The Knights of the Holy Eucharist represents part of the resurgence of vocations in the Catholic Church.
HANCEVILLE, AL (Catholic Online) -- In medieval days, knights were men who were elevated by their king and consecrated to a position of trust. These noble and faithful men would pledge to give their very lives to the service and protection of their lord and his kingdom.
Today, members of the Knights of the Holy Eucharist, a vibrant community of consecrated young men deeply committed to the Catholic faith, provide that very service for their Lord and King, Jesus Christ, through their work at the magnificent Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady of Angels Monastery in rural Hanceville, Ala. Situated on 400 acres of lush farmland along a remote country road some 45 miles north of Birmingham, the Shrine receives thousands of pilgrims each year who seek to nourish their faith amid this sacred and peaceful environment.
The Shrine and monastery, home to a cloistered community of Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, were founded by Mother Angelica, the beloved nun who entered religious broadcasting in 1981 on little more than a prayer and developed the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), the largest and most popular religious media network in the world. EWTN is headquartered some 50 miles to the south in the Birmingham suburb of Irondale, where the nuns resided in the original monastery until their relocation to the present site in 1999.
In the spirit of St. Francis
The Knights of the Holy Eucharist represents part of the resurgence of vocations in the Catholic Church developing from the "new evangelization" promoted by Pope John Paul II and continued by Pope Benedict XVI. Its members have as their primary focus the fostering of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament as well as the assistance and protection of the nuns of the monastery. Along with maintaining the grounds and facilities, the Knights host clergy, brothers, and seminarians on retreat; serve as acolytes at Shrine liturgies; and provide assistance for pilgrims.
Community members live the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience but do not profess public vows. In their daily work and personal contact with pilgrims, the Knights also seek opportunities to evangelize by performing works of charity and providing instruction and comfort when necessary. Putting aside the things of this world, they live by the motto of their patron, St. Francis of Assisi: "My God and my All."
The Knights strive for a structured balance of work and prayer. In addition to their assigned labors, Knights participate daily in Mass, the Rosary, Morning and Evening Prayer, and two hours of scheduled adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. They also take formation classes three days a week, make a Holy Hour on Thursday evenings, and plan a monthly one-day retreat.
Luke Johnasen, whose religious name is Brother Laurence, finds the life of a Knight to be very fulfilling. He entered the community in 2006 after visiting his younger brother Nyles (Brother Philip), who had joined the Knights a few years earlier after making a retreat at the Shrine.
"When I saw the Knights and how they lived their lives in work and prayer, with daily adoration, it really seemed to speak to me," said Brother Laurence, 28, who is originally from Hilo, Hawaii. "Even when we are not physically in the chapel of adoration, we are doing work around the chapel all day long, so we are still doing work centered on the Blessed Sacrament."
David Rodriguez, known as Brother Juan, became part of the community at the age of 18. The formation he has received there has given him "a deeper understanding of how God's grace works in each and every one of our hearts," he said.
Now 21, Brother Juan said that the sacrifices he has made to pursue his vocation bring him "a fulfillment largely in the joy that comes from answering God's call."
Called to serve
Like EWTN, the Knights of the Holy Eucharist was the inspiration of Mother Angelica herself. In the summer of 1998, with the Shrine under construction and nearly 18 months from completion, the foundress decided to start a new community of men dedicated to maintaining the facility, assisting at liturgies, and providing hospitality for pilgrims. Among those she invited to consider this vocation in consecrated life was 35-year-old James Fazzini, who had only recently come to work at the monastery. "What have you got to lose by trying it?" she asked him. He joined the Knights that August and in December received Brother David as his religious name.
Initially, the Knights boarded temporarily in a house just down the road. "We took an existing pole barn on the monastery grounds and converted it into living quarters because Mother wanted us to be on the property," said Brother David, who presently serves as the Brother Guardian of the community. "We've added to it ever since, and now we receive 200 priests each year who come to the Shrine for retreats."
One of the original seven Knights is Brother Pio, who is named after St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio), the 20th-century mystic who suffered the stigmata, the wounds of Christ on his own body. Like his namesake, Brother Pio is a "victim soul," having been disabled since he sustained a serious spinal injury in a fall several years ago. Brother Pio presently lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but visits the community once or twice a year.
"We felt in the early stages that we needed to have a victim soul, one who was called to suffer for the community, and Brother Pio is our victim soul," said Brother David, a native of West Virginia. "Because he is confined to a wheelchair, all the suffering he endures and all his prayers are offered for the community."
Two years ago, the Knights of the Holy Eucharist became affiliated with the Heralds of the Gospel, a rapidly growing evangelistic community that was founded in Brazil in 1999 and canonically recognized as an "association of the faithful of pontifical right" in 2001. The Heralds and their founder, Msgr. JoÄƒo Scognamiglio ClÃ¡ Dias, had developed a relationship of mutual support and admiration with Mother Angelica and were very receptive when the Knights petitioned Msgr. ClÃ¡ to join the Heralds family.
On June 29, 2007, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the Knights of the Holy Eucharist thus became "a branch within the Heralds of the Gospel," said Brother Thomas Walsh, who lives and works in a Heralds community in Houston. With that union, the Knights of the Holy Eucharist share the Heralds' pontifical blessing.
That fall, the Knights enrolled its first candidates for the priesthood at Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, Conn. This coming academic year, the Knights will have six seminarians at various stages of formation.
Twenty-four-year-old Damien Pellerin, now Brother Michael, was one of the first Knights to enter the seminary four years ago. He was working in construction for his father in southern Louisiana five years ago when the two of them happened to stop by the monastery en route to a builders' convention in Florida. Having already decided to spend a year to discern his vocation, Damien was impressed with the Knights and applied for acceptance shortly thereafter.
"After I was there just a short time, I felt this was it," said Brother Michael. "It was really the charism of the community, the great spiritual life, the solid formation. Life at the monastery is a great gift to all of us."
Developing a sense of vocation
By fall, the community will have 12 members in all. Many more are envisioned for the future.
"Mother Angelica has felt for a long time that the vocations are truly there, that God continues to call young men to the consecrated life. Unfortunately, with all the distractions of today, they don't hear God's voice calling them," said Brother David.
As a result, "many young men today are not thinking about their vocations," he said. "There's a sense of a lack of fulfillment in the soul, and the soul can't be at peace where it is, and ultimately that leaves them unhappy. They have to develop not only the awareness that they have a vocation from God, but also how to carry out that vocation plan in their lives."
The community seeks applicants between the ages of 17 and 21 and hopes to draw more young men right out of high school. Part of the vision is to establish an academy near the Shrine that can begin the formation of young men separated from the world, Brother David said.
As the vision continues to unfold for the Knights of the Holy Eucharist, many more community members will be needed to serve the Shrine and monastery, form young men in the academy, and provide priestly ministry to pilgrims, sisters, and fellow Knights alike.
There is further expansion planned for the monastery grounds as well. Among these plans is the Pope John Paul II Eucharistic Center, conceived as an educational center designed to lead both Catholics and non-Catholics to a deeper appreciation of Christ's Eucharistic Presence -- which is what the Knights of the Holy Eucharist are all about.
For young men still trying to discern the path upon which God is calling them, Brother Michael offered simple and straightforward advice.
"Seek to do the Lord's will," he said. "That's where we find our peace and joy."
(Editor's note: The Knights of the Holy Eucharist will be featured for the first time on EWTN's "Life on the Rock" program on Thursday, July 30, at 8 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.)
Readers,and those who may seek to discern a possible vocation,may communicate with the Knights of the Holy Eucharist:
Brother David Mary
3222 County Road 548,
Hanceville, AL 35077
Telephone: 205) 795-5720
Online at: (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Gerald Korson, a longtime Catholic journalist, writes from Indiana.
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