APPLETON – When Fr. Carlos Zapata came to the United States from Columbia in 2008 he soon learned of the Knights of Columbus.Candidates for the Knights of Columbus patriotic 4th Degree line up outside the ballroom of the Paper Valley Hotel in Appleton on Saturday, April 13, in preparation for ceremonies in which the group became “Sir” Knights. (Catholic Herald photo by Steve Wideman)

By 2009, Fr. Carlos, associate pastor at Holy Name and St. Clement parishes in Sheboygan, was a Second Degree Knight.

On Saturday, April 13, Fr. Carlos and three other priests from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and Diocese of Green Bay joined 131 other men in becoming Fourth Degree Knights during ceremonies at the Paper Valley Hotel in Appleton.

“I was very happy to receive the Fourth Degree,” said Fr. Zapata. “As a Catholic priest I’ve found the Knights of Columbus to be a beautiful organization to work with. The Knights work with the church to do good things for the poor and for the church’s many needs.”

The Fourth Degree, also known as the patriotic degree, emphasizes patriotism, one of four virtues forming the backbone of the Knights of Columbus. The other virtues are charity, unity and fraternity.

The Knights annually schedule Fourth Degree exemplifications, one each for the eastern and western portions of the state, to accept members into the patriotism degree.

The exemplification attracted the highest number of candidates for the Fourth Degree in years, said Roland C. Ransom II of Mukwonago, Master of the Knights’ Eastern District.

“A year ago we had 70 candidates in the eastern district. This year we had nearly double that with 135 becoming Fourth Degree Knights,” Ransom said. “The Fourth Degree is the highest degree of the order. When you make the degree of patriotism you are a ‘Sir Knight.’ Patriotism to us means to be patriotic to and defend our country, its principals and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”

New Fourth Degree member Chris Kachur from Kenosha joined the Knights 10 months ago.

“I’ve learned over the past 10 months that this is where I want to be at this point in my life,” said Kachur.

Kachur, who served overseas as a military police officer with the U.S. Navy during Operation Deseret Storm, said he is proud to be a member of the Knights’ patriotic degree.

“I wholeheartedly believe in fighting for the country and the religious freedoms we enjoy in this country,” Kachur said. “There is something inside me that says I need to serve my fellow man and fellow Catholics.”

The Fourth Degree includes a long roster of famous and historic members including former President John F. Kennedy.

Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki and Green Bay Bishop David L. Ricken are members of the Fourth Degree.

Ransom noted Knights of the Fourth Degree, particularly the Knights’ Color Corps, recognized by their distinctive regalia, are the most visible arm of the organization.

Ransom joined other local members of the Knights Color Corps recently at the Outagamie Regional Airport to welcome 140 World War II and Korean War veterans back home after a whirlwind, one day tour of Washington D.C. and the World War II Memorial as part of the nationwide Old Glory Honor Flight program.

The Knights raised swords in salute as the aging veterans, many in wheelchairs, departed the plane to meet hundreds of cheering friends and relatives.

“I was very touched by Thursday night’s greeting of the veterans. There weren’t many dry eyes at the airport,” said Ransom, a Marine Corps veteran.

Ransom wants to bring the ceremony, complete with swords, to Old Glory Honor Flights in Milwaukee “but airport security is a lot tighter in Milwaukee.”