At the Heart of Our Mission
A new K of C initiative invites men to build bonds of brotherhood through prayer and faith formation
By Michael Stechschulte
On a pleasant spring evening in April, about two dozen men found seats in a parish hall recently refurbished by St. Mary Magdalen Council 12295 in Brighton, Michigan, and turned on the television.
The National Football League’s entry draft was taking place, but for the men of Council 12295, something more important was on the agenda.
“Let’s open in prayer,” said the gentleman seated at the head of the long table.
After reciting an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be, the men pulled up a YouTube video featuring Bishop Robert Barron of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, founder of the Word on Fire ministry, and prepared to dive into a discussion of the previous Sunday’s Gospel: Jesus meeting the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
“We’re all on a journey,” a participant observed, drawing parallels to the disciples’ walk with Jesus. “We’re all on a mission. As Catholic men and men of integrity, this is our mission: to share our stories with people we know.”
This wasn’t your typical K of C council meeting, but a pilot of a new initiative developed by the Supreme Council. Its name, Cor, is drawn from the motto of St. John Henry Newman, Cor ad cor loquitur, which is Latin for “Heart speaks to heart.” Distinct from the monthly council business meeting, the Cor meeting is designed to help Catholic men build a more intentional relationship with Jesus Christ through prayer, formation and fraternity.
“We have a responsibility to help other men recall and understand the Spirit they have been given. It is the duty of a band of Christian brothers, of Catholic gentlemen — of Knights,” wrote Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly in his November 2022 Columbia column, in anticipation of the pilot phase launch in January.
“During this fraternal year,” the supreme knight went on to explain, “local councils will be implementing new programs and structures as we consider how, as an Order, we can become, more and more, the men of faith and courage that Blessed Michael McGivney desired us to be.”
THE FOUNDING VISION
Council 12295, which is based at St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Brighton, 45 miles northwest of Detroit, is one of approximately 40 councils in more than 20 K of C jurisdictions that have participated in Cor so far.
There is no required schedule or agenda for Cor meetings; leaders in each council are free to determine how best to integrate the initiative’s three pillars of prayer, formation and fraternity, noted Paul Kelsey, director of evangelization and faith formation for the Michigan Knights of Columbus.
Sometimes, that might mean a Bible study or reflection on the Sunday Mass readings, while in other meetings men might share faith testimonials or read the lives of the saints. Whatever else they do, prayer is a key component to every meeting, Kelsey said.
“What Cor represents is a re-emphasis of Blessed Michael McGivney’s vision for the Knights of Columbus since the very beginning,” said Kelsey, who is spearheading efforts to advance Cor within Michigan councils. “The Knights have always been charitable, but this gives us an opportunity to remind men why they’re Catholic in the first place.”
Cor isn’t just for Knights. All men of the parish are invited to the meetings, which not only promotes unity and fraternity more broadly but can serve to introduce non-Knights to the Order.
“What men, especially young men, are looking for is a way to help them live their Catholicism, and that’s what Cor is really trying to do,” said Father Paul Erickson, pastor of St. Mary Magdalen and a former state chaplain of Michigan. “The usual Knights of Columbus business meeting is not a great introduction to the Order for most men.”
In a culture that often discourages or undermines men in their role as leaders, providers and protectors of their families, men are hungry for a sense of meaning, Father Erickson observed. Cor speaks to a deeper longing in the hearts of Catholic men for an authentic expression of their role, rooted in Christ.
“There’s an element of sacrifice that’s at the heart of every man, of wanting to give myself to something bigger than me,” he said. “Men are really looking for purpose and direction. We used to have a culture that made it easier for men to find those things, and Cor is about helping men start to figure out that purpose and direction.”
While the Knights of Columbus is known for charitable service and fraternity, Father McGivney’s intention in founding the Order was to fortify men first as disciples of Jesus against a culture that sought to rip them away, noted Grand Knight Daniel Isabel of San Salvador Council 1 at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Connecticut.
“Father McGivney’s vision for founding the Knights was to ensure that men stayed in the Catholic faith, that they weren’t pulled away by the secret societies of his day,” Isabel said. “In today’s world, the competitors for men’s attention are everyday distractions and secular society. Our culture makes it difficult for men to remain grounded in their Catholic faith, and that’s why the Cor meeting is needed.”
Since Council 1 began piloting the Cor initiative, about 20 men have been meeting on a biweekly basis in the same church basement where Blessed Michael McGivney gathered the first Knights in 1882.
Seeing today’s Knights gather for Cor in the birthplace of the Order, animated by a love of Christ and his Gospel to go out and serve others in charity, is undeniably attractive, said Isabel.
“We even have one guy who’s been coming to the meetings who is not a Catholic, and it’s been a great experience for him,” he added. “He’s not yet in RCIA, but he’s in the questioning period. He would never have come to our council business meetings, but he’s coming to our Cor meetings.”
GROWING CLOSER TO GOD TOGETHER
At St. Mary Magdalen in Brighton, the weekly Cor meetings open with prayer, usually followed by a discussion of the saint of the day and that week’s Sunday Gospel, explained Michael “Mickey” Tucker, a member of Council 12295 who has led a men’s faith formation group at the parish since 2018.
The men discuss the readings or a companion video and are invited to share personal faith testimonials, which often leads to meaningful conversations, Tucker said. At the end of the meeting, they pray together again, confiding personal intentions and asking each other for intercession in difficult circumstances.
“Trust is something that takes some time to develop, knowing that anything spoken in that room never leaves the room,” Tucker said. “It’s a very respectful, personal type of trust that develops for guys to be able to talk about their challenges in life, and to give some sort of personal testimony to their faith.”
In Laredo, Texas, about 30 men participate in weekly Cor meetings at 6 a.m. on Thursdays at San Martin de Porres Parish, praying together, listening to one another and building a brotherhood that transcends the walls of the church, said Ramiro Martinez, director of evangelization and faith formation for San Martin de Porres Council 9626.
It’s rare for men to admit their weaknesses, Martinez said, but Cor encourages men to be real with one another, knowing their brothers in Christ have their back through the struggles of daily life.
“I’ve witnessed that,” Martinez said. “I’ve witnessed men being vulnerable enough to say, for example, ‘I’m struggling with my kids.’ And other men step up and say, ‘Don’t give up. Try this. Give yourself up to God.’ It’s very rewarding to see that happen.”
The men begin in prayer before watching a video — the council will be using the K of C-produced Into the Breach series this summer — before moving into table discussions.
In the past several months, at least three men who were not Knights have decided to join Council 9626 as a result of attending Cor meetings, Martinez said.
“They liked what we were doing with Cor, and they also assisted us with our fish fry,” Martinez said. “They decided, ‘I like what these guys are doing,’ so they joined us as Knights. The meat and bones of what we’re trying to do is help each other get closer to God, and to do it together, to grow in a brotherhood like the Knights are supposed to be.”
Although Cor is fundamentally an initiative to promote deeper prayer and formation, not a recruiting tactic for the Knights, Father Erickson of St. Mary Magdalen believes it will inevitably lead more men to consider joining a fraternal order that supports them in their faith, family life and service.
“We get a good mix of Knights and non-Knights, which is actually not only good for the parish, but for the Knights,” Father Erickson said. “Because if guys are going to become Knights, it’s not just because of pancake breakfasts. It’s going to be because they’ve had an encounter with the Lord, and they get to share that with their brothers."
For more information about the Cor initiative, visit kofc.org/cor.
MICHAEL STECHSCHULTE is editor-in-chief of Detroit Catholic, the digital news service of the Archdiocese of Detroit.