Iron Sharpens Iron
5/1/2019by Columbia staff
All-star recruiters reflect on effective ways to invite men to join the Knights of Columbus
Tom Stelmar has truly left his mark on the Knights of Columbus. Over the past four decades, he has held numerous leadership positions at the local level, but his biggest legacy has been in recruiting 1,000 members to the Order — multiplying charity and helping to build up the Church.
Stelmar started recruiting new members when he was appointed membership chairman of his first council in the early 1980s. “I had such a good time, I just stuck to it ever since,” he said. After reaching number 900 several years ago, he said, “I’ll be recruiting until the hammer drives the last nail in my coffin.”
Last month, he reached another milestone, signing up his 1,000th member: Cesareo Rivera (pictured above) is now a fellow member of St. Michael the Archangel Council 11862 in Garland, Texas.
Stelmar and other recruitment all-stars shared with us practical insights on why — and how — every Knight should work to grow the Order. Visit kofc.org/join.
Tom Stelmar, 81, knows how to deliver a mission objective. He was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force and stationed at the Pentagon when he joined Springfield (Va.) Council 6153 in 1980. A year later, the council made him membership chairman — “and that’s when it all started,” he said. He was soon setting recruiting records, first for the council and then for the state of Virginia. He and his wife, Ellen, moved with their two children, Stacy and Thomas Jr., to Texas in 1983.
Since then, Stelmar has helped to charter a number of new councils, including in Hispanic, Vietnamese and Korean communities, and has served as grand knight, district deputy and faithful navigator. He worked as a K of C field agent from 1990 to 2016 and is currently a member of St. Michael the Archangel Council 11862 in Garland, Texas.
I found out early that a lot of people had heard about the Knights, but they didn’t understand a lot. So I came up with a brief orientation program and invited prospective members to come. I would tell them about building fraternity and gathering for church, community and council activities, and an agent would talk about the insurance program.
I would also tell them how they could get their families involved. In fact, I would invite them to bring their wives, and if they had some doubts, their wives usually could help convince them to join. If they liked what they heard, we had the paperwork right there ready for them to sign.
One of the biggest challenges is growth. It’s important that councils grow so that they can help more people. As they grow older, members have to be looking for younger guys to bring in.
For the younger guys, especially those with young families, it’s always about the limited time they have. A lot of them work long hours, and then they have to come to degree ceremonies and other events. I tell them they can’t get involved with everything. Find something you like and work on that — and if it’s a little too much, try something else, but do something. Stay active.
Some guys come forward a lot on their own. Others are shy, but after they’ve been Knights for a few years and have been working with people, they become more involved with things going on in the church. And the priests are very happy with that, because it helps them a lot, too.
I have found that some of the best opportunities to recruit are at parish or community events, where all sorts of people are coming in, not only Knights.
On these occasions, I’ve met a lot of guys, and eventually I ask, “Are you a Knight of Columbus?” If the answer is no, I reply, “Would you like to be? Give me your name and phone number, and I’ll give you a call.” Don’t say, “Do you want to join?” and then walk away. Stay after ’em and be persistent.
I’ve brought in high school students 18 years old and all the way up. One of the first guys I brought into the Order became a general in the Air Force. When men are going through the RCIA program, I plant a seed early and tell them that if they’d like to join, they can join as soon as they become Catholic.
José “Pona” Magana, 49, remembers his grandmother in Guadalajara, Mexico, telling him stories about the Cristero War and the Caballeros de Colón. But Magana, who grew up in Mexico and southern California, was not interested in becoming a Knight himself until a priest challenged him: “Are you serving this parish? Do you know that God brings you to his way so you can bring more men to his way?” Magana couldn’t sleep that night, thinking about this message. The very next week he joined Rancho Cucamonga Council 13403 in Alta Loma, Calif.
Since then, he has recruited 88 members and helped establish two new councils. He serves as district deputy of District #101 in California and as state coordinator for Hispanic development.
SETTING AN EXAMPLE
My wife is my angel; she prayed for me to come back to God, and he gave me the strength to change. I’ve changed a lot. I’ve been sober now for 26 years. My daughter is 26, and my son is 23. They’ve never seen me drink or do drugs because I’ve been sober.
The Knights trained me to become a better Catholic man; a better husband and father; a better brother, and a better neighbor, too. As a member of the Knights of Columbus, you are an example for every man around you.
Think about our families. As fathers, we educate our family with our actions. What are men doing out there if they’re not Knights? So, let’s bring more men into the Knights of Columbus.
We are fishermen for God, like St. Peter. If you bring in one man to the Knights of Columbus, then he is going to bring his family with him, too. We’re called to bring those men and their families to God and the Church. It’s not just a project — it’s our mission.
I tell men about how they can grow in their faith. That’s what we need — faith in action. I talk about Father McGivney and share booklets like Building the Domestic Church and Into the Breach.
I never make them promises, but we need to state what is true. We’ve got the greatest organization of Catholic men in the whole world. We’ve got to go out there and say that.
There’s a lot of potential here, especially for the Hispanic community. We can be more and more effective. I hope to start three more councils before the end of this fraternal year.
WORKING WITH FAMILIES
A lot of prospective recruits say, “You know what? I don’t have time.” But it doesn’t have to be time away from your family. You could have them help too. Here’s an example. One brother Knight came with his family to help sell hot dogs. We forgot signs, so I asked the little kids, “Hey, are you gonna help me?” “Yeah!” “Can you make this sign — hot dogs for $5?” And they did it! They were so happy and proud to help. And it was fun! Yeah, we’ve got to work with the family. And guess what? Their wives, they’re the ones who say, “Come on, husband, sign up.”
Maxime Salman, 30, was a Columbian Squire in his youth, but it wasn’t until someone at work asked him if he’d like to join the Order and presented him a membership form that he decided to become a Knight.
A Maronite Catholic who grew up in Toronto, Salman is now working on a Ph.D. in geophysics at the University of Waterloo. Since joining the Order in 2017, he has recruited 26 members, including nine so far this year. He is currently grand knight of Father David Bauer Council 16859, a college council in Waterloo.
A DEEPER FAITH
Being a Knight has really helped me understand and communicate my faith. It’s given me a sense of identity in the faith and has put my Catholicism in perspective.
It’s not just about going to church; it is about knowing how to take things from the Bible or a homily and shaping that into real-world applications. That’s what really drove me more and more into the Knights of Columbus.
I tell prospective members: This is an avenue for you to really take your faith to the next level. It’s not just a matter of going to church and praying, though that’s obviously an integral part of being a Catholic. The Knights of Columbus gives you an opportunity to really ask yourself what it means to be a Catholic man.
We’ve put on barbecues, had a pro-life dinner, and we raise money for the St. Vincent de Paul Society by manning a church parking lot during hockey games in Kitchener. Those kinds of events bring our members out. One of the bigger programs we’ve done recently was our “Rosary Factory” for the Catholic student community here in town. Last year, we participated in the Roses for Life program, which was well received in our parish community. When people see a bunch of guys are doing things for others wearing the same K of C shirts, that really inspires them to join.
One thing I would encourage older Knights to do is to be more open to younger faces. We need to constantly work together and be open to modernizing the way we do things.
People are really busy, and it’s tough to get them out to meetings and events. But we’ve still built our membership up to around 40 members.
I’m a senator at the University of Waterloo; I’m doing my Ph.D.; I’m the GK of the council; I teach swing dancing; and I run a piano program at the university. So when someone says, “I’m too busy for this,” I look at them and say, “Really? Are you sure? I’m pretty sure you have the time to cultivate your manhood.”
This fraternal year, we have a council motto: “Iron sharpens iron” (Prov 27:17). It’s geared toward holding guys accountable to one another. We try to get guys to really internalize that fraternal message.