The St. Francis of Assisi Catholic community on the U.S. Navy submarine base in Kings Bay, Ga., was left without a full-time Catholic chaplain in July 2016. His absence was immediately felt. Though another priest came to celebrate evening Mass and provide other sacraments once a week, the congregation of nearly 400 people rapidly dwindled to around 80.
Sensing a need to keep parish life active, Knights of Columbus who lived on the navy base organized opportunities for Eucharistic adoration, Bible studies and family-oriented faith activities until a permanent pastor arrived in October 2019.
“It was to ensure that everyone knew that in the absence of a priest, you had the Knights of Columbus,” said Lewart Simmons, grand knight of St. Francis of Assisi Council 16356. “The program was about doing everything that we could to be able to show the faith and show the support for each other during that period.”
The Knights became a strong presence at the non-denominational chapel on the base. Before Saturday evening Mass, Knights led a rosary and prepared the space to be reminiscent of a Catholic Church with statues of the Blessed Mother and Joseph, a crucifix and the host and wine for consecration. During Mass, they served as Eucharistic ministers and altar servers. Between 10 to 12 Knights played a critical role at every Mass.
Most of the members of the council are active or retired military personnel, including Simmons who is a retired chief petty officer.
“Just by our nature, we’re accustomed to service,” Simmons said. “This is our faith. This is what we are ordained to do as Knights.”
The Knights wanted to keep the parish community, especially families, together as much as possible. The council organized vacation Bible schools where parents and children could study the faith together. The Knights also held a “Family Prayer with Movie Night” once a month, where they showed films depicting the challenges facing families and people of faith. They also sponsored “Simple Suppers” during Lent. These suppers were prepared by the Knights and featured soup, as well as macaroni and cheese.
For their work, Council 16356 was awarded first prize in the Faith category at the Knights of Columbus 138th Supreme Convention. Simmons expressed his gratitude for the recognition, but stressed the importance of the fraternal bond between the council’s members.
“As a Knight of Columbus, we do everything as a brotherhood, as an Order and for the good of all,” Simmons said. “We did the best that we could for Our Lord and Savior.”
The community has since welcomed a new pastor: Father John Tran, a Knight of Columbus. Together with Father Tran, the council is continuing its support of the local Catholic community and assisting with pandemic relief.
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