning for a day of inspiring talks and information sessions.
More than 150 Knights from 69 schools throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada and the Dominican Republic gathered at the Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale for a rigorous program that included keynote speakers, break-out sessions and display booths for the Order’s Management Development Program and Catholic Information Service.
The morning began with Mass celebrated by Father Frank Donio from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and a fraternal breakfast. Afterward, participants began their day of learning with a brief introductory talk by Julian Gluck, chairman of the College Council Advisory Board and a member of Our Lady of the Skies Council 8200 at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“I longed for a deeper service and greater camaraderie,” said Gluck, speaking about his original motivation for joining the Knights while attending the Air Force Academy. He went on to add that the Order helped to strengthen his faith and to fill a void in his life.
“Simply put, I love the Knights of Columbus,” said Gluck. “I love this Order and what it stands for.”
Following the talk, Gluck called to the stage Michael V. Brewer, who supervises young adult outreach for the Knights of Columbus. Brewer delivered a keynote address on the virtues of being a young Catholic gentleman.
“There’s so much struggle among college students as they transition from adolescence to adulthood,” said Brewer. “Often our peers and pop culture serve as more of an influence than they should.”
Brewer asserted that true happiness can only be found in the Lord and that college Knights need to take three steps to develop their relationship with God: basic religious education, prayer and service. Fortunately, he said, the Knights offers young Catholic men the opportunity to do all three. Brewer encouraged Knights to integrate more prayer into their meetings and to advocate more involvement from the council chaplain. Doing so, he added, can help combat a culture on many college campuses that encourages hazing, drinking and loose sexual morals.
Brewer’s remarks set the stage for conference participants to launch into a series of breakout sessions. Prior to lunch, attendees had the opportunity to learn about membership recruitment and retention, peer mentoring, leadership development, and working with campus ministries and university administrators.
“We all need someone to walk this path; we all need someone to bounce ideas off of. And that’s why I propose making a Knights peer-mentoring program,” said Timothy McEvoy of The Catholic University of American Council 9542 in Washington, D.C., who moderated the break-out session on peer mentoring.
McEvoy encouraged councils to pair new members with upperclassmen to foster a fraternal relationship and more participation. In turn, this partnership can run through council-sponsored social events, retreats and service projects.
Reflecting on the goal of his presentation later, McEvoy said that he favors a mentor program “because you would have older Knights assisting the newest members to not only be active in their councils and keep them active throughout their four years at the university, but also to make sure they’re active in the campus community and in their faith lives.”
Meanwhile, Matt Vanic of Quinnipiac University Council 14277 in Hamden, Conn., and Brent West of Illini Council 2782 at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign spoke about membership recruitment, integration and retention.“Part of being a Knight is having your faith on campus,” said Vanic, who, along with West, offered tips on garnering new members, keeping them interested during their tenure with the council, and making sure they retain their membership in the Order following graduation.
Like Brewer, West also insisted that chaplains be more involved in council life. “Your chaplain is a vital member,” said West. “A man asked to join the Knights by a chaplain is much more likely to join than one asked by a peer.”
Following a much-deserved lunch break, attendees began their final set of break-out sessions. Two sessions dealt with employment opportunities at the Knights of Columbus, while the others focused on charitable service and Catholic business ethics.
“I think it’s important to approach council programming with a vision,” noted Chris Oppermann of John Paul II Council 14188 at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., who gave a presentation titled “A Charity that Evangelizes: Best Practices in Community Service.” He added, “Vision can help provide a lot of balance to your council programming.”According to Oppermann, councils need to approach community service from two ends: how it will help the community and how it will sanctify the council and foster fraternity. Goals for community service should be concrete, realistic and challenging, and responsibilities should be delegated to council officers. “Building up a council is not easy, and it’s not instant,” said Oppermann. The final talk of the day was given by Supreme Advocate John A. Marrella, who spoke on how Knights can be leaders and evangelizers on campus. “We become our true selves — the selves God wants us to be — by living lives of service and sacrifice,” said Marrella. He challenged Knights to be Christ’s representatives on Earth and to emulate prominent Knights like Venerable Servant of God Michael McGivney and New York Fire Department Capt. Alfredo Fuentes, who survived the 9/11 terrorist attacks and now heads up the Knights of Columbus Second Responders initiative. “Our daily sacrifices, offered to God, will help prepare us for whatever comes our way,” Marrella said in summation. “As Knights of Columbus, we are called to live lives of fearless sacrifice.” Though the sessions ended at approximately 3:30 p.m., the day’s activities were far from over. Knights broke into caucuses based on geographic region to brainstorm best practices and programming. Conference organizers also hosted a Third Degree exemplification at St. Mary’s Church, where the Order was founded in 1882, and a holy hour and eucharistic benediction. College Knights closed the night with a social at the Knights of Columbus Museum. By the end of the day, conference participants were sapped, but no less excited by all they had learned. “I really enjoyed the recruitment and membership retention program,” said Robert Smith of Father Bill Nolan Council 15094 at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. “As a small council that just got started two years ago in May, we not only have a lot of problems dealing with the student population as a whole, but also figuring out how, as part of the Catholic student center on campus, to make a name for ourselves as Knights. I think the membership retention program gave some advice on what to implement.” Bradley St. Angelo of Georgetown University Council 6375 in Washington, D.C., was similarly inspired. Following Georgetown’s receipt of the Outstanding College Council Award, he was especially eager to return home and exercise all that he had learned. “We’re not going to stop where we are now,” said St. Angelo. “We definitely are going to continue all the programs that got us this far, start new programs where we can, and our big push is going to be membership. If we can do this much with the members we have now, if we can get some serious numbers, we can do a hell of a lot more.”