St. Stephen the Witness parishioner reflects on time as Iowa KC leader

Discusses work of members, initiatives for coming year

By Dan Russo

Witness Editor

CEDAR FALLS — Paul Lee, a member of St. Stephen the Witness Catholic Church and Student Center in Cedar Falls made history in June 2019 when he was elected State Deputy for the Iowa Knights of Columbus. The husband and father recently reflected on the Knights’ activities in 2019-2020, just before beginning the second half of his two-year term as leader of the organization.

At age 33, Lee was the youngest person and the first African American to be elected to the top position in the international Catholic fraternal organization’s Iowa branch, which has about 32,000 members statewide and about 1.9 million globally.

“I like to refer to myself as head servant of the Knights of Columbus because, for me, that authoritative role puts up too many levels of boundaries.” he said.

The statewide theme Iowa’s Knights have taken up in the past year has been “Rise Up and Share God’s Joy.”

“Our mission this year has truly been one of service,” Lee reflected. “Not just service externally, but also service internally.”

Lee and the other state officers worked with local Knights Councils in reaching out in service to communities, including those outside the Catholic Church.

“Fifteen years ago, there would be Knights councils that were more into fraternization than service to church or community,” said Lee, who has been collaborating with members to change that focus.

“That flip is growing, and the result we’re seeing is younger men and younger families want to join our organization,” he said.

A second initiative in the past year has been to recognize veteran members for decades of service, which led to the creation of a Hall of Fame and the first induction ceremony involving Knights from across the state.

“Service through the Knights is not just about those who are called to leadership roles,” he said. “It’s also someone who has been active for 35 years and has run your local pancake breakfast or Easter egg hunt. It takes all of those pieces to put the body of Christ together.”

The third initiative this year has been an effort to remind members and others that the Knights are called to be an organization for families.

“The Catholic family is attacked daily by societal pressures,” he said.

Lee explained that the Knights have worked through their Faith in Action program to involve members’ families. The actions include charitable efforts such as food drives, fundraisers for people with intellectual disabilities and other projects. Since the COVID-19 pandemic has begun, many Knights councils have involved family members in efforts to deliver food and other supplies to those in need or to call people who may be isolated.

As part of their spiritual efforts this year, the Iowa Knights have promoted a consecration to the Holy Family for individual households.

In the coming year, Lee and other Knights state leaders plan to focus on “lifting up the voice of everyone and leaving no neighbor behind.”

“(We want to) give a voice to those who are lost out in our society, whether it is bringing truth to the reality of racial injustice, truth to the reality of immigration issues, truth to the reality of the number of kids that go hungry on a week to week basis; if it’s true to the reality of the sacredness of life, our goal this coming year is to give that voice and lift it up so that everyone hears it and then we challenge people to do it.”

The action piece, Lee said, will be centered on serving people, especially as the pandemic continues to be a factor and creates needs.

Cover photo: Paul Lee, State Deputy of the Iowa Knights of Columbus, is pictured in 2019 with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. (Contributed photo)

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