Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Smyrna Catholic leads Georgia Knights of Columbus

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published July 9, 2015

SMYRNA—Mark McMullen felt in awe standing in St. Mary Church, the founding parish of the Knights of Columbus.

Mark McMullen, a parishioner of St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Smyrna, began a two-year term July 1 as state deputy of the Knights of Columbus in Georgia. McMullen was elected during the May 17 state convention in Savannah. Photo By Michael Alexander

Mark McMullen, a parishioner of St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Smyrna, began a two-year term July 1 as state deputy of the Knights of Columbus in Georgia. McMullen was elected during the May 17 state convention in Savannah. Photo By Michael Alexander

“Who wouldn’t want to be here?” he remembers thinking about the historic church in New Haven, Connecticut, with its vaulted ceiling. He sat in the wooden pew marked with a plaque noting the establishment in 1903 of Georgia’s first Knights of Columbus Council—Council 631 in Savannah. “You feel the history,” he said.

Father Michael McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882. It began as a way to help struggling Catholic immigrants and their families, especially widows and children, and later developed into a fraternal order that also takes on charitable activities. Father McGivney has been recognized as a “venerable servant of God,” as his cause for canonization is underway at the Vatican.

McMullen, 60, will now play a role in the history of the Georgia Knights of Columbus. The parishioner of St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Smyrna, is the incoming state deputy, the top elected leader of the 17,000-member Georgia fraternal organization. He was elected to the position in the spring but began his two-year term July 1.

On Saturday, June 27, he and other state leaders were installed at a special Mass at his home parish.

“I’ve been Catholic all my life. My mom has always been a very devout Catholic. We’d never miss Sunday Mass. I’ve always been raised praying before dinners, prayers before bed,” he said of his childhood in Cleveland, Ohio.

The youngest son of an auto industry administrator, he attended Catholic schools through college, from St. Henry Grade School to John Carroll University. His first job in marketing out of college took him to Chicago and later his career brought him to North Carolina. He arrived in Georgia in 1999 as his family settled just outside the Perimeter in Smyrna, just minutes from St. Thomas the Apostle. He is an executive vice president at List Partners LLC/Catapult, a business consulting firm. He and his wife, Jan, have five children in a blended family.

He joined the Knights of Columbus because someone invited him. It was Les Hubl’s task to call all new parishioners to encourage them to join Council 12386. The simple request got him involved.

“I’m a big believer in balance in your life. I chose to get involved. I knew what the Knights did. I thought this seemed like a cool organization. It was probably the Holy Spirit,” McMullen said.

A few years later, he was leading the council. During his leadership, it was named a Star Council, which is an achievement award. Council 12386 started the Patriot Games, friendly softball games pitting members of the council and others against teams of military veterans. The council also began decree teams, an effort to serve members better as they learned the mission of the fraternal organization.

Seeking new members in Hispanic communities

The Knights of Columbus in Georgia is growing but looks to diversify its membership.

There are 109 councils in Georgia, which includes the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Diocese of Savannah. The membership roll is not the largest, but McMullen said national leaders admire the local organization.

As the number of Catholics in Georgia increases, the Knights are seeing their rolls increase, too. Statewide, they welcome about 1,000 new members a year. There are just about 17,000 members now.

“We’re not the size of jurisdictions up north. Our visibility is increasing,” McMullen said.

A contrast he sees with organizations in the Northeast and Midwest, Catholic-rich states, is they struggle to keep members. In Georgia, membership goals are often met, he said.

Hispanic Catholics are an increasing segment of the church, making up almost half the 1 million faithful in the Atlanta Archdiocese, according to planners. McMullen said Hispanic Catholics are a community the Knights need to serve better and where they need to make inroads to attract new members.

New recruitment guidelines for councils are being formed. He expects they will include tips shared by Bishop Luis R. Zarama, a native of Colombia. A key lesson is the Hispanic community must see that members of the Knights of Columbus care about them, McMullen said. Members will be encouraged to show up where Hispanic Catholics are, where they celebrate a shared faith, such as at Our Lady of Guadalupe festivals and cultural events.

Already, the Knights of Columbus on an international level are devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe, McMullen said, but they need to do a better job locally to demonstrate that spiritual connection.

“We’ve got so much opportunity here. We’ve just started to scratch the surface of the Hispanic community. We still have a ways to go,” he said.

As an order, the Knights stand behind Pope Francis. His “servant leadership” mantra is what the Knights are all about, McMullen said.

“I am a product of Jesuit education and as Knights we stand firmly behind the belief that ‘those that best lead are those that best serve,’” he said in an email.

Two recent leaders of the Georgia Knights of Columbus also came from the Atlanta Archdiocese.

Rick Siske, who attended St. Brigid Church, Johns Creek, now lives in Kansas. He served as state deputy from 2011 to 2013.

The highlight for him was seeing the good works done by Knights across the state, he said. Siske also started the Pennies for Heaven program that provides some financial support to the Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers.

Siske said he would advise McMullen to focus on expanding membership rolls so the Knights can continue to provide their valuable community programs.

Jim St. John has been a longtime member of St. Michael the Archangel Church, Woodstock. After retiring from Georgia Tech as a research scientist, his family is relocating to Florida. He joined the Knights in 1996 and served as the state deputy from 2009 to 2011.

“You have a chance to influence people’s lives,” he said. “Most guys who have been Knights for a while would say it’s made them better Catholics, better husbands, better fathers.”

He fondly remembered delivering ultrasound machines purchased by the Knights of Columbus to crisis pregnancy centers knowing they could help women choose not to terminate their pregnancy.

The role of the state deputy is to inspire others, he said.

“Don’t get lost in the minutia. Understand what you are doing is how we spread the Gospel,” he said.