Not a uniform decision: Knights pan regalia update

CHAMPION — The Knights of Columbus fourth degree honor guard is a familiar sight at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help. For decades, the men wearing tuxedos with black capes and feathery chapeaus and carrying ceremonial swords have led the clergy procession into Mass every Aug. 15 for the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

While their presence at future diocesan celebrations will live on, the traditional uniforms they wear will not. During an interview before Mass Aug. 15, several KC honor guard members said they were not happy with the changes.

Knights of Columbus fourth degree honor guard members Al Bertler, Bill Bishop, Bill Vandenlangenberg and Robert Rohr stand outside the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help chapel before Mass on Aug. 15. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

“I think it’s a big mistake. It’s too military,” said Robert Rohr, a member of Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Ashwaubenon and member of the Knights’ St. Jude Assembly.

The uniform change was announced Aug. 1 at the 135th annual Supreme Convention in St. Louis. Supreme Knight Carl Anderson stated that the traditional regalia would be replaced by blue blazers, ties and berets.

“On a limited basis, assemblies may choose to continue using the traditional cape and chapeau for color corps at public events and honor guards in liturgical processions,” said Anderson. “However, the preferred dress for the fourth degree, including color corps and honor guards, is the new uniform of jacket and beret.”

“I don’t like them,” said William Vandenlangenberg, a KC St. Jude Assembly member and parishioner at St. Joseph in Oneida. “Now we are noticed. In a blazer we’re going to be just another guy. I won’t wear a beret.”

“When I grew up, I went to Catholic grade school and used to see the honor guard come into our church,” said Al Bertler, another St. Jude Assembly member who attends St. Benedict Church in Suamico. “I always said, and this was in grade school, ‘I want to be one of those guys some day.’ I don’t want to see a change in the uniform. Period.”

Bill Bishop, who attends St. Francis Xavier Cathedral and is a member of the Marquette Assembly, has been a Knight for six decades. “We changed (uniforms) once earlier. We had long tails at one time. I prefer this (uniform) any day compared to the new uniforms.”

Vandenlangenberg believes half, if not more, of fourth degree members in the Diocese of Green Bay will oppose the uniform change. “They say they are looking for younger people, but you can’t get young kids to go to church, let alone pay $510 for a uniform to go to a fourth degree function,” he said. “I don’t see it happening.”