Struggle to organize pays off
CAMP KINSER, Okinawa — Okinawa is a long way from Connecticut.
But in the 125 years since it was founded in New Haven, the Knights of Columbus has come a long way, too — all the way to Japan’s southerly, subtropical island.
With 1.7 million members and councils in 16 countries, the fraternal organization works to support the Catholic Church and communities.
Due to the usual comings and goings of servicemembers, establishing one within the military community here hasn’t been easy, said Okinawa grand knight and council founder Harry J. Thomas.
In 2002, he began working to establish the Father Charles E. Bantle Council No. 13945. It was finally recognized when it received its charter from the organization’s Supreme Council in December 2005.
Before the council could be chartered, it had to have at least 50 members, comply with international charter bylaws, and demonstrate what the Knights of Columbus are about — charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism.
With servicemembers constantly deploying, training and leaving for new assignments, “it makes membership difficult,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Nicholas Peters, a member.
“Just getting all the members together in one place” isn’t easy, either, and for the same reasons, he said.
Membership fluctuates and has gone as high as about 100, he said. Currently there are 65 members but that is expected to rise to 75 by the end of this month with servicemember transfers to Okinawa.
Another difficulty the council faces is the distance from the Supreme Council, Thomas said. Like the military, the organization has a chain-of-command and communicating with superiors far away can be a lengthy process, Thomas said.
But the hard work has been worth it, he said.
One achievement he said he’s proud of was the council’s ability to supply much-needed food, clothing, cooking utensils and other items to victims in Southeast Asia after the 2004 tsunami and the 2006 mudslides in the Philippines.
The council also sends care packages, as well as rosaries and other religious material to servicemembers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, Peters said.
They help out a lot closer to home, too. The council sponsors monthly outreach dinners for single and unaccompanied personnel, regardless of their religion, Peters said.
“We just do it because it’s good for them,” Thomas said. “They are leaving home for the first time, and it’s just wonderful for them to get a home-cooked meal.”