St Kilian Council History
The History of
The St. Kilian Council #2204, Knights of Columbus
1920 to 2014
The following is a “brief” history of the St. Kilian Council, #2204 of the Knights of Columbus. It traces the progress of one group of Catholic gentlemen, and indeed indicates the progress of the country from 1920 to 2014. The first edition was published in 1995, in celebration of the Council’s 75th anniversary. I would like to thank John and Mary Jeavons for typing and editing the original (1995) edition of the history. Together they persevered through many drafts and rewrites and interpreted my poor handwriting (yes, it was handwritten back then) to produce a camera ready, professional looking document.
When Christopher Columbus set sail over 500 years ago to seek a new passage to Asia, we know that he also sought fame, fortune and an opportunity to extend his holy Catholic faith. I do not believe that even in his wildest dreams did he believe that he would be lending his name and indomitable spirit to a group of men now known as the Knights of Columbus.
Many years after Columbus’ voyage, in 1882 in New Haven, Connecticut, Father Michael McGivney organized a group of Catholic men into a group to help themselves and protect their families in harsh economic times. This was the beginning of the Knights of Columbus. The idea and the group spread, slowly at first, from town to town and then across state lines and eventually across the country and beyond our national borders. But, we are getting ahead of our story. This is the story of one group of Knights, the members of Council #2204 of Farmingdale, New York.
Now let us transport ourselves back to the early 1900s. Farmingdale was a very rural suburb of New York City. Nassau had just been separated from Queens and became a separate county in 1899. Some of the things we now take for granted did not exist. The State University, then affectionately known as the “Aggie School” because students trained in all aspects of agriculture, including farming and raising and slaughtering farm animals, did not arrive until 1912. The trolley car still ran from Halesite (now Huntington) to Farmingdale, and then continued on to the Amityville dock – all for 30 cents. The aircraft giants such as Fairchild, Republic and of course Grumman had not yet been born, and sadly do not exist anymore on Long Island. Mail was picked up at the Post Office as home delivery did not exist. In fact, the Post Office was usually inside part of a local business or even a private home on Main Street. The telephone exchange was in a private home. The highways and even many of the local streets we now use daily were not built. Conklin Street was a dirt road. Levittown would not exist for over 40 years. Even the homes that most of us now live in would not be built for 50 or 60 or more years. To help more closely put some of this in its proper perspective, we should remember that radio was still an experiment! The first regularly scheduled radio broadcast had not yet been made. It would come from station KDKA in Pittsburgh in November 1920. Electricity did not run much of our lives as it does today. There was a story going around that a housewife covered the electric outlet in her home so the electricity would not leak out onto the floor. Television had not yet been invented. Cell phones were not even a dream. World War I (Remember? The one that was to end all wars) would rage between 1914 and 1918. The Catholic community was likewise much smaller and spread out. St. Kilian Parish was established in 1897. Its borders extended into Plainview, Hicksville and Melville and only amounted to about 200 families.
The only Knights of Columbus Council was Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH), Council #794, in Lindenhurst. It served such diverse areas as Melville, Wyandanch, Deer Park, Amityville, the Massapequa’s, Central Park (now Bethpage), Plainedge, Plainview, Hicksville and Farmingdale. Many of the Catholic men of Farmingdale belonged to that Council.
The Council in Farmingdale had its beginning because of a coincidental meeting in the Post Office one day in the early spring of 1920. Lewis Garrity, a Farmingdale resident, was sending his dues to the Lindenhurst council. Charles MacPherson, an instructor at the Agricultural school was sending his dues to a council in Trenton New Jersey. The assistant Postmaster, Gerard Leonard, was also a member of the Knights and introduced the two men. A conversation ensued about the possibility of organizing a council in Farmingdale. In fact, Mr. MacPherson had chided local residents for not having one there. After all, he said, it was a “college town” and should have one. Mr. Leonard offered to contact all of the Catholic men he knew in the area and organize a meeting. The meeting was held in the Hook & Ladder Firehouse which occupied the site of the current Lotus Garden restaurant on Conklin St. behind the law offices. The meeting was attended by about 35 men. Mr. Garrity was elected the chairman of a committee to research the issue. The Pastor of St. Kilian’s Church, Father Gerard Spielman, was in favor of the council and even suggested that his assistant, Father Joseph Haldemeyer, could be the Chaplain. But all was not easy. The Grand Knight of OLPH was not in favor of a “breakaway” group. A representative of the Supreme Council required that within two weeks there must be at least 65 membership applications for placement on a charter. That was a tall order and probably designed to stop the “insurrection”. As a result of the hard work of the committee, 67 names were amassed in those two weeks. And a charter was granted by the Supreme Council. One of the charter members, Robert DeCormier, an instructor at the Aggie school, had been a Grand Knight in Connecticut and was therefore experienced. He was selected as the first Grand Knight of the new St. Kilian Council, Knights of Columbus, Council #2204. His fellow officers were: Lew Garrity, Deputy Grand Knight; Bill Wentzein, Warden; Fred Wendt, Advocate; Tony Schneider, Chancellor; Gerry Leonard; Financial Secretary; Tony Weiden, Recorder and John Scholl, Treasurer.
The second Sunday in October dawned bright in Farmingdale. Immediately following the 10:00 a.m. mass, the first and second degrees of membership were exemplified for nearly 100 candidates. Then at 2:00 p.m., a big parade was held through the streets of Farmingdale. They were led by the boys’ band from the Nazareth Trade School, which was located on the grounds of the current Weldon E. Howitt Middle School. The band was under the tutelage of Father Joseph. Following the band were the Nazareth School Cadets and then the New York State Deputy, Dr. John Coyle. He was followed by a host of District Deputies, visiting Grand Knights and members of other councils. The new members, followed by the officers of the St. Council, all paraded to the Rathgaber Hall on South Front Street. The major (or third) degree was then conferred on the new members. After the ceremony was completed all those attending (over 150 people) were treated to a banquet prepared by the Sisters of St. Dominic who ran the Trade School. The affair was supervised by Reverend Mother Celestin, cooked by the good sisters and served by the wives of the members. The Council was now really in business.
The Council elected to hold their meetings on the first and third Tuesdays of each month, but had no place to hold them. The Family of one of the members owned a building on Main St, where the A & P Food store was later located. The Council was allowed to establish its chamber there. Members brought in furniture, constructed stations for meetings and purchased desks for the secretaries. It began to look like a real Council home. One of the first social functions planned was a New Year’s Eve dance. It was held at the Rathgeber Hall, on Front Street, and was a social success. It also raised a net profit of $300 (a tidy sum in 1921). This became an annual affair.
The Knights of Columbus had a five point program for all Councils to follow. The committees that addressed the program were: Catholic Activities, Program, Membership, Publicity and Insurance.
The Ladies, not to be outdone by their men, also formed an Auxiliary organization. They affiliated with the Ladies Catholic Benevolent Association (LCBA) mainly because it offered insurance features that other organizations did not. The ladies stood strongly behind their men and supported the Knights of Columbus with their time and talents. The ladies ran card parties and other functions, with much of the proceeds going to help the Council.
Things were running very well and the Knights and LCBA decided to put on a musical review. A coach was secured and shortly after Easter in 1921 a production of “The Bosun’s Bride” was staged. It was a social and economic success.
Father Joseph, the Council Chaplain, became the Pastor of St. Kilian Parish in 1921.
In 1923, the Council moved its chamber to the Royal Arcanum Hall, on Main Street. As we said before, the country was recuperating from World War I. The “Roaring Twenties” were in full bloom and progress and good times were everywhere. The fortunes of the Knights of Columbus, too, increased. The Council treasury was in fair shape and they sought to protect it. An opportunity arose to purchase a parcel of property on Conklin Street for $1,900. After a short while, a better opportunity came along. A chance to purchase a house with 9 rooms plus a large barn on a 400 foot deep lot with 100 feet fronting on Fulton St. (Rt. 109), all for only $11,500. The Conklin St. property was sold for $3,900 and a down payment of $3,000 placed on the new home. The Council assumed a mortgage of $8,500 to finance the balance. A Building Association was incorporated, with Lew Garrity as president to administer the affairs of the building. They moved into their third “new” home in the early spring of 1924. Many improvements were made by the members. They fixed it and refurbished it to make it a real home. It shortly became evident that the expenses were exceeding the income. Dues were raised from $6 to $12 per year but the budget could still not be balanced. It was thought that if a hall could be attached to the house, it could be rented out and money raised to pay the bills. Furthermore, the upstairs part of the house itself could be rented to a Brother Knight who in turn would have the concession for the hall. A monthly rental of $100 plus utilities would be charged. Plans for the addition were prepared, the estimated cost of which was $5,000. After a short discussion, they voted to go ahead with the addition. Changes made during the construction boosted the actual cost to $8,000. A second mortgage was taken out to fund these extra costs.
A dedication of the enlarged hall took place in 1925. The dedication banquet was attended by many officials of the Order and by County, Town and local politicians. Both Catholics and non-Catholics attended. Many members of the Council donated their time and talents to improving the hall and making it one of the best. Bonds on the Corporation were sold to the brothers and that money used to fund the improvements. In order to be a financial success, it was necessary to have some kind of affair every week. Among these events was an annual minstrel show which ran for seven consecutive years. The dress rehearsals were held in the Nassau County Sanatorium for the benefit of the patients. Journals were published for these shows and they proved very successful. Dances were also held and there were prize drawings for an automobile, refrigerator or other merchandise.
Also in 1925, the Council joined with the New York branch of the American Athletic Union to stage boxing matches each month. They were launched with much fanfare and high hopes. Despite the hard work of the members, the boxing never caught on in Farmingdale. There were financial losses every month until they were finally stopped in 1928. By then membership had grown to over 120 men.
The task of maintaining the hall and paying the bills was beginning to weigh on the members. The caretaker could not pay the rent, and after nine months of non-payment, moved out. The Council found itself in the red to the tune of $4,000 plus the two mortgages. A loan, which was co-signed by four members, was arranged with the Bank of Farmingdale to repay the $4,000 debt. The great worldwide depression was about to begin and Farmingdale was not spared. Many people began losing their jobs. By the fall of 1929, membership dropped from 121 down to only 47. The depression took a terrible toll on everyone, not only the Knights. In fact, when Franklin D. Roosevelt took office as President of the United States, there were only 122 million people in the whole country. Over 13 million wage earners were out of work. More than 5 million families depended on charity to eat. It seems that every function that was attempted in these times was a financial loss, even dances. Dues were lowered from $12 down to $8 per year so more men could afford to remain members. Dances were run with admission at 10¢ per person so more people could attend. The Building Association and Council members worked hard to make a go of it but felt they were fighting a losing battle. A key topic of every meeting was employment, or rather the lack of it. A central employment bank was created by the K of C not only for members but also for nonmembers. They tried to match available people with jobs throughout New York City and Long Island. Some of the jobs made available were: firemen (for low pressure boiler systems) at $60 per month, timekeeper (with a knowledge of typing) at $18 per week, handyman (cooper or barrel maker), boring mill hand, chef (board included), and women typists and filers. These activities were operated by the Long Island Chapter of the Knights which was the association of all individual Councils in Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk Counties. All of these activities were supported by, and almost undoubtedly used, by the St. Kilian’s Council.
1933 saw some of the good and very bad times that have punctuated the Councils history. The Council members began their year by eagerly planning for the celebration of their beloved Father Joseph’s 30th anniversary as an ordained priest. That came off with great success. During the same year, however, they had to remove all of their belongings from the Council home because the bank was foreclosing the first mortgage. The second mortgage was still owed by the Council and the four cosigners.
Council meetings were held in the basement of the old St. Kilian’s school. Many attempts were made at retaining and increasing membership but the times were bad. Many times, it was even hard to get a quorum for meetings. There were several attempts to run “entertainment” events to raise money just to pay their dues. Individual members’ dues and insurance premium payments were, at that time, collected by the Council and submitted to Supreme Headquarters on a monthly basis. The Council was not supposed to pay for the members insurance premiums out of its own funds. But, after all, they were brother Knights and many were out of work and they did need the insurance coverage. The Council dipped into its own till and covered their members. The Council ultimately found itself short of funds and could not pay the per capita assessment, or could only pay part of it. After several months the Council Charter was suspended for lack of these payments.
Despite their problems, there was always enough money in the kitty to donate a gift or medals to the Nazareth (boys) or St. Rose School (girls) graduates and money for Father Joseph at Christmas time. They also loaned card tables to the Women’s Club of Farmingdale for use at their card parties. Things were not going along any better with the ladies. The strain of living through the depression also reached them. There were internal disagreements and in February 1936 the ladies unanimously elected to resign from the LCBA. Thankfully, the problems were resolved and the next month the ladies were again actively working. They cooked and cleaned. They ran card parties and Cootie parties and generally supported all of the Council activities.
As the depression and the 1930s ran its course, the Council was in and out of suspension many times for non-payment of dues. One member had about $200 of Council moneys and could not repay it; then he got sick. A delegation went to visit his wife to discuss terms for repayment. They reported at the next meeting that they collected $5 of the debt, but it cost $6 for the beer that they consumed. Happily though, the member regained his health and everything was paid back. In the meantime, the Council juggled between missing payments to the Supreme Council and missing payments to the bank – but through the members efforts they were able to stay alive.
As this era came to an end, another problem surfaced. Communism had become a threat to our way of life. The Americanism Committee was one of the many active groups in the Council. America was, at this time, deep in its own isolationist period and did not want to bother with, or be bothered by the problems of other countries. The Knights, however, were concerned about the persecution of Jews in Germany and Catholics in Spain, Mexico and Russia. The oppressed were discussed at meetings and were included in their prayers. After a thorough investigation, it was happily reported at a meeting in November 1938 that there were definitely no Communists in the Farmingdale schools. We were still safe from the evil threat of Communism. Early 1939 brought out a resolution for the U.S.A. to remain neutral with respect to civil strife in Spain and maintain the Spanish embargo.
The Ladies Auxiliary also had similar membership troubles through the depression era. They were not able to maintain an active membership. They finally disbanded in 1940, but later reorganized.
A World’s Fair was held in New York City in 1939 and 1940. St. Kilian’s members were there on “Knights Day” in June 1940. The members that attended surely saw the newest of the very complicated electric toys called “television”.
The Catholic Church and the Knights were still supporting the banning of objectionable movies. In 1940 it was “Strange Cargo”. Whenever local movie theaters showed objectionable material, they could be sure of a visit from the Knights explaining the error of their ways. There is no record of how many movies were removed or patrons that shunned the objectionable movies, but the Knights did stand up for what is right and moral.
The Council, meanwhile still plodded on. Those few remaining members did their best to keep the spirit alive but even they began to suffer doubt. The middle of 1941 appears to have been a low point. Attendance at meetings was so poor that those that did attend voted to have the incumbent officers remain on for four more months. There were many discussions on the future of the Council itself.
The new slate of officers, elected at the end of 1941, brought a new spark of vigor and enthusiasm. Unfortunately, they also inherited a World War. Many normal activities now became war oriented. One Sunday mass was offered each month for those members in the armed forces. A “War Activities” committee was formed. Part of their activity included keeping a strict accounting of members in the armed forces. Friday night bingo for the benefit of the church was started in January of 1942, but was shortly thereafter cancelled because of blackout regulations. In the short time it ran, $492 was raised and donated to the Parish. It was revived again at the end of 1943.
1945 saw a revived Council. Old members began returning. Bingo became profitable. The Council began discussions with Father Joseph about an essay contest for the Parochial school children. The Supreme Council established a $1 million dollar scholarship fund for the children of servicemen who were killed in the war. The initial assessment was 25¢ per member. The Council could actually afford it. In fact, the old bank note from 1928 was paid off and the Council was out of debt for the first time in over 15 years. They were able to have a very happy 25th anniversary celebration. The war was over, they were out of debt and the Councils future was bright. They sought to become more a part of the community. The war had lasted a long four years. Sadly there were 16 Farmingdale residents listed as having been killed in action. The years of rationing were now over and consumers were anxious to purchase products and goods that had not been available during the war. Returning servicemen were also anxious to get on with their lives. A G.I. Bill was passed by the Congress to help them further their education and purchase homes. The first post war automobiles came out in 1947 and were bought up immediately. Those brand new cars cost well under $2,000.
The fear of Communism continued to be a major concern. The Council purchased 200 copies of a pamphlet entitled “The truth about the Cardinal Minzenti trial”. They were given to Father to distribute. Nine men volunteered to attend mass every day to pray for the “conversion of Russia”. All members of the K of C were also urged to join the Holy Name Society.
In 1949 the Council began preparation of its own By Laws. They were completed in a few months. Supreme Council then suggested a few changes and they were officially adopted in 1950.
The Council continued to prosper after the war under very dynamic leadership and membership increased. By the time the Korean War ended, there were 200 members. Attendance at meetings, however, remained low. Several activities were begun with an eye to increasing meeting attendance. There were speakers and films and smokers were held at various social meetings. The members also continued their prayerful fight against Communism.
The thirty plus years that the Council existed saw many changes on Long Island. It grew from a rural farming community to a sprawling suburban environment. One of the largest industries was defense and aviation was at its center. Grumman, Republic, Fairchild and Beechcraft were a few of the major employers whose operations were on Long Island and, more importantly, near Farmingdale. They were complemented by many support industries. The end of war saw many returning servicemen looking for, and finding, their dream homes on Long Island. Levittown led the way with truly affordable homes. St. Kilian’s Parish no longer served the large geographic area it had in the 1920s. Several Council members sensed this and proposed to change the name from “St. Kilian’s Council “ to “Farmingdale Council” and a long debate followed which would go on for over three years.
During those years of “the great debate” the Council continued to move forward and prosper. Money was donated to the Parish, the school and many other charities. The Ladies Auxiliary was reorganized in 1951. Membership was restricted to only wives and sisters of Knights of Columbus members. Members also served with various other parish and community groups as Knights of Columbus representatives.
Furthering their religious life and assisting the church was never far from the minds and activities of the Council members. In early 1953 they voted to devote a half hour at the beginning of the first meeting of every month to answering questions about religion. A nativity was constructed for the parish and an American flag was presented to the St. Kilian’s school. The practice of presenting gifts to the graduating class of St. Kilian’s school was also continued.
From the time of the loss of the Council home, meetings were held in the basement of the Church, and then moved to the American Legion Hall. Then they moved the first meeting of each month to the church sacristy, but none of these was “their” home. In January of 1955, the first step in fulfilling the dream of owning their own home again was taken. A section of property on Morton Street was purchased for $1,500.
This was followed almost immediately by a terrible blow. Father Joseph, their beloved Chaplain, advisor and friend for over thirty years, passed away.
The Council members recovered from their grief and continued on with their lives. A crucifix was acquired for the Council from the St. Rose Convent. Father McCloone became the Councils second Chaplain in 1956.
The debate over changing the Council name finally came to a head. On July 25, 1956, after a very heated and very long debate (a meeting not to be forgotten by the attendees), a vote was taken. The result was 30 for and 27 against changing the name from “St. Kilian” to “Farmingdale” Council.
With a new name on their masthead, they continued their quest for a new home to put it on. The Council formed a building committee. They also had members with building and economics experience research and report on the problems in building a new Council home or “clubhouse” as some liked to call it.
A new office was added to the roll call. That was the “Pounder of the Keys”. Of course, there was only one person that held the office and there was never an election. The “Pounder” entertained his brother Knights at the keyboard and played for meetings and ceremonies.
As work continued on their clubhouse dream, steps were taken to help the youth of the area and ensure a continuing supply of future Knights. A “Squire Circle” was formed in 1956. The Squires were boys from 14 to 18 years of age. They participated in many social and sporting activities. Their basketball team was the league and County winner several times. The Circle lasted until 1965 when, probably as a sign of the turbulent 60s, they disbanded due to lack of membership.
In the meantime, a Council newspaper, called The Mariner” was started in 1958. It had interesting articles, announced activities and carried a message from the Grand Knight. Advertisements were sold to pay for the printing.
Changing the Council name opened up a new area. Exactly where should the Council’s allegiance be? To which parish or parishes should they donate their money? Several discussions were held on this issue. The solution may not have been Solomonesque, but it did satisfy the membership. The annual Christmas donation would be divided amongst the St. Kilian, St. James, St. Martin of Tours and St. Pius X parishes.
In 1958, the Building Corporation purchased an additional piece of property on Morton Street and Smith Street for $1,200. They now had enough property to consider constructing a new Council home. But, first they needed a plan and money to build with. The Council was truly prospering. Activities always had more than 100 people in attendance. Open house activities continued to bring in new members.
The Council members continued their activity against obscenity and pornography. In 1959, they purchased 2,500 copies of a pamphlet entitled “How to Fight Obscene Literature”. The movie theatre that used to be at the corner of Main Street and Prospect Street was visited by an angry delegation any time an obscene film was shown. They also purchased a book every second month and donated it to a local library.
In July 1959, the Council requested that the Charter be moved from Suffolk County to Nassau County in order to more accurately reflect their membership. The State Deputy, who was the only person with the authority to make the change, refused. His reason was that all of the Districts were already arranged for the year and it would not be practical to make changes. He did, however assure the Council that all degrees (or ceremonies) would be in the local area. Farmingdale was to remain a Suffolk County Council.
The Council was greatly saddened by the death of Pope John in 1961. Their anguish was heightened by the death of their Chaplain, Father McCloone in the same year.
The Ladies Auxiliary continued their staunch support of the Knights. They cooked and prepared meals. Much of the profit from their events was donated to the Knights for their charitable works. In 1964, the Ladies Auxiliary voted to become Columbiettes. This would allow them to continue their support and also carry the same name and be closely identified with the Knights.
Another item taken on by the Knights was the location of the graves of all deceased members. The graves were marked, before Memorial Day, with a Knights of Columbus emblem.
Father Pagano, the Council Chaplain since 1961, was forced to resign as Chaplain in 1964 because the position conflicted with other new duties he was given. The search for a new Chaplain was begun. While this search was going on, The Grand Knight was forced to resign because of his business obligations.
In early 1965, all meetings were moved back to the St. Kilian’s building. That proved to be a very eventful year. For one thing, that was the year that the unionized Moving and Storage employees went on strike. Coincidentally, one of the brothers was scheduled to move at the same time. In true Knight spirit, the Council members moved everything themselves. There were probably a few sore muscles, but everything was quickly and safely moved.
May of 1965 saw the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Council home on the Smith Street property. In July 1965, Smith Street was officially renamed Garrity Place in honor of Past Grand Knight Lewis Garrity. The building dedication was held on November 7, 1965. At last and for the first time since 1933, the Council had a home of its own. A fine nativity scene was purchased and displayed on the roof for the very first Christmas season in the new home. A Thanksgiving dance and Christmas party were held. The first New Year’s Eve party was attended by 200 people. Many of the Councils activities were now centered in their new home. A liquor license was obtained in early 1966. This allowed the Council to sell spirits. To improve their style, teach new steps and reduce the number of wallflowers, dance lessons were given on Sunday afternoons. The cost was kept at an affordable $10 per couple for six lessons. During the next several years there were many social events where those lessons were put to good use. A television was installed at the bar. An antenna, capable of receiving channel 3 was also installed so they could now watch the New York Giants home games being broadcast from Connecticut.
The war affected the Council as it did the rest of the country. The membership was older and they did not go off to war, but they did support the soldiers with their prayers. They also “adopted” a unit. They chose the 4th infantry of the 25th Battalion.
The Squires Circle, which had declined over the years, was reorganized in 1966.
In 1967, Father W. Leen became the 4th Chaplain, but after almost six months he realized that other tasks took up too much of his time and he gave up the post. The search for a Chaplain resumed again.
Membership was up to 285 in 1967. Starting in October, the bar was open on three Friday nights and on the fourth Sunday of each month, plus it would be open for all televised Giants games. Nationality nights were started with Italian and German feasts as the first offerings. New Knights of Columbus signs were provided for the church and school lobbies.
Everything seemed to be looking up for the Council. The only downside noted was that the meeting attendance began to drop off, but measures were soon taken to remedy that.
The Squires Council was very active in 1968. They held dances, went to baseball games and hockey games. They also held two car washes and donated the profits to St. Mary’s Home.
The Council continued its activities and began to make more ambitious plans. Discussions began concerning bingo. They were put on hold because a commitment to work was required from at least forty members. This could not be achieved. The Council home required several workers to help with cleaning and maintenance and, believe it or not, the building was getting too small to house everything that was needed.
The first of many acts of vandalism at the Council occurred when the cash register was stolen. As usual, though, we prefer to remember the good times over the bad. To increase those good times, someone donated a player piano. The only cost was $150 for transporting it to the home.
Plans for expansion of the home were developed and expanded into 1969. Among the issues to be addressed were the lack of parking and the lack of adequate drainage. The Town of Babylon, however, seemed to add new and more stringent requirements each time they saw the plans. The cost estimates continually increased and eventually the plans were deferred indefinitely. A plan was then made and carried out to add storage space to the house. The cost estimate was only $4,000. Rentals were going strong. The Columbiettes ran several prosperous functions and purchased a beer cooler for the hall.
The second half of the turbulent 1960s saw the beginning of problems in the membership. The Viet Nam war tore the country apart and some of this dissension may have found its way down to the Council. Another big factor in the decline was the age of the membership. The members were getting older, their children were grown and many had moved on to other interests. They began to experience difficulty in getting the members to participate in the needed maintenance and other activities. Some events were cancelled due to lack of participation. Open houses were held and no potential candidates came. To boost member participation, there was an added drive for better programming at meetings. Films were shown. Speakers gave presentations on topics as diverse as religion and sports. There was a presentation on the preparation of wills and a presentation by a State Councilman. The records also show that there was an informal night where they served limburger and onion sandwiches. No one spoke much that night.
1970 was the 50th anniversary of the Council. A formal gala ball was held at the Huntington Town House to celebrate this golden anniversary. The ball was attended by 173 people. A beautiful commemorative journal was also produced for the event.
As the next fifty began the Council continued their efforts to turn around their declining membership. They voted to pay the bartenders so that there would always be an adequate supply of them. The hall rentals continued to be good, but membership participation remained low.
In October 1971, Father Peter Gelsomino accepted the post as the 6th Chaplain of the Council. In 1974, the Priests of the Order of St. Benedict left, and St. Kilian Parish was taken over by the Diocese of Rockville Centre. The new Pastor, Fr. Donald Shane, ultimately became the 6th Chaplain of the Council.
The Council meeting attendance continued to be low. There was an attempt to upgrade the “Mariner” into a money raising, professionally printed newspaper. Ads were to be sold that would secure the funding for this. Despite the efforts of several people, not enough ads were sold. There was not enough Council support and the Mariner was put out in a less expensive mimeographed format. Activities continued to be planned but there was a lack of participation by the membership. Many of the scheduled activities lost money. The Council home was paying its way, barely, and continued to command much of the member’s time. There was always a shortage of workers. A new group within the Council was then discovered – The Retirees. They volunteered to work at the home. The Columbiettes also came through by purchasing new wallpaper for the entrance lobby walls. The retirees provided the labor to install it.
The Council, despite its membership ills, continued to donate money to the church and local charities. They always had a table at the Hardscrabble Fair which was held in the village each year. The members also continued their individual participation in parish activities.
The infamous Roe vs Wade decision by the Supreme Court, in January 1973 allowing abortion, brought a loud protest by all Catholics. Council members were there on the march to Washington D.C., and they have been there every year since.
The sad death of Pope John Paul VI in August 1978, followed by the happiness of having a new Pope, John Paul I, only to have him die just 33 days later was another tragedy in the Catholic Community. This was quickly followed by the election of John Paul II, who would serve as Pope for the next 27 years.
The end of the 1970’s saw a completely redecorated Council home. It even sported a new coat of paint outside and new air conditioning and stereo systems. There was a free dance held to inaugurate the new stereo systems. And – you guessed – free dance lessons, so no one had to be a wallflower. But this did not stem the tide of declining membership. In fact, in 1981 the New Year’s Eve party, which had been a successful annual social event for many years, was cancelled because of lack of membership participation. The hall was rented to outsiders and a profit of $800 was made.
The 1980s saw an increase in another problem – vandalism. There had always been minor acts of vandalism such as broken windows or doors attributed to the youths hanging around the 7-11 Store on Fulton Street. The destruction, however, began to increase. Gas tanks were vandalized more than once, as was the perimeter fencing. Even the roof top air conditioners were not safe from the vandals. This did not help the member’s attitude or the cash flow for the Corporation. More than $1,000 was required every month just to run the building and it all had to be raised through rentals.
A TV set was donated for the building and a new lighting system was installed. None of this helped increase the membership rolls, but it did help in building rentals. There also seems to have been some personality clashes within the Council. There were accusations that some of the building Corporation’s directors did not fulfill their obligations. Officers resigned and there was at least one recorded discussion about the lack of sympathy on the part of some members.
The New Year’s Eve parties may have been cancelled, but the Council struggled on. There was a small core of Knights that just would not let it die.
New ideas for raising money and stimulating interest in the Knights were needed. They held garage sales and sold grapefruit and oranges. A limited raffle with a $1,500 grand prize was held.
The burden of operating a building fell to a smaller and smaller group of people. The Council seemed to exist for the building, not the building being a useful attribute for the Council. It seems that the tail was wagging the dog. In May 1984, the inevitable finally happened. The Corporation voted to sell the building. This was a devastating blow. Members took sides and it seems that this issue became more important to some than the Council itself. Attendance declined so much that there was not even a quorum at many meetings. In August 1985, an offer of $295,000 was made for the building. It was sold in December, just one month after the mortgage burning party. After twenty years, the Council, again, was without its own home. The meetings were again moved to St. Kilian’s. The first meetings were held in the crypt below the church and later (in 1988) were moved to the Senior Citizens Center (SCC).
The members continued to support the Parish school through the Mother’s Club Bingo (those were the days that almost every Catholic Church Parish held Bingo games). They fielded a group of men (known as the “K team”) to work the Bingo on the fourth Friday night of every month. When Bingo was terminated, the “K team” disbanded.
As the 1980s came to a close, the Council began to rebuild itself. The treasury had money from the sale of the building (the Building Corporation was deactivated). The funds were invested, under very careful scrutiny, in a manner that would ensure a good return. The interest received was used to run the Council. They did not, however, keep the money for themselves. Most of the money was given away to charity. Among these were $1,000 to St. Kilian’s for the new electronic church bells, $2,000 for the bingo machine, $1,000 for the school and $1,000 for the repair of the church roof. These were in addition to the annual $3,000 donation. The Council had, traditionally sponsored a pancake breakfast in the Cherry Street School cafeteria, with the proceeds going to the school. When the St. Kilian School became regionalized, the Pastor persuaded them to continue the breakfast and give the proceeds to the Religious Education program. They continued for a few more years, until the school participation dropped and the cost of the ingredients increased so much as to make it unprofitable, sadly the Pancake breakfasts had to stop. In 1987 the Council voted to Sponsor Boy Scout Troop 57, something that continues to this day.
The downward trend of the Council had reached an end in the late 1980s. The core of members that remained during the tough times was now being augmented by a group of newer members that were free of the baggage of the issues that had gone on in the past. Meeting attendance grew slowly. Council members knew they needed to increase their membership. They held their meetings in the SCC, which was in the old, unused, St. Kilian’s school on Conklin Street. (the building was in a sad state of repair and ultimately razed in February 1997 and turned into the Conklin Street parking lot.) Their parties were held in the new school cafeteria on Cherry Street (now closed) or in other, offsite, venues.
This was hardly a way to attract and retain new members, but they were willing to try. What everyone wanted was – you guessed it – a home of their own.
In 1992, an informal building committee was formed to search for a building that the Council could call home and could also be rented out, so as to sustain itself. After an extensive search in the area they located a building at 1 Morton St. The “Corporation” (the official title of which is “The Farmingdale Catholic Center, Inc.”) was reactivated on March 16, 1993, by a resolution, and the building committee disbanded. The Corporation completed the purchase for $250,000 in the summer of 1993. It was the same building they had sold almost 10 years earlier. They actually repurchased it at a lower price than they sold it. The building had been used by a small electronics repair company that subdivided the entire inside into a warren of small work areas. The first order of business was to remove everything inside. They completely refurbished and redecorated the building’s interior, purchased new chairs and tables and the first rental was held in November 1993. The Columbiettes also held a “shower” for the new building and furnished many of the smaller items that were needed for its operation. The 90’s was a busy time for the Council and St. Kilian’s Parish. Father Shane was replaced by Father F. Hourihane, then Father B. Riordan, and then Fr. J. Worthley as the 7th, 8th and 9th Chaplains. In 1993 Fr. Angelo Resultay became the 10th Chaplain of the Council.
In addition to their annual Council Christmas party, they sponsored a children’s Christmas party, complete with Santa. When the membership aged, it morphed into a children’s/grandchildren’s party. Another tradition was running an annual Blood Drive jointly with the local Masons Club. When the Masons sold their building, in 1993, the members turned their efforts to assisting with the semiannual Blood Drives at St. Kilian’s.
The Council joyously celebrated its 75th Anniversary on November 15, 1995, with a gala ball at the Delaney Council Hall on Hicksville Road (now Chapey’s Funeral Home), because its own building was too small to house the 200 people that attended.
Also, in 1995, The Pastor, Msgr. Charles Swiger, began to develop plans to enlarge or rebuild the church facility. When St Kilian Church first opened its doors in 1898, the Parish was home to between 200 & 300 families. By the 1990’s it had grown to almost 6,000 families. Masses were said simultaneously in the Church building and the auditorium of the new school. Clearly a new, larger facility was needed to unite all of the worshippers in one space. A plan was drawn to expand the “old” church building and a capital campaign started to raise the necessary funds. The Council members pledged to donate $6,000 toward that effort. Groundbreaking began in September of 1997 and the new, enlarged, St. Kilian Church was opened on July 4, 1998. Just in time for the 100th anniversary of the original church. The dedication was led by Bishop McGann, with the Knights of Columbus Color Corps there to usher him in.
The member’s had an unpleasant surprise, in 1996, when an altercation between guests at a rental party led to both the Corporation and the Council being named in $2.1 Million litigation. The surprise was that through an error by the insurance agent, the Council’s name had been removed from the insurance policy. The Council had to hire its’ own lawyer. After several years and thousands of dollars in legal fees for the Council, both the Corporation and the Council were found blameless.
Much of the Council member’s energy was associated with the building. The side yard, which had become a neighborhood dumping ground, was cleaned, fenced by the members, grass was planted and the yard made available for rental. The building was upgraded with a new roof, dance floor, disco ball, paint, ceiling tiles, and carpeting. If the building was to remain rentable, it had to look presentable. In 1995, smoking was banned in the hall. A bocce court was constructed in the side yard, for the members, but after several years of minimal use, it was removed.
Father Augustine Fernando (Fr. Gus to everyone) joined the Council in 1998, Msgr. Swiger, passed away in February 2001, and the new Pastor, Msgr. James Swaider, joined the Knights in 2003. When Father Resultay passed away in 2003 Father Gus became the 11th council Chaplain. Msgr Michael Flynn became the Pastor in 2005. But, again we are getting ahead of ourselves.
The Council moved into the new millennium with gusto. Despite the pundits dire predictions about “Y2K”, where all electronic devices were predicted to instantaneously fail. All computers and their time associated clocks were supposed to crash, and the banking system was supposed to be in chaos. We know now, with 20/20 hindsight, that the pundits were wrong. The world and the Council never missed a beat. The Pope, declared the year 2000 to be a Jubilee Year, and the Council participated in Jubilee activities.
On September 11, 2001, the vicious attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, by Muslim extremists, not only took the country by surprise, it devastated us. The Knights were saddened and angered by the attack. Many, including our Recorder, were called to work at the area, which became known as “ground zero”, searching and sifting through the rubble for remains of the victims. The sadness was compounded when the Deputy Grand Knight suddenly passed away, leaving another void in the Council leadership. 2001 was a year that the Council members would like to forget ever happened.
The bombing of the World Trade Center and the subsequent war in Iraq, which started in 2003, did not change the direction of the Council, but it did change some of its efforts. Councils were urged to “adopt a Unit” of the U.S. military. Farmingdale Council, along with the other Councils of the 11th District, adopted the 301st Regiment. Articles of clothing and sundries that the soldiers needed were collected and sent to them in Iraq. The meetings were opened with a special red, white and blue candle lighting ceremony to memorialize the 9/11 event. Other disasters occurred both in this country and the world. In December 2004 there was a tsunami in Indonesia that killed more than 280,000 people in 14 countries. Hurricane Katrina killed 1,800 people right here in the United States in 2004. The Council members prayed for the victims and donated money to help the survivors.
But, the country and the Council had to move on. Renovations continued in the building with the help of two NY State grants in the amount of $10,000 each. The bathrooms and kitchen were completely revamped. New, separated, offices were built for the Corporation and Council officers to work in and high efficiency electric lighting fixtures were installed throughout the building. The Council continued to run plant sales and Knight at the Races, Communion breakfasts and other social events. They also continued to protest anti Catholic legislation in Albany and Washington D.C.
2005 saw a change to the front of the building. An existing metal overhang was removed and an awning constructed that went from the building to the curb line. Inside, a picture of our own Father Gus with Pope John Paul II was unveiled and mounted in the lobby
A new initiative was started, in 2006, to revive the previously disbanded Squires Circle. After a lot of work to reactivate their charter, the Father Haldemeyer Circle of Squires held their first meeting in the spring of 2008. Unfortunately, the Circle only lasted for a few years and then was disbanded again.
Super storm Sandy, described as a “late season, post-tropical cyclone”, hit the U.S. in October 2012. By the time it moved away, it had affected 24 states and caused over $65 billion dollars in damage and killed 24 people in New York State alone. Thousands lost their homes and millions were without power. Farmingdale Council members acted immediately and opened the Council building to people that had lost power or homes.
Food and a place to stay, was given to those in need. They truly demonstrated all that was good about the Knights of Columbus.
The Building continued to require the work of many volunteers to keep it a viable place meet (and more importantly, to rent). It continued to be an issue to get those volunteers. But men did volunteer, and the building was continually upgraded, by changing the wallpaper, painting and renewing and replacing the appliances, thereby giving the Council a place to meet. Jukebox and ice freezers were purchased andsecurity cameras, with recorders, were installed inside and outside the building to help eliminate some of the vandalism issues.
In 2013, the Pastor, Msgr Flynn, asked – “Why don’t you come back home”? What did he mean? Well, you are associated with St. Kilian Parish. You used to be St. Kilian Council. Why are you called Farmingdale Council? Why don’t you come back home to St. Kilian? That little question planted a seed of an idea. The seed grew into a discussion that grew and grew until almost the entire membership was asking the same question. The Council officially voted to change the name back to St. Kilian’s Council, #2204 on February 4, 2014 by a vote of 46 for, 2 against and 1 abstention. The paperwork was submitted up the chain of command to the Supreme Council for approval.
In March 2014, Fr. Gus celebrated his Golden Jubilee (50 years) as a priest and his retirement. A big celebration, sponsored by the Council, was held in St. Kilian’s auditorium. Hundreds of Parishioners and many dignitaries were in attendance to honor our Chaplain. Fr. Gus remains on as our Chaplain and is in residence at St. Kilian’s Rectory. Fr. Bruce Powers became the new Pastor in June of 2014. This was followed in October by the Columbiettes big celebration of their 50th anniversary.
On November 1,2014the Council officially became known as St. Kilian’s Council #2204 – again. How apropos that this should happen on All Saints Day!
The members are now looking forward to the Council’s 100th Anniversary (the centenary), in 2020. As they wait, they will continue to persevere in their life’s journey as Catholic gentlemen in the St. Kilian’s Council, #2204 of the Knights of Columbus.