Our Council's Beginnings
Early in 1921, the Catholics of Lackawanna, realized the need for a local council of the Knights of Columbus. Our beloved Father Nelson Baker, declared that although he desired to join the fraternal order, he would become a member only if a council was formed in Lackawanna for local and dedicated Catholic men. Upon learning of Father Baker’s desire, plans began to develop for a new council. The groundwork was laid by 20 local residents who were members of Buffalo Council #184. Among the leaders of this movement, encouraged by Father Baker, were the Rev. Herman J. Gerlach, Rev. Michael A. Regan, Hon. John J. Monaghan, John J. Joyce, Francis R. Shea, William White, Nelson J. Twist, James J. Redmond, John J. Sullivan and several other enthusiastic Knights.
The Supreme Council of the Knights of Columbus granted a charter to the newly formed Lackawanna Council #2243 on February 20, 1921. The 85 candidates, including Father Baker, plus 20 transferees from Buffalo Council #184 became charter members of our Council after ceremonies took place in Old Victoria Hall after Mass at St. Patrick’s Church (later replaced by Our Lady of Victory Basilica).
For the first few years, under the leadership of our first Grand Knight, John J. Monaghan, the Council met in quarters furnished by Our Lady of Victory Institutions in the Colton Building and, in a school annex on South Park Avenue, where the OLV Elementary School is located. GK Monaghan promoted fundraising projects such as card parties and dances and led our Council’s Knights in the participation of the consecration of Our Lady of Victory National Shrine and Basilica on May 25, 1926.
The years 1927 to 1929 were led by Grand Knight Joseph P. Keating. Under his leadership, the theatrical production of “Three Wise Fools” was put on in order to raise funds to pay for the increasing expenses of the Council.
Patrick J. McMahon served as Grand Knight from 1929 to 1931. He led the formation of the Lackawanna Catholic Club which to this day serves as the “holding” or “home” corporation of our Council. Succeeding McMahon, was John J. Kilcoyne in 1931 and 1932. During the Great Depression, membership declined. GK Kilcoyne, often held dinner meetings, social gatherings and dances at the Hotel Lackawanna as fundraising events and membership drives.
Throughout the early years, beginning with those of during the Great Depression, the Council had to overcome a number of difficulties to survive. Social affairs gradually gained momentum through exemplary religious activities, charitable works, patriotic endeavors and fraternal social engagements. Thus, the Council grew and gained recognition in Columbian (Knights of Columbus) circles and in the community.
The objective of Grand Knight Dennis P. Kane (1932-1934) was to secure more new members in order to compensate for the withdrawal of members from the K of C due to unemployment caused by the Depression. He also organized our first outing or picnic which was held at the Hamburg Fairgrounds. In practicing the K of C’s first principle of charity, he aided local Catholic schools and gave awards to Our Lady of Victory School's athletic programs.
One of the darkest times in our Council’s history occurred during the tenure of GK Thomas J. Merrick (1936 -1937). Father Baker, one of our most beloved charter members, died on July 29, 1936 at the age of 94. Our Council’s participation in the sorrowful tribute to the “Padre of the Poor” was to serve as honor guards and ushers, helping to accommodate the thousands of mourners during his lying in state in the Basilica.
In 1937, under the stewardship of GK Thomas J. McNamara, in order to have a more permanent home, the Council membership purchased property at Ridge Road at Rosary Avenue. There, he instituted weekly “Open House” parties which contributed immensely to the growth of the Council. In honor of Father Baker, who died on July 29, 1936, the name of our Council was changed to Father Baker Council #2243 in 1938. It was also during his tenure that “Corporate Communion and Breakfast” events began at the Council.
During the last year of World War II, Harry F. Smith (1945-1947) became our Grand Knight. He organized “Welcome Home” parties for servicemen returning from the war. The “open house” parties also continued and 2 lawn fetes were successful. The council’s inaugural lawn fete occurred during the term of GK Walter J. Widmer (1941-1943).
In the years 1948 to 1950, Francis M. Finley was our Grand Knight. During that time, the Council joined the K of C Inter-council Softball League and it was during that time that membership increased to 600 members.
Under the administration of GK Andrew W. McLaughlin (1951-1953), the lawn fetes and children’s parties continued. He increased bowling interests which in turn created a bigger interest in bowling excursions, following along the same lines as the Grand Knights before him.
In December 1954, during the term of Grand Knight, Michael F. Lalley, the unthinkable occurred. The Council clubrooms were completely destroyed by a fire. In order to continue with the business of the Council, GK Lalley obtained temporary quarters in the Lackawanna Hotel and in the Colton Building.
The year 1955 brought about change at the helm of the Council. From 1955 to 1957, the Council was led by Grand Knight, Vincent C. Cronin. GK Cronin continued “business as usual” in our temporary quarters but his main objective was to rebuild the physical building of the Council. He created a “bond drive” which was successful and created the impetus to move forward toward his goal. The property at Ridge Road at Rosary Avenue was sold and the proceeds were used to acquire the property at 2838 South Park Avenue that we still call home today. On October 7, 1956, ground was broken to begin construction. The laying of the cornerstone took place on June 2, 1957.
Under the watch of our next leader, Grand Knight William C. Haig, the construction of our Council building was completed and we moved in on September 11, 1957 and held our first meeting there that same evening. Under GK Haig’s term, our Council received the NY State Council’s “Century Award” for increasing the membership to 900. Bill organized the Council’s “Welfare Committee” which rendered aid and assistance to Brother Knights in sickness or distress. He also started Sunday evening bingo which continued until 2017.
Following Bill Haig was Thaddeus E. Orzech (1959-1961). It was during Ted’s term that membership rose to 1,000. It was also during this time that the first “Father and Daughter Communion and Breakfast” took place and annual children’s Christmas parties began. Nationality Nights got their start too. German, Polish, Italian and Irish (on St. Patrick’s Day) parties continued for many years.
Air conditioning was added to the clubrooms during the tenure of GK John A. Dillon (1961-1963) and seminarians began to receive financial support when John M. Cleary started the program during his time as Grand Knight (1963-1965).
It was in the years 1966 to 1968, with Grand Knight James G. Burke, that we realized a membership of more than 1200 members. GK Burke called for a program that vastly remodeled our building and also acquired the parcel just south of the building that allowed us to park an additional 100 vehicles.
Grand Knights Joseph J. Spiker (1968-1970) and Thomas J Higgins (1970-1972) rounded out the first 50 years of leadership at Father Baker Council. Their support to religious and charitable endeavors totaled an enormous sum since our success in our current home.
The first fifty years of the existence of our Council produced many “firsts” in the ways of charitable giving, unity (breakfasts, lawn fetes, parties and picnics), fraternal bonding, membership growth, and patriotism. The first fifty years was when the Council became established, continued to grow and its reputation became known both near and far. All of this occurred under the leadership of those Grand Knights previously mentioned and those not mentioned but who continued the programs already put into place by each of their predecessors. The Grand Knights and membership in the second fifty years of the council continue to strive to support each other, charitable causes, our Bishop and priests, our country and our Order, the Knights of Columbus.