Minnesota State Council History
Minnesota State Council
Compiled by Eugene Hippe, 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 council 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 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.
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.
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 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. 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 offed for the visitors including 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, Bishops and by 86 Cardinals. Archbishop Harry J. Flynn gave the homily at the convention Mass.
There were 28 new councils formed during this time period.
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.