EDMONTON — After almost two years at the helm of the Knights of Columbus of Alberta/Northwest Territories, Neil Gannon is leaving his post of state deputy with the feeling of a job well done.
He says membership in the Knights is up, donations to charities are up, councils are stronger and member morale is "very good."
"It's been a tremendous experience," Gannon said in a recent interview. "I'm certainly glad I accepted the challenge."
Gannon, a member of Good Shepherd Parish in Edmonton, was elected state deputy at the Knights' convention in Red Deer almost two years ago. He was re-elected last year at the Lethbridge convention. His replacement will be picked at the Calgary convention April 29-May 1.
So far the only candidate running for State Deputy is Gary Johnson of St. Albert. Johnson is currently state secretary on the Knights' executive board.
Calgary Bishop Fred Henry and Ukrainian Catholic Bishop David Motiuk will attend the convention at the Coast Plaza Hotel and Conference Centre along with 550 delegates, guests and families. Representing the supreme council at the convention will be Michael Durban.
The Alberta Knights have almost 17,000 members in nearly 170 councils throughout Alberta and the Northwest Territories.
Several resolutions will be debated at the convention, including one that urges members of the organization to support hunger programs in their communities.
"Overall, I'm very pleased with our progress," Gannon said, noting that last year alone the organization grew by 300 members.
Also last year, the Alberta Knights donated $2.5 million to charity, placing third worldwide in donations.
Every year the Knights donate money for an array of worthy causes, including women's shelters, the poor and homeless, pro-life causes and sports.
In addition, the Alberta Knights have raised $1 million to help pay for the new Edmonton seminary and $220,000 to help renovate St. Mary's College in Calgary.
In appreciation of the Knights' effort, Archbishop Richard Smith has agreed to name the tower of the seminary after Father Michael J. McGivney, the founder of the Knights.
Gannon also points to programs such as Coats for Kids, launched this year to provide winter coats for inner city students in Edmonton. More than 300 brand new coats were distributed this past winter. The Children's Fishing Derby in Northern Alberta raised about $5,000 to buy wheelchairs for the disabled.
For the first time last summer the Alberta Knights participated in the Silver Rose Program, a North American effort that pays tribute to Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas.
The Alberta leg of the program, which involves running a sculpted silver rose from Ontario through the United States to Monterrey, Mexico, will take place this year from June 12 to July 3.
The Alberta Knights are also heavily involved in organizing the annual March for Life, which last year attracted 1,000 participants. "We feel it is important to support life," Gannon said.
The Alberta bishops will not participate in this year's March for Life because organizers could not guarantee that placards displaying dead fetuses would not be present at the event.
But Gannon said the Knights "don't agree with the bishops' stance" and are working hard for the event's success. "We can't let the march die over three students from Calgary (carrying placards displaying dead fetuses)," he said.