It’s hard to become a change agent within a 109-year-old organization, but Larry Becker just might have the insight and guidance of the Holy Spirit to do it.
Becker is the incoming state deputy for the Arizona State Council of the Knights of Columbus.
Fr. Michael McGivney formed the global fraternal organization in 1882 to offer aid to members and families. The order has since brought economic stability to its families and poured seemingly endless energy worldwide into service efforts within parishes and communities.
“You’ve seen us. We do ‘Soup and Stations’ at the parish, honor guard,” Becker said, referring to Knights who have reached the Fourth Degree. It’s a patriotic division within the Knights that enables them to wear formal suits, feathery hats, a cape and white gloves. Their thin, shiny sword is another signature item. All of it helps the Fourth Degree to be the visible arm of the Knights.
Behind the scenes, the men of every degree take the lead in coordinating the Arizona Rosary Celebration, maintaining St. Joseph’s Youth Camp and hosting Special Olympics and blood drives. They’re active in the parish too.
“We’ve done everything from flipping pancakes, praying in front of abortion clinics, painting curbs and carrying the tilma relic,” Becker said.
It was the latter experience that spurred him to learn more about what it was he carried. The Knights of Columbus is as much about service as it is about growing closer to Christ and brother Catholics.
That’s in large part what inspired Becker to set this year’s theme: “I Will Choose Christ. I Will Choose Love. I Choose to Serve.” Those words comprise the first three lines of a Tom Booth song by the same name — and strays from the norm of focusing on an icon. Booth wrote the song years ago while serving at St. Timothy in Mesa, the same parish where Becker raised his two children.
“The theme exemplifies all that we stand for in our four pillar principals of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism,” Becker said.
It also speaks to solidarity with the Church, bishops and priests and highlights a Knight’s love for families and the unborn — especially with the new role of a Culture of Life chair couple this year. Aaron and Christine Accurso fill that role. They’ll link existing efforts to the broader culture of life picture.
The song’s lyrics also draw to mind the image of a servant leader, which is something Becker strives for.
“Leading that way, you have to be patient, kind, selfless,” he said.
That’s an image Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted drew for some Knights of Columbus members during a July 12 Mass installing new leadership. He said fidelity to Christ requires courage to suffer for love of Him, even enduring wounds.
“The person who loves, of course, does not count the cost of loving,” the bishop said. “In fact, he or she considers it an honor and a privilege to bear hardship for the sake of the beloved.”
Knights like Becker spend their off hours — even vacation time — planning and hosting events. Every Knights council hosts activities in six program areas throughout the year. That includes at the family, youth, church and culture of life levels. Last year, 20 councils statewide earned a Star Council designation for hosting four activities in each program area. Becker wants to see 32 Star Councils this year, enough for one in each district.
There are some 15,000 Knights of Columbus spread out across 144 councils statewide. Becker is eager to see more.
He set the bar at 1,200 new members this year and two new councils. There are five on the horizon, so he said the goals are within reach. So is the idea of forming culturally based councils, a natural fit in the Phoenix Diocese that boasts numerous ethnic communities. The growth, Becker said, is not just for numbers sake, but for strength. That way, if a bishop or pastor requests something, the job can be completed more quickly.
Becoming a Knight also paves the way for members — many of whom are blue-collar workers — to hold leadership positions. One Knight’s example of good leadership is what kept Becker in the organization.
He joined 14 years ago after an usher at Mass politely and persistently invited him. That man drove Becker to his first initiation and council meetings. That way, Becker didn’t feel like such a newbie.
“If he didn’t do that in the beginning, my plan was to join and never attend,” Becker said.
He found comfort in the family, faith and service aspects and stayed. That’s what reignited Stan Schroeder’s connection with the Knights of Columbus. He joined at 19, well below the average age. Later in life as Schroeder was starting a family, he heard a St. Anne parishioner was trying to form a council at the Gilbert parish.
Schroeder stepped in first at the parish and then the state level. He’s now the state membership director. At one point, his father expressed concern about his level of involvement. Looking back, Schroeder said it was a positive step. Knights activities allowed his children — now 26 and 28 — to be comfortable in their faith.
“I think the reason they’re such good Catholics and they’re strong in their faith is because of the Knights of Columbus,” Schroeder said.
His son is now a Knight and his daughter teaches at a Catholic elementary school. Schroeder loves being a Knight because it offers something beyond just going to Mass. It allows him to be a witness to his faith.
Last year, Knights of Columbus across the state donated more than half a million dollars to charitable causes.