Nativity parishioner receives honor from Knights of Columbus
by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It’s something special when people put you in the same company with the late Cardinal John O’Connor and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Both the late cardinal and the beatified Sister are among only nine people who have received the Gaudium et Spes Award from the Knights of Columbus.
“Gaudium et Spes” is Latin for “joy and hope,” and are the opening words of the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.
On Nov. 16, one more name was added to the worthies on that list: Virgil Dechant, who served as Supreme Knight from 1977 to 2000.
Dechant received the honor on Nov. 16 at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center in Dallas. Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann gave the invocation.
This is the highest award given by the fraternal organization. As part of the honor, he received a gold medal and an honorarium of $100,000.
“I feel totally inadequate,” said Dechant, who with his wife Ann is a member of the Church of the Nativity in Leawood.
“I’m kind of humbled by it,” he continued. “You never feel you merit [such an honor]. I surely feel I don’t when I look at the illustrious recipients before me. I don’t come up to that standard.”
Others feel that he is more than deserving of such an honor.
“The Gaudium et Spes Award,” said Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson, “is a fitting tribute to past Supreme Knight Virgil Dechant’s tireless spiritual and humanitarian work.”
“The joy and hope reflected in this award’s title,” he continued, “reflect very well the attitude with which Virgil approaches his work for the church, the Knights of Columbus, and those most in need in communities around the world.”
Dechant has been a Knight of Columbus for 63 years. When he joined the St. Augustine Council No. 2340 in his native Liebenthal, he was only 18 years old. He quickly rose through the organization and held several leadership positions until he became Supreme Knight in 1977.
During his tenure, Dechant led many major initiatives, including the restoration of the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica, the creation of the Vicarius Christi Fund for the Holy Father’s personal charities, and a collaboration with the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
Although he is retired, Dechant continues to serve on the Knights’ board of directors, is chairman of the ceremonials committee, and serves as a consultor to the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State.
Dechant helps Bishop Ward students celebrate Year of Faith
Bishop Ward’s junior theology class is studying theology of the body by Pope John Paul II, so the students were excited to welcome Virgil C. Dechant, former Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus and a friend of Pope John Paul II, to class on Nov. 13.
In sharing his personal stories about the Vatican, Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa, Dechant treated the students to a riveting account of his life of faith.
Dechant also shared with the Bishop Ward students the vast collection of photos he has compiled over his many years of travel to the Vatican, as well as memorabilia and gifts acquired along the way.
“I really liked being able to see the letters he brought from Mother Teresa,” said Hannah Baughman. “They were very interesting and authentic.”
“It was a moving experience to hear Mr. Dechant’s stories,” said student Cydney Bushue. “I felt such a heavenly presence in the room. He is truly a gift from God.”