Chicago has only Knights’ councils for police, fire, paramedics

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Members of Knights of Columbus St. Michael the Archangel, Patron of Police, Council 12173 line up during a Blue Mass for fallen police officers at Resurrection Parish, 3043 N. Francisco Ave., on Aug. 2, 2015. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

There are more than 15,000 local Knights of Columbus councils worldwide. In that group, there is one council dedicated to serving members of the law enforcement community, and one for firefighters and paramedics.

Both of them are based in Chicago, and both started around 2000.

The need for dedicated councils for police and firemen “should be kind of obvious,” said Michael Schumacher, who was the first grand knight of the police council — St. Michael the Archangel, Patron of Police, Council 12173.

Law enforcement officers and firefighters have jobs in which they are called on to give of themselves in ways most people aren’t, and both must witness horrific things.

“We have a unique occupation that puts people in kind of tight scrapes,” Schumacher said.

Father Dan Brandt, a full-time Chicago Police chaplain, serves as chaplain of the Knights of Columbus council.

“Policemen can become very jaded and cynical over the years because of what they see in the tour of duty,” he said. “The officer doesn’t want to go back to the spouse with what they’ve seen that day. A lot of these folks don’t want to take their work home with them. This gives them the fraternity with other people who understand. They have a safe place, a healthy outlet, to be with each other, to pray with one another and to work together towards a common good.”

After the police council was started in 1998, firefighters asked if they could join. Instead, members of the police council worked with Chicago Fire Department chaplain Father Tom Mulcrone to start their own council in 2001.

Dennis Fitzgerald, the current grand knight of the police council, said that it’s unusual enough that when they gave a Chicago Police uniform to Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, it was put on display at the Knights of Columbus museum at the organization’s headquarters in New Haven, Connecticut.

Police members are not all Chicago police officers. Some of the 155 members come from suburban departments, and some work for county, state or federal law enforcement agencies.

“The biggest challenge is getting the word out,” said Fitzgerald, a retired Chicago Police detective.

Mike Centracchio, the grand knight of St. Florian Council 12911, said his group’s 47 members mostly come from the Chicago area. The council accepts firefighters and paramedics from all over the United States, although meetings and other activities are generally at Holy Family Parish, 1080 W. Roosevelt Road.

In many ways, the police and fire Knights of Columbus councils function like any other. They have regular meetings, they socialize, they raise money for charity and they perform acts of service.

The fire council has collected supplies to send to troops serving overseas, Centracchio said, and put members’ construction skills to good use by building a food pantry at Holy Family.

Their main charity is St. Mary of Providence, a residence and school for people with developmental disabilities at 4200 N. Austin.

“We have taken care of them quite regularly,” Centracchio said, including buying gifts for the residents at Christmas.

“The police council starts and ends every meeting with prayer,” Brandt said, which helps keep members focused on their spiritual lives.

This summer, the council hosted a golf outing in memory of Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer, a member of the council, who was killed in the line of duty. 

The police council concentrates many of its efforts on Blair Early Childhood Center, a special education school run by the Chicago Public Schools. The knights work with some of the many other charitable organizations within the police department to collect Christmas gifts for the children there, and then they wrap them and visit with Santa Claus to deliver them.

It’s a little more complicated than some other efforts to adopt a school at Christmas, because the knights must work with the teachers to find out what kinds of gifts would be appropriate for their students, many of whom have multiple disabilities, and set up the distribution in ways that respect the students’ comfort.

“Some of the kids can’t be around a lot of people at once, so we bring them in a few at a time,” Schumacher explained. “But they really light up.”


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