Oskaloosa women form first Columbiettes auxiliary in Iowa

Members of the new Columbiettes auxiliary at St. Mary Parish in Oskaloosa pose for a photo after initiation July 21 alongside pastor Father Troy Richmond.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

Last month, a group of 24 women from St. Mary Parish in Oskaloosa officially became the first Columbiettes auxiliary in Iowa. The international Catholic women’s auxiliary is affiliated with and supportive of the Knights of Columbus (KofC).

The initiation ceremony was “a big reminder of how many Catholic women want to make a difference in our church and our community,” said Julie Yachera, a parishioner who spearheaded the effort to form a Columbiettes auxiliary in Oskaloosa.

Yachera, whose husband is a KofC, began researching Catholic women’s organizations a little over a year ago, as the Oskaloosa parish did not have a women’s service organization. “I saw what they (KofC) were doing in the community and I wondered if there was a similar women’s group. I looked online and found the Columbiettes.” She contacted the Columbiettes Supreme Council to find out what it would take to start — at least 20 members and the support of the parish’s KofC council.

Knights of Columbus Marian Council 4108 in Oskaloosa was quick to support the formation of a Columbiettes auxiliary. Grand Knight Steven Phillips said he views the Columbiettes as an organization of Catholic women who support the Catholic Church and its teachings. “I see the Columbiettes strengthening St. Mary’s, Oskaloosa and the surrounding communities.”

Gauging interest among parish women took a bit more time in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. As word got out, excitement grew, especially after parishioner Cindy Abrahamson began sending out invitation emails and helped to promote the organization at Mass. “I thought it sounded like a great idea and I offered to help,” she explained.

Abrahamson’s messages during Masses “did a lot for recruiting. I think the biggest thing is that there were a lot of people looking for a women’s organization,” Yachera said. “Plus, there are a lot of women who would have liked to get into the Knights of Columbus but can’t” because it is an organization for men.

Supporters of the auxiliary achieved the 20-member requirement in early 2021 and KofC Council 4108 voted to approve affiliation with the Columbiettes at its April meeting. The auxiliary became official during the July 21 initiation at the parish, with local KofCs and members of the Columbiettes Supreme Council there to help celebrate. Yachera said she was “humbled to realize that I was the one to start it, but that didn’t matter because the ceremony wasn’t about me. It was about a group of 24 women that were more than willing to make a difference.”

Mary Jane Sullivan will serve as the auxiliary’s first president. She said she joined the Columbiettes “because it is a group that will help me grow spiritually as well as give me the opportunity to help others in my parish and my community. It is a great opportunity for the women of our parish and a fantastic opportunity for us to partner with our Knights of Columbus council on many fronts. We are excited to begin on this journey.”

Though the Columbiette organization has been around since the 1930s, it is not the only female auxiliary of the Knights of Columbus. Ladies Auxiliaries are more common in Iowa and usually require members to be closely related to a KofC, though this isn’t always the case. Columbiettes auxiliaries are open to women 18 years of age or older who are in good standing with the Catholic Church. About 270 Columbiettes auxiliaries exist, primarily in Florida and the northeast.


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Knights of Columbus host CPID ‘Pellathon’

Iowa Knights of Columbus State Deputy Paul Lee, left, and District Deputy Paul Falck, practice social distancing as they make phone calls during the St. Mary – Pella Knights of Columbus’ “Pellathon” Aug. 25 to raise money for the annual Campaign for People with Intellectual Disabilities.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

PELLA — Despite concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic would limit their ability to raise money for the annual Campaign for People with Intellectual Disabilities (CPID), Knights of Columbus in Pella brought in record donations this year.

Traditionally, the St. Mary council members take a multi-faceted approach to the campaign, including storefront collections and phone solicitation to businesses and individuals. They also host a weeklong video and radio telethon featuring interviews with individuals impacted by the yearly collection. The council’s CPID collections are consistently among the highest in the state of Iowa.

Initially, the council’s members were not sure they could do the storefront collections, said Joe Lickteig, a KC who helps organize the campaign each year. Some stores initially expressed hesitation, “but once they figured out we had a safety protocol, we were good to go.” Precautions included face coverings, social distancing, having a touchless collection bucket, and sanitizing spray. Stores asked the Knights to set up their station off to the side so they would not interrupt the flow of traffic; Lickteig said this reduced their visibility, but the Knights remained grateful for the opportunity.

The biggest change, however, was moving from a weeklong telethon to a one-day telethon broadcast live on YouTube and the local radio station, KNIA. Lickteig considered this option in the past, but never pursued it. When Michael Fries, a new KC, suggested the idea of hosting a “Jerry Lewis-style telethon” this year, the council decided to give it a try. “It was really his energy and thoughtfulness that made me realize we could pull this off,” Lickteig said. The Knights dubbed the Aug. 25 event a “Pellathon.”

The Pellathon took place at the Pella Opera House. Knights, including State Deputy Paul Lee and District Deputy Paul Falck, practiced social distancing as they took turns on stage making a combined 316 phone calls. Father Troy Richmond, pastor of parishes in Pella and Oskaloosa, also took a turn making calls. Meanwhile, Trevor Castle from KNIA interviewed special education teachers, parents of individuals with special needs, an individual with Down syndrome and her parents, representatives from businesses that hire individuals with special needs, and donors. He also interviewed a representative from Christian Opportunity Center (COC), which supports 100 adults with disabilities. Additionally, local musicians volunteered their talents performing for the virtual crowd.

As pledges came in, the council’s financial secretary, Al Dole, updated totals on the back wall. “It looked like a real telethon,” Lickteig said.

While most of the donations came from outgoing calls, listeners and viewers also called a Knight stationed at the St. Mary church office to make a pledge.

Lickteig said storefront donations were down this year, but thanks to the success of the telethon, the Knights raised about $35,000 — a record total.

On top of that, the Des Moines-based charitable organization 100+ Men on a Mission selected the Pella Knights’ CPID campaign as the recipient of a $10,100 donation, bringing the grand total to just under $47,000. The council splits the CPID funds among Iowa Special Olympics, the COC, and special education programs at Pella Schools and Pella Christian Schools.

One goal the council fell short on this year was securing interviews between COC and local businesses to discuss possibilities for collaboration. Lickteig said many businesses are hesitant to hire anyone at this time, including those with special needs. Still, he is glad the council will be able to give more money to the COC this year, especially since the COC had to cancel its annual golf outing this year.

Lickteig hopes the success of the 2020 Pella Knights’ CPID campaign will give hope to other councils who are struggling to raise money during the pandemic.

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