By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Since he was a child, Mike Koenig has admired the charitable and spiritual works of the Knights of Columbus.
Both his grandfather and father were members of the fraternal organization, and last fall he joined the council at St. Margaret Mary Church.
“My family’s history of being involved with the Knights of Columbus allowed me to see all of their local charity work as a youth. This made a huge impact on me, as I witnessed first hand the need in our community,” said Koenig, a parishioner of St. Agnes Church.
Now Keonig is one of Kentucky’s 12,000-plus Knights. He’s a member of the Knights of Columbus council at St. Margaret Mary Church, one of more than 100 councils across the commonwealth.
At age 43, he’s also one of the Knights’ younger members. The fraternal organization is hoping to grow membership among young Catholic men interested in deepening their faith and serving their community. A new way to join the Knights of Columbus — online — might help.
The largest Catholic fraternal order in the world, launched a new membership initiative in 2018 that allows eligible Catholic men to join the organization via its website, kofc.org/join.
“We’re aiming to attract a younger demographic. We’re trying to keep up with the times. Now, every one has a cell phone in their hands and that’s the main way they get information, news and such,” said Cameron Peck, the Knights of Columbus, Kentucky State Deputy, in an interview last week.
The new membership program was developed after the Knights held numerous listening sessions and surveys of both members and non-members in recent years, a news release from the Knights said. Those who participated in the study indicated a desire for a streamlined way to join the Knights of Columbus.
To seek membership from the Knights of Columbus, you must be a Catholic male 18 years or older who actively practices his faith.
The way to join the Knights of Columbus may be new, but the dedication to assisting those in need dates back to the very beginnings of the Knights of Columbus.
In 1882, Father Michael McGivney, a parish priest from New Haven, Conn., founded the Knights of Columbus in order to provide charitable outreach and care for the financial well-being of Catholic families.
Father McGivney put special emphasis on the protection of widows and orphans and on strengthening the faith of its members. Since its founding, the fraternal organization has grown to include nearly two million members worldwide.
Matthew Whisman, a parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes Church and member of the parish’s Knights of Columbus council, said the Knights’ dedication to serving those in need compelled him to join his parish’s council about five years ago.
“The service aspect stood out to me, everything the Knights do with the Special Olympics, and all the hands-on volunteer work,” he said.
Whisman, 24, said the push for new, younger members is welcome.
“A lot of our members are getting close to retirement age or already there,” he said.
The average age of a Knight in Kentucky is 56. And, the average age of those signing up online is 43, Peck said.
“We are meeting them where they are. Instead of doing things the way we did in the 1950s, these guys are online so let’s meet them there,” Peck said.
Koenig, a father of six, joined the Knights last fall after he retired from the Jeffersontown Police Department.
“I wanted to continue my service to our community and the Knights of Columbus was a great platform for me to continue this service through the various charity efforts that our council, #15979, is involved in,” he said.
The council at St. Margaret Mary supports a host of charitable outreach organizations in the Archdiocese of Louisville, including Habitat for Humanity, Coats for Kids, Franciscan Kitchen, the Daily Lunch Program at the Cathedral of the Assumption, Special Olympics and Mulligans Living Kidney Donors.
The Knights of Columbus also promote many pro-life initiatives in the archdiocese, including the Little Way Pregnancy Resource Center and the 40 Days for Life campaign.
Worldwide the Knights of Columbus collected $177.5 million in donations and donated more than 75 million hours of service in 2016.
For the veteran Knights, Peck added that the new membership program is meant to complement, not change the Knights of Columbus traditions, including the structure of local councils and the various degrees that members may attain.
For more information, visit kofc.org/join.