Sir Knight

Detail of illustration by Herb Schnabel

It does not take much for my aging mind to return to those memories stored in that part of me I call my “treasure box.” This causes some of my family to give me that “ho-hum!” look and get ready for me to float back in time again.

Anyway, last week I received a brown, “Do Not Bend” envelope in the mail. It was obviously from Bloke because that was the only word written in the upper corner of the envelope where the return address goes. Simply written in bright blue permanent marker was only “BLOKE.” No last name, no return address, just “BLOKE.”

I opened the envelope and pulled out two pieces of paper. One was a very well-drawn sketch, obviously done in a high school art class because it was signed “Sean Callahan” and had a grade of A+ in the corner. I knew Sean Callahan was one of Bloke’s 47 million great-grandsons who was a really good artist.

The sketch by “Sean Callahan” was done in pencil and showed a massive warhorse fitted out with armor over his face and parts of his body. His “rider” was a fully clad knight. The knight was every bit as impressive as the warhorse and held a formidable mace and chain in his gloved right hand. His left hand rested on the pommel of his gleaming sword. The knight’s shield was somehow part of his arm and bore the image of a Maltese cross surmounted by a fleur de lis. In the plain space under the impressive warrior was the inscription “Sir Sean of Saint Joan.”

I smiled at the tribute, remembering the day I was “dubbed” as Sir Sean of St. Joan by Sister St. Patrick. I vividly recall how the expressions on my classmates’ faces changed from smiles to serious tribute when I braved their jokes about having chosen a female saint as a patron instead of a male.

I smiled at the tribute, remembering the day I was ‘dubbed’ as Sir Sean of St. Joan by Sister St. Patrick.

I thought I should probably frame young Sean’s sketch and hang it prominently in my den.

The second paper in the envelope came from a Xerox machine. Somehow Bloke had found an old Mandrake the Magician comic strip and copied it for me.

Mandrake wore a black tuxedo and a top hat wherever he went. He and his companion Lothar went around saving innocent people by “gesturing hypnotically” and defeating evildoers as part of their daily jobs.

Bloke had signed the paper and written this on the page:

“Remember when we met Mandrake the Magician in front of St. C’s School? We’re still the Best Friends in the Entire Universe! Congratulations, Sir Knight!”

I leaned back and let the memories roll.  

Bloke, Regan, and I were ambling over to the crosswalk where our police crossing guard was waiting to stop traffic so we could cross the busy street. He was not alone this time, though. He was talking to a man dressed in a black tuxedo, sporting a red, satin-lined cape over his shoulders and wearing a black silk top hat. An impressive band was draped from his right shoulder to his left hip and held a gleaming sword!

It was Mandrake the Magician!

Clarence Charleau, our police crossing guard, laughed at our open mouths as we stared at Mandrake. Then Clarence introduced us to one of his friends, who was not a magician after all.

“Boys, this is Mr. O’Neill, who is also known as Sir Knight Bill O’Neill. He is a member of the Knights of Columbus and has reached the rank of the fourth degree. This is the highest rank in the Knights of Columbus. His official title is ‘Sir Knight.’”

We kids knew about the Knights of Columbus because they sponsored a fantastic citywide track meet for the schools in our diocese. Often even kids from many of the public schools took part, too. In addition, the “Knights,” as we called them, held Christmas parties in most of the Catholic schools, and they encouraged us to bring our friends who might not even be Catholic. Everyone always had a fun-filled day, and we all got a wrapped present from the men who made sure no one went away empty-handed.

We kids knew about the Knights of Columbus because they sponsored a fantastic citywide track meet for the schools in our diocese.

I could go on and on about the service I observed in the Knights, and I often wondered if I could ever belong with such a group of men. …

I got my chance when I returned to my hometown after my military service and some years at Notre Dame. The father of one of my longtime friends had passed away, and he had belonged to the Knights of Columbus for many years. I was invited to attend a K of C memorial service for deceased Knights. The church was crowded, and the memorial service was meaningful. The Knights who had died during the past year were individually honored, and this further attracted me to the order.

I joined the Knights of Columbus in 1963 and advanced through the first, second, and third degrees during that first year. I felt I was part of an honorable and worthy team.

I joined the Knights of Columbus in 1963 and advanced.

As I moved on in my chosen career of law enforcement, my family and I spent many years far from my home base. In the southern United States, I discovered that Catholic churches, parishes, and schools were not quite as easy to find, and I let my activity in the Knights fall away due to other commitments. Upon my retirement my wife and I accepted the invitation from our daughter, Kathleen, to make life a bit easier by moving into her home and bask in the sunshine of California.

My wife, Trish, and I loved the new parish we found. It was a large parish. Being in the center of the San Joaquin Valley, which is where so much of America’s citrus and vegetable produce is grown, we learned how to live as the “new folks,” and Trish enjoyed the physical peace as she allowed God to cradle her in her final illness.  

Trish made the decision to forego lengthy bouts with chemicals, well-meant but useless treatments that left her exhausted and unable to enjoy the tiny pleasures we as a couple in love could enjoy. Instead she was cared for by a remarkable hospice service and was allowed to relax and enjoy her last months in peace. She retained the ability to share her innate love with her family and friends while experiencing the loving care of dedicated clergy and skilled nurses.

After Trish’s passing, I spent a lot of time looking for God’s direction for me. My health was unusually good in spite of the physical abuse that came from my choice of profession and my habit of enjoying whatever sort of food and diet was popular in my location. Since I live in the part of America populated by Latino families who embrace me as a person who loves their culture, their amazing cuisine is something I cherish as I see what’s on the menu from day to day!  

My self-imposed isolation for grieving gave way due to a group of Knights of Columbus who worshipped at the same Mass as I did every Sunday. Week after week I was greeted and accepted by scores of Knights who proudly wore their medallions or marked shirts or jackets. These were men who loved their families and children. They served as ushers and lectors, and they were always available for parishioners who might need some assistance. 

Sean Patrick (right) with daughter Kathleen (left) at a fourth degree banquet in Fresno, Calif. Photo courtesy of Sean Patrick

The Knights held Rosary devotions before the main Masses; they also were the mainstays at the colorful and joyful “fiestas” where they cooked, distributed beverages, set up tables and chairs, and cleaned up after the events were over. I was shocked but pleased when I found that the greatest fiesta in our predominantly Latino population celebrated the feast of St. Patrick! The Knights have now added a Lenten Friday night fish fry that draws folks from all over — and not just Catholics!

I know it was my Trish, now safely in her heavenly seat, faithfully poking her somewhat slow-to-understand husband, that led me back to the Knights of Columbus lodge. On Feb. 27, 2016, this 78-year-old Irishman from Cleveland was “dubbed” as a “Sir Knight” in the fourth degree. This time it was a real sword on my shoulder, but for what it’s worth, at that moment I’m sure I felt the blackboard pointer as well and knew without any doubt that Sister St. Patrick was standing there, too.  

“Rise up, Sir Sean of St. Joan …”

“Sir Knight,” indeed!  

Illustration by Herb Schnabel

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