Story by Christina Leslie, Correspondent
and Mary Stadnyk, Associate Editor
Whether it’s through their prayer, presence or financial assistance, the Knights of Columbus are widely known for supporting an array of causes and organizations. And one particular group the Knights have as their priority to support are seminarians, those men who are preparing for the priesthood.
Around the Diocese of Trenton, a number of Knights’ councils and assemblies host gatherings throughout the year where they recognize seminarians and present them with monetary gifts to be used for personal needs as they pursue their studies. In all, the Diocese currently has 19 seminarians who are enrolled in St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Wynnewood, Pa.; Mount St. Mary Seminary, Emmitsburg, Md., and St. Mary Seminary and University, Baltimore.
One such gathering will take place April 6 when the Manchester Council in Ocean County will host its annual dinner during which $500 gifts will be distributed to at least 10 seminarians. The money was raised through various collections hosted by the Knights.
Another group of Knights who for many years have generously supported men as they strive to answer God’s call to the priesthood are members of the John Tatham Assembly, Fourth Degree, in Burlington County.
Named for the first Catholic governor of New Jersey, the John Tatham Assembly, which is composed of 18 councils in Burlington County, has shown its dedication to those pursuing a priestly vocation by hosting an annual Seminarian Appreciation Dinner. Held March 14 in the Maple Shade Council home, this year’s event included Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., Msgr. Thomas Mullelly, diocesan episcopal vicar for clergy and consecrated life, and Msgr. James Innocenzi, diocesan judicial vicar, who were all on hand to witness the Knights’ donation of $1,500 to each of the 19 seminarians.
The funds were raised through a raffle in advance of the annual Charity Ball Dinner which this year will be held the evening of June 15 in the Tavistock Country Club, Haddonfield. Knights sell tickets for the prize, a travel card valued at $5,000, at each member council’s parish, to raise funds for the seminarians and eight other Burlington County charities. Among them are Catholic Charities Providence House Domestic Violence Services, the Holy Innocents Society based in Jesus the Good Shepherd Parish, Beverly, and 1st Way of Burlington County, which provides outreach to pregnant women in need.
Peter Cassiano, N.J. State Knights of Columbus Deputy Director for the RSVP/Vocations Program, noted that the John Tatham Assembly’s longstanding generosity toward seminarians totaled $1.3 million over an eight-year period, placing it first in the state in eight of the last nine years.
Knight Louis Spadaccino, a member of Jesus the Good Shepherd Parish and the Assembly’s Faithful Navigator, explained, “[The Charity Ball] is the culmination of six months of work by the committee. They also name an honoree for each banquet, one of our chaplains, and often parishioners want to come out and honor their pastor.
“As much as the Knights support our Church in everything we do, it’s only natural that we support our future priests,” Spadaccino said.
Richard Cerwonka, who serves as an Outside Warden for the John Tatham Assembly, agreed with his fellow Knight, stating, “The reward is immense, to see how the people in the parishes respond and how generous they are.”
Cerwonka, a Grand Knight in the Our Lady of Fatima Council and member of St. John Neumann Parish, Mount Laurel, added, “We raise an enormous amount of money [for the seminarians] each year.” He noted that the $38,000 in proceeds from the 2016 Charity Ball was given to Msgr. Mullelly to be distributed to the seminarians to be used for incidentals.
In addition to fundraising with the assembly, Cerwonka’s Council had “adopted” third-year seminarian Kevin Ludwig, sending aid directly to him. His reason for such philanthropy hinges on both tradition and faith.
“My father was a Knight, I am a Knight, my son is a Knight, and my son-in-law just became a Knight,” Cerwonka said. “This is why you become a Knight: to continue the mission of Jesus Christ. We are blessed; this is a way to pay it back.”
Both Msgr. Mullelly and Msgr. Innocenzi had high praise for the Knights and the work they do to support charities across the board and, of course seminarians.
“It’s tremendous,” said Msgr. Mullelly, a member of St. Gregory the Great Council in Hamilton Square.
“[The Knights] are consistently a source of support for the clergy and they show great generosity and kindness in helping to enable men to pursue their call to the priesthood,” he said, noting that he is certain the seminarians are appreciative for the Knights’ financial assistance.
“The Knights are good men who are hard-working, kind and supportive of the Church in so many ways.”
Msgr. Innocenzi , who has been a Knight since 2003 and currently serves as chaplain of the Trenton Diocesan Federation and the Hopewell Council, echoed Msgr. Mullelly’s sentiments, saying that “the Knights are a great organization and they do so much good and that’s why I wanted to be part of it.” Noting that the Knights advocate for other important causes such as prolife programs and efforts to assist persons with special needs, Msgr. Innocenzi also acknowledged the John Tatham Assembly’s raising nearly $30,000 from the 2017 charity ball to benefit seminarians of the Diocese.
“That’s the work of one assembly,” he said. “Their support is off the charts.”