Category Archives: Knights of Columbus

Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family: 20 years later


Celebrating 20 years, the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family seeks to transform and renew society


By Alton J. Pelowski


In 1987, Cardinal James Hickey of Washington, D.C., and Past Supreme Knight Virgil C. Dechant requested permission from the Vatican to establish an English-language campus, or session, of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C. Permission was granted, and thanks to financial and administrative support from the Knights of Columbus, the Institute’s North American presence began the following year.

            Since that time, graduates have gone on to work in a variety of occupations and ministries. Many are employed in dioceses and parishes as directors of family life or religious education, while others are teachers at Catholic high schools or seminaries. Still others integrate their education into fields such as law, medicine and public policy work. Additionally, a number of books and resources on John Paul II’s theology of the body and related topics have been published in recent years, many by Institute faculty and alumni.

            Today, after 20 years of steadfast support from the Knights of Columbus and with a new home on the campus of The Catholic University of America (CUA), the Pontifical John Paul II Institute continues to grow and remains faithful to its mission.


Back to Basics


The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family was initially founded at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome in response to the 1980 synod of bishops, which focused on the family. Yet, there is no doubt that John Paul II believed that issues related to marriage and family are of the utmost importance. Throughout his pontificate, he often repeated the words of his 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World): “The future of humanity passes by way of the family” (86).        

            It is appropriate that the Institute bears John Paul II’s name, for the core content
john paul ii coat of arms.pngof its studies consists of the late pope’s vision of what it means to be a human being, created in the image and likeness of God. In addressing cultural confusion about human sexuality and human dignity from this broad perspective, the Institute is not concerned with simply debating moral norms or sexual ethics. “Rather, we need to recover the very concept of morality and why it’s important for the human being — why it liberates and doesn’t oppress,” explained Dr. David L. Schindler, provost and dean of the Institute’s Washington session. “We are faced,” he continued, “with a crisis of foundations and first principles.”      

            In a 2001 address to the Institute, John Paul II said that when people forget the principle of man’s creation, “the perception of the singular dignity of the human person is lost and the way is open for an invasive ‘culture of death.'” In other words, the theological and philosophical tenets of the Institute have enormous practical import, as they pertain to a person’s most basic understanding of himself and his relationship to the world.  

            Drawing on Scripture, sacred tradition and human experience, Pope John Paul II taught that the meaning of human life is ultimately revealed in Jesus Christ and rooted in the very nature of God as a Trinitarian communion of persons. Ultimately, he explained, a person can only be understood in light of one’s vocation to love. Moreover, a person’s identity as male or female — and as mother, father or child — are not merely accidents of biology or the result of “private” decisions.

            “We are not abstract agents of choice and intelligence, as the modern world believes,” explained Schindler, who is a member of Potomac Council 433 in Washington, D.C. “Concretely, every human being is born as a child.” From this perspective, marriage and family are seen as central to understanding reality itself, and a major task of students at the Institute is to examine basic assumptions about human existence — assumptions about truth, freedom, the body, nature, grace and even technology.        

            “I was very pleased to discover the Institute was a very serious theological program, and at the same time, that seriousness is essential to evangelization,” said Pavel Reid, who was sent by the Archdiocese of Vancouver to study at the Institute in 2003. While working as the director of the Office of Life and Family, and testifying on behalf of the archdiocese about emerging political issues such as same-sex marriage, human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research, Reid recognized the need for a more adequate response.

            “Before, I didn’t even know what questions to ask, but the professors were able to show us whole new levels of questioning,” he said. “There’s so much greater depth to the Church’s teaching and answers to contemporary problems than people realize.”

            Reid has since worked as the director of young adult ministry for the Archdiocese of Military Services, USA, and is now a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Vancouver. A member of Coquitlam (B.C.) [Knights of Columbus] Council 5540, he encourages Knights not only to pray for the students and faculty of the Institute, but also to learn about and promote the Church’s wisdom.


Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger addresses the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 1990. Audience members include Past Supreme Knight Virgil C. Dechant (second from left).


The New Evangelization


“The Institute is really at the forefront of the new evangelization,” affirmed Father Brian Bransfield, who in September was named the executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Evangelization and Catechesis. “They really capture all the ingredients of what is required to form a culture of life through a civilization of love.”

            A priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Father Bransfield taught at a Catholic high school before receiving both licentiate (S.T.L.) and doctorate (S.T.D.) degrees in sacred theology from the Institute. Following his graduation in 2005, he taught moral theology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. “When I would teach the categories of John Paul II, it spoke both to the heart and to the mind of the students,” he said. “They don’t know whether to take notes or just listen. It forms their memory, and they are on fire to bring this to other people.”

            Although the depth of the writings of John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and others who have articulated the Church’s vision of the human person can be intimidating, Father Bransfield encourages his fellow priests and catechists to “go to the original sources and persevere.” It is important, he said, to take advantage of the numerous opportunities in the Church to share a truly Christian anthropology, such as in homilies, small faith groups, parish workshops and marriage preparation. “It’s a response to the culture on so many levels. It’s not an option.”

            People find John Paul II’s insights attractive because they are logical and concrete, added Father Bransfield. When the teaching is grasped, it is “life changing and transformative,” he said.

            The role of the Institute in furthering the new evangelization, in other words, goes much deeper than simply learning and repeating facts or arguments. Rather, its goal is to provide “education and formation at the most fundamental level,” Schindler explained.      

            Since a primary focus is on vocation and mission, rooted in one’s baptismal call, the Institute’s faculty is careful not to put undue importance on graduates’ occupations. “One of the main purposes of the education here is realized when people actually get married and have good families,” said Schindler.

            “It’s not just a matter of getting the word out,” said Lisa Lickona, who pursued both master’s in theological studies (M.T.S.) and licentiate degrees from the Institute from 1991-1998. “The most significant thing is for people to embrace the Church’s teaching and live in such a way that compels others to ask, ‘What is making these people so happy?'”         

            With a love for theology, Lickona initially planned to teach higher education, but over the years, her goals changed. “I came to see that the work that would be most integral to the formation of my personality was first and foremost my work as a mother,” she said.     

            Today, Lickona lives on a small farm in McGraw, N.Y., with her husband and seven children. Although she still writes and speaks at various conferences, she sees that work as secondary. “To give myself to my family is precisely my vocation and precisely what God wants for me right now.”    

            Sister M. Maximilia Um, of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, said studying at the Institute helped her to see the world differently and better understand her own vocation. “It instilled in me a radically new way of looking at all aspects of life with an attitude of contemplation,” she said. “I understand more profoundly that, before doing something, I am called to be someone before God,” added Sister Maximilia, who went on to receive a degree in Canon Law from CUA after graduating from the Institute in 2005. She now serves as the defender of the bond on the marriage tribunal for the Diocese of Springfield, Ill.       


 ‘A Dream Come True’


In recent years, the Institute has seen considerable growth. Today, there are nearly 100 students enrolled at the Washington session, and many of the 318 alumni have graduated within the past five years. A Ph.D. program was added in 2004 and a master’s with a specialization in biotechnology and ethics was launched last year.

            Internationally, the Pontifical John Paul II Institute is now also present in Mexico, Spain, Brazil, Benin, India and Australia, and there is interest in developing new sessions in several other countries. Indeed, it was the wish of John Paul II that the Institute would be present in every major language area.

            Throughout the Institute’s brief history, the Knights of Columbus has been close at
KofC.jpghand. The Order provides financial support and scholarships to the Washington session, and Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson, the founding dean, continues to serve as its vice president. Most recently, the Institute received a new home on the CUA campus thanks to a donation from the Supreme Council. The building, renovated and renamed McGivney Hall after the Order’s founder, was blessed and dedicated Sept. 8. Before reading the statement of dedication, Vincentian Father David O’Connell, president of CUA, shared a word of gratitude with the Knights, saying “Today is a dream come true, and I thank you.”

            Prior to the dedication, representatives and friends of the Institute, the Knights and CUA gathered for Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in celebration of the Institute’s 20th anniversary and the beginning of a new academic year. Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, vice chancellor of the Institute, observed in his homily, “This institute stands in the midst of our society and culture as the voice of the Catholic Church and offers an alternative to the failed vision of the secular world.”

            In the face of many cultural challenges, the faculty, students and friends of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family face the future with a message of great hope.


Alton J. Pelowski is managing editor of Columbia and a 2006 graduate (M.T.S.) of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America.


This article originally appeared in the November 2008 issue of Columbia magazine and is reprinted here with permission.

New booklets from Catholic Information Service

I am happy to let you know of some recently published booklets concerning Catholic faith and Catholic life. These booklets reflect some of the work I did when I worked at the Catholic Information Service (CIS) at the Knights of Columbus. The booklets are free but you are asked to cover postage. You can email Michele at or call the CIS at 203-752-4267. Mention that you saw this ad on the Communio blog and that Paul Z. sent you.


Saint Benedict for Busy Parents


cis 327.JPGSaint Benedict for Busy Parents
communicates the beautiful depth of the Rule of Saint Benedict to busy parents to help them in their vocation as mothers and fathers. Part of every parent’s responsibility is to teach the child about life and the faith. While the principles of the Rule of Saint Benedict is most often applied to those living in monasteries, the same principles provide a basic framework of practical spirituality for busy parents, indeed,, for all Christians in every age. Father Dwight Longenecker’s experience as a parent, priest, Benedictine Oblate and teacher shows the reader that God is at work to bring us to the abundant and full life that He promises to each of his sons and daughters.


Facing Relativism and the Challenge of Truth


cis 331.JPGDr. Donald DeMarco wrote Facing Relativism and the Challenge of Truth,  to examine the philosophy of relativism and the nature of Truth, putting them in their proper order. He shows how “unworkable on a practical level and creates immense and unnecessary stumbling blocks in the path of education, democracy, and the implementation of the natural law. In fact, it contributes, significantly, to the Culture of Death.” Among the various philosophers and theologians he discusses, DeMarco uses Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s insight to shed light on this subject.




Understanding Stem Cell Research: Controversy and Promise


cis326.JPGDominican Father Nicanor Austriaco, a Professor of Biology at Providence College, presents Understanding Stem Cell Research: Controversy and Promise in which he clearly deals with the controversial yet optimistic topic of stem cell research. The objective of this booklet is to outline the reasons for hope and promise in the stem cell research and the reasons of great concern, indeed, the immorality of human embryonic stem cell research. Father Austriaco expounds on why the Church is not opposed to all forms of stem cell research but is opposed to human embryonic stem research because it “attacks and undermines the dignity of the human person….” This booklet is intelligent, accessible and well-worth the time to read in order to clearly understand a significant moral question of our era.



What Catholics Should Know About Islam


cis317.JPGProvidence College Professor of Theology,  Dr. Sandra T. Keating, authored What Catholics Should Know About Islam. to help non-Muslims develop a basic overview of the origins of the religion of Islam and its early history. What this booklet offers the reader is a discussion on the central beliefs and practices of Muslims. Keating contextualizes her writing in recent statements made by the Roman Catholic Church concerning its relationship to Islam. The author puts forward what she understands to be fundamental in Islamic belief in contrast to Catholic doctrine.



The Child: Begotten, Not Manmade: Catholic Teaching on In Vitro Fertilization


cis 330.JPGKathleen Curran Sweeney examines the realities of the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process in The Child: Begotten, Not Manmade: Catholic Teaching on In Vitro Fertilization. The author takes the reader through the moral, theological and human issues, and the controversy that surround IVF. One can neither debate the pain of infertile couples who desire a child of their own nor resist the feelings of empathy for those who can’t bear children. The teaching of the Church is presented here in a clear fashion while reminding us of the need to respond with compassionate love.




For more than 60 years the Knights Columbus has developed an ongoing program to learn the Catholic faith. The Catholic Information Service (CIS) to provide free Catholic publications for parishes, schools, retreat houses, military installations, correctional facilities, legislatures, the medical community, and for individuals who request them. CIS asks that the reader cover the costs of postage. Topics cover many of the key matters of Christian doctrine and life.


A modern day Michelangelo: mosaics for the 21st century

Crucifixion.jpgSacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut is building a new University Chapel and has commissioned a rather unique team of artists to create original works of art for use in the sacred Liturgy.


Jesuit Father Marko I. Rupnik heads the artistic and theological team from the Aletti Center in Rome, Italy. He is a world-renowned artist whose works grace Pope John Paul II’s Redemptoris Mater chapel at the Vatican and at the Basilica of Notre Dame du Rosaire, at Lourdes in France (a recent installation). His first work in the USA was commissioned by the Knights of Columbus Supreme Office in New Haven, Connecticut in 2005.


Virginaletti.jpgThis art doesn’t just decorate a space. It is liturgical art that is integrated into a particular space for the celebration of the sacred Liturgy. In relation to the sacred Liturgy, the liturgical art together with word and ritual gesture articulate the Church’s interior life of holiness. By this, a church is an ecclesial edifice that not only allows a person to encounter the dynamic work of the Blessed Trinity, but it allows you to pray, think and relate at a real human level about the Divine Presence. The experience of good liturgical art, like the work of Father Rupnik, is not a mere static experience; it is an experience that vivifies our humanity. The artwork Rupnik has created in the Fairfield and in New Haven like that of the works in Rome and other places, is an expression of a dynamic spiritual quest of the divine and human, oriented in Church with a totality and energy of the living Trinitarian love communicated in Christ.


The Aletti Center is animated by a team of Jesuits and religious. The members of the team
Aletti team.jpgare specialists in Eastern theology and in related arts brought together to promote and to develop activities for theological-cultural reflection. A well-known member of the Aletti team is Jesuit Cardinal

Tomáš Špidlík from the Czech Republic but who has spent more than 50 years teaching in Rome (pictured in the center). Founded in 1991, the Aletti Center is part of the Pontifical Oriental Institute which specializes in the study and research of the theology of the Eastern Churches.



Partners in Prayer and Work

Benedictine monks and sisters count on Knights of Columbus as collaborators

in building the kingdom of God


By Molly Mulqueen


At Benedictine monasteries throughout the United States, Knights of Columbus are
KofC.jpgworking side by side with monks and sisters to build the kingdom of God. The ardent friendship between today’s Knights and Benedictines parallels medieval times. Then, royal patrons such as kings, queens and knights welcomed the followers of St. Benedict as they established abbeys and other monastic centers throughout Europe.

St Benedict cave fresco.jpg           



The Benedictines are guided by St. Benedict’s motto, “ora et labora” (Latin for “pray and work”), just as the Knights are guided by theirs, “In service to One. In service to all.” Their similar charisms have allowed for fruitful collaborations on many landscapes: the deserts of Arizona, the banks of the Missouri River in Kansas, the Arkansas River valley, and sunny central Florida.

Helping with Harvest


In Tucson, Ariz., the friendship between Knights and the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration began almost by accident. A little over a year ago, some observant Knights noticed one of the sisters struggling with a lawn mower.

            “So may times we would see Sister Sophia out cutting the grass, and it didn’t seem right,” said Grand Knight Donatus Kelch of Regina Cleri Council 5133.

            Now Kelch meets with the sisters every month to prioritize their maintenance needs. The 26 councils in the Tucson area have adopted the Benedictine monastery as a joint project. Many of the councils also sponsor an annual fundraiser to benefit the sisters.

            “[The Knights] have repaired and painted the hand railings to the stairs and ramps leading up to the entrance of the chapel,” said John Garcia, public relations director for the Arizona State Council and a member of Sts. Simon and Jude Cathedral Council 12708 in Phoenix. “They have repainted rooms within the facility, replaced furniture, and have done air-conditioner repairs, plumbing repairs and other maintenance projects.”

            But helping to harvest the sisters’ orange crop is perhaps the most enjoyable project for many of the Knights. Last January, more than 20 Knights and their wives — known as the “Orange Crew” — picked and washed hundreds of oranges. They then fed the oranges through juicers, producing nearly 100 gallons of juice to freeze for the sisters’ use throughout the year.

            The sisters have shown their gratitude by inviting the Knights to a Mass of appreciation. According to District Deputy Douglas Cameron, “If you spend even ten minutes with them, you go away a better person. The prayers they offer for us more than thank us.”


Fifty Years of Support


This fall, St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison, Kan., will celebrate 50 years of support from the Knights at Benedictine College. Members of St. Benedict College Council 4708 have heartily embraced the “ora et labora” principle of Benedictine spirituality. This past year, the Knights split wood and shoveled snow at the abbey, and helped with vocations retreats and weekly holy hours.

            “As time has gone on, we have fewer monks to carry on the Catholic mission of the college. The Knights of Columbus on campus have cooperated wonderfully with the monks to help promote Catholic identity,” said Benedictine Father Meinrad Miller,
meinrad.jpgsubprior of St. Benedict’s Abbey, the college chaplain and an active Knight.

            Father Miller often recognizes alumni at neighboring parishes and at the annual Knights of Columbus state convention. “I am always impressed with the high level of participation of graduates from our college” he said.

            “When I was in school [at Benedictine College], we were the top college council in the nation three of the four years I was here,” said Benedictine College President Stephen D. Minnis, a member of Council 4708. “One of the things I am very proud of is that we have several Fourth Degree Knights who participate in special Masses. They led the procession when I was inaugurated as the president of my alma mater, and I’ll never forget how proud I was of our Knights on that day.”

            The friendship between the Knights and the monks at St. Benedict’s Abbey is mutual. “I really think that the monks have had a great influence on the Knights here to become holier men,” said Dan Misener of Council 4708. “They have taught many of us the power and importance of prayer…and how to be true Catholic men in the society that we live in today.”


Abbey ‘Work Weeks’


The monks at Subiaco Abbey and Academy in Arkansas count on the Knights to help maintain their working farm and a boys’ boarding and day prep school that serves about 175 students. Benedictine Brother Ephrem O’Bryan, public information coordinator for Subiaco Abbey and Academy, keeps a running list of the ways the Knights have helped.

            “The Paris Knights [Logan County Council 3787] provide scholarships for the sons of Knights, contribute funds for the monks’ education, help fund other scholarships for day students, help run a Squires circle [St. Benedict Circle 5073], contribute to the Abbey Health Center and prepare the noon meal for the annual 5th Grade Vocation Day,” recalled Brother Ephrem.

            Clarksville Council 5725 has likewise provided funds for the academy’s scholarship program, as well as for the renovation of abbey living quarters, for health center equipment and for the Abbey Guest House.

            Additionally, Arkansas Knights have organized a five-day work week every summer for the last six years. Knights from throughout the state tackle big projects, such as resurfacing tennis courts, building an irrigation system and adding sidewalks with wheelchair access. Work week volunteers are guests of the abbey and join the monks for Mass, meals, vespers and socializing. It has become an event that many Knights look forward to all year.

            “We go up there three months in advance and talk with the abbot and the maintenance people about what needs to be done,” explained A. J. Hambuchen of Father Dellert Council 4143 in Conway. “They never have come up with a project that we have not been able to do.”

            Most of the Knights who attend are retired professionals with contracting experience. Many bring their own materials and tools in an effort to cut costs further.

            “It is wonderful for us to have Subiaco, and we show our appreciation by helping them out,” Hambuchen said. “The monks thank us by praying for us and our families.”


Rebuilding a Church


On Dec. 1, 2007, when the monks of St. Leo Abbey celebrated the blessing of a new abbot, Father Isaac Comacho, it was fitting that an honor guard of Fourth Degree Knights
4th degree KofC.jpgwas part of the ceremony. Their presence was a testament to the enduring friendship between the Knights and the monks that spans several generations. The Benedictines have been in Saint Leo, Fla., since 1889, and Knights were first established in nearby San Antonio in 1914.

            “We have seen the Knights develop in just about every parish in the area,” said Benedictine Father James Hoge, a former K of C chaplain and faithful friar. “One of their principal works has always been to support and assist our schools. They have also always assisted with the charities in the area.”

            “The Knights in this part of Florida are a real community organization. They raise money to feed the poor and create recreational activities for kids,” said Brother Stephen Freeman. “They have also helped us a great deal by defraying some of the costs of our Benedictine seminarians.”

            In addition, Knights host an annual golf tournament, the proceeds from which go to the restoration of the Church of the Holy Cross. The 60-year-old church is one of three buildings on the abbey campus named to the National Register of Historic Places. It is known for its 86-foot tower, Lombardic-Romanesque design and the crucifix that hangs above the altar, which was meticulously modeled after the figure of Christ on the Shroud of Turin.

            “Twice a year, we invite [the Knights] to come for Mass and we have a day just for them. It is our way to thank them for being so supportive of the abbey,” Brother Stephen said. It is simply one more part of the history that the Knights and Benedictines share.


Molly Mulqueen is a wife, mother and freelance writer for the Catholic press from Houston, Texas.


This article was published in Columbia magazine, August 2008. I am grateful to Alton Pelowski, managing editor of Columbia magazine, the monthly periodical of the Knights of Columbus, for allowing this republication.

Carl Anderson writes to Senator Biden: abortion is the modern American slavery

Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, wrote an open letter to Senator
Anderson.jpgJoseph Biden, 2008 VP candidate, regarding his remarks on abortion and the teaching of the Catholic Church. The appeal Anderson makes is one Catholic to another. The invitation is personal to discuss Catholic teaching and the importance of true faith.

Biden makes the claim to be a faithful Catholic and his known to attend Sunday Mass among other things. Biden also claims to hold what the Church teaches regarding abortion, “the unspeakable crime,” and yet he is a pro-choice senator. The public record of Senator Biden shows no affection (i.e., he’s not obedient to the Lord and His sacrament the Church) for the Catholic he purports to be convicted by and to sustain him unto salvation. He’s afflicted with the Mario Como disease which says “personally I am opposed to abortion but I am not going to impose my views on others.”

Carl Anderson’s letter to Joseph Biden can be read here. The letter outlines the issues at hand: the misleading statements Biden has made regarding Catholic teaching and reserving Catholic moral teaching from the legislative process and voting.

Instead of writing Biden off from a fruitful conversation, which many would do, Anderson is doing the noble thing by inviting Biden to the table to discuss his statements –Biden’s wrong thinking– regarding what Catholic faith teaches about life and why one can’t claim to be a faithful Catholic and hold that abortion is acceptable, even to the point of voting for legislation securing abortion rights.

Senator Biden has a choice: either accept the Church’s clear, consistent teaching about the value of human life by accepting and working for the uborn or risk salvation.

Abortion violates natural law, the 6th Commandment, New Testament truth, the teaching of the fathers of the Church, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and love.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
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