WOONSOCKET — The past month has been a remarkably eventful one for the Woonsocket Council of the Knights of Columbus, including both the celebration of the 125th anniversary of their incorporation and their return to Woonsocket’s annual AutumnFest parade on Columbus Day.
The anniversary was commemorated on Sept. 25 with a Mass at the Knights’ home parish of St. Joseph’s, celebrated by Bishop Thomas Tobin and concelebrated by a number of local priests affiliated with the organization. Technically, the Mass took place a bit closer to the Knights’ 127th anniversary: the council was founded on January 27, 1895, meaning that the actual anniversary took place in the hectic lead up to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
“We had originally intended to celebrate the anniversary in the early spring of 2020, but you can probably guess what happened to those plans,” Grand Knight Nicholaus Gaulin explained. The ceremony had originally been postponed to April 17, 2021, though lingering pandemic conditions forced the Knights to reschedule a second time.
At the time of the actual anniversary (in January 2020), Gaulin had been serving the council as Deputy Grand Knight under the leadership of Grand Knight Paul Bourget, who now serves as the council’s treasurer.
Roughly 150 people attended the Mass at St. Joseph’s, which has been the home parish for Knights Council 113 since the beginning of the current “Fraternal Year” (July 1). The Knights had previously been attached to All Saints Parish in Woonsocket; the move puts the Knights closer to their current chaplain, Father Ryan Simas, who currently serves as the pastor of St. Joseph.
In his greetings at the start of Mass, Father Simas introduced the theme of the anniversary, “125 Years of Making a Difference.”
“It is in doing good works for others that we see the face of Christ in them,” Father Simas said. “For that reason, we have always made doing charitable works in our diocese a priority, which is at the heart of who the Knights of Columbus are.”
Bishop Tobin expanded upon these sentiments in his homily, praising the Knights for their important commitment to the dignity of human life.
“[Through] your commitment to marriage and to family life, your willingness to pray for and promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life, your willingness to reach out to and serve those who have special needs, and the many different ways you give service to our church and our community — indeed, you have ‘made a difference,’” said Bishop Tobin, who is a Fourth Degree Knight himself, having been enrolled in the order during his tenure as Bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio.
Among the Knights gathered for the celebration was Michael Benson, who had served as the Deputy of the Rhode Island State Council prior to being elected as the Supreme Warden of the Knights of Columbus Board of Directors in September of 2020. His election marked the first time since 1976 that a Rhode Islander has served as a Supreme Officer for the global organization.
“Having Bishop Tobin present with us for this celebration actually carries a special connection to the history of the Knights,” Benson said. “Our founder, Blessed Michael McGivney, was inspired to join the priesthood by the example of his pastor — a certain Father Thomas Hendricken, who, of course, went on to become the first Bishop of Providence. So our close relationship with the current bishop helps us keep that history alive.”
The Mass was followed by a gala held at the St. Ann Arts and Cultural Center (which had been St. Ann’s Church prior to its closure and sale in 2000). Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt was present for the occasion, where she congratulated the Knights on their milestone anniversary and praised the work of event organizer (and former Grand Knight) Jeffery Gaulin. Funds raised by the gala will be used to support a full schedule of programming by the Knights this year, including their annual toy and blood drives.
“It’s just great to have Knights able to go back out into the community again to serve,” said Grand Knight Nicholaus Gaulin, noting that the council has already hosted their first major post-pandemic event: their Teens Are Dynamite Supper, hosted by St. Agatha Parish on September 18. The annual supper (which raises funds for local Catholic Youth Organizations) has attained a degree of local celebrity thanks to the popularity of its spicy “Dynamite” sandwiches.
The sandwiches were also on the menu at the St. Agatha Parish table at Woonsocket’s annual AutumnFest celebration on Columbus Day (Monday, Oct. 11). The Knights have long maintained a presence at the parade, which this year included both a float (led by Paul Lavalle) and an information table on the festival grounds. The latter comes in the midst of a major recruitment effort on the part of the Supreme Council, which has waived the registration fees for new members until Dec. 31.
To learn more, please visit www.kofc.org/secure/en/join/join-the-knights.html.