Student Knights of Columbus council undergoes radical revival

By Chris Dacanay

Grand Knight Thomas Payeur-Manley was adorned with his Knights of Columbus regalia. He systematically displayed each one his decorative items and explained their meaning.

Flourishing the engraved sword attached to his hip, he said, “This sword is actually an heirloom in my family, this belonged to my great-grandfather Arsène, … and he was what we call a faithful navigator … (which) is like being grand knight, only you lead a fourth-degree assembly.”

Next, he addressed the sash-like baldric over his shoulder and said, “This is only worn by fourth-degree knights. (It) has the colors of our nation’s flag, and it’s different for different countries. … (It) is a symbol of your patriotism.”

Payeur-Manley, a junior majoring in communication arts with a concentration in digital broadcasting and production, is from Ann Arbor, Michigan, but he cites Canada as his ancestral home.

“Say I eventually get to move to Canada, where my family is originally from,” Payeur-Manley said, gesturing to the red, white and blue around his neck, “the colors on the baldric would not have blue.

“A lot of people … forget that (the United States) was built by Catholic men. Baron von Steuben was one of them. And so, the fourth degree of patriotism calls to mind the added benefit of being a Catholic American — remembering our legacy, and the founding and the continuing history of this country.”

Nearly a week prior, Payeur-Manley had been in civilian clothes on his hands and knees, clearing clutter from out of the Knights’ storage cabinet in the J.C. Williams Center student offices. His renovating efforts in the cabinet symbolized his larger-scale efforts to refurbish the student Knights of Columbus council.

Despite transferring into Franciscan University’s student-led Knights of Columbus Council 9804 in January, Payeur-Manley was elected to be the council’s grand knight only a month later. He took on the leadership role for the meager four active members at the time.

“Some challenges that I faced going into my time as grand knight included just learning the ropes,” Payeur-Manley said. “I came in as a third-degree knight who had virtually no experience attending council meetings because of COVID.”

Payeur-Manley has been a knight since 2020 when he received his third degree online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s just a constant learning curve,” Payeur-Manley said, “and I’m learning how to run our meetings better … and organize our council meetings better.”

In spite of his glaring lack of practical experience, Payeur-Manley immediately set to work with recruitment, hoping to revitalize the council. He set up a table in the J.C. with signs and pamphlets for the Knights where he stood to advertise and answer anyone’s questions.

“I stood out there (in the J.C.) and tried to have some signage in place to see if we could rebuild the council,” Payeur-Manley said. “The council was down to four members at the time, so we were basically starting from scratch.”

Payeur-Manley is making particular use of the ministry and club fairs on campus, utilizing those events to rope in any curious students. By using those advertisement opportunities, Payeur-Manley said, the council has exceeded its membership quota for this year by triple.

“We are bringing in 11 transfers, all of them third-degree knights,” Payeur-Manley said. “The remaining four applicants will receive the third degree at our fall exemplification ceremony in October.”

“In total, we will have 31 third-degree members, and three fourth-degree members, including myself.”

Payeur-Manley’s table campaign in the J.C. concluded on Sept. 2, but he said that recruitment efforts will continue throughout the year.

His previous leadership experience with the Boy Scouts of America is what empowered him to take on the grand knight role, Payeur-Manley said. The Knights council needed someone who could “go through the system,” learn what to do and put it into action, particularly in regard to recruitment.

Recruitment efforts will continue in order to gain more manpower for what is coming next, Payeur-Manley said. The council needs to fundraise in order to carry out its ultimate goal of charitable work for the glory of God.

“(We want) to set up pancake breakfasts on Sunday mornings after Mass,” Payeur-Manley said. “We’re also looking into fish fries on campus.

“These could have potential to bring in money not only for our council but (to) contribute to charitable funds that the Knights of Columbus is organizing.”

These target charities include raising money for refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine. Also included is the pro-life movement, specifically AIM Women’s Center in Steubenville.

“We’re looking for creative ways to serve both these charitable movements,” Payeur-Manley said, “but also (to) find a way to incorporate serving this campus … and we’re always looking for ideas.”

Finally, Payeur-Manley addressed the final decorative element in his regalia. Tied around his neck, under his shirt collar, was a small, anchor-shaped emblem that only grand knights wear.

The anchor symbolizes the man who the Knights were founded after — Christopher Columbus, who was a truly faithful navigator.

Like Columbus, Payeur-Manley took a step forward in faith in spite of tempestuous seas and unclear skies. With God’s help, Payeur-Manley may also lead his brothers, the Knights, into a new land.

Anyone interested in joining the council can reach Payeur-Manley at [email protected] or on Instagram at kofc_at_fus.