|Annual Report of Supreme Knight Virgil C. Dechant
Who We Are
A Report of
I present this annual report to the 116th Supreme Council Meeting of the
Columbus aware that it is a privilege as well as a duty for me to do so.
Let me first extend thanks to our brother Knights in Ohio, to the great Archdiocese of Cincinnati, and to Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, its gracious spiritual leader.
Today, on the eve of the third millennium since Jesus' birth, we hear the voice of the vicar of Christ, Pope John Paul: "The world needs purification. It needs to be converted" (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 18).
Essential to conversion is evangelization - the "new evangelization," as the Holy Father calls it. And the Holy Spirit, he tells us, is its principal agent. Thus, Pope John Paul calls on us to cultivate "renewed appreciation of the Spirit as the One who builds the Kingdom of God within the course of history and prepares its full manifestation in Jesus Christ, stirring people's hearts and quickening in our world the seeds ofsalvation" (TMA, 45).
Last year was the first of the three years of preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. It was dedicated to Christ the Son. God the Father will be the focus in 1999. This year, 1998, is the year of the Holy Spirit. And so the theme of this 116th Supreme Council Meeting has been chosen to link evangelization, conversion and renewal by the action of the Spirit and under his guidance. The theme under which we meet is: Send Forth Your Spirit to Renew the Earth.
As much that follows in this report will show, to a great extent evangelization, conversion and renewal are the programs of the Knights of Columbus today.
But we also have a specific program in preparation for the millennium. Its centerpiece is the Jubilee 2000 membership campaign. We hope to make a unique contribution to evangelization, conversion and renewal by bringing thousands upon thousands of new members into the Order, so that they may deepen their faith, intensify their religious practice and participate actively in our many works of apostolate and ministry.
Fervent prayer is at the heart of preparation for the millennium. I trust that every Knight and every Knights of Columbus family will make frequent use of the recently published booklet Prayers for a New Millennium. It contains a rich selection of prayers and devotions as well as helpful catechetical material on the rosary and the sacrament of penance and reconciliation.
As the third millennium draws near, one of the most exciting prospects for the Knights of Columbus concerns the cause for canonization of our revered founder, Father Michael J. McGivney. Remarkable things have happened in the past year.
The most remarkable took place last Dec. 18, when the cause was formally opened. I said then that this may have been the most historic event in the history of the Knights of Columbus. And I am pleased to recall the words of Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin of Hartford, whose warm support has done so much to move this matter forward.
Calling Father McGivney "especially saintly," the archbishop explained: "He instinctively understood the social teaching of the Church. His deep concern for the welfare of widows and the needy was reflected in his priestly heart and is seen today in the enormous growth of the Knights of Columbus. Clearly, this was a holy person inaugurating a holy endeavor which was blessed by God."
During the ceremony in December, the nihil obstat from Rome declaring that "nothing hindered" the cause from proceeding was read, and the members of the tribunal and historical commission were announced. According to Dominican Father Gabriel B. O'Donnell, postulator of the cause, the diocesan phase may take two to three years; there is no way to know how long the Vatican phase will take, although it likely will be much longer. But we are greatly encouraged by the progress already made.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta was called home to God last Sept. 5. Her life enriched our poor world, and the world has been a poorer place now that she has left us. Hers was a soul and spirit that lived entirely for others. She gave herself unreservedly to the service of God and of God's children - the unborn, the poorest of the poor, the desperately ill, the dying - in each one of whom she saw the face of Jesus.
There are many stories I could tell about our interactions with Mother Teresa. Early on the Order offered her a monthly gift of $10,000. After a few checks were sent, she told me to stop them. She said that the Missionaries of Charity must depend on Divine Providence to support their apostolate, not on a fixed monthly income. She called on us instead to "send us your Knights and families to help us, hands on, in our work."
In 1992 she honored the Order by accepting the first-ever Knights of Columbus Gaudium et Spes Award. Even here she had others in mind. She asked me if she could melt down the gold medal presented to her so that she could provide wedding rings to the poor girls in Calcutta who had no marriage dowry.
In 1997, when my wife Ann was sick, Mother Teresa called her in the hospital, telling her she was sending her a miraculous medal. She told Ann to wear it near the spot of her surgery and it would make her well. That is the kind of person she was. Each individual was important to her; each broken body cared for in the 125 countries where she had missions was to her as Christ's body. Therefore, let us pray - as she herself would want us to - for the repose of her soul. But even more, she would want us to pray for her successor, Sister Nirmala, and for all the sisters, that their ministry to the poorest of the poor will flourish.
His Eminence Agostino Cardinal Casaroli, former Vatican secretary of state, was called to his eternal reward on June 9. A good friend to the Order, Cardinal Casaroli was selected by Pope John Paul II as his personal envoy to our 100th anniversary Supreme Council meeting held in Hartford/New Haven in 1982. It was on this occasion that President Ronald Reagan and His Eminence met in my suite at the convention hotel in Hartford to agree to the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the United States and the Holy See. Cardinal Casaroli will be long remembered in the annals of Church history for his dedicated labors for world peace, striving to bring East and West together through the strategy of Ost Politik, employing his faith-filled wisdom and his long experience in diplomacy. Surely the Lord received him with the greeting "Well done, good and faithful servant."
On June 17 another prince of the Church, His Eminence John Cardinal Carberry, passed on after a full life of loyalty and commitment to the Gospel. He was known worldwide for his filial devotion to Our Blessed Mother, as exemplified in his episcopal motto "Maria Regina Mater," "Mary, Queen and Mother." He served as archbishop of St. Louis from 1968 until his resignation in 1979 on his 75th birthday. His brother Knights throughout the world will miss his kindly, genial presence.
Archbishop Lino Zanini, who directed the Order's renovation of the facade of St. Peter's Basilica in 1985, passed away last Oct. 25. The Order also funded the earlier construction of the Chapel of Sts. Benedict, Cyril and Methodius, co-patrons of Europe, and the enlargement of the Chapel of Our Lady of Czestochowa, both in the Vatican grottoes. In his capacity as delegate to the Reverenda Fabricca di San Pietro, Archbishop Zanini also brought to us the project of restructuring the Rooms of the Architects in the upper area of St. Peter's Basilica, one of which was dedicated as the Knights of Columbus Room. We were saddened by his loss, but we were honored to be his collaborators in these works of service to the universal Church in the basilica, the most renowned church in the world.
As we recall those who have died, we think of the special perspective from which Pope John Paul encourages us to approach the new millennium - the perspective of hope.
The pope says Christians are "called to prepare for the Great Jubilee of the beginning of the Third Millennium by renewing their hope in the definitive coming of the Kingdom of God [and] preparing for it daily in their hearts" (TMA, 46). Guided by the Holy Spirit and with the model of Father McGivney before us, may we respond in hope - as well as in faith and love.
By all definitions, the Order of the Knights of Columbus is truly a fraternal benefit society. It operates under the lodge system. Membership requires an admission ceremonial, not just the mere purchase of an insurance certificate. The members themselves decide on the acceptance of new members.
Our structure offers membership to all practical Catholic men over 18 years of age, regardless of race, profession, social status or physical condition. Indeed, we encourage recruitment of new members; even more, we aggressively pursue it.
Our structure may be compared to that of a massive tree: Our constitution and laws are the roots; our membership, the sturdy trunk; our councils, the branches; our programs and activities, the leaves. If one component falters, the Order suffers.
Men join the Knights of Columbus generally for the opportunity to become active within this structure, together with their families, in the work with which the Order has been identified since its founding by Father McGivney. Through the Order a member can intensify his commitment to promote charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism. He can become actively involved in such programs of the Order as work for persons with mental retardation, people with handicaps, the deaf, the poor, the underprivileged. He can assist in promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious life; in the development of wholesome family life; in the Crusade for Life itself; in the support of Catholic education; in activities that knit tight the bonds of fraternity among his fellow members; through meeting needs in the local community; in youth work; in athletics and sports with his fellow members; in raising funds for the benefit of mankind; and on and on and on.
In addition to being directly involved in the Order's programs, a member has a duty, it seems to me, to advance the growth and welfare of the Order itself. A member should be constantly on the lookout for candidates to join our society. He should be prepared to explain the Order to all who are eligible and then ask them to become a part of us. And he should never take "no" for an answer. A member should be proud of every new member he has brought into the Order, as a father is proud of his newborn child.
The Knights of Columbus desires the enlargement of its membership to effectively expand our response to the ever-increasing needs of society. We need the muscle provided by more members. Likewise, we need more councils so we can reach out into many more parishes and communities, ever more powerfully, ever more effectively.
This past year we did reasonably well in both areas - the development of new councils and intake of new members. We are blessed that so many of our members took up the challenge to recruit under our membership program Jubilee 2000: Renew the Faith. We are proud and grateful that so many of our state and district deputies labored so diligently to institute new councils, and to reactivate those that may have been in danger of losing their focus.
New Council Development
In a letter now displayed at the museum in the home office, Father McGivney wrote to every pastor in the Diocese of Hartford, which at that time encompassed the state of Connecticut, asking each of them to exert his influence in establishing a Knights of Columbus council in his parish. From the beginning, Father McGivney saw new council development as the key to future success. He knew even then that councils should be parish oriented.
Today, our goal is still the same as that of our founder: to have a council in every parish. Our policy for developing these councils also remains the same: no council will be established without a priest's involvement and endorsement. This year the Order was blessed once again with healthy gains in new council development.
At year end the Order had an all-time high of 11,167 councils, compared to 10,938 in the prior year, for a net gain of 229. For the 10-year period, we had an increase of 2,229. Fifty-one jurisdictions instituted 243 new councils and reinstituted two, for total additions of 245. Dissolutions amounted to nine, and seven councils were merged, leaving us a net gain of 229.
Some states have enormous potential for council development, yet are reluctant to come to grips with the need for council growth. Others do an excellent job, and I wish on behalf of the board of directors to commend and give special recognition for net gain to Luzon with 36, Texas with 16, Iowa and Ontario with 13, Florida and Visayas with 11, Louisiana and Pennsylvania with 10, and Maryland and Michigan with seven.
I also commend the 14 jurisdictions that reached or exceeded their new council development quota. The 14 are: West Virginia with 200 percent, Iowa with 186 percent, South Carolina with 150 percent, Maryland with 140 percent, Luzon with 129 percent, North Carolina with 125 percent, Florida with 122 percent, and Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Mississippi, Utah and Virginia with 100 percent.
The number of Spanish-speaking councils also increased last year. Presently, we have a total of 315 Spanish-speaking councils in the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Panama. Eight new Spanish-speaking councils were instituted this past fraternal year: two in the United States, five in Mexico and one in the Dominican Republic. With improved communications to these councils through the well-received Spanish-language editions of Knightline and Program Supplement, and our continued assistance to our state leaders, we will redouble our efforts to see an increase in both Spanish-speaking councils and members.
Another key part of our strategy for growth is the parish round-table program. Through this program, Catholics who are not Knights learn more about the Order and our good works by witnessing the activities of parishioners who are Knights. At present 273 councils have reported 837 round tables to the Supreme Council office - that's 837 additional parishes where we have a presence. I urge widespread use of round tables so that more and more parishes can benefit from Knights of Columbus involvement.
I wish to commend Arizona with 31 councils sponsoring 95 round tables; Louisiana with 29 councils sponsoring 79; Florida with 29 councils sponsoring 77; Virginia with 17 councils sponsoring 42; Ontario with 12 councils sponsoring 33; and Wisconsin with 10 councils sponsoring 33 round tables.
Not counting parish round tables, we presently have 14,485 structured local units at work carrying out the ideals and goals of the Order. Councils total 11,167; Fourth Degree assemblies, 2,208; and Squires circles, 1,110.
For the last 26 consecutive years we have had an Orderwide net gain in membership. We can be justly proud of this. Our recruitment program continues under the banner of Jubilee 2000, a four-year campaign taking its lead from Pope John Paul's apostolic letter on preparing for the third millennium. The Holy Father has asked all Catholics to prepare themselves through a program of spiritual renewal. Our Jubilee 2000 campaign is designed to do just this.
Each of the four years of Jubilee 2000 has been designated with a specific theme. The theme for 1997 was "Catch the Spirit," and the theme for 1998 is "Renew the Faith."
I believe that the thrust of our campaign has been well received, which accounts for the successes I am able to report. However, it is obvious that some state councils are not as successful as others and are losing membership.
We are blessed with young families joining our Order. Last year we brought in 84,817 members. Of these, 65,368 were new members, first-time recruits, and 19,449 were readmissions. The average age of these first-time new members was 39. Considering that a candidate must be 18 years of age before he can join our Order, this is quite good. Allowing four persons to a family, these 65,000-plus new members accounted for 260,000 new family members, most of whom are eligible for our insurance program, and this happens every year. North Dakota and Kansas have an average new-member age of 33, the youngest in the Order.
These young men are at the point in their lives when, with young families, they are ready to become involved in something greater than themselves. That they choose the Order as a vehicle for this is a great tribute. How many more of these young families are out there waiting to be asked to join our family? These men are the future of the Order! Statistics show that the age group 35-40 purchases more insurance and pays more premiums than any other similar age group in the Order. It is imperative that these young Catholic families become a part of our fraternity.
The average age of readmitted members was 52. The average age of the entire Order has been stable at 54 for the sixth consecutive year.
As of June 30, 1998, the membership of the Order stood at an all-time high of 1,590,661, comprised of 528,656 insurance and 1,062,005 associate members. I must mention that many wives and children of our associate members have insurance with us.
As already noted, intake amounted to 84,817 compared to 85,719 in the prior year, down by 902; suspensions and withdrawals amounted to 47,267, compared to 49,180. This is an improvement of 1,913 fewer losses. After adjustments we had a gross gain of 37,815 members compared to 36,641 in the prior year, up by 1,174.
Sadly, however, 25,090 brother Knights died during the year, compared to 25,002 in the prior year, up by only 88. This leveling off in deaths is undoubtedly due to the age of the servicemen that joined the Order in such high numbers after World War II.
The net gain for the year amounted to 12,725, compared to 11,639 in the prior year, an increase of 1,086.
So, while our net gain was positive, we have a long way to go to bring intake to where it should be. The bottom line, however, is that we need to recruit more aggressively. We are simply not asking enough Catholic men to join our Order. Working together we must make 1999 the best year in this century.
Of the 69 jurisdictions, 50 had a net gain in membership taking into account all intake and losses - including deaths and transfers - the same as in the prior year.
The top 15 states in net gain are: Luzon with 4,078, Texas with 1,398, Visayas with 1,072, California with 884, Mindanao with 823, North Carolina with 711, Michigan with 594, Virginia with 540, Florida with 515, Louisiana with 513, Colorado with 460, Iowa with 451, Arizona with 413, Washington with 389 and Indiana with 368.
Taking into consideration all intake and deducting only controllable losses - suspensions and withdrawals - 65 jurisdictions showed a gain, compared to 68 a year earlier. One had no gain and three had losses. The top 15 states are: Luzon with 4,906, Texas with 2,234, Michigan with 2,135, California with 1,884, Illinois with 1,567, Quebec with 1,389, Visayas with 1,349, Mindanao with 1,255, Pennsylvania with 1,216, New Jersey with 1,133, New York with 1,124, Florida with 1,092, Iowa with 1,086, Louisiana with 1,034 and Ontario with 952.
Ten states qualified for the Supreme Knight's Award by achieving a net membership gain of at least five percent additions over suspensions and withdrawals. They are: the Dominican Republic with 18.23 percent, Delaware with 8.88 percent, North Carolina with 7.83 percent, Hawaii with 6.49 percent, Luzon with 6.40 percent, Colorado with 6.07 percent, Utah with 5.91 percent, Alabama with 5.85 percent, Visayas with 5.48 percent and Arizona with 5.10 percent.
Taking into consideration transfers and deaths, 19 states suffered an overall loss in membership this past year, losing a total of 3,563 members.
I am concerned about the six states that have been in the loss column six or more consecutive years. I will ask our regional program consultants to work especially hard with these state deputies and state membership chairmen to turn these situations around. I know of no better way to accomplish this than by the institution of new councils. In almost every one of these states, new council development has been underemphasized and in some neglected. I want to commend the six states that turned it around this past year and came out of the red. They are Hawaii, Iowa, Michigan, Montana, New Brunswick and Wisconsin.
When we come right down to it, for the Order to increase its membership, each state council must increase its membership. If state councils are to increase membership, each local council must increase its membership. Some years ago I reintroduced the Every Council Active program. In substance, it considers a council less than active if it doesn't bring in at least one new member per year. One new member in 12 months is not asking for much. Nevertheless, 2,408 councils failed to recruit even one new member. State councils must concentrate on these councils and work through their problems with them, or surely many shall fail. I commend Past State Deputy John R. Albright of Maryland, Past State Deputy John F. Youngman of Nevada, Past State Deputy Paul D. Piche of Virginia and Past State Deputy Ronald G. Povero of South Carolina for having every council active.
This year 10 councils earned the Century Club Award with an aggregate net gain of 1,292. I especially commend Robert H. Jones Council 3078 in Lincoln Park, Mich., which has achieved this prestigious distinction seven years in a row, and Springfield (Ill.) Council 364 and Mary, Mother of the Church Council 8198 Bukig Aparri Cagayan, Luzon, that have achieved this distinction two years in a row. Wilfred T. Connelly Council 3869 in Birmingham, Mich., won the drawing for an all-expenses paid trip to this Supreme Convention from among the Century Club councils. I ask Grand Knight and Mrs. Ramzi M. George to stand and be congratulated.
If the Order is to have a bright future we, the Knights of today, must prepare the leaders of tomorrow. There is no better training ground for this than our college councils. The Supreme Council recognizes this by holding a College Council Conference in New Haven each year, and has done so for the last 32 years. A number of our current leaders have come from the college council ranks.
We ended the fraternal year with 13,706 members in 144 college councils, representing a net gain of 215 members and two councils. Three new college councils were instituted.
These young men are an asset to the Order that cannot easily be replaced. I encourage each state council to investigate seriously the possibilities for councils on campuses in their jurisdictions.
In addition to our plans for celebrating the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, we are also making plans to celebrate a significant milestone in the life of the Order. In the year 2000, we will mark the 100th anniversary of the Fourth Degree.
The Fourth Degree continues to attract brother Knights who want to give a public witness of their love of God and country through participation in this patriotic degree.
As of June 30, Fourth Degree membership stood at 252,125, representing 15.9 percent of the entire Order. There were 233 exemplifications reported last year bringing in a total of 15,153 new Fourth Degree Knights. Restorations and other additions brought total intake to 17,077.
Losses amounted to 10,973, comprised of 6,236 deaths, 2,368 suspensions, 2,107 council suspensions, 141 withdrawals and 121 miscellaneous deductions leaving us with a gain of 6,104, more than doubling the net gain of the prior year.
A total of 38 new assemblies were instituted. No assemblies were reinstituted or dissolved, bringing the total number of active units to 2,208 in 115 districts in 20 provinces.
Just as we are striving through the Jubilee 2000 campaign to bring new brother Knights into the Order, we also are actively recruiting more Knights for the Fourth Degree. Once a member becomes a Fourth Degree Knight, it is rare that he will allow his membership to lapse. This further commitment on the part of Sir Knights is a source of great pride to us all.
Fourth Degree honor guards are always a welcome presence at any appropriate function. It is a pleasure to see them pictured in the pages of Columbia taking part in dedications of memorials to unborn children. This October we will be initiating an Orderwide Family Holy Hour of Prayer for the New Millennium. The Fourth Degree is urged to take a part in this prayer service focusing on eucharistic worship.
Fourth Degree assemblies continue to undertake unique and needed volunteer efforts as well. To acknowledge these projects the Supreme Council instituted the To Be A Patriot award in 1985. This year, assemblies from Rhode Island, Luzon and Wisconsin were singled out for their patriotic projects. In addition, the Civic Award is given to assemblies that conduct and report at least four different patriotic programs during the year. Last year, 266 assemblies earned this award, an increase of 80 over the last program year.
You should know, too, that Dr. Christopher Kauffman, author of Faith and Fraternalism, presently is writing a history of the Fourth Degree to be published during its centenary year 2000.
In your name I congratulate Supreme Master Charles H. Foos, the vice supreme masters, the masters and all Sir Knights for their accomplishments. I encourage the Fourth Degree to push forward with continued vigor as we march toward the centennial year in 2000.
The year 2000 will mark the 75th anniversary of the Columbian Squires. Established in 1925 by Brother Barnabas, a Christian Brother from the province of Ontario, the Columbian Squires has served legions of young men on their road to adulthood, and to membership in the Order on reaching their 18th birthday.
This year, under the Celebrate! Jubilee 2000 membership campaign, we brought in 6,288 Squires. After deductions of 1,137 due to inactive circles, withdrawals and deaths, net additions amounted to 5,151 for a total of 26,749 members as of June 30.
A record 6,490 Squires turned 18 years old and graduated from the Squires program. After adjusting for these, membership stood at 20,259 on July 1, 1998, 1,339 fewer than at the start of the prior program year.
This, I regret to report, is the lowest number of Squires we have had at the start of a fraternal year since 1991.
What can be done to turn this around? We simply need more councils, especially our newer councils, to sponsor Columbian Squires circles. Currently, there are some 3,100 Knights serving as counsellors or chairmen. We need more such dedicated Knights to keep the Squires program growing as it prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary.
Last year 104 councils and assemblies instituted 66 new circles and reactivated 38 others. After deducting 94 inactive circles, the total number of circles increased by 10, for a total of 1,110. This was the 11th consecutive year of increases.
In addition to the Squires, our outreach to youth includes sponsorship by local councils of Catholic Scout troops. As of Sept. 31, 1997, 1,134 troops serving 36,397 young men in the United States were being sponsored by Knights of Columbus councils. The latest figures for Canada show 89 troops being sponsored, with a total of approximately 3,860 young men. This adds up to 1,223 troops, serving more than 40,257 Scouts, sponsored by the Order.
Continued solid performance once again characterized the Order's insurance sales and business gains in 1997. Our goal is growth and service.
Our members should have the utmost confidence in the safety and solidity of our insurance program and in the ability of our products, whether life insurance or annuities, to grow their assets without undue concern.
I am pleased to announce that we continue to enjoy the highest possible ratings for financial soundness and claims-paying ability from two of the top rating firms, namely, the A. M. Best Co. and Standard & Poor's. For six consecutive years, Standard and Poor's Insurance Ratings Service has accorded us its AAA (Superior) designation. Let me quote from their rating analysis:
"The 'AAA' claims-paying ability of the Knights of Columbus (K of C) reflects the society's competitive advantage in the Catholic market, its superior capitalization, its superior operating performance, its superior liquidity and its excellent investment portfolio."
As of June 30, 1998, this prestigious rating has been assigned to only 17 independent companies or groups of companies selling insurance in the United States and Canada.
For 23 consecutive years the A. M. Best Co. has given us its highest rating, currently A++ (Superior). In granting us this rating, A. M. Best states: "The rating of Knights of Columbus reflects the society's very strong market presence in the Catholic community, enhanced by its extensive distribution networks, exceptionally strong capitalization, excellent persistency and consistently favorable earnings performance." As of June 30, 1998, only 25 companies or groups of companies referred to as "rating units" were given this special rating by A. M. Best.
For the Order to continue to merit these prestigious and select designations, we must continue to grow our agency force and develop it into a corps of the finest general and field agents in the industry - the best among the best. Our agency force is comprised of brother Knights dedicated first of all to the mission of the Order, which is to provide for the needs of its members and families.
To enable them to give their utmost in quality service, the Order must provide them with continuous training and ongoing education. For years we have been conducting schools in New Haven giving new agents the Pro-Start training course. We have required that our agents achieve the fraternal insurance counselor (FIC) designation. We encourage them to pursue higher professional curricula such as the Life Underwriting Training Course (LUTC) and seek such designation as fraternal insurance counselor fellow (FICF) and chartered life underwriter (CLU).
To raise the expertise and professionalism of our agents to an even higher level, for the general agents we are providing full tuition for their participation in the Agency Management Training Courses offered by LIMRA and LUTC.
Our agency force is comprised of 140 general agents, 1,168 field agents, and 10 field directors, for a total of 1,318. As it continues to grow in quality, it also needs to grow in quantity. We commit ourselves again to increase our agency force so that every council is served by a field agent.
In this regard A. M. Best states: "The society markets its products through a captive force of 1,300 general and soliciting agents, all of whom are fraternal members and are engaged in fraternal activities as part of their responsibilities. Each field agent is assigned exclusively to a council, with approximately 800 to 1,000 families per agent, which facilitates his personal knowledge of member-clients and prospects while encouraging membership growth leading to insurance and annuity sales. The Knights of Columbus is one of the few fraternal societies which employ laptop computers in the field to facilitate agent interaction with members and sales activity."
Next year's Circle of Honor award gives new emphasis to the number of Star Councils as a point-earning category. In this regard we pledge the agency force to do its very best to enable every council to meet its membership and insurance quotas.
For the second year in a row, the Order issued over $4 billion of insurance. A total of 83,274 certificates were sold for $4,016,651,000, amounting to 1.4 percent less than the prior year, making it the second-best year ever. This year's performance surpasses 1987, 10 years earlier, by $1.6 billion or by 69 percent.
A. M. Best ranks the Order 85th in this category (Ordinary Life Insurance Sales), among 1,950 insurance companies in the United States and Canada.
In addition to the 83,274 life sales, our field force sold 8,565 annuity contracts amounting to $180.5 million in annuity premium sales.
The net gain of insurance amounted to $2.2 billion or 7.0 percent, bringing the total in force at year end to $33.5 billion. In this category, A. M. Best ranks us 87th. Ten years ago we had $12.7 billion. This is a gain of $20.7 billion or 163 percent.
On April 20 of this year we surpassed the $34 billion mark, and as of today we have $34.7 billion of insurance on the books.
It is significant to report that our persistency rate is exceptionally high at 95.4 percent, reflecting a lapse rate of only 4.6 percent. Such good persistency - again, much better than the industry - is indicative of a high degree of customer satisfaction; it allows us to keep our relative cost of operations low; and it makes it possible to provide healthy dividends to our certificate holders.
Our Order had a gain last year of 28,698 life certificates, bringing the total to 1,384,296, a gain of 2.1 percent. Over the 10-year period we gained 333,948 certificates or 32.7 percent.
Total premium income amounted to $731 million for 1997. This is $18 million or 2.6 percent more than in 1996. Among life and health insurance companies, A. M. Best ranks the Order 126th in this category.
In the all-important category of premium income on individual life certificates, the Order experienced the best year ever in its 116-year history. Life premiums amounted to an all-time high of $551 million for an increase of 5.6 percent or $29 million over the prior year. In the life premium category, National Underwriter ranks the Order 36th, placing us in the top 2 percent. On a 10-year basis, life premiums amounted to a 148 percent increase for $329 million.
Life dividends allocated for 1998 amount to $196 million, for an overall increase of $18 million or 10.1 percent. In addition, $21 million of dividends were allocated to holders of certain annuity certificates.
A recent edition of Best's Policy Reports compares the dividend history of companies for policies sold at issue-age 35 to determine if they have maintained a strong track record in paying out dividends compared to the original dividend scale quoted at the time of sale. On a 10-year payment-index basis, the Knights of Columbus ranks 18th among all companies for actual dividends paid, compared to 21st in the illustrated projections made at the time of sale. On a 20-year payment-index basis, we rank seventh lowest compared to 15th at the time of sale.
The $196 million in life dividends are nearly 2.3 times the $86 million allocated in 1987, 10 years earlier.
I also should point out that the $196 million of life dividends for living members far exceeds the $83.1 million in death benefits paid to beneficiaries of deceased members. The Order's generous and equitable dividend policy continues to make Knights of Columbus insurance a most attractive investment for our living families, as well as providing for our bereaved families.
In addition to the statistics shown on the charts, our Order brings peace of mind, comfort and security to thousands upon thousands of widows, children and dependents of our deceased members. Since our founding the Order has paid out more than $1 billion in death benefits. Likewise, to our living members and families, the Order has paid $3.5 billion in maturities, dividends, interest, proceeds of annuities and disability waivers, etc.
Investments and Business Operations
Looking at investments, surely 1997 will go down in the annals of the Order as a very good year, even though it occurred in a period of low interest rates. The Order's conservative and prudent business philosophy is dictated by the fact that we are managing money entrusted to us by our brother Knights and families. Constant, steady growth with utmost security is our objective and the results this year, as in past years, bear that out.
All categories of the Order's investments are performing well. The quality of our portfolio is excellent. For the first time in three years, out of more than $6 billion represented by 1,490 issues plus 81 mortgages, we had only one single security in default at year end, and it is being worked out.
A. M. Best says that the "society's favorable operating posture has enabled it to build an extremely favorable capital base, enhanced by a high quality investment portfolio, which in turn has enabled the society to maintain its relatively high dividend scale over the long term."
Net investment income reached an all-time high of $456 million, an increase of $27 million or 6.1 percent. National Underwriter ranks us 59th in this category. In addition, capital gains derived from stock holdings alone, both realized and unrealized, totaled $78.6 million, an increase of $27.7 million over the prior year. The net yield on our portfolio was 7.34 percent, down from 7.59 percent in the prior year, indicative of today's low interest climate.
Total income amounted to $1.268 billion, setting another all-time record. Based on total income, of the largest 1,000 industrial companies, Fortune magazine ranks us the 860th largest. It also ranks us as the 13th largest nonstock life and health insurance company in the United States.
Cash flow, net of expenses provided by premium income, repayment of bonds and mortgages and interest income, amounts to $900 million annually, providing an average of $3.8 million to invest each working day.
The source of this $1.3 billion income is as follows: life insurance premiums - $550.9 million for 43.5 percent; annuity premiums - $180.5 million for 14.2 percent; investment income - $455.8 million for 36.0 percent; supplemental contracts and other income - $76.6 million for 6.0 percent; and per capita income - $4.0 million for 0.3 percent.
When compared to the other sources of income just cited, the amount derived from per capita is relatively small, thus emphasizing the necessity of our insurance program. Without the revenue provided by the insurance program, the Order would be severely affected. Without insurance income there would be no tax savings that we can give to charity and reinvest in our fraternal structure to generate the multitude of fraternal and charitable activities with which the Order is identified. It simply would be impossible to carry on the many programs of the Order on per capita assessments alone. Instead of being self-sufficient, we would need to spend much of our time and energy on fund raising just to assure our very existence. It is insurance revenue that drives the system. That is why every member should support our insurance program to the fullest and take advantage of its many benefits for himself and his family.
The gain from operations this past year, amounting to $292 million, was once again the very best in the history of the Order. In this category National Underwriter ranks us 28th. This gain is $17 million or 6.2 percent greater than the gain for 1996. It is also 2.3 times greater than the gain of $126.5 million for 1987, 10 years earlier.
This steady increase reflects that general operating expenses are being kept under control, and that we continue to maintain a low ratio of expenses to premiums. In fact, even if our fraternal expenses are included, our operating expenses are among the lowest in the life insurance industry.
After deducting $217 million in dividends, the gain from operations amounted to $74.9 million, up from $73.6 million or 1.7 percent from the prior year. National Underwriter ranks us 80th as it relates to gain after dividends. When one compares this ranking of 80th after dividends with our ranking of 28th before dividends, one must come to the conclusion that the Order's dividend distribution is very high and most competitive.
In addition, capital gains amounted to $13.5 million, bringing our net gain to $88.4 million compared to $83.3 million in 1996, a gain of 6.1 percent.
In 1997 our assets reached a new all-time high of $6.9 billion, ranking us 74th in the industry compared to 75th for the prior year. The gain over 1996 amounted to 9.2 percent, or $582 million. As of March 31, 1998, our assets stood at $7.1 billion. Ten years ago the Order's assets amounted to $2.2 billion. Twenty years ago they amounted to $710 million. Sixty years ago, when we last met in Cincinnati, they amounted to $47 million.
The underlying strength of any company or society is best reflected in its capital structure. In this regard, the Order is superior.
At year end, surplus amounted to $965 million, an increase of $142.8 million or 17.4 percent. During the first quarter of 1998, surplus surpassed the $1 billion mark, the first time in the history of the Order.
Our solvency ratio (assets compared to liabilities) is 116.20 percent, up from 114.90 percent, among the highest in the industry.
A. M. Best stated that: "Through conservative management, active fraternalism, and high quality insurance products, the fraternal order has grown to $6.9 billion of assets, serving nearly 1.6 million members through over 11,000 local councils." A. M. Best went on to say that "Consistently favorable gains from operations and modest realized capital gains have enabled the society to maintain an exceptional level of capitalization for its operating profile and overall insurance and investment risks."
Truly, 1997 was a banner year for the Order's financial operations.
As impressive and important as these business statistics are, our performance in charitable deeds is even more impressive.
In these days when government and the Church at all levels are hard pressed to keep up with the needs of so many segments of society, the Order has a vehicle through which we can come to the rescue: "Surgewith Service." Designed in the early 1970s, it set about to challenge and motivate our members to reach out and make a difference in the lives of others by volunteering for worthy causes and by raising funds for these same causes.
Is it working?
I can say without fear of contradiction that when it comes to volunteerism, the Knights of Columbus stand in the vanguard, as is evidenced by the results of our annual Survey of Fraternal Activity. Our record of charitable and benevolent good works is without peer. The figures speak for themselves.
In 1997, Knights of Columbus raised and distributed $107,128,844 for charitable and benevolent causes. That is an all-time high, and some $27 million more than 10 years ago.
In addition we recorded total fraternal benefit costs of $75.8 million. This figure is the amount that the Supreme Council and our state and local councils spent to support and promote the Order. It includes the costs for Columbia, general support of membership operations and other similar promotional efforts.
Last year we also passed a new milestone as we volunteered a total of 50,210,034 hours of service.
Where do these hours come from? All one need do is read the "Knights in Action" section in each month's Columbia, where photos and short articles tell the story of council programs and activities that serve the family, the Church, the community and the needy. It not only documents the variety of concerns addressed by us, it also provides a wellspring of ideas and inspiration for our local units.
And we gave another 7,394,274 hours of time in fraternal service, such as attending meetings, functions and other activities of the Order.
The Points of Light Foundation, an organization that promotes and coordinates private sector volunteer initiatives, estimates the value of a volunteer hour at $13.73. By that standard, the value of the Order's 50,210,034 hours is worth $689,383,767. Together with our cash contributions, our total donations to charitable and benevolent concerns in 1997 are valued at $796.5 million.
It is my sincere pleasure to thank you all, my brother Knights and families, for the outstanding results of the 1997 fraternal survey.
I especially commend the 21 jurisdictions that had 100 percent of their councils submitting their reports. Nine of them met the Jan. 31 deadline. They are: British Columbia, the District of Columbia, Kansas, Maine, Manitoba, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia. The additional 12 who achieved 100 percent reporting by June 1 are: Alaska, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nova Scotia, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.
Of the $107 million, the Supreme Council contributed $18,990,599, and state and local contributions amounted to $88,138,245.
The average per-member contribution for all members of the Order last year was $67.77. The highest per-member contribution was recorded by British Columbia at $206.70.
For the 10th consecutive year, the jurisdiction with the largest contribution is Ontario with $9,056,170. Next are Quebec with $6,030,572; Illinois with $4,960,487; Michigan with $4,064,627; and New York with $4,044,403.
Additionally, three jurisdictions - California, New Jersey and Texas - each reported more than $3 million in charitable donations. Seven jurisdictions reported total gifts of more than $2 million, and 11 others total gifts of between $1 and $2 million.
In terms of fraternal service, our members reported giving 7 million hours of service to sick or disabled members and their families. They also made 5.5 million visits to the sick or bereaved. In the year to come, let us boost these totals. Let us not forget our homebound brothers and our elderly brothers in nursing homes and veterans hospitals. If someone says to you they haven't seen a certain brother for a few weeks, make it your duty to call on that missing brother the next day. Finally, I am pleased to report that 331,736 Knights donated blood.
The 10-year cumulative total of our charitable efforts in dollars and volunteer hours. Over that period we have raised and donated more than $973 million in charitable contributions and volunteered 421 million hours of time.
I'm convinced that the reason we post such outstanding records of volunteerism year in and year out is precisely because of our "Surgewith Service" program. The Supreme Council has never mandated participation in any one particular charitable program. State and local councils have been free to develop volunteer outreach efforts that respond to calls for help from their local churches, their communities, their families and young people, and those with special needs.
Several examples of what can be accomplished by working together in a common cause follow. This year we held the first Orderwide substance abuse awareness poster contest. The competition was patterned after our highly successful international free-throw competition, with contests at the council level, then the district level, and finally at the state council level. Those finalists were submitted to the Supreme Council office to determine the winners.
Students in age groups 11 to 14 and 15 to 18 were asked to create posters that touched on either alcohol abuse or drug abuse. Three finalists were chosen in each age division and subject category, and the top finishers each received a $250 check from the Knights of Columbus. We plan on using these posters on promotional and educational materials in the coming months.
The quality of the posters and the intensity of feeling conveyed about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse prove that this program is worth continuing next year with stepped-up efforts on the part of our local councils. In order to increase awareness about the dangers of substance abuse among younger children, next year the program will be held for students ages 8-11 and 12-14.
The Order's International Free-Throw Competition celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, and its popularity continues. Nearly 220,000 youngsters participated in this year's competition. Some 127,634 boys between the ages of 10 and 14 and 91,362 girls in the same age range stepped up to the free-throw line. Among the international champions, there was hardly a missed shot. Nearly 3,500 councils held competitions this year. More than just an athletic event, the International Free-Throw Competition is one of the Order's most highly publicized events at the local level.
Our efforts to "Keep Christ in Christmas" continue to improve. We now conduct a multimedia campaign with billboards, posters, and radio and television public service announcements. Some 500 K of C-sponsored billboards were erected in 1997. The radio spot was aired nearly 19,000 times by 524 stations in the United States and Canada. The potential audience is estimated at 35 million listeners. The TV spot was aired nearly 4,000 times by 313 stations with an estimated viewership of 60 million. "Keep Christ in Christmas," our "Light Up for Christ" tree- and creche-lighting program on the first Tuesday in December, and our promotion of the use of Advent wreaths by our families, are great ways for Knights to stay focused on the spiritual aspects of the celebration, and to remind the community of the holiness of the Christmas season.
From the Philippines to Puerto Rico and in Canada and the United States, brother Knights are known to rise to the occasion to aid victims of natural disasters. From sandbagging levees to providing food and shelter, Knights are on the scene offering a helping hand. Those who cannot be on hand physically raise and donate funds for the victims.
In fact, since the devastating heartland flooding of 1993, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been sent by Supreme, state and local councils to jurisdictions where natural disasters occurred. Among jurisdictions so affected since last August were Alabama, Maine, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee and Vermont.
To better coordinate these efforts in the future and set the stage for an even more effective response, Supreme Director James W. Murphy of Iowa has agreed to chair a Natural Disaster Relief Committee for the board of directors. The purpose of the committee will be to develop a comprehensive policy for the Order that will assure efficient, immediate and direct aid to disaster victims. The committee's oversight also will help in tracking various donations as they are received and distributed, while insuring that various state and local councils receive due credit for their donations.
In Tertio Millennio Adveniente, his apostolic letter setting out a blueprint for the Church's preparations for the third millennium, Pope John Paul makes what may at first seem a surprising statement concerning the papacy.
"In a certain sense," he says, "all the Popes of the past century have prepared for this Jubilee" - and then he explains in some detail just how this has been the case, starting with Pope St. Pius X and continuing through his successors (TMA, 22).
As for his own pontificate, the Holy Father says preparing for the year 2000 is the key to understanding it. Then he explains: "It is certainly not a matter of indulging in a new millenarianism, as occurred in some quarters at the end of the first millennium; rather, it is aimed at an increased sensitivity to all that the Spirit is saying to the Church" (TMA, 23).
I was privileged to enjoy a unique insight into what this striving for sensitivity to the Spirit means in practice when, at the pope's invitation, I served as an auditor at the Synod for America held last Nov. 16 to Dec. 12 in Rome. Needless to say, this was a "presence" of the Knights of Columbus.
It was inspiring to hear the Holy Father and bishops from the Western Hemisphere sharing ideas and aspirations on the theme "Encounter With the Living Jesus Christ: the Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity in America." Important new collaborative initiatives in evangelization will come from the experience, I have no doubt.
This assembly, one of a series of regional synods convened by Pope John Paul in preparation for the millennium, was a significant collegial exercise reflecting "increased sensitivity to all that the Spirit is saying to the Church." My presence reflected the fact that the Knights of Columbus is part of this effort - an important part, I presume to say.
But the Order is part of it not only where something out of the ordinary, like a Synod of Bishops, is concerned. More important, day in and day out, year in and year out, in countless ways we share in the life and the mission of the Church in our parishes and dioceses as well as in the universal Church.
And at the heart of this sharing are our love for and loyalty to the vicar of Christ.
On Dec. 11, the day before the synod ended, these sentiments found tangible expression during a private audience Pope John Paul granted to Bishop Daily, Mrs. Dechant and myself, and the Supreme Officers and their wives.
I assured His Holiness that the Knights of Columbus was working hard to advance the main priorities of his pontificate - for example, by our initiatives in evangelization, vocations and Marian devotion. In response, noting that the synod was drawing to an end, the pope urged us to be committed to the "great task of ecclesial renewal" in preparation for the jubilee year.
At that time, we presented Pope John Paul with a $2 million gift for his personal charities. That brought to more than $26.2 million the amount the Order has contributed from our $20 million Vicarius Christi Fund since its inception in 1981. The first check was conveyed to then papal Secretary of State Agostino Cardinal Casaroli, the pope's personal envoy to our centennial convention, in 1982. The corpus of the fund remains intact. We also gave the Holy Father a spiritual bouquet of prayers offered by Knights for his intentions from Nov. 1, 1996 to Nov. 1, 1997, to mark the 50th anniversary of his ordination as a priest.
It is the Knights' good fortune to have been associated with the ministry of John Paul II in many ways over the years. Take just one recent example. We made a gift of $100,000 to the Bishops' Conference of Cuba to help cover expenses associated with his dramatic and highly successful pastoral visit there last January.
Over and above our gifts to the Holy Father from the Vicarius Christi Fund, the Knights of Columbus has supported - and continues to support - numerous worthy Church-related projects and institutions, both in Rome and in the local churches. Collaboration with our bishops at both the national and local levels is a particular priority for us.
Under the heading Church Activities, the annual Survey of Fraternal Activity reports 1997 contributions in the amount of $32,112,300, and a 10-year cumulative total of $274,475,640. Several other sections of this report will detail the specifics of certain projects. Here, let me mention just a few.
We continued our assistance to Cor Unum, the Vatican agency that coordinates relief work, and to the Pontifical Council for the Laity for World Youth Day. We made a donation to the Holy See's Permanent Observer Mission at the United Nations while continuing to waive the interest on a $1.5 million loan for purchase of the mission's offices in New York; the amount of interest waived in the last four years is $480,000.
In partnership with our Canadian Knights, we continued our assistance to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops from the $1 million Bishop de Laval Fund. The new gift brings the amount contributed to the Canadian episcopal conference from this source to almost $800,000 since 1989. And a grant of $45,000 to the Canadian bishops was renewed again this year to help support a working group considering the relationship between the Church and native peoples.
The National Catholic Bioethics Center in Boston, previously known as the Pope John Center, received funding for its 17th ethics workshop for bishops, which will take place in Dallas next February and deal with the topic of addiction and other compulsive behaviors. The Knights of Columbus has given more than $4.5 million to this program for updating the bishops on medical-moral issues since it began in 1980.
As has been done several times before, we made a gift to Sister Louise Finn, a grand-niece of Father McGivney, to help the work of the Cameroon mission where she serves. Along with the Missouri and Kansas state councils, we aided the National Catholic Youth Congress held in Kansas City last fall.
Other gifts, many of them renewing financial support given many times before, went to the National Catholic Office for Persons with Disabilities, the National Apostolate for Inclusion Ministry, the National Catholic Council on Alcoholism, the Institute on Religious Life, the National Catholic Office for the Deaf, the Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious and the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Pope John Paul has carefully integrated Marian doctrine and Marian devotion into each of the three years of preparation for the Jubilee Year 2000. The reason for that is clear. In observing the millennium, we celebrate the Incarnation, and it is impossible to separate Mary from that central mystery of our faith.
Certainly, the Virgin Mary is a "radiant model" for us Knights. Devotion to the her is indeed a central element of our Knights of Columbus spirituality. It is one of the things we proudly share with Pope John Paul.
Over the years, this love for Mary has found concrete expression in the Order in many different ways. It does so today. Let me mention a few current aspects of this commitment to Marian devotion.
On Sept. 8, the feast of Mary's nativity, the 10th Knights of Columbus Marian Hour of Prayer program since 1979-80 will come to a close. Introduced at our Supreme Council meeting in Montreal last year, the 1997-98 program was dedicated to Our Lady of the New Advent - "new Advent" being an expression used by the Holy Father to signify the time of preparation for the jubilee.
Some 10.3 million persons have participated in more than 61,000 Marian Hours of Prayer since the inception of this program which, over the years, has featured pilgrim icons of the Blessed Mother honoring her under various titles - Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Perpetual Help and others.
The same devotional spirit underlies our Knights of Columbus prayer book, Prayers for a New Millennium, which contains a number of well-loved Marian prayers along with a catechesis on praying the rosary, and can be used equally well by individuals, families and groups.
In this connection, I am pleased to report that our program of distributing rosaries and rosary cards explaining this beautiful, traditional form of prayer continues to thrive. As you know, each new and readmitted member of the Knights of Columbus receives a rosary blessed by our supreme chaplain.
We distribute rosaries at a rate that continues to average 10,000 a month. Approximately 2.6 million rosaries have been so provided since we began this program. We also continue to distribute the popular tapes in which Bishop Daily leads the recitation of the rosary.
I believe these efforts help explain the gratifying fact that many Catholics today are returning to this traditional devotion, the rosary. For a time just after the Second Vatican Council, the rosary seems to have suffered a kind of eclipse in Catholic life - something the fathers of Vatican II never intended. Now, contemporary Catholics are again exploring the riches of this form of prayer.
The Knights' filial devotion to the Blessed Mother also accounts for our longstanding special relationship with the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Its most visible and dramatic expression is the famous Knights' Tower, a 329-foot feature on the skyline of our nation's capital.
The tower, with its 56-bell carillon, was constructed at the Order's expense in the late 1950s, and we also paid for the refurbishing of the carillon in 1988.
But our involvement with this great Marian shrine, which is visited by many thousands of pilgrims every year, also includes a great deal more.
Last August, for example, the National Shrine's new Our Mother of Africa Chapel was dedicated by His Eminence James Cardinal Hickey of Washington in a ceremony attended by more than 6,000 African American pilgrims from across the United States.
I am proud to say the Knights of Columbus contributed $100,000 to assist in the construction of this architectural and artistic gem, one of the 60 chapels and six oratories in the National Shrine celebrating the ethnic and cultural diversity of American Catholicism. I am proud also to report that the shrine's Crypt Church now includes a stained-glass window depicting Father McGivney, joining other windows that portray Mother Teresa, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and the late Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia.
In addition, Knights from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia continue to serve as volunteer ushers at the shrine, assisting large numbers of visitors and pilgrims every year. Along with the outstanding generosity of the men who donate their time and energy to this worthy endeavor, we provide a grant annually for the costs of this program.
Much larger costs associated with the shrine's upkeep are met by the Luke E. Hart Memorial Fund, which was established at the Supreme Council meeting of 1979 in honor of my distinguished predecessor during whose tenure the construction of the Knights' Tower was launched.
The sum set aside for this fund in 1979 was $500,000. Last year delegates to the Supreme Council meeting doubled this to $1 million. This year's gift from the Hart Fund to the shrine brought to $796,680 the amount provided from this source since the fund's inception.
Pro-Life and Family Life Activities
I now turn to pro-life and family life issues. These matters are of deep and abiding importance to the Knights of Columbus, for they involve some of our most strongly held convictions and commitments. And by any standards, our record in both areas - pro-life and family life - is distinguished.
In a statement last January for the 25th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision by which the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the United States, I cited signs of hope for the pro-life movement.
It is true that we face fanatical and relentless opposition from the culture of death and its allies in public life and the media. This will continue. But more and more good people are reacting in horror against the destruction of innocent human life and are mobilizing to defend it. Nowhere, I said then - and I say again now - is this more apparent than in the revulsion decent people spontaneously feel for partial-birth abortion.
Last year for the second time the president of the United States vetoed legislation enacted by Congress to ban this gruesome procedure. On July 23 the House of Representatives voted 296-132 (with seven not voting), to override his ill-advised and unacceptable action. His Eminence Bernard Cardinal Law, chairman of the NCCB's pro-life committee, commended the members of Congress who voted to override. "The more difficult task," he said, "a vote to override in the Senate - is next."
In cooperation with Cardinal Law, the bishops and with other pro-life groups, we are calling upon our members, as we did in 1996, to contact their senators and urge them also to support the override. The vote in the Senate will be very close. I encourage all Knights and their families to use the post cards sent to you in May to contact your senators. The time is short and the matter is urgent.
No matter what the outcome may be on this issue, the pro-life effort will go on. Legislative observers believe the next Congress - and especially the next Senate - may be more strongly pro-life than the present one. We are confident of ultimate success! Public sentiment is increasingly on the side of life. Even more important, so are justice and truth.
For the last several years and for obvious reasons, our commitment to the sanctity of life has caused us to become increasingly active on the issue of assisted suicide.
Last year we joined with the National Catholic Office for Persons with Disabilities in an amicus curiae brief in the cases leading to a Supreme Court decision that there is no constitu-tional right to have oneself killed. We also subsidized the legal strate-gizing that produced this result.
Although the Supreme Court said there is no constitutional right to assisted suicide, it indicated that states could legalize this procedure if they wish. Oregon did so several years ago, and I regret to say that voters there voted to keep the law on the books last fall following a referendum campaign in which the Knights of Columbus, under the leadership of State Deputy Patrick Irish, worked hard to have the law rescinded. So the ongoing fight will not be easy, no more than the struggle over abortion has been easy.
That is why we must be ever vigilant. This issue will come up again in other states - and will keep coming up - as the well-financed and aggressive groups that advocate legalizing assisted suicide probe for breakthroughs. Already the question will be on the ballot in Michigan in November.
Beyond the legislative and judicial areas, the pro-life efforts of the Knights of Columbus are both extensive and diverse. Each year, for instance, the Order is an active participant in the annual March for Life held in Washington to mark the anniversary of the tragic Roe vs. Wade decision.
This participation takes several forms. Partly, and most importantly, it involves the presence of thousands upon thousands of Knights, carrying K of C placards and banners in public witness to the sanctity of human life. Partly, too, it is a matter of the financial support we give to a national poster and essay contest for young people each year in connection with the march.
No less meaningful in giving testimony to life are our memorials to unborn children. Launched at the suggestion of His Eminence John Cardinal O'Connor of New York six years ago, this program has spread rapidly. The result is that some 1,100 memorials have been erected in the United States, Canada, the Philippines, Mexico, Guatemala and elsewhere, all bearing stark yet eloquent witness to the humanity of the unborn. Photos of these memorials appear regularly in Columbia, and the publication of a handsome album of them is in preparation.
With regard to marriage and family life, important challenges with serious consequences also face us now. Let me note one issue in particular.
In November, voters in Hawaii and Alaska will be asked to vote on proposed amendments to their state constitutions barring homosexual "marriages." And in Vermont the state supreme court currently has before it a test case raising the same issue.
There should be no doubt, if advocates of legalizing same-sex marriage succeed in any one of these states - or in any other state, for that matter - the effort to win legal recognition will spread rapidly throughout the United States.
Homosexual couples will rush to the affected state and enter into legally recognized civil marriages there. Then they will return home and demand recognition of their "marriages" in their states of origin under federal reciprocity rules. The question soon will be on its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, with unpredictable results.
Certainly society should treat homosexuals with justice and charity. But neither justice nor charity requires recognizing homosexual relationships as marriages. There are many reasons why this should not be done but, from the point of view of civil society, the fundamental reason is the grave harm to traditional marriage that would result.
It would amount to a declaration by the government that a relationship between a man and a man or a woman and a woman is no different than the relationship between a man and woman freely united in matrimony for mutual support and procreation.
It would confer upon homosexual couples financial benefits and entitlements now reserved for heterosexual couples.
It would mandate taxpayer subsidization of same-sex marriages in various ways - for example, through Social Security and Medicare here in the United States.
It would require that children be taught in public school that homosexual marriage is as acceptable a choice as marriage between a woman and a man.
It would rule out attempts to make distinctions and point to differences consonant with traditional moral beliefs as discrimination.
For all these reasons, the Knights of Columbus is irrevocably opposed to the legal recognition of homosexual relationships as marriages.
The roots of this problem go very deep. Last October Ann and I represented the Knights of Columbus at a Vatican-sponsored international theological-pastoral conference on families in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in connection with Pope John Paul's Second World Meeting with Families. In a paper delivered on that occasion, I pointed to the philosophical error of relativism as the heart of the matter. And I said:
"Partly, this is a form of cultural relativism expressed in the notion that all sorts of 'family' forms or family surrogates are equally acceptable and none is normative or more desirable than the rest.
"For example, single parenthood and illegitimacy have at times been viewed as appropriate, even liberating, options and, today, it is sometimes even suggested that homosexual relationships deserve the legal status of marriage. This attitude is deadly to marriage and family life."
But our position on marriage and family involves more than simply opposing whatever threatens them. We do that, of course, but we also do much else of a positive nature. Especially we uphold and celebrate and nurture the ideal of marriage and family embodied in the teaching of the Church. And this we do in many concrete, practical ways every day of the year.
Our Family of the Month/Family of the Year program provides the means of holding up worthy models of committed marriage and family life year-round.
Columbia magazine is another vehicle for preaching the good news of Catholic marriage and family life. Month after month, Columbia publishes practical, family-oriented articles and features dealing with such matters as strengthening family relationships, coping with family crises, family finances and family spirituality.
Similarly, more than 480,000 copies of the family prayer book published a few years ago have been distributed up to now, plus editions in French and Spanish. Currently, it is being replaced in favor of the new book of prayers prepared for the millennium. Many of the same prayers and devotions are featured in both.
Our sponsorship of the North American campus of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family is still another means by which we foster marriage and family life according to the mind of the Church. The institute is the only international pontifical graduate school of theology dedicated to the study of marriage and family. Founded in Rome in 1981, it opened its Washington campus in 1988 at the Dominican House of Studies.
Since then, 125 students have received graduate degrees there. When degrees were conferred on the latest class of graduates last May 13 at a Mass celebrated in the National Shrine by Cardinal Hickey, the institute's vice chancellor, those 14 men and women joined nearly 1,000 other alumni and faculty worldwide - a growing body of women and men - priests, religious and laity - professionally trained in the doctrine of the Church, loyal to the magisterium and committed to serving the people of God.
Along with projects and programs of its own in the pro-life and family life areas, the Knights of Columbus also provides important financial assistance to many others. Let me mention some of those we have helped in the past year.
As has been done since 1983, we gave a grant to the Pontifical Council for the Family. Ann and I continue to serve as members of this agency of the Holy See.
Our support of the pro-life committee and office of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States also continued. This includes the work of the bishops' pro-life spokesperson, Helen Alvaré, and the bishops' Diocesan Development Program for Natural Family Planning. Since 1990, we have given nearly $7.9 million in grants and another $1 million in printing services to the NCCB program of pro-life education and, since 1984, another $2,375,000 for the bishops' NFP program. Each year, too, we distribute to the Order's pro-life leadership the "Respect Life" month educational materials published by the bishops' office. Another project funded through the Order's grant is an inspiring and informative pro-life exhibit that is currently traveling throughout the United States.
Similarly, our assistance to the pro-life and family life programs of the Canadian bishops included a grant of $132,000 to the Catholic Organization for Life and Family, bringing to $2,147,000 the amount given to that agency and its predecessor, Family-Action-Famille, since 1983. Information on Choose Life, a new COLF handbook for studying the Church's teaching on human life, was published in the Canadian edition of the June Columbia. In addition, a separate gift of $25,000 went to other pro-life activities of the Canadian bishops' conference, bringing this total to $350,000 since 1985.
Other groups and programs assisted during the past year include Father Frank Pavone's Priests for Life; former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey's Campaign for the Family; the Alianza Nacional para la Moral Familiar, an anti-pornography organization in Mexico; Morality in Media's national legal center on obscenity law, headquartered in New York City; the National Life Center in the United States; and Birthright in Canada.
We gave a gift of $102,000 to Life Athletes, formerly Pro-Life Athletes, bringing to $177,000 the amount we have given since 1993 to this organization. Its professional and Olympic athlete-members participated with the Knights of Columbus in several states in one-day youth camps at which they not only gave sports instruction but spoke to the boys and girls about their group's theme "Virtue, Abstinence and Respect Life." This program is ongoing; indeed, it is being expanded.
I hardly need say that the Knights of Columbus does not do all it does for the pro-life cause and for marriage and family life for the sake of recognition or thanks. Still, it is gratifying that our efforts do not go entirely unnoticed. In April, on behalf of the Order, I accepted the Proudly Pro-Life Award of the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund at their annual dinner in New York. And last September, Deputy Supreme Knight Robert F. Wade, on behalf of the Order, accepted the Cardinal Cooke Right to Life Award given by the Friends of Cardinal Cooke Guild. The award was presented by Cardinal John O'Connor of New York at the guild's luncheon.
Every young person - indeed, every person of every age - needs to hear and accept the invitation of Christ. Discerning and accepting and living out our vocation is a lifelong task.
But the task pertains especially to the callings to priesthood and religious life, which are so close to the heart of Christ, so necessary to the Church, and today so much a countercultural commitment in the face of an indifferent and sometimes hostile secular culture.
This is the setting for our Order's efforts on behalf of vocations.
Few things are closer to the hearts of Knights of Columbus than fostering and supporting vocations to the priesthood and religious life. This has been true for a long time, and is still true today.
The fundamental fact about vocations is that they come from God. Speaking to a group of bishops from the United States, Pope John Paul recently said that when he looks back on his half-century as a priest, he is reminded of two essential truths: that the priestly vocation is "a mystery of divine election" and that as such it is "a gift which infinitely transcends the individual" ("Priest's Ministry and Spiritual Life Are Intimately Connected," L'Osservatore Romano, weekly English edition, May 27, 1998).
At the same time, vocations have an obvious human dimension. Part of it is encouragement from others - parents and family, parish and school, individuals and the community of faith. Encouragement - to consider, test and persevere in a vocation to the priesthood or religious life - is what the Knights of Columbus seeks to offer.
At the Supreme Council meeting a year ago, I reported that the Order had given $50,000 to help implement the U.S. bishops' new national strategy on Church vocations, "A Future Full of Hope." Recently the bishops' conference issued results of a survey on the parish background of priestly vocations carried out as part of this three-year project.
The social scientists who did the survey reported in part: "There is a community context to the vocation decision-making process. Parishes producing multiple vocations differ from those that do not. Many of these differences are ones over which parishes have some control."
Among the factors increasing the likelihood of multiple vocations in a parish, the survey found, are the presence of a parish elementary school, the practice of parish eucharistic devotions, the presence of youth service projects and a youth group, and Marian devotions.
"Simply put, opportunities to participate in Catholic life and tradition tend to foster attitudes and experiences essential to the call of priesthood," the authors concluded. I say: Amen! This is part of the message of vocations awareness that the Knights of Columbus has preached for a long time. And it hardly needs to be added that healthy Catholic family life is another, and perhaps most vital, ingredient.
Besides pointing to these truths, the Order does a great deal of a very specific, tangible nature on behalf of priestly and religious vocations.
Going back to 1977, we have had vocations chairmen on the state and local council levels developing and implementing a variety of programs to keep the need for vocations before the eyes of our members and families.
Over these same years, vocations ads have appeared each month on the back cover of Columbia. Note that the ads alone bring the message of vocations into 1.6 million Catholic homes monthly. Vocations posters are also distributed throughout the Order.
Financial support also is part of the effort. In 1997, some $6.5 million was expended in vocations support at all levels in the Order.
Delegates to the Supreme Council meeting in Montreal last year voted to establish the new Bishop Thomas V. Daily Vocations Scholarship Fund in the amount of $1.5 million. The $2,500 scholarships, renewable for four years, will be awarded on the basis of academic merit and need to seminarians enrolled in a major school of theology and pursuing ordination for a diocese or religious institute in the United States, its territories or Canada.
The Bishop Daily scholarships are in addition to need-based awards from the Vocations Scholarship Fund begun in 1992. More than 325 seminarians have received these $2,500 scholarships to date, and 107 have been ordained.
A corpus of $13.6 million pays out more than $900,000 annually for vocations at the Supreme Council level. Through the years, these funds have provided more than $7.2 million for vocations.
Last December we once again happily distributed earnings from the funds established for seminaries in Rome and in Belgium. The North American College in Rome has received almost $1.85 million since 1982 from the Count Enrico Galeazzi Fund. The Pontifical Canadian College has received some $260,000 from the $600,000 Father Michael J. McGivney Fund since 1989. The Father McGivney Fund for Advanced Studies for Priests from the Philippines, with a corpus now of 10 million pesos (approximately $358,000) has received $114,000 since 1982. For the Pontifical Mexican College, the $350,000 Our Lady of Guadalupe Fund has disbursed $213,000 since 1983. The Bishop Charles P. Greco Fund, with a corpus of $400,000, has generated $245,000 in earnings for the American College in Louvain since 1988. This year as well we were pleased to offer a scholarship to a student-priest from the Diocese of Arecibo from the $125,000 Father McGivney Fund for Advanced Studies for Priests in Puerto Rico.
I come now to the Refund Support Vocations Program, RSVP. Last year nearly 2,000 councils, assemblies and circles took part, raising $1.825 million to support more than 3,300 seminarians, postulants and novices. This resulted in rebates of $350,000 to the local units from the Supreme Council.
Since the program began in 1981, local units have raised and disbursed more than $16.5 million through RSVP, with the Supreme Council refunding more than $3.2 million.
Along with financial aid, the assistance rendered through RSVP also involves prayer and moral support, including letters and visits. The positive feedback we receive from those who have benefited is heartwarming.
Last year at the state deputies' meeting, we challenged our state councils to accept as a goal for the Order the extension of RSVP to every seminarian in the United States and Canada by the year 2000. Already 14 states have every seminarian in their jurisdiction adopted. Nearly every state council has embraced this new vision, and we have the responses of diocesan vocations directors telling us we are on the right track.
Fervent prayer, encouragement by home, parish, and school, and - yes - financial support: These are the necessary human elements that contribute to forming and supporting priestly and religious vocations. The Knights of Columbus is doing, and will continue to do, its part.
Our theme "Send Forth Your Spirit to Renew the Earth" speaks of the Holy Spirit's work. We are invited to collaborate in this work, and our collaboration has a special name: evangelization.
The new evangelization is central to Pope John Paul's program for the Church of the new millennium. In his document on preparing for the jubilee, he says the Church "must continue to be missionary: indeed missionary outreach is part of her very nature" (TMA, 57). And he adds this challenging thought: "The more the West is becoming estranged from its Christian roots, the more it is becoming missionary territory" (ibid.).
Evangelization is high on the list of priorities for the Knights of Columbus and has been for a long time.
The Catholic Information Service was founded in 1948 to disseminate religious information in places and among people where the teachings of the Catholic Church were unknown or misinterpreted.
This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of CIS, the longest-running work of media evangelization in the United States and Canada, sponsored continuously by an 80 cent annual per capita contribution of our members. Since its beginning, 8.4 million inquiries on the Catholic faith have been received and millions of pamphlets on the faith have been distributed. More than 760,000 individuals have enrolled in the CIS correspondence course. Last year 83,500 inquiries were received with more than 2,000 enrollees in the course.
The Catholic Information Service remains a significant participant in the vital ministry of bringing Christ to the world as we approach the third millennium.
Our monthly magazine Columbia also is a powerful tool of evangelization. Each month nearly 1.6 million copies are mailed to members of the Order. That translates to some 19 million copies a year. Among the magazine's continuing features are a monthly inspirational message from Bishop Daily and the series "Our Catholic Faith" by Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh, a study guide to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Bishop Wuerl has covered half the catechism up to now. Family life also is spotlighted in Columbia columns and articles, as are key social and moral issues that engage the attention of the Church.
The information revolution that has taken place in just the last five years has ushered in a new age - a youthful age, at that - and one that the Knights of Columbus is proud to be part of. Our Web site, www.kofc-supreme-council.org, is nearing its second birthday. It is a valuable place for Knights and others on line to get information about our Order and our programs.
For those of you who have logged on to our site, you know that, while it is authoritative, it is also rather comprehensive. There's a lot of information on our site, as befits an organization with our history and stature. We're interested now in taking a look at that information and repackaging it in a more Web-friendly way. Then too, a goodly number of our state and local councils have home pages and e-mail addresses, and a way must be developed to take advantage of and to coordinate this communication vehicle in the best interests of the Order.
We plan to make our site more interactive and include areas that will allow those who visit our site to learn more about specific insurance plans and how much insurance they need based on their age, family and other demographic information.
The revised site also will offer visitors information on the closest council to them and the nearest general agent.
We want to further the work of The Father McGivney Guild by developing a Web site devoted exclusively to his cause, and we want to initiate an on-line edition of Columbia.
You should know that we have made a commitment to becoming a first-class member of the Catholic community on the Web.
Besides our own programs in the area of evangelization, we also provide important assistance to several others.
Several times each year since Christmas Eve of 1974, the Knights of Columbus has funded the uplinks - and, in the case of some mission countries, also the downlinks - of satellite telecasts of papal ceremonies from the Vatican. In the last quarter-century, we have provided $2,683,000 for this purpose.
These are the most widely viewed religious telecasts in the world. In the past year they included the Midnight Mass of Christmas from St. Peter's Basilica, the pope's Christmas message and "urbi et orbi" blessing (to the city of Rome and the world), his Way of the Cross service on Good Friday, and the Easter Mass from St. Peter's. For the first time, Cuba was among the countries receiving the telecast of the Midnight Mass.
The Holy See has announced an ambitious schedule of special events for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, and the number of telecasts will be substantially expanded accordingly. I recently received a letter on this matter from our good friend Archbishop John P. Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Council 4546 in Philadelphia. His letter contained this tentative list of year 2000 special events for worldwide telecasting:
Christmas 1999 - Opening of the Holy Door and Midnight Mass at St. Peter's Basilica, blessing and message "urbi et orbi" in St. Peter's Square.
Jan. 18, 2000 - Opening of the Holy Door at St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls and opening of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
March 25, feast of the Annunciation - Liturgical celebration from the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, in conjunction with the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome and other Marian shrines around the world.
April 21 - Good Friday Way of the Cross from the Colosseum in Rome.
April 23 - Easter Mass and blessing "urbi et orbi" in St. Peter's Square.
May 18 - 80th birthday of the Holy Father, with Mass in St. Peter's Square concelebrated with thousands of priests from around the world.
June 18-25 - One of the celebrations from the International Eucharistic Congress in Rome, possibly an edited one-hourprogram to be offered around the world, with special attention given the Corpus Christi procession from the Basilica of St. John Later-an to St. Mary Major on June 22.
Aug. 19-20 - World Youth Day in Rome, either live coverage or a program of highlights.
Oct. 14-15 - World Encounter of the Holy Father with Families, including celebration of the sacrament of matrimony during Mass in St. Peter's Square. Dec. 25 - Midnight Mass and blessing "urbi et orbi."
Jan. 6, 2001, the Epiphany - Closing of the Holy Door at St. Peter's Basilica.
Archbishop Foley invites the Knights of Columbus to help provide the people of the world with an opportunity to take part in these historic events through global telecasts. I am pleased to report that the Order has agreed to accept this invitation.
Besides supporting the telecasts from Rome, for a number of years we also have funded telecasts by the Eternal Word Television Network of special events from the National Shrine and of the meetings of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. We continued this support in the past year in the amount of $250,000, bringing to nearly $3,540,000 the total we have given EWTN since 1984.
Last March, with Knights of Columbus assistance, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and the Archdiocese of Denver sponsored a "NewTech '98" conference on new communications technologies and the Church. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver served as host for the more than 50 members of the hierarchy from the Vatican, North and South America, and other places who attended this well-received meeting. In addition to our financial aid, I am proud to say that Colorado Knights assisted with the logistics of the gathering.
Finally, as you are aware, for some years we have distributed a card free of charge giving instruction in how to receive the sacrament of penance. This continues to be a useful guide for penitents and, with the Holy Father's renewed emphasis on the sacrament of reconciliation, it should become more popular still.
Making this report a year ago, I opened the section on Catholic education by focusing on some recent good news from the U.S. Supreme Court. This was a 5-4 decision the previous June in a New York case called Agostini vs. Felton, in which the Order had submitted an amicus curiae brief.
Reversing its own position 12 years earlier, the court held that public remedial instructors could teach eligible students in parochial schools on the school premises. Earlier, at a time when a view of church-state relations predicated on suspicion and hostility held sway, the Supreme Court had said the First Amendment prevented this.
Of the new decision I said it was, among other things, potentially favorable to prospects for educational vouchers. This year I come before you with more goods news of the same kind.
Last June 10 the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a 4-2 decision upheld the constitutionality of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, which was expanded by the state legislature in 1995 at the urging of Gov. Tommy Thompson by increasing the number of eligible students from 1,500 to as many as 15,000 and by allowing the participation of religious schools.
The four justices who made up the majority for the Wisconsin Supreme Court faced the church-state issues squarely and gave an unequivocal answer. They said the Milwaukee program fully satisfies the requirements of the establishment clauses of both the federal and state constitutions.
This was a significant victory. Nevertheless the American Civil Liberties Union - which is committed to denying civil liberties to parents and children who choose church-related schools - immediately announced that it would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Similar programs in other states - including the very welcome Cleveland Scholarship Program here in Ohio - are currently under challenge in other courts.
In short, this is a time to be hopeful but not complacent. The long struggle to win full acceptance by our nation's courts of the principle of parental choice in education has reached a critical stage.
And note that, even though vouchers and other forms of educational choice have significant backing at the federal level in Congress, the administration is wedded to the idea that government schools should monopolize education funding while parental rights are ignored. This has a lot to do with the adamant opposition of the public school establishment.
Elsewhere, too, the news for Catholic schools has not been so good lately.
I think especially of Newfoundland, where the provincial government launched an effort several years ago to destroy the religiously based character of the province's school system.
The aim is to make every school a public school. Catholic and other denominational schools in Newfoundland and Labrador would cease to exist. And, incredible as it may seem, the government would presume to develop and impose a "common" religious-education program in all schools.
Efforts for and against this educational totalitarianism have had many twists and turns. Currently the matter is being fought in the courts. Back in 1994 the Knights of Columbus made a financial commitment to the bishops of Newfoundland to help them carry on the fight. During the past year our assistance to them for legal costs was $86,738.
The bishops elsewhere in Canada are intensely interested in this struggle. It is clear that the suppression of religious schools in Newfoundland would be followed by attempts to do the same in other parts of the country. We are far from hearing the end of this matter.
During the past year, too, we continued our relationship with the National Catholic Educational Association. The $1 million Father Michael J. McGivney Fund for New Initiatives in Catholic Education made a $72,630 grant to support several more innovative projects to enhance Catholic education. That brought to nearly $1,853,000 the amount contributed from the McGivney Fund since 1980, with the corpus remaining intact. The Knights of Columbus had a booth at the NCEA convention held during Easter week in Los Angeles. And I am proud to report that the NCEA honored the Order with its Bishop Loras T. Lane Award for support and service to Catholic seminaries.
Turning to Knights of Columbus scholarships, the Order has a corpus of $13.9 million set aside for the various scholarships. Last year this fund generated more than $1 million that were disbursed in the form of scholarships. The Supreme Secretary's Report provides you with the details on each scholarship program, and lists the recipients.
Continuing our assistance to The Catholic University of America from the $2 million Bicentennial of the American Hierarchy Fund, we made a gift of more than $146,000 which is currently being used at the Columbus School of Law, Catholic University's law school. That brings to well over $1.2 million the amount the Order has given the university from this source since 1989. We also gave earnings from a $250,000 fund established in 1994 to the Pontifical Institute for Mediaeval Studies in Toronto.
Miscellaneous Funds and Reserves
Through the years the Order has established funds for various purposes. These funds are in our charitable corporations or specially reserved in the General Account of the Order, and amount to $39.6 million. These funds are providing approximately $4 million annually for the specified causes and have paid out a total of more than $43.5 million in gifts since the inception of the fund, or since 1977, whichever is later.
Historical and Cultural Projects
The first item I wish to share with you under this heading concerns the providential averting of a potential tragedy. I refer to the fire at St. Mary's Church in New Haven, the birthplace of the Knights of Columbus and the site of Father McGivney's tomb.
The three-alarm blaze broke out last March 3 during the noon Mass. Nearly 100 people escaped without injury, and although the building suffered some damage, mostly from smoke and water, no irreparable harm was done. We owe great thanks to the New Haven Fire Department. But we also owe thanks to God and, I believe, to Father McGivney himself. As Archbishop Cronin remarked at the time, "Father McGivney protected his church."
Work commenced in June on renovations to the basement of St. Mary's Church. It was in this basement that Father McGivney first met with those men who would be our forefathers in Columbianism. The basement was first redone during our centennial in 1982 when the church proper was completely restored.
The kitchen will be updated, and handicap-accessible bathrooms will be constructed. There is a small stage at one end of the basement, and a wheelchair lift will be installed to give easy access to it. The heating, air-conditioning and electrical systems in the basement will also be updated. The work is scheduled to be completed in October.
Turning to other matters, this year saw the reintroduction of the Daily Points of Light Award program, which was originally instituted during the Bush administration. It is co-sponsored by the Points of Light foundation, the Corpora-tion for National Service and the Knights of Columbus, with funding by us.
Information about this program was sent in March to state deputies and others in the Order. The purpose is to celebrate volunteers and volunteerism by honoring individuals and groups for outstanding service.
I am pleased to report that among early honorees has been Paul Hackman, a member of Glenmary Council 5674 here in Cincinnati. Even though he has had juvenile diabetes since age 17, is blind, has had a renal transplant and lost a leg as a result of diabetes, Brother Hackman has volunteered countless hours of his time to educate teens, adults, and health care professionals about organ donation, the effects of diabetes and kidney disease. I say again what I said when he was singled out for recognition - Brother Hackman's generosity of spirit is truly humbling and an inspiration to his brother Knights.
Last November the Order participated in a White House meeting on drug prevention programs sponsored by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. This gathering was attended by some 30 fraternal, service and civic organizations with a combined membership of more than 50 million members. In the past year, too, we continued our participation in Habitat for Humanity through the National Fraternal Congress of America.
I am pleased also to report that the Knights of Columbus Native American Exchange program organized by South Dakota Past State Deputy Alfred Jetty, and still coordinated by him, continues.
Brother Jetty, himself a Native American and a 40-year Knight, became convinced several years ago that tensions and misunderstanding between whites and Native Americans could be lessened, even erased, if young people got to know one another better.
To that end, he organized a student exchange program that began in 1992 with funding from the Supreme Council. Since then, some $50,000 has been expended on the program, and nearly 100 exchanges have taken place involving Indian schools and Catholic and public schools. The program has a modest cost but does much good. We offer Bud Jetty our thanks and congratulations.
We continued our assistance to the John Paul II Cultural Center that will be built in Washington, D.C., with our gifts to that project now totaling $750,000 against our total commitment of $2.5 million to be paid out. Another $2.5 million fund is being set up in Knights of Columbus Charities. The earnings of this fund will be paid annually for the operations of the center. Bishop Daily serves on the advisory board of the institution, and I have accepted an invitation to serve on the board of trustees extended by Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit, in recognition of the Knights' generosity.
Finally, I am pleased to report the dedication last May 14 of a life-size statue of our founder, sculpted by renowned artist Stanley Bleifeld, which the Order gave to the Father Michael J. McGivney Center for Cancer Care at the Hospital of Saint Raphael in New Haven. Father McGivney's symbolic association with this institution, generously assisted by the Order in his name, recalls his lifelong concern for the needy, weak and vulnerable.
The time has come for me to express my warm and sincere gratitude to all who have given so much of themselves over the years, and in the year just past, to the work of the Order and to me personally.
My wife Ann is a tried and true partner in this endeavor, walking hand in hand with me in times that are good, and especially in times that may not be so good. The same holds for my family - my daughter, sons and grandchildren - who have encouraged, supported and stood by me every step of the way.
Ann and I both are in your debt for the many prayers, good wishes and sentiments of concern expressed during her illness last year, and also during her recent hip-replacement surgery. The fact that your prayers are working is evident, because she is doing very well. Our entire family thanks you as one.
I thank also the wives and families of my fellow officers, board members, state deputies and other leaders of the Order. Their companionship, good spirits and active involvement in our endeavors prove that we truly are a family organization.
A special word of gratitude is reserved for Supreme Chaplain Bishop Thomas V. Daily. In the midst of his own demanding duties as ordinary of the most populous diocese in the United States, he is readily available to me whenever I have the need to consult with him on whatever matter may be at hand - whether spiritual or fraternal. Son of a dedicated Knight, he knows and loves the Order, and is a blessing to us all.
My fellow officers are more than generous with their expertise whenever called upon. Each shows dedication to his office and directs his energies to the good of the Order.
The same applies to the members of the board of directors who faithfully share their experience at meetings, and who are but a phone call away when something comes up during the year.
I cannot say enough about the state deputies. They show constant dedication, enthusiasm and leadership in the advancement of their jurisdictions, and also share the credit when achievements are made. The present and past officers of the Third and Fourth Degrees are key to any success that the Order may enjoy. I am thankful for each and every one.
On your behalf I here recognize and thank the agency force. Our general and field agents outdo themselves year after year in bringing the benefits of our insurance program to members and their families.
Finally, I express the gratitude we all have to our dedicated and hardworking home office staff. Their competence enables them to serve our members with courtesy, efficiency and dispatch. I per-sonally feel that we have the best home office operation in the industry.
We are truly blessed as an Order by the involvement of so many people - real people - working together for success in a common cause. May God continue to bless us and make our efforts prosper.
"Send Forth Your Spirit to Renew the Earth." This theme can be understood in two ways: As a petition - "Please, God, send forth your Spirit to a world much in need of it"; or as an imperative - "God, send forth your Spirit to us now, or all may be lost."
The theme was probably operating on both levels when the Twelve Apostles were huddled together in fear for their lives in the Upper Room after the Lord's Ascension. When Jesus had first called them, three years earlier, they got off to a good start, leaving all to go and follow him.
But then things began to go steadily downhill.
Remember the Apostles in the storm-tossed boat, waking Jesus up so he could save them? What little faith they had.
Remember Peter, seeing Jesus walking toward him on the Sea of Galilee, calling out to the Lord: "If it is you, bid me come to you over the water"? At Jesus' invitation Peter begins to walk. But his faith and confidence begin to sink, and Peter begins to sink with them.
Remember Judas, upbraiding the Lord because the precious ointment poured out by Mary could have been sold and given to the poor? This same Judas later would sell his Lord for 30 pieces of silver.
At the Last Supper Peter tells Jesus he will die for him. Then he goes out to the courtyard and denies him, not once, but three times. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter, James and John cannot watch even one hour with the Lord in his agony.
And doubting Thomas who wouldn't believe that Jesus had risen until he could put his fingers into his wounds!
Finally, we see them on the upper slope of Mount Olivet. The Lord has just ascended into heaven. After three years of traveling with Jesus, hearing his teachings, witnessing his miracles - the Apostles stand there, gazing emptily up at the sky. An angel has to come and tell them what to do next.
Reflecting on these all-too-human failings of the Apostles, let us not be too self-righteous. We are judging the pre-Pentecost Apostles with our own human eyes -and not through the eyes of Christ. Jesus knew they could do the job he asked of them. All they needed was the fire of the Holy Spirit to get them going. And the Holy Spirit came upon them in the Upper Room, turning them into firebrands for Christ. Yes, after the descent of the Holy Spirit the Apostles became all that Jesus wanted them to be.
What about us? We received this same Holy Spirit at our baptism and confirmation. The Apostles were changed radically. How have the gifts of the Spirit changed us? We still carry the spark of the Spirit within us. But we have to work at keeping it kindled, keeping it glowing. How can we justify standing around, looking emptily up at the sky?
In this report I have chronicled the marvelous array of programs and projects carried out by the Knights of Columbus. We have indeed been about our Father's business, building triumph upon triumph in support of the Church; in outreach to the less fortunate; in assuring the growth and development of this Order to which each one of us has committed himself. If we can do more - and we can - let us call upon God to "Send Forth His Spirit to Renew the Earth" to inspire us, to encourage us, to energize us.
This year of the Holy Spirit, looking toward the millennium, is a time of special grace. Let us resolve to go forth together from this convention filled with the Holy Spirit - as firebrands for Christ!