Missouri college Knights set ambitious goal to grow in faith and prayer with Our Lady’s help
By Cecilia Hadley
Jared Koehler and Alex Harold left the College Councils Conference in Connecticut last October on fire. After a long weekend in New Haven talking about faith and leadership with Supreme Officers and other college Knights, they were filled with determination to revitalize the K of C council at Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO), which had languished during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Koehler, the council’s grand knight, and Harold, its program director, had a plan even before they got back to Cape Girardeau, Missouri. With Hurricane Ian delaying their flight for several hours, they sat together at an airport diner and sketched out their ideas for the upcoming academic year. Prayer was at the top of the list.
“The supreme knight made it clear that faith is his top priority for the organization, and we are very much behind him in that effort,” said Koehler, a junior business management major. “We knew that if we focused on growing the faith lives of our members, the Holy Spirit would take it from there.”
They decided to give St. Thomas Aquinas Council 15294 a concrete goal: 1,000 rosaries by the end of the spring semester.
“We thought, ‘What could we do that would really inspire a spirit of routine prayer?’” explained Harold.
One thousand rosaries would be a challenge for their small council of about 40 Knights, but a good challenge.
“It might be a stretch,” Koehler remembers thinking, “but let’s go for it.”
Back on campus, the Knights made a chart to keep track of their prayers and organized a novena to St. John Paul II, leading up to his feast day Oct. 22, in order to make a strong start.
As the months went on, other students at the university’s close-knit Newman Center joined in, marking off their own rosaries. Another boost came from members of St. Vincent Council 1111 in Cape Girardeau, who sometimes joined the college Knights in prayer at the St. John Henry Newman Chapel.
The intentions entrusted to the Blessed Mother over the school year were both small and large. No doubt many a decade was said for help with an exam or a paper. Harold and Koehler prayed for the council and for all the students on campus. Koehler, who was received into the Catholic Church in 2020, also prayed often for the conversion of his family.
In early December, the university’s Catholic community united in an important intention. Two SEMO students, Audrey Smith and Mallory Carter — both leaders at the Newman Center — were killed in a car accident Dec. 3; Andrew Marzuco, the twin brother of another SEMO student and a member of Ste. Genevieve Council 1037 in Sainte Genevieve, Missouri, died in the accident as well.
The Knights held a Holy Hour and rosary for the grieving community the next morning.
“Everybody had been up all night the night before,” Koehler said, “but we had about 100 people, maybe even 150, show up.”
The culture of prayer that the Knights were helping to build in the Newman Center was a comfort during a very tough year, Harold said: “The community really turned to the chapel, to come and say the rosary in a time of great need.”
Council 15294 organized another novena in January, during which the Knights continued to pray for their friends’ souls, and for peace and consolation for their families.
“The novena helped a lot of us coming out of that,” said Eli Oberle, a forestry student at a nearby community college who joined the council in the fall.
By the following month, it was clear that the Knights were going to reach their goal handily. When Bishop Edward Rice of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau visited in early February, Koehler asked if he’d be willing to come back to pray the 1,000th with them.
Though it entailed a four-hour drive from Springfield, the bishop enthusiastically agreed.
“The rosary in the hand of a young man is a powerful thing,” Bishop Rice said. “So when they invited me to be there for the 1,000th rosary, I said, ‘Absolutely! I’ll be there.’”
On Feb. 6, the bishop led about 30 Knights and other students in the rosary in front of the exposed Blessed Sacrament in St. John Henry Newman Chapel, and he then marked off the last square on the council’s chart — more than three months ahead of schedule.
While the Knights of Council 15294 have done other projects this year — including organizing social events, volunteering to help elderly neighbors, and collecting food for tornado victims — they consider their effort to grow in prayer their most important work.
“Faith is the reason I wanted to get involved in the Knights,” explained Oberle. “That’s ultimately what I’m trying to build my life on. I love all the charitable works, the fraternity, but it’s all downstream from faith.”
CECILIA HADLEY is senior editor of Columbia.