South Carolina legislators came back to work in January and found their statehouse fairly drowning in red ink. Towns have cut services across the state, schools have added students to classes and factories face empty parking lots. The rate of unemployed people has reached 12.6 percent of the population. The state economy may be nearing the brink of improving, but 2009 remains one of the worst fiscal years in modern history.
Through it all, however, the Knights of Columbus organization has thrived.
“Last year was a very good year overall,” said Joseph F. Gubeli, state deputy. “And it looks pretty good again for this year.”
The fraternal year runs from July to July, yet 334 new members had joined the Knights as of Jan. 20, ranking the state second in the nation in percent increase. Gubeli said there are other men waiting to be confirmed into the church at Easter who want to join as soon as they become Catholics.
Jack G. Urbanic, state membership chair, said other growth comes from “Yankees moving down.”
Overall contributions to charities have not been counted yet, and may be off from peak years, but even they are holding up. In Spartanburg, for instance, the Knights at Jesus Our Risen Savior Church collected money for Haitian earthquake relief, and brought in nearly $9,000 from the 1,200 people who attended one weekend’s Masses.
Besides membership, donations and volunteerism, there is growth in another sector of the Knights’ work.
According to Robert J. Boni Jr., general agent for Knights of Columbus Insurance, the primary reason the organization was founded by a Connecticut parish priest 128 years ago was to provide for Catholic families.
“That was Father [Michael J.] McGivney’s dream, that no Catholic family be left in need because of the death of a breadwinner. We’re carrying that out today with life insurance, long-term care insurance and annuities with guaranteed rates of return.”
Business is booming in an era of Bernie Madoff, bank failures and crashing stock markets. The Knights are both nonprofit and profitable. Funds that would constitute profits in a commercial undertaking go either to charity or back to the members and their families. The Knights’ financial arm has maintained top ratings by A.M. Best and Standard & Poor’s, plus certification from the Insurance Marketplace Standards Association for ethical business practices; that puts the Knights among the top three of all American companies in that regard. They have a 3 percent floor on annuity interest and currently a 7.35 percent internal rate of return on whole life policies.
“That’s one of the highest in the world,” Boni said. “By charter, the K of C is not allowed to have [investment] products that put your money at risk. We have never lost a dime for any of our members, and that takes years of a steady, conservative approach to investing.”
The insurance and investment programs have become so popular that Boni needs to hire more agents to meet the demand, he said.
The programs are one reason Catholic men are joining the Knights in record numbers in South Carolina. Another, according to Gubeli, is that good Catholics want to help.
“Being a Catholic, you have to stand up sometimes. Once we bring in a Knight, we try to keep him busy so he feels needed,” he said.