By Becky Aubut, Anchor Staff
WEST HARWICH, Mass. — There is a new ministry taking root on Cape Cod and it’s taking its name from Luke’s Gospel while hearkening back to the roots of the Knights of Columbus: “ … at our Gate” is an initiative being launched by the K of C and led by volunteers who are helping elderly individuals do projects, home repairs or other tasks.
When Mark Dennan of Holy Trinity Parish in West Harwich was living in Connecticut, he heard of a similarly-based ministry called “Christmas in April” that was being done by Americares with the K of C participating.
“The idea behind that was they would go out and solicit a project in your town — somebody’s house that needed a tremendous amount of work — and Americares would go out and various contractors with excess construction materials, and would distribute the stuff,” said Dennan. “The idea was you would get a local crew for the day and do everything in one day.”
Inspired by what he saw being done through the partnership of Americares and K of C at his St. Rose of Lima Parish in Newtown, Dennan joined the K of C in 1992, ultimately becoming a Grand Knight in 1997. When a fellow Knight shared a story of a single mother who had a child, and was struggling to pay her heating bills, the K of C stepped up on their own to fund the materials and do the work to insulate her home.
“I think it cost $500 and we did all the work ourselves,” said Dennan. “That was the first type of project we did like that.”
Realizing that a more concentrated program run solely by the K of C could encourage individuals to become members of the Knights, Dennan used the blueprint set-up by the “Christmas in April” program and named the K of C initiative, “ … at our Gate,” that not only revived people’s interest in becoming a Knight, but helped existing members get back in touch with why the Knights were formed.
“My agenda was to help these kinds of people, and the average person you’re helping is a widow or a single mother,” explained Dennan. “The Knights were founded on that premise.”
An Irish-American Catholic priest, Father Michael J. McGivney, founded the Knights of Columbus in New Haven, Conn. After gathering a group of men for an organizational meeting on Oct. 2, 1881, the group was incorporated under the laws of the state of Connecticut on Mar. 29, 1882. The primary motivation for the Knights was to be a mutual benefit society. As a parish priest in an immigrant community, Father McGivney saw what happened to a family when the main income-earner died, and wanted to provide insurance to care for the widows and orphans left behind.
“The whole idea has always been to help women. The primary mission has always been charity,” said Dennan, who began to reach out to encourage parishioners in the Connecticut parish to join. “After we had done a few of these projects, I got up in front of the church to recruit members, telling them about some of the people we had helped. What I found was tremendous amounts of people were willing to sign up to do those kinds of jobs.”
Dennan lived in Newtown for more than 30 years before he retired and moved to his home in the town of Harwich in 2012. He brought the “ … at our Gate” ministry to the Holy Trinity Parish shortly after joining the K of C at the parish, and though he said, “it’s still in the early stages here; we just getting into this,” the group has already finished 10 projects.
Dennan shared many stories of projects the group has already completed, from the basic assignments of installing grab bars in showers to the more hardier ventures that saw a woman need 13 volunteers working almost five hours to clean, trim, rake and bag all the excess yard debris that took 10 trucks to haul it all away.
Then there was the elderly, disabled widow who, along with her own daughter and grandchildren, was taking care of her mother who was suffering from Alzheimer’s, and all of whom were living with her; “This woman was just stretched,” said Dennan. “When her husband died, all his business stuff was just left around the house. She was not a hoarder; she was just overwhelmed and doing everything she could. Her disability check and her mother’s social security check could barely cover the house — you can imagine what it was like.”
It took several weekends to clean everything up, filling two dumpsters of stuff, but Dennan said they were able to find someone willing to take everything away, including the electronics equipment.
Then there’s an elderly woman whose husband died from a heart condition, and she wanted to move his clothes out of the basement, get them ready and donate them. Another woman just wanted a room painted and some blinds installed.
If a recipient can pay for materials, then that’s great, said Dennan, and if they cannot, the K of C will pick up the tab.
“I have always been very impressed by the amount of money this council distributes to local charities and the parishes,” said Dennan.
The group also receives a boost from local businesses. True Value Hardware Store in Harwichport gives the K of C a 20 percent discount on their projects, and it makes a big difference for the group, said Dennan. Paramount Rug in Hyannis gave a grandmother a steep discount when they heard she was taking in two of her grandchildren. The K of C painted both upstairs bedrooms for the children and the rug company helped cover the floors: “This woman is in her 70s and taking on two grandchildren,” said Dennan, adding that the rooms needed some work beyond the paint and new rugs. “The upstairs rooms had some roof leaks; there was a lot of work to be done in those rooms. It made a big difference for the kids.”
Right now the parish bulletin and social services are helping recipients get in touch with the K of C and the “ … at our Gate” ministry, but some individuals have reservations about reaching out: “The homeowners sometimes feel weird asking for help, but I tell them they’re doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do something good,” said Dennan. “You get so much back by doing it; people come home from a project and they feel really good. The client feels good because something got done and they might not ever have gotten it done. I think the people who do it feel good.”
Dennan doesn’t just promote the initiative in his parish; while on an Adoration, Community, Theology and Service Retreat, Dennan was asked to share ministry ideas, and he spoke about his experiences as a Knight and how K of C was building momentum behind the “… at our Gate” ministry. Paul Kilty, parishioner of Corpus Christi Parish in Sandwich, heard Dennan speak and felt the ministry would be a great fit for his parish.
Along with Tom Falcowski, Kilty broadened his search for volunteers to include men, women and children; he said he wanted to “encourage all volunteers to make it a family project.”
Though not a Knight, Kilty, his wife and five children will be part of the roughly 40 volunteers who have recently come together to begin an already-growing list of projects that began trickling in as soon as the ministry was announced.
“We got a fantastic response from volunteers and it’s a great community builder,” said Kilty. “For our parish, it’s bringing people together.”
He continued, “The volunteers who have signed up for the program are very excited to help and provide a much-needed service to our parish community. I have received a tremendous amount of positive feedback from the volunteers who are eager to help, as well as the parish members who have submitted project requests.”
Demographically speaking, the Cape has many older women who are widowed, and “women are the survivors,” said Dennan, “and a lot of times they’re left with no money because they spent money on medical bills or they didn’t have enough savings” and oftentimes they lose the mobility to be able to do fundamental things like climb a ladder to change a light bulb.
There are always people in need, even if you’re not aware they exist, and there should be people willing to stand up and help, said Dennan, whose outline for the program drives that point home by referencing Luke’s Gospel parable of “The Rich Man and Lazarus” in chapter 16, and where the name of the ministry came from:
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us’” (Lk 16:19-25).
Dennan offered up his interpretation of the story: “There are people in our community, in our parish and in our neighborhood in need, for various reasons — age, infirmity, financial, single parish, etc. — and it is our responsibility as Catholics and as Knights, whose prime mission is charity, not to ignore these people, but to reach out to them and offer assistance. Following up on ‘Tempus Fugit, Memento Mori’ (time flies, remember death), we are reminded by the Gospel what awaits those who do not assist those ‘at our gate.’ These people are offering us the opportunity to do a good deed, and unlike riches, [a good deed] is one of the very few things we can carry to the grave.”