About Our Council
Oklahoma's First Knights of Columbus Council Chartered on November 22, 1903 in El Reno
Knights of Columbus
Council 767 History
Much of the following history is taken from the Sacred Heart Centennial Celebration book, edited by Kay Dyer, and researched by Carol Compton. Other details are taken from the recollections of Joseph A. Michalicka (member of Council 767 from 1921 to 1992) in his history addresses of various anniversary banquets.
The birthplace of the Knights of Columbus in Oklahoma is El Reno’s Sacred Heart Parish. In the summer of 1903, a group of enthusiastic men of the parish under the guidance of Fr. Constantine Pourcin, OSB met to discuss forming an organization for the purpose of promoting the Catholic faith in the Indian territory. This led to contact with James Flaherty, Supreme Knight of the K of C in the United States at that time. Soon, a letter from William J. McGinley, the Supreme Secretary, was received giving details of forming a Knights council in the territory.
On November 22nd, 1903, the first council in Oklahoma Territory was issued a charter under the name of Sacred Heart Council 767 of El Reno.
Charter members inducted that day were as follows: James W. Maney (Grand Knight), John W. Maher (Deputy Grand Knight), John J. Carney (Chancellor), George S. Pearl (Advocate), Joseph C. Hall (Warden), Benjamin F. Hall (Cor. Secretary), Herman J.Roleke (Financial Secretary), Mike Sendelbach, (Treasurer), Rev. Constantine Pourcin, OSB, (Chaplain), John C. Fogarty (Watchman), Rev. Isidore Ricklin, OSB, Rev. F.X. Gregory Gerrer,OSB, Rev. Joseph F. Stillemans, Henry C. Wolf, Lucien A. Bastin, Thomas D. Fahey, A.J. Gerrer, George W. Flannigan, William C. Ross, William C. Fender, Edward W. Gillespie, Peter Schiller, and M.D. Kennedy.
Newspapers of the time claimed the total was 35 members and also included the following new initiates: Christian Welter, J.M. McCoy, John Gerrer, Albert Gerrer, Dr. M. Fitzgerald, Joseph Schiller, F.B. Hendy, Neil Mulcahy, Harry Kennedy, William Hope, Charles Rohkar, and Harry Davis.
Charter members immediately went to work to help establish other councils in the Oklahoma and Indian Territories in Oklahoma City, Chickasha, Shawnee, and Lawton. The State Council of Oklahoma was formed in 1905; by 1907, councils had been established in McAlester, Guthrie, Ponca City, Muskogee, Enid, Perry, and Tulsa.
In 1905, the Council bought a small hall for meetings costing $1,900. As the Council grew, it became apparent that a larger meeting place was needed. In 1918, a different building became available, but money raised to purchase it was insufficient. In response, the El Reno Knights of Columbus Home Association was formed April 30, 1919, for the purpose of providing a permanent home for the Council. On October 30th of 1919, the Home Association was able to purchase the Goodyear Building for $7,500. Meetings were held there on the second floor for several years.
Membership in the Council grew to over 300 in the first 20 years of it’s existence, thereby necessitating the need for expansion to another, larger building which would house the Council and provide space for its needs. On January 23rd, 1923, a 3-story building at the corner of Sunset and Bickford, was purchased for $25,500 (about $425,000 in today’s money), with the old building being traded in on the transaction. In 1929, the lower floor was extensively remodeled and improved for leasing to a new tenant, the C.R. Anthony clothing store. During the years of the 1930’s and 40’s, the Knights Building was known as the “center of social life in the city.” By 1939 the second floor had been remodeled for use as an auditorium for Sacred Heart School, with children displaying their talents in frequent plays and recitals. By 1948 the hall was equipped for visual education with a large screen and projector, and black shades on the windows. Folding banquet tables and chairs were purchased, replacing boards on sawhorses. A well-equipped kitchen was established including a large icebox, a new 12 burner stove, and a large 3 compartment sink. This was also where the whole community came together for Thanksgiving dinners, and the annual school bazaars.
Council 767 through the years
In the early years of the 20th century, the Catholic Church was attacked by various groups. Openly biased and with great prejudice, these groups- especially the Ku Klux Klan, brought about anti-Catholic slanders and misinformation to be disseminated to the public in general. In 1912, Roy Crane, and organizer of the Socialist Party in Oklahoma, published a 94 page book called Barbarous Catholicism, which included various anti-Catholic slanders and also the bogus K of C oath. When his lecture tour for this book came through Oklahoma and El Reno, our council filed two charges against him in Canadian County Court alleging dissemination of obscene and vile literature, and for libel of the Knights of Columbus by distributing the false oath. In 1916, a guilty verdict was returned against him by a jury.
Following World War I, hostile feelings resurfaced against immigrants, African-Americans, and Catholics. The Catholic minority was suspected of being disloyal to the United States. This thinking was promoted mostly by the KKK. To correct these accusations, our El Reno council, along with other councils, distributed literature and made replies in the news media.
In the 1920’s, council members provided transportation and moral support to Sacred Heart pastor Fr. Renier Sevens’ preaching in the streets from his automobile in El Reno, Yukon, Union City and Minco.
During the time of World War II, the council hall was opened to soldiers who were stationed at Fort Reno. These were efforts to provide recreation and moral support to those who would risk their lives for our country. The soldiers were given free passes to all dances in the hall and made to feel welcome in other ways.
Council 767 has provided the State Council with numerous members holding office over the years. From 1945 to 1948 El Reno’s John M. Compton was elected to the office of State Deputy.
Knights Building Burns
Around 1950, new councils were formed in the neighboring towns of Kingfisher and Okarche, resulting in a rather large loss of membership and dropping Sacred Heart to 189 members.
January of 1952 saw a major fire start on the ground floor of the Knights of Columbus Building and was headed to the third floor where nearly 100 square dancers were enjoying a dance. Trapped dancers escaped down a back fire escape ladder and fire department ladders. No significant injuries were reported, however the fire caused $42,000 in estimated damages. The Home Association raised the money from membership loans to pay the cost of repairing the gutted back half of the building.
A more disastrous fire on June 27th, 1955 marked the end of the old Knights of Columbus Building. Apparently, the blaze started in a building basement a quarter block away and spread to the roof of the K of C building. After 6 hours, many area firefighters brought the conflagration under control, and after continuing to burn another 6 hours, the building was destroyed. This was the last time the council had its own meeting place and has since met in the basement of the church.
Into the new millenium
During the tumultuous 60’s and 70’s, the council provided a steady hand to the pastor and parishes as the Church worked its way through the challenges of the Second Vatican Council’s changes and society in general. During that time Council 767 was able to provide tens of thousands of dollars and man-hours to many charities and local causes, along with State K of C activities. This included help with re-building the church and hall of St. Joseph’s in Union City after a tornado in 1973 wreaked devastating damage to that parish, raising funds for establishing the Center of Family Love in Okarche, which opened in 1981. The Council donated money towards the purchase of new organs for both parishes, new stained-glass windows for Sacred Heart Church, money to furnish hospital rooms in El Reno’s Park View Hospital, furnishings for classrooms at Sacred Heart School, furnishings for St. Anne’s Home for the elderly in OKC, and thousands of hours of volunteer service from the membership.
In 2003, the council celebrated the 100th anniversary of its charter. Part of this celebration was being honored to act as host for the State Convention held in El Reno in April of that year. The convention was deemed a huge success and really showed off the hospitality of our membership and of Sacred Heart Church, and the city of El Reno.
In the new millennium, the council has enthusiastically participated in most State Knights projects and provided a continuing stream of support to the Church and local charities and activities by its members.