By Diane Freeby
SOUTH BEND — “I think you get closer to God by becoming a Knight!”
If anyone would know from experience, it would be Sir Knight Thomas Lesniak, one of the two men recently honored with the Fourth Degree Exemplification for the Knights of Columbus, Father J.A. Nieuwland Assembly No. 242.
The energetic 92-year-old Lesniak has been a Knight since age 18 and has been an active member of the Ave Maria Council No. 5521 in South Bend.
Sir Knight Father Joseph Browne, a Holy Cross priest who has been a Knight for 63 years, concelebrated the Exemplification Mass with Sir Knight Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades on a warm August evening at St. Patrick Church in South Bend.
An exemplification is the ceremony that inducts 3rd Degree members of the Knights of Columbus into the 4th Degree. This will be first exemplification to take place in South Bend since 2004.
In his homily, Bishop Rhoades talked about Knights of Columbus founder, Father Michael McGivney, and his humble priestly service. Father McGivney dedicated his life to the spiritual and physical welfare of others, creating the Knights of Columbus to provide insurance for the protection of widows and orphans, and the spiritual benefit of its members and families.
Bishop Rhoades noted the legacy continues today, with a growing number of schools, medical centers and social service agencies named for Father McGivney. In addition, the Knights of Columbus insures the lives of more than 1.2 million men, women and children. Bishop Rhoades implored his fellow Knights to resist the temptation to boast.
“May all we do as Knights be done with a humble spirit,” said Bishop Rhoades. “That was the way of Father McGivney. That was the way of the Son of God, who humbled Himself in assuming our human nature. … Jesus turns the world’s values upside down. All we do, including the good works of the Knights of Columbus, should not be for earthly praise or honor. All we do should be for the glory of God and the good of His Church.”
Bishop Rhoades thanked the Knights for their support in the Church’s mission.
“I am particularly grateful for your devoted service to the Gospel of Life, and your involvement in the pro-life cause,” continued Bishop Rhoades. “Your support of marriage and family as instituted by God from the beginning … and your support of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life.”
Father McGivney was known to be a strong supporter of priestly and religious vocations among his parishioners. He had two brothers who also became priests.
“We need to rekindle within families today that spirit which recognizes priestly or religious vocations as a true blessing,” added Bishop Rhoades.
A dinner followed Mass, and the Exemplification itself took place the next day.
“I’ve been a Knight for over 60 years, and I’ve had some honors, but I think this one tops them all,” reflected Father Browne. He believes the Knights of Columbus unites Catholic men with their Church.
“I think for Catholic men, it’s the epitome of the Church,” explained Father Browne, referring to the work and spirit of the Church. “For the principles of the order: unity, fraternity, patriotism and charity… charity being the primary one. I think the Knights of Columbus show that throughout the country and throughout the world now.”
Lesniak could hardly contain his excitement on the eve of his Fourth Degree Exemplification.
“It’s beyond my comprehension,” he exclaimed. It’s so great!”
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