Witness to Brotherhood

Author: Michael Brewer

Witness to Brotherhood

Michael Brewer
College Council Coordinator for the Knights of Columbus

The Knights of Columbus: a unique means of evangelization on college campuses

I was born a man, but I chose to become a Knight. I made this choice because I realized that if I were going to take my faith seriously, I needed to commit to it in a way that would help support my faith, and would also provide me with a means to live an appropriate Christian witness for others.

As an undergraduate student at Harvard University, I became a leader in campus ministry. I was privileged to serve with other students and have the support of gifted and dedicated chaplains in renewing the life of the Church on that campus.

We hoped to bring more students into the community of the Church through an authentic witness to the Gospel. We encouraged men to practice traditional devotions and the prayers of the Church — such as lectio divina,liturgy of the hours, and the Rosary. We offered weekly faith study groups, which allowed students to reflect on readings from Sacred Scripture and the lives of the saints. We offered Eucharistic adoration and encouraged more frequent devotion to the sacraments, including the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

In all things, our hope was to bring students to Christ, to encourage a mature commitment to the faith that would serve students as they grew into adulthood.

However, campus ministry is not like baking a cake. It's not simply a matter of having all of the essential ingredients present to ensure success. University campuses have unique pastoral needs, and God works through the hearts of men in subtle and different ways.

We noticed that, though many more students became involved in campus ministry activities when these additional opportunities for devotion were offered, many men fulfilled their weekly obligation by Mass attendance on Sunday. They lived an isolated and compartmentalized faith, which did not ground them in the life of the Church.

We discovered that many men looked for a sense of fraternity within the Church. They sought the fellowship of other men elsewhere through athletics, other student organizations and, regrettably, in Harvard's "final clubs", which often encouraged binge drinking and the exploitation of women.

What was needed was a fraternity of Catholic men dedicated to challenging and supporting each other in the Catholic faith, a public witness to the Gospel, and service to the community through corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Our hope was to help the men of Harvard to become the men God wants them to be. As it is written in Proverbs, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another".

While there are more than 200 college councils, the oldest college in the United States was not in that number. In fact, despite its roots in educating Protestant ministers, in general, God was not often a noticeable presence on campus.

And while there was much to be had in terms of the Campus Ministry at Harvard University, there was no Knights of Columbus Council.

Having heard of the Venerable Servant of God Fr Michael McGivney and of the Knights from my grandfather, who was also my godfather and an excellent example for me in my own faith, I found the vision of focus on living out the faith practically to be very useful — both personally and in terms of helping to evangelize a secular college campus.

It occurred to me that the Knights of Columbus might provide an opportunity to reach people who might not take their faith to the next level, because the goal as Knights was a very practical living out of the faith.

The organization strives to make men the best Catholics they could be — people known as Christ's followers by the way we loved one another. That practical witness of charity captured not only my own imagination, but that of dozens of my peers, and together, we were able to form a council made up of students at Harvard.

As Grand Knight, my first program was one of spiritual formation, we asked our members to attend Mass together weekly, and adopted a nursing home, Vernon Hall, literally on the campus's doorstep, but completely forgotten by the other service groups on campus. In addition, we engaged in our work there and elsewhere in many team-building exercises, creating a group of men who worked well together whatever the charitable mission at hand.

Since then, the Knights at Harvard have continued their work at Vernon Hall, expanding it to include physical maintenance on the building, visiting with residents, and helping in whatever other ways present themselves. At the same time, the council has sponsored a white ribbon campaign to raise awareness about the harms of pornography, while also directly engaging in catechetical outreach through a smaller, more intensive study of the Catholic faith by members of the council.

I had grown up for most of my life in the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, whose leadership and work with youth was groundbreaking. It was he who had called the laity to greater work in their sphere of influence, and that message always struck me. It was for that reason that we named the council for him.

Pope Benedict's continuation of those themes and his encyclicals on charity gave even more direction to my motivation — to better and evangelize my world through the witness of charity.

So, upon graduating, I realized that my life would be best spent — and most rewarding — in service to Christ and his Church.

That led me to take a job as college council coordinator for the Knights of Columbus, where I was able to continue to bring young men to live out their faith through a daily witness to charity, a unity with their Church, and fraternity with each other.

Whether helping organize events for our members and others at World Youth Day, or bringing the activities and active Catholicism of the Knights to a new college campus, the Knights of Columbus has given me the chance to live out my faith, to share my faith, and bring others to an experience of faith that I can concretely see — through the activities of our college Knights, through the vocations produced through the program, through the many people helped by those energetic young men, entering adulthood with a sense of faith, a sense of service, a sense of being "their brother's keeper".

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
16 June 2010, page 16

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