by Jill Ragar Esfeld
TOPEKA — When past Supreme Knight Virgil Dechant spoke at the Knights of Columbus annual Kansas state convention banquet here, he referenced a letter written by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann.
In the letter, commemorating this 114th state convention, the archbishop referred to the Knights as “the right hand for a bishop.”
“What an honor that is,” said Dechant.
As hundreds of Knights from across the state filled the Ramada Downtown Regency Ballroom and banquet festivities got underway, it became clear the honor was well earned.
The event, a highlight of the weekend-long convention hosted by Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish Council 534, was a venue for honoring outstanding Knights.
After an invocation and the presentation of colors, the Knights were welcomed by state deputy Patrick Winchester, who also served as the evening’s toastmaster.
Annual awards followed the dinner.
Congratulations were given to Columbian Squire Circle 5606 from Church of the Ascension in Overland Park, chosen Circle of the Year, and to its youth counselor, Mic Giess, who was chosen Youth Counselor of the Year.
The Squire of the year was from Council 2937 in Garden Plains, in the Diocese of Wichita.
State Knight of the year went to James Bell, Council 1142, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Concordia, in the Diocese of Salina.
The State Family of the Year was awarded to Denny and Vicky Hammerschmidt.
Hammerschmidt is a very active 10-year member of Council 8488, St. Thomas More Parish in Manhattan, in the Diocese of Salina.
The Hammerschmidts took the stage to receive the award along with their children and grandchildren — the couple has raised a family of very active Catholics, including one son who is a priest.
After the award presentations, Archbishop Naumann was introduced as the keynote speaker and expressed his gratitude for the work done by Knights — saying that they are indeed his “right hand.”
He then asked the Knights and their families for prayers in support of his temporary responsibility for overseeing the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
He thanked the Knights for their efforts in supporting pro-life, marriage and families, specifically thanking the Hammerschmidt family for its excellent example.
“We know whatever the Knights do,” he said, “it’s you and your wives together — it’s a family thing.”
He also acknowledged the Knights’ compassion for the disabled, support of Catholic schools and thanked them for their constant service to their priests and bishops.
Not all of the good work of the church is always recognized, however, he said, and spoke warmly about all the good done by Catholics in Kansas that doesn’t get media attention.
He recalled the heartening experience of attending the SEEK 2015 conference of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, saying it gave him hope for the future of the church.
He went on to share several stories illustrating the evangelization that goes on every day through the works of good Catholics.
“We need people to know the great good [that] Christ is doing through his church every day,” he said.
On a more somber note, the archbishop acknowledged the struggles of the church — including “real threats in the world” — like Christians being persecuted for their faith and “real challenges to overcome” like the clergy sex abuse scandal.
The archbishop counseled the Knights on their role in combating a negative political climate that tears at the fabric of traditional family life.
“As a young priest,” he said, “I never thought I would be defending marriage.”
But he also offered hope.
“I find comfort in reflecting on the challenges that faced the early church,” he said. “They were never without peace and joy because they were never without Jesus.”
The archbishop encouraged the Knights of Columbus to continue defending respect for human life and advocating for the preservation of traditional marriage and family life.
“We need heroic Knights today,” he said. “We need you, dear Knights of Columbus!”
The most remarkable aspect of our faith, he said, is our ability to have a personal relationship with Christ, and so we must cultivate that relationship more deeply.
“Spend time daily in prayer,” he encouraged, “speaking your heart to the Lord, but also listening.”
He urged the Knights to then expand that practice to worship as a family, because Catholic families can be a great inspiration to others.
“Thank you for being Knights of Columbus,” he said in conclusion. “Now go out and set the world on fire!”