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Supreme knight on prayers and the future

DANIEL HARKINS meets Glasgow post office manager CHARLIE McCLUSKEY, the newly appointed supreme knight for the Knights of St Columba order

In 1994, Charlie McCluskey was approached by a friend after Mass, and asked about his interest in joining the Knights of St Columba. He turned the offer down, unaware that the Catholic fraternal organisation even still existed in Glasgow. Following a change of heart, he was initiated into the order at St James’, Renfrew, and 20 years later, on October 25 2014, Mr McCluskey was elected supreme knight of the organisation, having risen up through the ranks over two decades of service.

As he begins his term as leader of the Knights of St Columba, Mr McCluskey sat down with the SCO to outline his vision for the year ahead. The parishioner of St Alphonsus, Calton, is the first Glaswegian supreme knight in the last 85 years of the organisation’s 95-year history, and was elected by around 78 of his peers at the order’s supreme council meeting in Clydebank.

“No matter how much you may think there’s a possibility you will become a supreme knight, until I heard those words ‘you have elected brother Charlie McCluskey,’ it didn’t sink in,” the new supreme knight said.

“I’m very conscious that although I’m elected supreme knight it’s the position that is more important. This position has been here for 95 years and when you think about the men who have been in that position before me and the men that will come after—the role is more important than the individual. I am very conscious of the weight of the office and very proud to do it. It’s a great honour, and something that I’m sure many knights would aspire to.”


Mr McCluskey, a member of Council 396 which meets at Blessed John Duns Scotus in the Gorbals, said that even being selected grand knight of his council was a very daunting experience when he started. Over the following years, he served in a number of roles, acting as director of membership for two years and being elected deputy supreme knight in 2013.

In 2010, the Knights of St Columba played a large role in Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s visit to Scotland, and Mr McCluskey looks back on his own involvement with pride.

“I was the main organiser and coordinator in the park that day for the Knights of St Columba,” he said. “We had over 600 volunteers—not all knights; we have a family organisation and sisters, mothers, children all get involved in the order. And that year the 600 that we got at very short notice were made up of families and friends. If you’d stopped by me at any particular point that year I’d ask you what you were doing and get you involved in it. I was quite privileged to be able to coordinate that.”


Going forward, Mr McCluskey has a number of plans for the Knights of St Columba.

“We want to increase membership,” he said. “One of the reasons is that if you walk into a church these days there is a large amount of women in the church but a lack of men, and a lack of young men. There’s a lot of organising in the Church that women get involved in but men don’t—we offer that opportunity to be involved in the community and Church and parish life, and give that offer of service.”

The Knights of St Columba will hold a national seminar that will take place next year for young people aged 16-22, but the order is facing the same challenges in attracting young people as the rest of the Church.

“Sadly, I would say that the actual membership wouldn’t be a young membership—that seems to be a story in the Church,” he said. “But we see our role as facilitating the other groups that are involved in young people’s activities.”

One example of this is the Caritas Award, the scheme that encourages young people of all faiths in their final year of school to take part in a faith journey, helping their communities and parishes. Mr McCluskey says the Knights of St Columba helped fund the introduction of the award, and are now taking it south of the border.

“At this moment in time our director for youth in Britain is now very active and it looks like we will have a situation of introducing a similar award in England and Wales,” he said. “We’ve taken that mantle forward and there is already an uptake in some of the dioceses in England.”

Another area the new supreme knight wants to focus on is the importance of the family. On December 28, the Feast of the Holy Family, they will launch a ‘spiritual bouquet,’ a campaign that encourages families to pray for the ten months until the feast of St John Paul II and next year’s synod, which will follow on from last month’s Vatican debate on the family.

“It’s simple things, like when was the last time you prayed as a family at home?” Mr McCluskey said. “Even more so, when was the last time you said grace before meals? Simple things like that, that have drifted out of our lives. Do we pray the rosary at home?”


For Mr McCluskey, it is the fraternity, spirituality and the call to serve that attracts him to the order.

“I’ve met so many brothers over the years that are now great friends,” he said. “Lifelong friends. And the spiritual side—the pilgrimages, the Masses, that feeling that we are involved in the Church and assisting the priests and clergy, especially over the last few years, as we know vocations are struggling. I think that is what really would attract me to the order.

“And I think what interested me was the idea of service. [The order’s story] is a story of service. It’s a story of service over 95 years. One of the key things in that story is that when you join the Knights of St Columba one of the big pledges you make is to assist the clergy in the carrying out of their sacred ministry. The Knights of St Columba has a fantastic story. People do listen.”

Reflecting one final time on his appointment as supreme knight, Mr McCluskey said: “I just see it as an honour. I will do whatever is needed. I’m sure that when my term of office ends, I will be back doing something in my council. I’ll continue to work for the Knights of St Columba. There’s more to do on the ground.”



— Pic: Paul McSherry







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