The Knights of Columbus (K of C) is a global Catholic fraternal service order whose membership is composed of (and limited to) practicing Catholic men. The organization was founded in 1882 as a mutual benefit society for working-class and immigrant Catholics in the United States, but it has grown to support refugee relief, Catholic education, local parishes and dioceses and global Catholic causes.
There are, today, over 16,000 K of C councils around the world, of which the Onamia/Hillman St. Joseph Local Council and the Father Hennepin Council of Wahkon are two.
The Onamia/Hillman Council is made up of over 80 card-carrying parishioners representing Holy Cross Church in Onamia and St. Rita’s in Hillman.
The Wahkon Council consists of over 50 men of Sacred Heart parish in that small town located on the south shore of Mille Lacs Lake. These men who belong to their local councils have chosen the third pillar of the K of C mission statement — support of local parishes and dioceses — as their main focus.
Supporting parish and diocesan needs is re-enforced by Onamia/Hillman Council Grand Knight, Wayne Gotvald (pictured above presiding over a monthly meeting) who said, “We take pride in seeing to it that our parish priest’s needs are met.”
For instance, Gotvald said that just last December, it was brought to the council’s attention that St. Rita’s parish did not have a Christmas crib set (creshe) to display at their church. So, with the help of KC member Earl Boser and others from that parish, they found the elements of a creshe, including the statuettes of the crib scene, and erected it outside the parish church just in time for the Christmas season.
Or when it was time to adorn the sanctuary of Holy Cross Church during the Christmas season last December, it was members of the Onamia KC’s to the rescue. Men from the council harvested a pine tree of over 22 feet, hauled it into the church and somehow found a way to set it up and trim it which added a holiday feel to their local worship area.
The Knights of Onamia and Hillman, also take time to reward those young men and women who volunteer to serve at Mass at their various parishes by taking them on special outings.
Those are just a few of the ways the members of the local councils help their priests at their respective parishes.
But the local K of C councils of in Onamia/Hillman and Wahkon areas are much more than service organizations to their parishes. These organizations are also players in aiding causes in and around their communities. “If you look at what we choose to spend our resources on, it would be mostly local rather than national or international issues and causes,” said KC member Bob Pete of Onamia.
The list of causes local K of C members have championed over the years are many. With finances from dues of around $25, along with income earned from several fundraisers such as their yearly smelt fry and raffles, the local band of brothers from the Onamia/Hillman chapter have given financial support to the local food shelves, donated money to the Rum River Crisis organization and the local Cancer Society, as well as helping the Franciscan nuns in Little Falls. They support young men studying for the priesthood with their “Pennies for Seminarians” drive, and they have given money to several local school groups and parish graduating seniors from Onamia and Pierz schools, along with donating to the annual “Coats For Kids” campaigns. The Onamia/Hillman council also sponsors at least one Harvest of the Earth meal during the year.
The Father Hennepin group, which has its origin in 1998 and for the past decade has had Scott Dehler at the helm (pictured left) as their Grand Knight, is committed to projects such as picking up debris on a two-mile stretch of area highway, donating to the “Coats For Kids” projects, sponsoring fish fries during the Lenten season, taking part in the annual Tootsie Roll drive with proceeds going to children with special needs, and other civic- and parish-centered causes. Both area KC councils also lend local and national support to pro-life causes.
Dehler and Gotwald both said they are proud of what their councils have done for the betterment of their parishes and communities.
Speaking on behalf of the three parishes he helps pastor, Father Jerry Schik said of the local Knights, “They help us keep Christ in Christmas by building and setting up Christmas creches and selling Christmas cards with religious themes and are there whenever we need them for special projects. They seem to always come up with concrete ways to support Catholic values.”
At a time when membership in fraternal organizations across the land is diminishing, membership in the Mille Lacs area Knights of Columbus councils have remained relatively healthy. This does not mean they have stopped looking for new members. “We would like to have as many aboard as possible,” said Gotvald. “And we especially could use more young men in our organization.”
The Onamia/Hillman council meets on the second Tuesday of each of each month at the Holy Cross Center in Onamia. The Wahkon chapter of the KC’s meets monthly at Sacred Heart parish on the second Monday. Walk-in potential members are invited to join in those meetings.
The local K of Cs have had to make adjustments to their yearly routines and projects following the protocols of the Covid virus in the area. Some of their fish fries, pancake breakfasts and other events have had to be cancelled or pared back because of virus issues. The councils have also found they have had to change some of the protocols at their meeting venues to better stay social distanced. Despite the inconveniences, the KC councils of northern Mille Lacs County are still alive and well and doing what they do best - serving their communities with Christian love and devotion.