With fears that its membership may die out, a Lindenhurst organization is trying to attract younger participants and expand its presence in the community.
The Lindenhurst Knights of Columbus Council No. 794 is on the cusp of change, its leaders said. The council is a Catholic fraternal benefit society that was formed in 1903 and does work for Our Lady of Perpetual Help church, as well as charity efforts in the larger community.
But Lindenhurst, like many Knights councils, is struggling to keep up its membership.
"Unfortunately the facts are that we do have an older community," said Paul Diorio, 57, who is district deputy overseeing Lindenhurst and three other councils in the county. "We have 20 members come in and we lose 20 members, and most of those are through death. It’s amazing we’ve even been able to maintain the same head count."
The council has 500 members, and 100 of them are older than 70, said Steve Strigaro, grand knight of the Lindenhurst council. There are fewer than 50 active members, he said.
Patrick Corcoran, 34, grew up in Lindenhurst and moved back in 2019 from Manhattan. His grandfather was a Knights member, and Corcoran said he remembers all the parties his family had in the organization’s building.
"When I moved back I knew I wanted to look into being a part of it, but I also knew the average age was probably 65," he said.
But he was intrigued by the deal struck early last year to have the Knights lease the World War Veterans Club building on North Broadway from Suffolk County. The Knights have been without a home of their own since they sold their building nearly a decade ago. A big factor behind the sale was that revenue from parties dried up, Strigaro said.
Corcoran said the building "will be a beacon for us in the community" and he hopes to maintain the building’s history while also modernizing it to appeal to a younger generation by incorporating elements such as a fire pit.
"I have a feeling my age group, we’re going to get away from having these $50,000 Sweet 16s, and especially after COVID, we’re going to come back to being much more family focused," Corcoran said. "I think the Knights can be a big part of that."
When he joined last year, Corcoran said he "took on this de facto role" of recruiting younger people. So far he’s brought in 18 new members from his age group.
"We definitely need to continue to build the brand within the community for the 30- to 50-year-old age group if we want to have a long-term future here," he said.
Corcoran said he and other members are also fostering relationships with local businesses.
"If we’re going to survive as a group, we definitely need to get involved in the local community much more," Corcoran said. "The church is certainly key to that, but I don’t want us to be viewed as just part of the church. There’s a lot more that we do from a charity standpoint that is secular, but within the tradition of being Catholic."
KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS HISTORY
The Knights of Columbus was founded by Father Michael J. McGivney, a 29-year-old assistant pastor of St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1882. McGivney was a priest in an immigrant community and witnessed the devastation when families lost their breadwinner. McGivney “proposed establishing a lay organization . . . uniting Catholic men and helping families of deceased members.”
By 1910, Knights of Columbus councils were being chartered throughout the United States, as well as in Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, Cuba and Panama. The organization provided relief to soldiers in World War I and II, and fought against anti-Catholic and racial prejudice in the 1950s and ’60s.
The Knights of Columbus claim 1.9 million members in more than a dozen countries and say they have given more than $1.55 billion to charities in the past decade. The organization has more than $100 billion of life insurance policies and $24 billion in assets.