Knights of Columbus provide vital support
Seminarians rely on financial help for extra expenses
Supporting vocations to the priesthood and religious life has long been a focus of the Knights of Columbus.
Through its Vocations Support Program, the Knights provide much-needed financial and spiritual support to all of those in the seminary.
“It’s just such a good bond all the way around,” said Father Joseph Mele, rector of St. Paul Seminary in Crafton. “Both groups are committed to so many of the same values and virtues.”
The goal of the program is to have at least two participating councils, assemblies or squire circles sponsor each seminarian at a minimum of $500 per year. Some councils assist as many as four seminarians a year at various levels of support.
The Diocese of Pittsburgh includes the Pittsburgh, Beaver Valley and Mon Valley chapters, as well as a number of independent councils. Fourth Degree Assemblies and Squire Circles (youth) also are sponsors. Of these, a total of 91 units sponsor seminarians.
Presently, 40 seminarians receive financial support. Three others who entered St. Paul Seminary this month will soon be added to the rolls.
Father Joseph Freedy, director of vocations for the diocese, received support as a seminarian.
“The support of the Knights gave me (monetarily and spiritually), more than anything else, stirred up in my heart a desire to give to the people of God the graces that the Lord was going to give to me through the gift of priesthood, not because of any merit of mine or because I had earned it, but simply because of the Lord’s generosity,” he said. “Experiencing their support, prayers and generosity inspired me with a deep desire to give back as generously as I had received.”
The support has the same effect on men who are in the seminary now, he said.
The Vocations Support Program is directed by Joseph Cummings, a former state deputy for the Knights who was appointed to the seminary advisory board by Bishop Donald Wuerl in 1998.
“We adopt these young men,” said Cummings, who pointed out that the seminarians become involved with the councils and the schools that they support.
Cummings said the councils want to do more than just hand the seminarians a check. They want the men to know that they support them in all areas of their formation.
He likes to state: “Remember, the seminarian you support today is the pastor you can deal with tomorrow.”
Father Bill Dorner, pastor of St. Gregory in Zelienople, has fond memories of the bond he formed with the Knights.
“It was good to know that I could count on them for the prayers and the financial support that was necessary at the time,” he said.
While the diocese provides the necessities for the seminarians, Father Mele said the support of the Knights provides funds for basic extras such as entertainment, extra books, etc.
The Knights have the option of supporting seminarians through the Supreme Council’s “RSVP” (Refund Support Vocations) Program, which refunds $100 for every $500 given to assist individual seminarians.
It is suggested that the seminarians receive checks monthly, along with a note of encouragement.
The Pennsylvania State Council also donates an average of $1,000 per year to each diocese to help in vocation efforts. The money comes through its label program.
The councils also are encouraged to team up with parish vocation programs and to “share” their seminarian with grade schools and religious education programs within their territory.
Cummings has headed the program almost exclusively since 1998. The late Joseph Yourish held the post briefly, but Cummings returned to it following Yourish’s death last year.
Cummings, however, is now assisted by three chapter directors — Frank Peduto in Pittsburgh, Ray Abels in the Beaver Valley and Stan Glowaski in the Mon Valley.
“We try to nurture them up from seminarians until they are ordained, so this is a very important mission for us,” Peduto said.
There are many encounters with pastors and priests, he noted, in which the clergy express their gratitude for the help they have received. He also spoke of the joy the Knights have in meeting the seminarians at various functions, particularly holy hours.
“It’s extremely uplifting,” he said. “The enthusiasm that they show. It rubs off on us.”
Seminarian Dan Gallagher, who attends the North American College in Rome, spent the past Christmas season in Moscow working with the Missionaries of Charity. He traveled there with Father Christopher Donley, a priest of the diocese who was ordained last June.
“It was a very powerful experience, and one that would not be possible without the financial support of the Knights,” Gallagher said.
Father Mele, Father Freedy and Father Ben Vaghetto, spiritual director at St. Paul Seminary, are all members of the Knights of Columbus.
The bond between the seminary and the Knights will grow even more when as many as 15 seminarians will take their first degree later this month.