The genesis for our Council began in 1956 when a small group of men from St. Joseph's Parish was looking for ways to increase their support for the church's activities. Monsignor Cornelius Cahill, St. Joseph's pastor and not known for his shyness, made clear his preference for a Knights of Columbus Council rather than a Holy Name Society. As discussions continued and the group grew larger, it attracted men who already had ties to the Knights of Columbus through their hometown councils, including Lawrence, Somerville and Boston. For others, it would be their first involvement with the Knights.
After great preparation, this group of 62 men received their charter at a celebration on June 10, 1957. Like many new organizations, the early Council members struggled with their agenda, the perception of cliques and a group identity. Anxious to support their pastor, but committed to preserve their separate identity, some internal issues cut into the ranks of the membership. Surviving their growing pains, the Council began to grow and provided support to the Parish whenever asked. Helping with the Parish Bingo and St. Joseph's School were high on the list of Council activities. In fact, many prospective members were afforded opportunities to earn their much-needed membership points by painting classrooms at the school and working at Bingo. There were times when some members felt that the Council was too involved in Parish activities rather than with the larger fraternal and charitable underpinnings of the Knights of Columbus. While these issues strained the new group's fibers, they never broke the bond and slowly the Council's course began to mirror those noble goals of Supreme.
The early meetings and some degrees of the Council were held in classrooms at St. Joseph's School. Third Degrees were held in the basement area and many of the older recruits remember with fondness their Third Degree there. Financing of Council activities was provided by countless parties, dances, fundraisers, penny socials and turkey shoots. It was big news back then for an event to show a profit of $50, maybe $100.
Many of the early Council activities were successful because of the loyal support of the Ladies Auxiliary. Years of providing help and leadership on many of the Council events and activities made the Auxiliary a vital part of the Council's success. The Auxiliary's involvement helped to build many of the bonds that members continue to enjoy today.
The Council continued to help the Parish with their Bingo however as time went on, much of that activity was handled by parishioners and school parents. In the early 1990's, a majority of Parish Council members felt that the nature of Bingo was incompatible with the school's image and decided to end the Parish Bingo. Having gained experience working at the Parish Bingo, the Council received a license of its own and continued the games to raise money for charitable and Parish activities.
In 1966, the one Parish had grown to two Parishes with Mary Queen of Peace Parish spinning off from St. Joseph's. While many Council members gravitated to the new Parish, the Council remained united and added new members to replace the aging ranks of the founding fathers of the Council.
As membership increased, forward thinking members began to push for a permanent Council home. Despite having the use of the newly built St. Joseph's Parish hall - now called Julie Hall - many were anxious for a sense of independence and a feeling of a "home of our own". Monsignor Cahill supported the idea, helping the Council in the planning and land acquisition stages of the project. Led by Brother Roland Larochelle, the Council acquired land on Shadow Lake Road and began building its new home. Large enough for future growth, the 2-level building began to take shape under the watchful eye of Brother Joe Parolise, the Council's Clerk-of-the-Works. After a year of hard work, anxious debates and financing challenges, the new home was dedicated in May of 1971. With great ceremony and celebration, the Bishop Peterson Council 4442, Knights of Columbus, had a beautiful new home of its own. Relying on traditional fundraising activities and on rental income, the new home was the envy of many other Councils and local organizations. But, the new home was a lot of work and much of the Council's energy, money and time went into the continued management and operation of the facility. In time, a growing number of members, saddled with the extra work, began to consider alternatives. Membership was stagnant and the Brothers were tiring of the work needed to keep up the Council home.
In the late 1970's, word came that the former Davis residence at 37 Main Street, directly across from St. Joseph's, was for sale. Once again, Council visionaries saw promise in the property, as well as an opportunity to rematch the Council's size and goals with a smaller, more effective Council home. The property was purchased and designs were prepared for alterations and a smaller, appropriately sized, function hall. The big move to our second home came in 1979 under the guidance of Grand Knight Stan Gorgol. The former Council home on Shadow Lake Road was sold to the Derry-Salem Elks. The new tenants were a perfect owner for the facility. The Elks, who still own the property, enjoyed a renewed growth in their membership and continue to enjoy success at our former home.
Within ten years, the Council membership was fully recharged. Bingo was an important source of steady Council income and an interest in expanding the Council home began to develop. In 1996, plans were drawn to add a new kitchen, extend the hall by 10 feet, change the entrance to the hall, add a coat room and redesign the cramped quarters of the old residence to add a sitting room, a card room and a bar. Under these plans, the Council home would be more of a "Knights" home than a former private residence with a hall attached. Under the generous leadership of Brother Bill Silvestri, ground was broken in 1998. Amid dust and construction debris, the newly renovated Council home began to rise. Today our home is the envy of many councils, a handsome structure in a great location and a source of great pride for our membership.
Around the year 2000, at Brother Dick Robichaud's urging, the Council added a second night of Bingo, supplementing the successful Bingo night run by Brother Lou Stella. Over the years, Bingo has produced great returns for our Council. In the early days of Council Bingo, Brothers like John Mancuso, Bill Gallagher, Bob Donald, Ralph Miele and so many others, raised the money that gave the Council the means to grow, prosper and do many, many works of charity and provide Parish support. In time, Bingo moved from St. Joseph's Julie Hall to Rockingham Park. Now, as part of a much larger Bingo operation, the early angst of leaving familiar ground has diminished and the exceptional revenues have made a huge difference in the Council's ability to fund its goals. Without the year-round efforts of the Bingo managers, their families and the tireless Bingo workers, our great successes would not have been possible.
The Council has always fulfilled its commitment to charitable works. When money was harder to come by, the Brothers contributed much of their time and talent to helping their Parishes and St. Joseph's School. We fed the seniors on Holy Saturday, raised funds with the Tootsie Roll Drives, built access ramps and provided mobility devices for the handicapped and provided workers for the Parish Picnics and St. Joseph's Fairs. Today, blessed with exceptional revenues from Bingo and more recently, poker tournaments, our Council now contributes over $100,000 annually to many charities such as the Relay for Life, Easter Seals, the Kidney Fund, the Salem Boys and Girls Club, the Christmas Fund and dozens of other meaningful worthy organizations and individuals.
Investing in younger members is the hallmark of any organization with a future. The Council recognized this many years ago when it formed a Circle of Squires and appropriately named it after Brother Michael DiMauro. The Circle was very active for a while but, in time, it slipped into inactivity until Brothers John Gagnon and Curt Goulet breathed new life into the Circle in 2001. In a similar vein, the membership drive, under the continuing leadership of PGK Bill Bamford, recruited unprecedented new members.
Over the years, we have been blessed with strong and active support from our pastors and priests, many who have served faithfully as our Council Chaplains. Their investment in our Council's faith has meant so much to the Catholic men organization.
But it's important to remember that the Knights of Columbus is really not about a home or financial success or bingo operations. It is about unity, fraternity and charity. It is about serving people in need and about being there for each other and for others. It is about helping our Parishes as they struggle to meet the challenges that threaten to change the Church forever. We are blessed - blessed to have had so many wonderful men pass through our doors, wherever those doors have been. Men who have given so much of their time, their energy, their resources and their talent. We have been blessed with many exceptional Grand Knights and Council officers.
Because of legal proceedings, liability issues, and at the direction of "Supreme," the building at 37 Main St is legally under the ownership of the "Bishop Peterson Corporation," a separate legal entity from the "Bishop Peterson Council #4442." Members of the council are automatically members of the corporation. The Council officers and our Corporation Boards of Directors have steered us through the sometimes murky waters of property ownership. In every action, the membership of Council 4442 has contributed to the success of what is one of the finest Councils to ever rise to the promises of Father McGivney.