By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff writer | Published August 18, 2016
CEDARTOWN—The 75-year-old St. Bernadette Church in Cedartown has its first Knights of Columbus council after a June initiation ceremony welcoming 21 new Knights.
The St. Bernadette Council will elect officers in mid-August and then receive its council number.
Father Timothy Gallagher became pastor of St. Bernadette four years ago. Although long familiar with the organization and its importance to parish life, the priest knew he could not create a council on his own.
“I was hoping for a Knights of Columbus council, but I wanted the men to want that,” said Father Gallagher.
The Knights of Columbus are already off and running. They organized a Fortnight for Freedom event at the parish and held their first community fish fry Aug. 6.
In addition to having a large number of new Knights, the St. Bernadette Council is unique in that it is bilingual and “reaches across both communities.”
In the first year of Father Gallagher’s pastorate, representatives of the Carrollton Knights council visited Cedartown for an informational gathering.
At that point, the idea of starting a council didn’t take root.
“It’s just going to take some time,” Father Gallagher recalled thinking.
The new pastor kept the idea alive in his heart. As the parish men’s group reformed, they began to talk about how to recruit others and the Knights’ idea resurfaced.
“I guess it was a recognition that we needed to be more organized,” said the priest.
When parishioners approached the priest about taking formal steps to have a Knights of Columbus council, Father Gallagher gave his full support.
“It was really providential,” said the priest of the re-forming of the men’s group. “It was such a strong beginning to a Knights group.”
“A symbol of what we can do”
In recent years, the demographics of St. Bernadette have changed tremendously with Hispanic families now accounting for the majority of the members.
“I kept hearing in the men’s group ‘we’ve got to get some young guys, some Hispanics’,” said Father Gallagher.
The priest didn’t think that was too difficult, and knew it would simply take saying hello, shaking hands of fellow parishioners and “having some help from above.”
“It really happened fast when it happened. It was a very inspiring time,” said Father Gallagher.
The pastor calls the council creation a good example of how priorities of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan can be met.
Under the issue of “Living Our Faith,” one of the Pastoral Plan’s priorities is to “build a stronger sense of unity within the parish and increase personal connection to the parish.”
In keeping with the “Evolution of Our Parishes” goals detailed in the plan, the council’s formation is a step toward “creating a welcoming and nurturing environment for all cultures within the parish.”
“It becomes a symbol of what we can do,” said Father Gallagher about uniting Anglo and Hispanic communities. “It does take effort, and it cannot be forced. It’s a healthy group.”
Bringing cultures together is more about “seizing the moment,” he said.
Alton Gilmore, one of the original members of St. Bernadette, became a Knight at the June ceremony. Gilmore joins council members of varying ages and professions.
Jose Almara has attended St. Bernadette for five years. He and his wife were married there and they have two young daughters. He first learned about the Knights of Columbus while attending St. Mary Church in Rome.
Almara is one of the new Knights and said it is one of the few ministries or groups at St. Bernadette with participation by both Anglos and Hispanics.
“I think it’s a really good group. It’s going to help raise funds for the church,” he said.
“I just invite whoever wants to join.”
Younger men in leadership
Parishioner Leonard Draper was raised Catholic in Louisiana where he received the sacraments and attended Catholic school for a while.
He first moved to Cedartown, northwest of Atlanta, in 2000 and was attending another church until three years ago.
“I had become inactive in the Catholic Church. I heard that call ‘Catholics Come Home,’ so I came home,” said Draper.
A carpenter by trade, Draper met with Father Gallagher, who was very helpful.
Not only was Draper’s faith reborn, but he jokes that a Knight was born, too.
Draper had wanted to be a Knight of Columbus since he was a young man.
Several inactive Knights, who were once members at other parishes, will also join the endeavor.
The Knights of Columbus, founded in 1882 by Father Michael McGivney in Connecticut, is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization with 1.9 million members. There are more than 110 councils in Georgia.
“I began to talk with some of the leaders of the men’s group, mainly Ely Elefante, who is the president, and some of the Knights who were inactive and everyone thought it was a good idea,” said Draper.
While he refers to himself as a “go-to guy” at the parish, he knows the energy of the younger men is key for leadership roles.
“You give him something to do and he’s wide open,” said Draper about Elefante.
The two men, joined by parishioner Miguel Leal, met with KOC District 18 Deputy Rich Parcels about how to proceed.
Draper likened the process, which was roughly nine months in length, to a woman having a baby.
“Now, we’ve had the baby,” he said.
First fish fry
The Knights inducting the Cedartown members were impressed at the level of interest, saying that’s not typically seen even at larger parishes.
Draper said the June ceremony was touching, and each new Knight received a cross and rosary.
“One of the most important things is the fellowship it’s brought,” said Draper.
“It’s going to help us be closer and better Catholics to our Hispanic friends. Naturally, we’re all God’s people,” he said.
Draper said the first fish fry was very successful with tickets sold to the general public. It was a way for non-Catholic members of the community to come and learn more about the parish.
“You don’t have to be Catholic to eat our fish,” he said.
It was wonderful to see the camaraderie of the Knights manning deep fryers in sweltering summer heat with a joint goal of raising funds.
“It was very successful. It’s all going to go back into the church.”
The timing of the council forming is perfect, said Draper as a parish committee begins to explore a building campaign for a new church.
“I feel so blessed that I came back into the church,” said Draper.
Father Gallagher called the addition of a bilingual KOC council to the parish a huge step in breaking barriers.
“A lot of things are coming together because people are coming together first,” he said.