Past Supreme Knight Virgil Dechant received the Knights of Columbus’ Highest Honor at a dinner in Dallas, Texas on Friday evening. The Gaudium et Spes Award was established by Dechant in 1992, with Mother Teresa as its first recipient.
The award is named for the Second Vatican Council’s Apostolic Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.
Dechant is the award’s tenth honoree. Among the honorees have been l’Arche founder Jean Vanier, Cardinal John O’Connor of New York, and Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
Cardinals Theodore McCarrick and Justin Rigali attended, joining Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore and Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas and a number of other bishops and priests, as well as Virgil Dechant’s wife Ann, members of their family, many of the past state deputies of Dechant’s home state of Kansas, the state deputies and state chaplains, and the board of directors and members of the executive staff of the Knights of Columbus.
Cardinal McCarrick gave a speech recounting some of his fond memories of friendship and collaboration with Dechant for more than 50 years.
A video presentation highlighted some of the past supreme knight’s notable accomplishments, especially in the areas of K of C membership, his emphasis on the inclusion of family members in the Order's activities, the professionalization of the insurance operation, the relationships built with the Vatican and the local Church, and the establishment of the Gaudium et Spes Award.
Supreme Knight Carl Anderson bestowed the award, with Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William Lori reading the citation.
Prior to bestowing the award, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson noted that: "Virgil Dechant was the model of Catholic fraternalism for an entire generation."
Receiving his award during the fiftieth anniversary year of opening the Second Vatican Council, Dechant said that he accepted the award on behalf of all those Knights who had worked so hard to implement the teachings of the Council.
He informed those gathered in his honor that he would be donating the $100,000 honorarium attached to the award to a K of C scholarship fund for seminarians.
Dechant also thanked Cardinal Theodore McCarrick for having first suggested that the Order open the cause of the Order’s founder the Venerable Servant of God Father Michael McGivney in 1977.
Dedication to Father McGivney’s vision, Dechant said, had transformed the Order.
The past supreme knight also praised the leadership of Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, who succeeded him as leader of the Knights of Columbus, encouraging all those in attendance in their commitment to the Order and in their commitment to the leadership shown by Supreme Knight Anderson.