GOOSE CREEK—Richard A. Gabriel says membership in the Knights of Columbus is not just a chance to socialize and do good works, he believes the organization can play a key role in what many people see as an ongoing fight for religious liberty.
“This is a great time to be a Knight because the Knights are needed more now than ever,” Gabriel said.
“Our Catholic faith is under attack, our beliefs are under attack, and our bishops and clergy are under attack,” he said. “Since we’re the largest Catholic lay organization in the world, we’re the ones who should pick up the slack and be the fighting force to dispel this and make sure it doesn’t continue.”
The newly elected state deputy for the Knights in South Carolina is a lifelong Catholic who first joined the group after retiring from the U.S. Navy in 1980. He credits his wife Loretta with encouraging him to look into the fraternal order.
“She was the one that initiated it,” he said. “I felt like it was time because the service and God had been good to me, and it was time to start giving something back in gratitude for all the good blessings I had been given. Without Loretta, I wouldn’t be able to do the things I do in the Knights.”
Gabriel is originally from Clarksburg, West Va., and has been married for 58 years. They have three children and two grandchildren.
He first lived in Charleston while stationed with the U.S. Navy in the early 1960s, and moved back permanently in 1980. Gabriel currently works with a Charleston-based engineering firm that provides logistics and support for the military.
He joined Council 6726 based at Divine Redeemer Church in Hanahan, and then moved to Immaculate Conception’s Council 11991. He’s an experienced leader in the organization, with stints as state warden, advocate, treasurer and secretary before he was elected deputy.
“Being state deputy is a very rewarding and humbling position because you have the opportunity to influence so many people, to guide your councils, and pick people you think are great leaders who will help guide the Knights to where we need to be,” Gabriel said.
He selected “Spreading God’s Love” as the theme for his term as state deputy. Gabriel said it’s important to focus on sharing God’s message of love and salvation, especially during the Year of Faith which started in October.
He said Knights around the state have started an ongoing project to help the Felician Sisters in Kingstree with their outreach to the poor.
“My wife and I attended the September program when the sisters won the [Catholic Extension] Lumen Christi award, and you could just feel the love and appreciation the community had for the sisters and all they have been able to do, and we wanted to help them do more,” he said.
Knights have collected clothes for the Felicians’ clothing closet. They also plan to collect sleeping bags for children in situations where multiple family members are sharing one home because of the economy. He said the Knights have also been in touch with Father Stan Smolenski to help renovate a house to provide more retreat space for the Shrine of Our Lady of South Carolina-Our Lady of Joyful Hope in Kingstree.
Gabriel wants to continue the Knights’ support of vocations and Catholic Scouting. He also wants to work on increasing membership, especially among younger men, and increase outreach to Hispanic and other ethnic communities, including the growing Vietnamese population in the Upstate.
Another main goal is to help all men who join the Knights grow in their relationship with Christ.
“I made the statement when I was elected that if a man joins the Knights and we do not make him a better Catholic and increase his faith, then we have failed him,” he said. “I don’t want us to fail anybody. I know that being a Knight has increased my desire to be a better Christian and a better Catholic. When you can do good things and see the good done by other Knights, it gives you the desire to continue to be the person God made you to be. You can help others that need help, and make it a better world.”