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'We must build up the body of Christ'

Knights of Columbus councils growing, making a difference in Miami Archdiocese

Monday, November 19, 2012
Tom Tracy - Florida Catholic

At a Knights of Columbus Flag Day awards ceremony last May, from left: Christina Cruz, principal of Somerset Academy of Homestead, Geraldo Torres, Color Corps Commander from Leisure City, Tom Metro, Grand Knight of Council 4998, and Chuck Roessner pose with the children from Somerset Academy who received $50 checks for writing winning essays in a knight-sponsored contest.

This article is part of an ongoing series about papal and chivalric orders active in the archdiocese

Knight of Columbus Kevin Corke from St. Louis Parish stands guard at the funeral for Miami Auxiliary Bishop Gilberto Fernandez in 2011.
FORT LAUDERDALE | Even after 12 years of Catholic education — at St. Coleman School in Pompano Beach and Cardinal Gibbons High School in Fort Lauderdale — Aaron Palazollo didn’t think about his faith traditions. Until he had children, that is. 

Now 38 and a project coordinator for the South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association, Palazzolo was challenged by his daughter on the meaning of life and God. That dialogue, along with a challenging career transition during the economic downturn, sent him looking for a connection to the faith of his childhood.

“Having kids made me realize that I was being remiss about God, and during the recession I found solace when I returned to church,” Palazzolo said, adding that having remembered the Knights of Columbus from his youth, “I sought them out.”

Not only did Palazzolo join Knights of Columbus Council 8838 — serving several parishes in Coral Springs and Parkland — he so impressed the older knights with his energy and enthusiasm that they honored him with the council’s “Shining Armor Award” for a stellar first year in the order.

Part of that recognition owed to Palazzolo’s role in assisting state Wheelchair Fund Chairman Lou Cimaglia Jr. in Coral Springs with bringing donated wheelchairs to local recipients through a new relationship with Catholic Health Service's campus in Lauderdale Lakes.

More custom-sized wheelchairs are on order for area handicapped residents as part of a general thrust of the Knights of Columbus statewide. A local TV news crew is filming a segment about the project.

“The founding guys who started this council 28 years ago are really solid and some still very active; they are good stewards of the counsel they built, and they realize the need to pass it along to younger guys like ourselves,” Palazzolo said of Council 8838, which includes the parishes of St. Andrew, Mary Help of Christians and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in northwest Broward County.

“Being able to pull from a larger (territory) we have found some really great guys. Some are also prominent within the area, which helps us to get (civic) support for our projects. It helps to have some accomplished men.”

From this council alone come the State Council’s charities chair, the state ceremonies chair and the state wheelchair fund chair.

Like a national college fraternity with regional chapters, no two councils of the Knights of Columbus in the archdiocese are exactly alike. But they have a common ancestry and a common vision — that of the Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney, the son of Irish immigrants and a parish priest in New Haven, Conn., whose cause for sainthood is being investigated by the Vatican.

The Knights of Columbus was formed in 1882 to render financial aid to members and their families, as well as to the sick, disabled and needy members of Catholic families at a time of virulent anti-Catholicism. Social and intellectual fellowship was promoted among members and their families through educational, charitable, religious, social welfare, war relief and public relief works.

Today, the order is proud of its service to the Church, its charitable works, its support of the U.S. military, pro-life causes, its member insurance program and assistance with church building loans, among other things. In the last fiscal year, the order gave over $158 million directly to charity and performed over 70 million volunteer hours of service. Sixty percent of the contributions were for projects at the community level.

In the archdiocese, there are an estimated 15,000 members with some 50,000 members statewide. Of those, 10,000 are part of the patriotic Fourth Degree — often seen wearing their black tuxedos, baldric, white gloves, cape and a naval chapeau.

“I enjoy working together to raise the money and then giving it away to needy groups,” said John O’Toole, the State Ceremonials director and director of the order’s Exemplar Team for the Fourth Degree. O’Toole said he recently facilitated an initiation meeting and Mass for new Miami-area Fourth Degree members at St. Richard Parish in Palmetto Bay.

“I joined the knights because I have four sons and the knights supported a Boy Scouts troop; I became involved that way through coaching Little League baseball,” he said, adding that today he is also an extraordinary minister of holy Communion and a lector in Coral Springs. A recent “K of C” fundraising dinner there supported the parish religious education program, while other activities have benefited pro-life causes, children with diabetes, the handicapped and needy mothers.

To attract newer members, one local council set up an impressive array of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more. They also encourage members to stay in touch through email and newsletters, according to 22-year member Joseph Scerbo, Grand Knight of Council 3080 in Oakland Park and a member of St. Pius X Parish in Fort Lauderdale.

Scerbo and his wife, Barbara, were recognized with the knights’ Family of the Year Award in Florida last year.

“There hasn’t been enough recognition worldwide about the knights when you consider the work that is done globally for the benefit of mankind,” Scerbo said. “We have a 100-plus-year-old organization and it is now time to focus on promoting our activities and our faith.”

Council 3080 includes 127 members but still seeks fresh faces to sustain the council going forward, he added. “We are getting some young men but not enough. That is the situation in almost every organization — the challenge of getting young people to make a commitment to service,” he said.

This year, through the annual Tootsie Roll fundraising project, the council is contributing to the Schott Communities 
for Persons Who Are Deaf or Disabled in Fort Lauderdale and The Ann Storck Center, which serves children and adults with developmental disabilities.

“Hopefully, youth will look to the Knights of Columbus as a means of personal fulfillment and make that commitment to join in the fellowship,” Scerbo said.

In Homestead, the State Council’s annual Run4Life coordinator and a former District Deputy and Past Grand Knight, Chuck Roessner, has traveled the state and seen how the knights have helped the Church in Florida grow rapidly. More parishes have their own councils, some set up specifically to welcome Spanish or Haitian Creole-speaking men.

“We grow five to 10 councils a year in Florida,” said Roessner, a 27-year member who in 1984 followed his father’s footsteps into the order. He belongs to the Bishop Gilberto Fernandez Council 4998 in Homestead — newly renamed in honor of the deceased Miami auxiliary bishop who was a former pastor in Homestead.

“We did two activities this year with Habitat for Humanity and we are very involved with youth through our flag day, spelling bees, an Easter egg hunt, a Labor Day picnic, St. Patrick’s Day dinner, and a monthly potluck dinner and pancake breakfast,” Roessner said.

He encourages brother knights to support the order’s life insurance program, which in turn funds charities. “We are putting their money back into the order and the Church,” he said. “We couldn’t give that just through our council dues.”

The order’s growth in Florida comes in part from the Hispanic Catholic population, including a reservoir of one million Spanish-speaking Catholic men estimated to live in Florida, according to Lorenzo Rodriguez, a member of St. Kevin Parish in Miami who heads up the State Multicultural Membership Growth. The order has had a well-organized outreach to Latinos.

“In the last three years or so we have added 10 new Spanish-speaking councils in different parishes statewide,” Rodriquez said.

New or reactivated councils in the archdiocese can be found at St. Dominic Parish in Miami; Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Doral; St. Raymond Parish in Miami; St. Monica Parish in Miami Gardens; and St. Joseph Parish in Miami Beach, as well as at St. Michael the Archangel and at St. Agatha parishes in Miami.

For information about the Florida State Council of the Knights of Columbus, go to 

For information about the statewide Run4Life coming up in January, go to www.kcrunforlife.com.
“We are also now working with San Lazaro Parish in Hialeah and we created a new Fourth Degree Assembly at Mother of Christ Church on Coral Way named after the late Auxiliary Bishop Agustin Roman,” Rodriquez said. 

“The goal is to organize a group in every parish to serve the community of faith and assist the pastor and the projects of the Knights of Columbus.”

Although Latin Americans here may have been unfamiliar with the order in their home countries, “most Spanish-speaking Catholics in Florida were immigrants; the order was really started for immigrants so the new immigrants can relate to Father McGivney's goals,” Rodriquez said.

The idea is to make it a very multicultural group in Florida including Filipino, Chinese and Haitian-American Catholics in the Miami region, he added.

Potential members may resist making new commitments that would take up  their free time, but members say the order can appeal to those who see other men pray on a consistent basis, do projects in support of the Church and their pastors, work together, and stand for values of charity and community service framed by their faith traditions.

“Councils make it a habit of getting members to pray the rosary and that builds a tradition that we must always pray,” Rodriguez said. “As you get into the habit of praying a conviction forms that prayer does work. We must build up the body of Christ by having an organization that attracts them and gets them involved.”