Columbian Squires build faith of young men

By Enedelia J. Obregón
Senior Correspondent

What does a Columbian Squire want to be when he turns 18? A Knight of Columbus.
At St. Michael the Archangel Circle 5022 at St. Paul Chong Hasang Parish in Harker Heights, that seems to be the consensus among the 31 youth. If so, then KC Council 9930 is succeeding in preparing the next generation of Catholic men and hopefully, knights as well.
The circle has remained active since it was founded nine years ago by Knights Larry Prather and Chuck Schnapp. The only other circle in the Diocese of Austin is at San José Parish in Austin. There are 102 circles in Texas and 1,500 world-wide.
The secret to success at St. Paul Chong Hasang is pretty simple. 
“We have enough knights,” said Ed Repetski, a retired Army Lt. Col. who is lead counselor for the circle. “So many circles struggle with just one man, but for 13 it’s not much work.”
One state recommendation suggests that unless four Knights are willing to serve as leaders, “don’t even try it,” Repetski said. The counselors –– as adult leaders are called –– all must undergo criminal background checks and attend diocesan Ethics and Integrity in Ministry trainings.
The Columbian Squires is the official youth organization of the Knights of Columbus. The Squires program is open to young men ages 10 to 18 and is designed to promote the Catholic faith, service to others, leadership training and moral guidance. The program was founded in 1925 in Duluth, Minn.
The boys are very active with sports and take trips to places such as water parks. They also do many spiritual activities, such as adoration and praying the rosary.
Their favorite activity, though, involves their pastor, said Cameron Howard, 13. They enjoy the annual overnight campout with Sacred Heart Father Richard O’Rourke.
“We have midnight Mass and go to confession outside,” Howard said.
That active support from the pastor is integral to success, Repetski said. 
Father O’Rourke has attended every spring campout. He celebrates midnight Mass and vests himself while explaining the meaning of each garment. He also brings fellow priests from the Killeen/Fort Hood area –– including chaplains wearing camouflage uniforms –– and offers the sacrament of reconciliation outdoors. 
As do Cub and Boy Scouts, they have activities that allow them to advance in rank. Boys begin at the Page level and advance to Shield Bearer, Swordsman, Lancer and Squire of the Body of Christ.
Circle 5022 has bragging rights on having the very first Squire of the Body of Christ in the world. Deriek Iglesias, now at Tarleton State University and a member of the Knights of Columbus, achieved that rank in 2009. He is a popular speaker among the Squires and returns regularly to circle.
Because the parish has so many military families, retaining boys and their dads can be a challenge. Parents get transferred, and boys also age out.
Jeremy Candelas, who turned 18 in December, is one of those aging out. He is chief squire at his circle and chief burser squire at the state level.
He was an altar server –– as are many boys in the circle –– who first volunteered in the membership committee. Schnapp, who oversees the altar servers, encourages the boys to join the circle.
“I was shy, but serving on membership really helped me open up,” Candelas said. “I had to learn to interact and make friends.”
Service is an important component as well. Howard, who joined at 10, fondly recalls Operation Bible Puppets they presented to the younger children in religious education.
Joseph Flores, 14, joined two years ago and found a brotherhood he hasn’t found elsewhere.
“I have this whole group I can talk to about anything,” said Flores, who heads the membership committee.
“All these people here –– we have a support group we can count on no matter what,” Candelas said. 
The members are highly visible in their bright yellow shirts with the emblem and motto Esto Dignus, which means “Be Worthy.”
Worthy of what? “Of the promises of Christ,” they reply.
Every second Sunday, they bring the gifts to the altar dressed in their uniforms.
“That visual is very important,” Flores said. “Kids see us. It says ‘This is who we are.’”
Joe Johnson will be 18 in March and has been a member for the last year. The home-schooled senior was looking for companionship and joined of his own accord.
“I found it here,” he said.
The boys support each other’s faith, sometimes without realizing it.
Howard said he wanted to attend the University of Georgia someday because they have a good finance department, an area of study in which he is interested. Plus, he likes bulldogs. The bulldog is the Georgia mascot.
Johnson said after looking at several universities –– including Rice in Houston –– he chose Texas A&M.
“I decided that academics is not the only factor,” Johnson said. “The environment at A&M is friendly to my faith and beliefs.”
“Maybe I need to think about that, too,” Howard replied.
That type of peer support can only happen if there are enough adult Knights dedicated to helping mold good Catholic youth who will one day be good Catholic men, no matter their vocation, Prather said. While the KCs are known for supporting vocations to the priesthood, it matters more to help the young men maintain their Catholicity.
“It doesn’t matter if they are called to priesthood, religious life, married life or single life,” he said. “Young men are being pulled away from the church and God.”
Prather and Schnapp started the circle as new arrivals to the area. Both are Ohio natives –– Prather from Cuyahoga Falls and Schnapp from Toledo. When the KC council decided to start a Squire Circle, the two volunteered.
Prather admires the dedication of the adult leadership –– some of whom are active military. He prays more knights will consider dedicating themselves to cultivating Catholic men.
Since they started the first circle in Texas, 300 circles have been dissolved.
“Jesus didn’t say, ‘send the children away,’” Prather said. “He said ‘let the children come to me.’ As a church, we need to do that.”
St. Paul Chong Hasang Parish will host the state mid-year Squires meeting Jan. 18-19 weekend and the parish will host the state convention in June. For information on the Columbian Squires, visit www.kofc.org/en/squires/index.html.

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