Eulogy for Past Supreme Knight, Virgil C. Dechant
Delivered by Supreme Knight, Carl A. Anderson
Church of the Nativity
The best tribute to Virgil Dechant can be found in the 25th chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel: “Well done good and faithful servant.”
That is how I will always remember Virgil.
A good and faithful Catholic man, husband and father who touched the lives of millions, a man who by hard work and example helped show millions more the light of faith.
Many of us have known great men over the years. But Virgil stands out: he brought together the ability and vision to lead with a concern for those utterly forgotten.
For Virgil, loving God and neighbor were not abstractions. They were a rule of life that he lived concretely every day.
It is hard to encapsulate nine decades of life in just a few minutes. It’s even harder when those nine decades were lived by Virgil Dechant.
What he accomplished was a testament to a life lived faithfully—to a great return on the talents God gave him, and to what we mean when we say “faith in action.”
I would like to focus on just a few aspects of his legacy.
Virgil did many things for the Order—growing its membership and business, and making it a key partner in major Vatican restoration projects.
But for the Order, I think his most enduring – and endearing – legacy was his success—not as a businessman—but as a Catholic man who intuitively understood what was necessary to sustain this great brotherhood of Catholic men that is the Knights of Columbus.
The first was his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary—prayerfully bringing her image to millions through our pilgrim Icon program, introducing her Rosary into the ceremonials of the Order, and giving every new member a Knights of Columbus rosary.
“Mary with her knights… what challenge can we not face?” These words inspired a generation of knights—especially those committed to defending the sanctity of human life before birth.
The second is Virgil always remembered his studies at the Pontifical College Josephinum and his time there marked him with a special reverence and respect for the priesthood—there was no more heartfelt expression of his leadership as a layman in our Church and devotion to its sacraments than the phrase, “In solidarity with our priests.”
And third was a change which today is taken for granted but at the time was quite revolutionary: his work to shift the Knights of Columbus from a too inward looking men’s organization to one focused increasingly on strengthening Catholic marriages and family life. He was very proud of the changes he made to include our wives in so many Knights of Columbus activities.
Virgil understood a profound truth: no knight, whether in medieval times or in our own, can be all that he can be without his fair lady by his side.
So often when I have been asked about women joining the Knights of Columbus, I wanted to say, “Would you please just look at Virgil and Ann—how they are together? Do you not see that asking Ann to become a member would actually be a step back?”
That was the example that Virgil and Ann set and together they changed the course of the Knights of Columbus.
For Virgil, like Father McGivney before him, it was all about family. He cared deeply for his own family, for the family of the Knights of Columbus, for the Catholic family, and for the human family.
There are so many corporate accomplishments of which Virgil was rightly proud: professionalizing our agency force, putting our insurance products on a sound actuarial basis, modernizing our investments and securing a superior level of financial strength for the Knights of Columbus.
But on this day, at this hour, in this place we apply a different measure: one not bound by time or space.
We apply the measure of St. Paul.
Did he fight the good fight?
Did he run the race to the end?
Did he keep the faith?
In Virgil we saw a man with courage to defend those with no protector; a man with compassion for the poor and suffering—and a man who was true to those to whom he had pledged faithfulness or who were entrusted to his care.
In these ways and in many others, Virgil raised a standard to which every Catholic man could aspire—a standard that today shines brightly—and one that will continue to shine for many years to come.
Today, we pray that Virgil will be one of those of which the Prophet Daniel spoke. We pray that he will shine “like the stars for ever and ever” (Dan. 12:3).
Virgil is now at rest in the Kansas he loved so well.
But may we be forgiven if for a moment we think of Virgil as already enjoying a homecoming—being welcomed by friends who have gone before him such as Count Enrico Galeazzi, Cardinal John O’Connor, Mother Teresa, John Paul II and by millions of others who he never knew in his lifetime, but whose lives were changed for the better because of him.
O Lord, grant Virgil—who did so much for so many—eternal rest in you.
Read the Papal telegram sent to the Archbishop of Kansas City regarding the passing of Mr. Dechant
Message from Cardinal Dziwisz to Mrs Ann Dechant
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