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Former Supreme Knight will speak in La Crosse

9/25/2012

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

LA CROSSE -- The parishioners at St. Michael Catholic Church in La Crosse usually celebrate the feast of their patron saint in September, somewhere close to the Sept. 29 feast day of St. Michael the Archangel.

Last year was a special celebration, honoring the 100th anniversary of the church.

This year will be a memorable one, too.

Following Sunday's 10 a.m. feast day Mass at St. Michael, native son Virgil Dechant will give a presentation, show videos and provide memorabilia to view from his nearly 35 years of working for the national Knights of Columbus organization in New Haven, Conn.

Dechant, who turned 82 on Monday, served as the Supreme Knight for the K of C -- the world's largest Catholic fraternal organization with more than 1.8 million members -- for 24 years before retiring 12 years ago.

He stepped down as the organization's chief executive officer in 2000 at the age of 70 after serving the longest term ever by a Supreme Knight.

One of the most notable accomplishments while Dechant was in office was introducing the process for the Venerable Michael J. McGivney's sainthood. McGivney founded the K of C order in 1882 while serving as a priest at St. Mary's Church in New Haven.

Dechant also is proud of the fact the men's organization now centers on family activities.

"We built the order into a family organization," he said. "Now, it's all family-oriented."

Dechant was born in Antonino and grew up in Liebenthal before moving to La Crosse in the 1950s.

He moved to Connecticut in 1966 after being elected as Supreme Secretary, a capacity in which he served for 10 years before taking over as Supreme Knight in 1977.

Dechant still owns a home in La Crosse, where he also has family still living, including his son, Tom Dechant. Virgil Dechant also has on older brother, Harry Dechant, still living in Hays.

"I definitely enjoy coming back," said Virgil Dechant, who said he is looking forward to Sunday.

After completing his duties in Connecticut, Dechant moved to the Kansas City area. He has a daughter who lives there, and it's near a large airport for trips back east; he still is a member of the K of C board of directors and makes several trips to Connecticut each year.

Dechant said he has been asked several times to share some of his memorabilia in La Crosse, and this year "I finally decided to get it done," he said.

The day will begin with the Mass, followed by a free-will offering brunch at the parish center.

Those attending will have a chance to view Dechant's collection of pictures, books, letters, medallions and statues of the last four popes, as well as Mother Theresa. He was present when Mother Theresa was given K of C's first Gaudium et Spes Award, presented only to individuals of special merit.