Founding of Exeter Council
by John J. Adams, PSD
The honor to write the history of Exeter Council, Knights of Columbus, especially by the lone survivor of the triumvirate whose humble efforts brought it into being fifty years ago is a rather pleasant task, despite the sense of nostalgia such a challenge presents. Even the hallowed memories that this assignment recalls are somewhat dulled and the accomplishments of more recent members seem less spectacular as we scan the pages of the Constitutional Roll, containing the names of those initiated into the council since it was founded and, with eyes dimmed with irrepressible tears, soberly reflect upon the names and the number of our Brother Knights who have answered the final summons. And while such contemplation must necessarily stimulate a profound sense of loss, yet the achievements that have been attained by their successors evokes a feeling of justifiable pride. It is, then, in such a mood that we shall endeavor to compile a brief history of this council whose fortunes and misfortunes, through the years, with their happiness and joy, their sorrow and disappointments have touched so deeply some of us who have borne the burden of those long and eventful years.
The time: a cold wintry night in February 1920. The place: the office of the Postmaster, (then on Water Street). Those present: the late Thos. A. Smith, the late Timothy J. Shinnick and the writer. For several years efforts had occasionally been made to arrange a meeting between those three members of the K of C living in Exeter; for the purpose of instituting a local council of the National Order. The sentiments of the two older members, however, were that the town would not be too friendly to such a proposal. This feeling, it was subsequently learned, was motivated not so much be any lack of admiration for the Knights of Columbus, of which each had long been a loyal member, but from the fact that both held state·offices in another fraternal organization and that each, likewise, was an active officer in its local court. Eventually, however, the conviction of enthusiasm of youth prevailed.
A meeting was planned to be held in the Postmaster’s office. The night was very cold and bleak. There were few citizens abroad as we trod the distance between the West End and the center of the town over icy sidewalks, as the sound of crunching snow echoed and re-echoed with each footfall. Quickly following the meeting, a communication was dispatched to State Deputy, the late F. Clyde Keefe of Dover, requesting information concerning the formation of a local council. (Incidentally, the original list of prospective members prepared at the meeting, and the State Deputy’s letter have been preserved and shall be placed in the archives of Exeter Council as memorabilia of its early days).
S. D. Keefe suggested that an announcement from the altar be read, urging the men interested in forming a council to meet in the Smith Hall the following Wednesday evening. A representative group attended: S. D. Keefe and D.D. John S. Dolan of Portsmouth were introduced and spoke at length, each emphasizing his belief that a thriving council was possible in Exeter. The State Deputy further elaborated upon the origin of the National Order, gave a resume of its history since 1882, and especially of the outstanding work accomplished during and following the recently terminated World War I.
Particular stress was placed upon its ideals — Charity, Unity, Fraternity and Patriotism and, of the objectives of the society i.e., a body of honorable, representative Catholic men devoted to love of God and country. Applications for membership were distributed and, with the passing of a few weeks, several informal meetings had been held at which the incoming applications were processed and accepted. The earlier exemplifications were conducted by the degree team from Portsmouth Council and, it should be noted, that the excellence of the ritualistic performance, the enthusiasm of the members attending, especially from Portsmouth and Dover Councils, contributed in large measure to the future success of the new council.
At the completion of our initial Second Degree, a most important meeting was called in order that the candidates might select the district deputy of their choice to confer the Major Degree, scheduled to be held in Red Men’s Hall, Sunday afternoon, August 15, 1920. In spite of the torrid heat, the hall was well filled in the early afternoon by Knights from surrounding councils who had come to give a hearty welcome to the new members and, by their presence, hearten and encourage those members who had labored so diligently to organize the new council.
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