Minnesota State Council History

Minnesota State Council
Compiled by Eugene Hippe, PSD

Edited and added on to by Greg van der Hagen, PSD

When the Minnesota State Council was formed in 1901, The Order was only 19 years old. Virgin timber was still being cut in the State of Minnesota. Two years earlier St. Paul Council #397 had become the first council west of Chicago. Many of the early residents were first generation immigrants. Five of the current six dioceses already had been formed to meet Catholic needs in the state. Most people lived on farms or in small villages and agriculture was the predominant industry with milling being very important in the city of Minneapolis. Manual labor was the rule rather than the exception and children seldom were educated beyond the sixth grade at which time they often joined the labor force. Telephones were rare and the automobile was a new invention that was limited to the rich. Neighborhoods were small, ethnic in nature and close knit. Family values were strong. By the time, the state council was ten years old, thirty-two local councils had been formed. Edward W. Buckley, M.D. from Minnesota served as Supreme Director from 1906 through 1923 and as Supreme Physician from 1907 through 1923. William D. Dwyer also served as Supreme Director from 1907 through 1924. Although he was a Past State Deputy from Wisconsin, he moved and transferred his membership to St. Paul Council #397 in December of 1909.

During this period both St. Scholastica in Duluth and St. Benedict in St. Joseph were founded and in 1914 the first Mass was held in the Basilica. Farming was still done with horses, telephones now connected small communities but few households had a personal phone. Airplanes were a rarity, Henry Ford was making an impact on the automobile industry with his Model T and Model A (all of which were painted black) and the first radio broadcasting station, KDKA in Pittsburgh, came on the air in 1920. During these years, the state added 25 more local councils. In 1914, Minnesota hosted the first Supreme Convention to be held west of the Mississippi. It was hosted by St. Paul Council #397.

Between 1922 and 1931 Minnesota went through the same boom and bust as the rest of the nation. Federal prohibition legislation by Minnesota Congressman Volstad from Granite Falls changed lifestyles and bootleg liquor became quite common. Minnesota native Charles Lindberg from Little Falls excited the world by flying solo nonstop from New York to Paris in 1927. The Stock Market crash in 1929 brought a sense of reality back to a nation that was living on the edge of fantasy and indulgence. Sixteen mm motion picture film was invented by Eastman Kodak and Hollywood and silent movies became fashionable. NBC and CBS were formed as radio broadcasting stations and both black and white and color TV was demonstrated in Bell Telephone labs but there was no short-range commercial utilization. Only seven new councils were formed during this decade. Minnesota also hosted the Supreme Convention in 1925 in Duluth. The delegates there witnessed the formation of the very first Columbian Squires Circle, Duluth Circle #1. Mark E. Ryan, M.D. from Minnesota served as Supreme Physician from 1923 through 1924. Edward W. Fahey, M.D. from Minnesota also served as Supreme Physician from 1924 through 1948.

Minnesota and the rest of the nation was struggling with a severe economic depression which was further aggravated by “dust bowl” conditions resulting from a prolonged drought of Biblical proportions. Living on small 160-acre farms, or less, was still the rural way of life in Minnesota. Some mechanization was beginning to replace manual labor and horsepower on farms. Rural Electric Cooperative Power Companies were formed during this period. These electric coops benefitted rural churches as well as farmers and others in rural areas. The war in Europe began to fuel the economy as supplies were sought by England and its allies and as the U.S. itself geared up for the inevitable day it would be drawn into the war. Local council growth was confined to only seven more councils being formed.

Between 1942 and 1951 the Minnesota economy was booming due to the industrial and agricultural demands of war and the creation of new families after “our boys” came home. Memories of these times include patriotic songs, neighborhoods collecting and sending packages to troops overseas and rationing, rationing, rationing…… Everything from gas and shoes to sugar and meat were rationed and had to be purchased with coupons. During the same period, the atomic bomb was developed by the U.S. and dropped twice on Japan. In 1948 television began to enter homes and neighbors would share the new device with each other. We ended the decade feeling the effects of a cold war and the beginning of the Korean War. A spurt in council formation began in 1948 with eleven councils formed in the next three years. Emmet M. “Darby” O’Brien served as Supreme Director from 1950 through 1956.  State Deputy Judge F.J. Connolly hired Jim Campbell as Executive Secretary in 1950.

Our greatest growth period was from 1952 to 1961 when 59 councils were chartered. During this period people began to use electric typewriters, Russia launched Sputnik I, the Korean War ended and the Cold War began. Also, a guy by the name of Elvis Presley came on the scene and changed the world of music. Many of us had access to designated “fall out shelters”, some of which were located in public buildings and church basements. In 1957 the Diocese of New Ulm was created by dividing up parts of the service area of the Winona Diocese and the St. Paul/Minneapolis Archdiocese. Farming became more mechanized and farms increased in size resulting in a gradual but steady decline in rural population. Population decline led to mandated school consolidation which led to the eventual demise of the “one room country school” Many Catholic high schools were closed during this period. Urban areas began to grow faster as Interstate Highways were built and large economic trade centers became connected. Minnesota again hosted the 1953 Supreme Convention by St. Paul Council #397 with the assistance of the Minnesota State Council which consisted of 85 local councils. It was held on August 18-20. The convention headquarters was the St. Paul Hotel and the State Dinner was held at the St. Paul Auditorium Arena. The Grand Knight for Council #397 was John E. Bohman and the State Deputy was M.J. Daly. The convention chairperson was Jay P. O’Connor and his co-chair was Francis McGrande. The Right Reverend Msgr. Leo M. Finn was the Supreme Chaplain and John E. Swift was the Supreme Knight. The Most Reverend John Gregory Murray was the Archbishop of St. Paul and the Auxiliary Bishop was the Most Reverend James Byrne. Francis Connelly served as Supreme Director from 1956 through 1968. The Minnesota Knights of Columbus Student Loan Program had its beginning at the 1959 state convention held in Grand Rapids, MN. It was the wish of the convention delegates that the Knights of Columbus in Minnesota recognize the need and value of a loan program which would assist members and their families attending catholic colleges. Also, it was thought that the loans and interest should not have to be paid back until the student completed their college course work.

During this period rural areas experienced more of the results of the rural to city population shift which created more problems for cities, schools, and churches. The Interstate Highway system became a reality and many rail lines where abandoned thus creating even more rural isolation. Technology advancements countered some transportation and population changes and began to directly impact households with such things as electronic switching for long distance telephone calls thus allowing for direct dialing without operator assistance. Civil Rights issues were frequent headlines and protests and marches were common. In 1963 John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president was assassinated. In 1969 the forerunner of the internet was created by the Defense Department. Television signals were still being received on individual antennas on top of each house. Twenty-one councils were formed during this time period.

Education and technology became passwords during this period. Farming had gradually changed from labor intensive general farms that raised and grew a little of everything to capital intensive farms that concentrated on only a few crops and one type of livestock. A farmer now raised 5000 hogs a year instead of 200 and a single turkey operation could raise one half million birds a year instead of 10,000 to 25,000. Corn yields increased from less than 50 bushels per acre in 1940 to 125-150 bushels per acre on many farms. Corporate America wanted the Midwest rural work ethic in its factories and offices in urban areas. Rural areas continued to lose population. These were boom years for suburban growth. Twenty-two new councils were organized during these years. Medard R. Yutrzenka served as Supreme Director from 1975 through 1983 and continued on as Supreme Director Emeritus from 1983 through 1986.  In 1978, Willis Heins was hired as Executive Secretary of the Minnesota State Council and he served in that position until approximately 1986.  He took over from Jim Campbell of the Shakopee Council upon Jim Campbell’s death in February of 1978.

Co-habitation, abortion, pro-life, terrorism, oil spills, rain forest destruction, global warming, ozone layer depletion, threatened species, hijacking…..these were familiar terms in newspaper headlines, evening news on TV, on the radio and the subject of many political debates. A global economy was developing, the Midwest no longer was the breadbasket of the world and the U.S. and Russia were no longer alone in having nuclear weapons. A shortage of priests was becoming a major concern in many dioceses. All these changes concerns and problems did not keep the Minnesota Knights of Columbus from chartering 33 more councils and reaching an all-time membership high of 47,257 in 1990. Gayne J. Maloney served as Supreme Director from 1987 through 1993.

After 100 years, Minnesota was once again witnessing an influx of immigrants. This time it was not white Europeans with different languages but similar cultures. The new immigrants were diverse in background and language and were Hispanics, Hmong, Simoleans and Vietnamese. However, they came for the same reasons as their predecessors 100 years before. They came to find work, they came to raise families, they came to have freedom. This tenth decade for the State Council was a time when there was a shortage of priests, priests were assigned to more than one church, priests were extending their retirement dates, many older churches needed considerable maintenance and many churches were not handicapped accessible to meet the needs older parishioners. Also, volunteerism was decreasing in most organizations and finding volunteers was becoming a full-time job for many nonprofit organizations. This also was a time of economic turmoil with corporate take overs, downsizing and a corporate focus on profit with little concern for the employees. Twenty-two new councils were chartered during this time period. In 1992, the State Council hired Jeanne Heikkila, wife of State Deputy Neil Heikkila, for the position of Secretary to the State Deputy.  The 1999 Supreme Convention was hosted by the Minnesota State Council with the assistance of 234 councils. The convention was held August 3-5 in Minneapolis with the Hilton Hotel in downtown Minneapolis being the convention headquarters. The Minneapolis Convention Center was used for the convention Mass and the Hilton Hotel was the site for the States Dinner. The Supreme Chaplain was the Most Reverend Thomas V. Daily, D.D. and Virgil Dechant was the Supreme Knight. Matt Brletich was State Deputy and Msgr. Patrick McDowell from Duluth was the State Chaplain. Past State Deputy John Bachand was the convention chairman and he offered for visitors tours to the Mayo Clinic, Duluth and the Mall of America. The convention was well attended and many compliments were received regarding the well organized events. One of the convention highlights was the attendance of the Mass by many Priests, 86 Bishops and many Cardinals. Archbishop Harry J. Flynn gave the homily at the convention Mass.

Here is a picture of Past State Deputies that got together for the Mid-Year Meeting in 1998.  Top Row L to R:  Philip Harter, John Bachand, Greg van der Hagen, John Mastey, Donald Valiant, Neil Heikkila.  Bottom Row L to R:  Gayne Maloney, John Simonett, Peter Licari, John Perrin.


There were 28 new councils formed during this time period.  The State Council decided to make a change and drew up a position for a Contract Secretarial agreement and offered that position to PSD Greg van der Hagen.  Instead of it being a hired position, the contract secretarial position was drawn up with duties of Administrative Assistant spelled out.

The Minnesota State Council again hosted the Supreme Convention in 2019 in Minneapolis, MN on August 6-8. The State Deputy Marc Peters encouraged all councils in Minnesota to participate in the convention. Convention Co-Chairs were PSD Philip Harter and PSD Craig Larson. Archbishop Bernard Hebda was the Host Prelate for the convention and gave a superb homily at the opening Mass. Supreme Knight Carl Anderson spoke to fellow members of the Knights of Columbus at the Order’s 137th Supreme Convention. In his speech during the business session, Supreme Knight Anderson highlighted the achievements from the past fraternal year and announced new initiatives for the Order. The theme of his speech was “Knights of Unity.”  There were 23 new councils formed during this time.  In early 2020, the state as well as the world was fighting the Covid-19 pandemic which lasted through 2021.  This created several problems for councils that suffered from not being able to do much of anything during this time.  The Supreme Council developed a new program called “Leave No Neighbor Behind”, reminding members to stay in touch with members and parishioners to make sure that all were ok.

On Oct. 31st, 2020, attendees at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hartford, Conn., erupted in applause and church bells rang as Father Michael J. McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, was officially declared “blessed” at his beatification Mass.

Dignitaries present included Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore — Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston, Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford, as well as Supreme Knight Carl Anderson and other Supreme Council officers.

The celebrations emphasized Blessed McGivney’s humility, his holy witness and his love for the parishioners he served, with his “crowning achievement” being the establishment of the Knights of Columbus.

The beatification Mass follows five months after the May 27 announcement that Pope Francis approved a decree recognizing a miracle attributed to the intercession of Father McGivney. The miracle involved the healing of Michael “Mikey” Schachle from fetal hydrops, which causes a fatal accumulation of fluids throughout the body of an unborn child.

The Schachle family, including Mikey, attended the beatification Mass and presented Cardinal Tobin with one of Blessed McGivney’s relic. Members of the K of C founder’s remaining relatives also participated in the celebration.

Blessed McGivney was born of Irish immigrant parents in 1852 in Waterbury, Conn., and began his priestly ministry in 1887 after being ordained in Baltimore. At a time of anti-Catholic sentiment, he worked tirelessly to offer practical solutions to immigrant Catholic communities in Connecticut. In 1882, he founded the Knights of Columbus to provide spiritual support to men and offer financial resources for families that had suffered the loss of a breadwinner. He died of pneumonia on Aug. 14, 1890, after falling ill amid a pneumonia pandemic.

The process for his possible canonization officially opened in 1997. In March 2008, Pope Benedict XVI declared Father McGivney “a Venerable Servant of God,” citing the “remarkable accomplishment of that exemplary American priest.” Today’s beatification brings Father McGivney one step further in the canonization process, which could eventually lead to a declaration of Father McGivney’s sainthood.

Blessed Michael McGivney’s liturgical memorial will be observed annually on Aug. 13, the day in-between his birth (Aug. 12) and death (Aug. 14).

On March 1st of 2021, Patrick E Kelly took over as our new Supreme Knight of the Order.


Patrick Kelly took over the reins as our new Supreme Knight and consecrated his administration to St. Joseph and highlighted him as a singular model for the Knights in his roles as “Guardian of the Family” and “Guardian of the Truth.”

On February 24th, 2022 Russia invaded Ukraine where the Knights of Columbus had just been started approximately 10 years prior.  The Supreme Council started a fund to support our brothers in Ukraine and all of the refugees fleeing into Poland.  Councils as well as individuals were asked to contribute and by the end of March, 2022, they raised over $9.5 million dollars.  As the situation in Ukraine continues to change, the need to support refugees continues to grow. The Knights of Columbus will be working with our councils in Poland as well as the Latin and Greek Catholic Churches in Ukraine to provide temporary shelter, food, medical supplies, clothing, and communications.

Learn more about the Knights of Columbus
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