LEWISTON — It might be dwindling membership at the city’s oldest council of the Knights of Columbus that’s causing problems today.

It might be competition from the city’s other event halls and beano parlors. It might be both, Grand Knight Leo Baillargeon said.

“It’s made us change our mission,” he said Thursday. “I love being a knight, but it’s like running a business. I’m worrying more about where the money is going to come from to pay the bills than trying to organize things for the church and the community.”

Baillargeon and other members of the council are scheduled to meet with city officials Friday morning to continue negotiations to sell their 150 East Ave. hall. If the city and the knights can reach a deal, the city could move programs and office space for senior citizens from the Lewiston Multi-Purpose Center to the hall. 

City councilors are tentatively scheduled to discuss the possible deal at their Dec. 20 meeting.

Knights of Columbus Council 106, associated with the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, is the second-oldest council in Maine, and was the only one in Lewiston for years, pulling in members from around the region, including Auburn and Sabattus. At one point, the group boasted 900 members. 

The council moved to its East Avenue location in 1962. Baillargeon said it made sense. The knights host monthly dances and dinners and weekly beano games. They’d rent the hall for weddings, anniversaries and other events.

But much has changed in the past 20 years. They stopped offering beano when they found they couldn’t compete with many of the other, privately owned beano halls. And much of their special-event business began going to other halls.

At the same time, the national Knights of Columbus began pushing for each church to host its own charter. Councils formed in Auburn and Sabattus, pulling away members. Lewiston’s other Catholic churches formed their own councils, too.

The result is that membership is down to about 400. Of those, more than half are legacy members who no longer pay dues.

Baillargeon said the council has about 50 active members — and none under the age of 50.

“The same people end up doing everything,” he said. Efforts to recruit younger members haven’t paid off.

“Young people today just don’t want to get involved,” he said. “They are family-oriented and they’re involved with their church, but they don’t have the time.”

Meanwhile, costs at the hall have increased. Working through a local trust, the council pays property taxes, city fees and heating oil.

“Then there’s building maintenance and other costs,” Baillargeon said. “We’re still bringing in donations, but it’s not enough. We want to get back to working for our church and doing things for the community, but we can’t.”

It’s the same situation at Council 10019, associated with Lewiston’s Holy Family Church. Grand Knight Bob Hebert said his group has about 140 members.

“We’ve been dropping members for years, and they just are not replaced,” Hebert said.

Daniel LeClair, grand knight of Council 12652 at Lewiston’s Holy Cross Church, said his group has been more successful in getting younger members.

“I can see (the councils) getting combined, put back together in about 10 years,” he said.

Baillargeon said his council could rent space in its former hall from the city, if the deal goes through, or they could move their meetings to the basilica.

“We’re welcome there, with open arms,” he said.

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