Knights of Columbus honor religous and raise funds for the Vocations Office and Deaf Ministry

Juan Guajardo

Correspondent

State deputy Jim Collins, Manny Perela , and Pat Henz (right), diocesan deputy of the Fort Worth Diocese Knights of Columbus, present a check for more than $194,000 to Fr. Daniel Kelly, chancellor, at the 18th Annual Priest and Religious Appreciation Dinner at St. Francis Assisi Parish in Grapevine on August 13, 2013. Hundreds of Knights of Columbus and 88 clergy and religious came together for the dinner sponsored by the Western Metroplex Chapter of the Knights of Columbus.

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Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled through the skies as rain fell hard throughout North Texas on Aug. 13, but that didn’t stop dozens and dozens of priests, seminarians, deacons, religious sisters, Knights of Columbus, and Pope Francis (yes, it was a cut-out) from coming to St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Grapevine to share in the annual Priest and Religious Appreciation Dinner sponsored by the Knights’ Western Metroplex Chapter (the association of Knights councils in the Fort Worth Diocese).

Organized by the Knights for the past 18 years, dozens of local councils have gathered at this dinner to give a special ‘thank you’ to clergy and religious from around the diocese and to raise funds for the diocesan Vocations Office and Deaf Ministry. The money raised by the auctions goes to support those two ministries and table sponsors, and ticket purchases help to provide door prizes for religious in attendance.

“I think all the clergy and sisters and deacons liked [the dinner],” said Guillermo Muñoz, grand knight of St. Francis of Assisi Council 7099. “They enjoyed the night here. They felt appreciated and that’s the most important part. It’s wonderful being here amongst them to show them our appreciation.”

The event featured a social hour, full-course dinner and open bar, silent and live auctions, recognitions of seminarians and 50 and 70-year religious anniversaries, presentations, and a special performance by Deaf Ministry participants.

“It’s one of our biggest events that we do in the diocese,” said Pat Henz, diocesan deputy for Knights in the Fort Worth Diocese. “We want to be able to show them how much we appreciate what they do. There were a lot of smiles.”

Indeed, attendance stood at just under 400 people — including 88 religious according to Leonard Gruca, member of St. Peter the Apostle Council 4101 and auction coordinator at the dinner. Henz said Knights came from as far away as Montague, Gainesville, Nocona, and Glen Rose.

The night started off with a silent auction and social hour followed by dinner and a presentation by Father Jonathan Wallis, diocesan Vocations director.

Fr. Wallis talked about the growth of vocations within the diocese during the past few years and 23 seminarians made it to the stage as Fr. Wallis introduced them all to the audience.

“I think God is getting tired of all these prayers from this diocese and He’s just going to answer them,” Fr. Wallis said with a chuckle, as he thanked the Knights for their prayers and their material support that has helped nurture “that seed of a vocation.”

He added, “I also ask that each Knight — I know that each one of you will have your rosary with you this evening — please pray for these seminarians, please pray for perseverance.”

Henz then presented Fr. Wallis with a check for $4,000 from the Pennies for Seminarians fund operated by the Knights (gathered from the various councils as they put out a jar to collect donations at their meetings, breakfasts, and other events) and a check for $500 raised by the Columbian Squires circles throughout the diocese. The money is meant to help the Vocations Office with any such seminarian expenses as helping a seminarian buy new vestments, repair their car, or meet other unexpected needs.

The Very Rev. Dan Kelley, diocesan chancellor and pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Arlington, received the biggest check of the night from the Knights, a whopping $194,534, earmarked for the Vocations Office and Deaf Ministry.

“The first principle of the Knights of Columbus is charity,” said Gruca.

Of the money donated, $58,000 will go to the diocese’s Deaf Ministry. The rest of the $194,000 sum will go to support the work of the Vocations Office, Henz said. The amount was raised by Wichita Falls Council 1473, he added.

First-year seminarian Michael Sumcizk, 19, was impressed by the support displayed by the Knights.

“I think it’s pretty awesome,” he said. “It’s a blessing that they’re willing to do that [for us]. Knights of Columbus are a big part of us seminarians.”

Connie Martin, diocesan Deaf Ministry coordinator, also thanked the audience of Knights for their contributions to the diocese’s work with the deaf. In fact, the Knights’ donations are the primary source of funding for that ministry each year. When Bishop Joseph Delaney was bishop of Fort Worth, the Knights approached him to state their willingness to help him support a ministry. He asked the Knights to back Deaf Ministry and they have provided that funding ever since, Henz said. Eventually, the Knights were raising so much money and the annual dinners were growing so much that they started supporting Vocations, too.

“You have supported the Deaf Ministry in so many ways for so long,” Martin told her audience. She explained how this year the ministry celebrated its 40th anniversary, had five members of the deaf community receive sacraments of initiation (three were confirmed and two received their first holy communion), had interpreters at eight different parishes, had sign language classes at two parishes, hosted presentations by prominent speakers on topics like the new translation of the Missal, and was hosting sign language Masses once a month.

“All these things have been made possible by the Knights of Columbus,” she said. “Thank you so much for your support.”

To show their appreciation, a group of deaf parishioners performed a couple of songs for the audience.

Standing next to a cut-out of Pope Francis at the podium, Jim Collins, state deputy of the Knights of Columbus thanked the Knights for their efforts and talked enthusiastically about the significance of reaching the threshold of 100,000 Knights members in a few months.

He said more men willing to be Knights and to serve their Church would result in more men being “there when there’s a need for the parish or when there’s a hard time, and to be there for our seminarians.”

He also thanked the seminarians, priests, and religious sisters present in the audience and asked his fellow Knights to reflect upon the influence even one priest can have on his community as he asked for their continued support of seminarians. He recalled the story of the beginning of the Knights and how the young parish priest Venerable Michael McGivney had gathered 14 men from his parish to join him in founding a Catholic organization that would unite men to their faith and help the families of deceased members and parishioners.

“He gathered 14 men and those 14 men have grown to about 1.8 million in this order,” Collins said. “And one priest did that.”

Collins also talked about various efforts of the Knights to support vocations and seminarians and their push to save babies’ lives by purchasing 30 ultrasound machines over the next two years to place at sites around the state, at the direction of the Texas bishops.

He wrapped up by again thanking the clergy and religious present.

“To our clergy and to our seminarians, and to our bishops, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” he said. “Before long we are going to have 100,000 of us guys, and we’re going to be there to help you — our pastors, our seminarians, and our priests.”

Organized by the Knights for the past 18 years, dozens of local councils have gathered at this dinner to give a special ‘thank you’ to clergy and religious from around the diocese and to raise funds for the diocesan Vocations Office and Deaf Ministry. 

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