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Michigan Knights Pledge Support for Seminarians

The Michigan Knights of Columbus pledge to fund endowed scholarship.

by Darci Swisher

At the encouragement of Archbishop Allen Vigneron, the Michigan Knights of Columbus have pledged to endow a scholarship fund for seminarians at Sacred Heart Major Seminary.

According to Kenneth Unterbrink, immediate past state deputy for the Michigan Knights, the state board received an invitation to the archbishop’s home to discuss the possible gift. The Knights recently completed a $1.25 million commitment to fund the Fr. Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics, named in honor of the founder of the Knights of Columbus, and were eager to continue their enthusiastic support of Sacred Heart’s mission to form holy priests.

“He, once again, thanked the Knights in Michigan for what we’ve done in the past and, as we sat and talked, he came up with the endowed scholarship fund,” said Mr. Unterbrink, who was immediately honored by Archbishop Vigneron’s respect for the Knights of Columbus and what the fraternal organization can do because of its generous membership.

The state board agreed to raise a minimum of one million dollars to fund the newly established Michigan Knights of Columbus Endowed Scholarship Fund and is committed to completing this endeavor by 2026. Once fully funded, the endowment will assist seminarians at Sacred Heart in need of financial support, with preference given to those men who also are members of the Knights of Columbus. Scholarships will be distributed from the interest earned annually—likely a maximum of four percent—so the principal gift remains intact, ensuring the endowed fund will help seminarians for many years to come.

To fund the endowment, Michigan’s more than 65,000 Knights are being asked to donate six dollars when paying their annual dues each December. Participation is voluntary for this initiative, which began in 2017. The Knights are currently requesting the more than four hundred councils in the state to publicize the Michigan Knights of Columbus Endowed Scholarship Fund to encourage support from the dues notices being mailed in December 2018.

Donations for the endowment are deposited with the Michigan Knights of Columbus Charities, Inc., and are therefore tax-deductible. Mr. Unterbrink hopes this tax status will encourage additional gifts to the fund, especially when Knights consider charitable gifts at the year’s end.

“We’ve already seen this happen,” he says. After discussing the endowed scholarship at the summer leadership meeting, a member spontaneously offered to match gifts up to ten thousand dollars donated to the fund that day. In only four hours, membership came up with more than eleven thousand dollars for Sacred Heart, and the member proceeded to match the higher amount.

“Those of faith are very supportive of Sacred Heart Major Seminary,” Mr. Unterbrink says this story is one example.

For its entire existence, the Knights of Columbus has recognized the importance of the men who serve as the Church’s shepherds and has “stepped up aggressively” to support them, according to Dcn. Wayne Slomiany, evangelization and vocations director for the Michigan Knights. The organization was founded by a parish priest and has worked to encourage young men to consider answering the Lord’s call to the priesthood.

The Knights have long sustained Sacred Heart and other seminaries nationwide through the Refund Support Vocations Program, commonly known as RSVP. Councils “adopt” seminarians by providing funds for their education—a portion of which the Supreme Council refunds—as well as offering moral support and prayers.

Michigan councils also are frequent sponsors of the “Desert Meal” program to help fund the Desert Formation Experience for Sacred Heart seminarians. 

“We’ve recognized that these shepherds are so essential,” Deacon Slomiany says. “Not only for the Mass and the Eucharist, which is vital as Catholics, as Christians, as creatures created by God. It is vital in the sense that if these shepherds aren't there for us, who will look out for us pastorally? So, we’ve recognized that the support of vocations, and in particular the priesthood, is essential for us in order to become who God created us to be. To be able to live our lives the way we were created and to listen to and know what God is calling us to be as Christians.”

Deacon Slomiany hopes that his fellow Michigan Knights will continue the momentum they created from funding the Fr. Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics into this new initiative to provide financial assistance to seminarians.

Sacred Heart’s rector Msgr. Todd Lajiness, was involved with the development of the Knights’ endowed scholarship fund. “I am incredibly grateful for this gift,” he says. “For so long, they’ve been supporters of the seminary but also vocations in general. To work with the Knights on identifying this endowed scholarship was exciting, and I am filled with abundant gratitude.”

An endowment like the Michigan Knights of Columbus Endowed Scholarship Fund provides stability, Monsignor Lajiness notes. “That’s a good thing. When it’s directed toward seminarians, it takes perhaps, one of the questions or one of the anxieties off a seminarian’s plate—the financial piece. For a seminary, on our end, we’re able to have some flexibility with seminarians who are in need. It’s a tremendous benefit in really freeing up the seminarian so that he can discern his call without a financial obstacle.”

Monsignor Lajiness served as the Detroit archdiocesan chaplain of the Knights of Columbus (2004-10) and the Michigan state chaplain (2010-12). He says that while not required, many men studying at Sacred Heart join the Knights of Columbus because they see all the good the organization does for the seminary—and not just financially.

“The Knights provide tremendous support to the seminary and the seminarians know that,” he says. “Really, it’s a very prayerful support of all of our programs.” Mr. Unterbrink prays that his brother Knights and their families will support the endowed scholarship for years to come. “The Church is our most important asset,” he says. “If we, the Knights of Columbus, do not continually support our seminarians, our future priests, who will?"

by Darci Swisher

Darci Swisher

Darci Swisher is a freelance writer who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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Sacred Heart Major Seminary is a Christ-centered Catholic community of faith and higher learning committed to forming leaders who will proclaim the good news of Christ to the people of our time. As a leading center of the New Evangelization, Sacred Heart serves the needs of the Archdiocese of Detroit and contributes to the mission of the universal Church.