10 Mar A Catholic Band of Brothers
“You must put on the armor of God if you are to resist on the evil day”
by Donna Sue Berry
Fr Richard Heilman and his Knights of Divine Mercy help young Catholic men ‘put on the armor of God' for themselves and their families. In this exclusive interview, he tells Regina Magazine about how a strip club invading a small Midwestern town made it all happen.
What prompted you to begin the Knights of Divine Mercy?
In 2005, I was assigned as pastor of two parishes, one of which was St. Mary’s of Pine Bluff, a Catholic parish in a small, unincorporated town near Madison, Wisconsin. The little town of Pine Bluff has one church, two bars, and a handful of homes. Fields and idyllic countryside surround it. It’s the kind of town where people dream of raising their kids.
Shortly after my arrival, one of the bar owners decided to rent out his cozy establishment to a strip club owner. Neighbors were appalled, and the little town was stunned. But there was not, it seemed, much that anyone could do.
That’s terrible! How did you get involved?
Discerning God’s will, I organized a mile-long Stations of the Cross through the town. I invited everyone to pray along this “miracle mile,” in an effort to reclaim this surrendered ground and to consecrate the soil back to Our Lord.
The inaugural prayer walk was on Palm Sunday 2005. Over two hundred people spilled into the little town of Pine Bluff to participate in the miracle mile. We prepared for the prayer walk by placing two-foot-high crosses in the lawns stretching all the way down the main road and back, the length of the miracle mile. Participants carried their prayer sheets and a white ribbon (a symbol of purity and anti-pornography).
The twelfth station found them at the entrance to the beautiful parish cemetery on a bluff with a life-size crucifix of our Lord and a one-hundred-year-old stone kneeler in front. The participants tied their white ribbons to this kneeler as a prayer form, much like lighting a vigil candle.
What happened after that day?
After that first prayer walk, a container holding prayer sheets and ribbons was placed at the first station on the walk. All were invited to come, pick up a prayer sheet and white ribbon, and pray at anytime of the day or night, as they wished. Over the next six months, prayer warriors walked the path, prayed the Stations, and sang hymns nearly round the clock. It was estimated that 600-700 ribbons were tied onto the cemetery kneeler over that period of time.
So were you successful?
The miracle mile was, indeed, miraculous. Even though many say that the porn industry is more protected (under First Amendment rights) than are the babies in their mothers’ wombs, within six months the strip club was chased out of town. Little Pine Bluff was overjoyed, and a victory was won for Our Lord.
How did this inspire you?
Seeing that the power of prayer moved a very significant mountain, a seed was planted and a lion was awakened. Recall that this year of 2005 was also the year our mercy pope, John Paul the Great, went to be with his merciful Savior, as he passed on the very eve of Divine Mercy Sunday. Pope John Paul II’s love for the Divine Mercy devotion and the inspiration of this faithful remnant in Pine Bluff, who believed and saw their prayers answered, led me to found the Knights of Divine Mercy, an organization calling Catholic men to heroic virtue, to be strong husbands and fathers, and to be powerful men of prayer.
How did you begin?
Our first leadership meeting for the Knights of Divine Mercy was at a round table (Get it? Knights of the Roundtable?), and was held on the very spot the strippers danced in the “former” strip club. We began the meeting by breaking out Holy Water, Blessed Salt, and the prayers of the Church, as we blessed that place and, quite literally “reclaimed surrendered ground.”
What is the Knights of Divine Mercy?
The Knights of Divine Mercy apostolate seeks to awaken in men the eager desire for a knight’s true calling: The quest for heroic virtue, to be strong husbands and fathers, and to be powerful men of prayer. Men gather once a month for prayer, inspired teaching and a chance to become a “band of brothers” together pursuing virtue, holiness and chivalry.
Were you inspired by Scripture?
The scripture passage that stands as the very foundation of this apostolate is from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians: “Draw your strength from the Lord and His mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. Our battle is not against human forces but against the principalities and powers, the rulers of this world of darkness, the evil spirits in regions above. You must put on the armor of God if you are to resist on the evil day; do all that your duty requires, and hold your ground” (Eph 6:10-12).
What is the primary focus of the Knights of Divine Mercy?
We help men understand and embrace their call to “live supernaturally.” We are living in an intensely secular era. Spiritually speaking, the devil is doing all that he can to catch us isolated and unarmed on the battlefield — no spiritual armor, no spiritual weapons, and no comrades to fight alongside of us. In other words, the reason evil is promoted so effectively today is because we’re ignoring God’s offer of supernatural strength and power.
What are your Knights’ evenings like?
We immerse these men in sacred beauty and awe-inspiring reverence. We want our men to appreciate it as a moment when Heaven and Earth meet; when they are better able to make a Divine connection with their almighty God.
6:00 PM (optional) Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Sacrament of Penance
7:00 PM Divine Mercy Chaplet, Inspirational Talk, Benediction
8:00 PM Social (usually man food – pizza, beer and soda)
How are Knights' wives and girlfriends reacting?
I’ve noticed that, with some other men's organizations, some ladies will object to the men “getting a night out.” These organizations are, primarily, social and/or focus entirely on Corporal Works of Mercy, and not on “forming” men. For some ladies, this does not seem like enough to warrant the men taking time away from the family.
However, the response from the ladies in regards to the Knights of Divine Mercy has been altogether different. In fact, virtually all of the ladies are begging their men to attend these evenings, since it focuses on forming these men to be strong Catholic men of faith and virtue, and good husbands and dads.
If a man wishes to approach his Parish Priest about beginning the Knights of Divine Mercy in their parish, what should he do?
The first thing I would recommend is to gather a group of men together and do some preliminary research into the feasibility of such an apostolate in their area. I’d like to stress that this apostolate is designed, generally, to be regional. In other words, its reach is usually beyond one parish. This helps marshal your efforts and makes it easier to find priests and speakers (usually priests). Of course, in more sparsely populated areas, this may not be possible.
Once you have a great group of highly motivated guys, you can approach the priest with the prospect of establishing an apostolate that looks to form Catholic men in heroic virtue and great husbands and dads. It’s hard to refuse that, right? You’ll want to have a nice presentation prepared before seeing him, so very few questions will remain unanswered. You’ll want to assure him that the men will assume the vast majority of the responsibilities, especially as so many priests are overwhelmed during this era of a priest shortage. The priest will, already, need to commit to this one evening a month as the presider of prayer.
Finally, we try to make ourselves very accessible to help these apostolates with any questions, suggestions, etc. as they look to this possibility for themselves. You may want to make contact with us before approaching the priest, just to be sure your ducks are in a row.
What would you like to say to the readers of Regina Magazine about the Knights of Divine Mercy?
I cannot begin to describe how fruitful the Knights of Divine Mercy has been. I have seen men choking back tears as they state, “Where has this been all my life?” They are inspired by God and by discovering what it really means to be a “Band of Brothers.”
These men have become incredibly motivated to explore their faith more deeply; as they realize how crucial it is that they remain empowered by God in a state of grace. They are also celebrating all things Catholic, and are more and more drawn to reverence and a sense of the sacred.
Together, we continue to discover amazing nuggets within the treasury of our Catholic faith. They are 100% faithful to the teachings of the Church. They are the ones who end up being on the front lines out in front of Planned Parenthood, and they are the first to sign up for hours of Adoration. I am hard-pressed to find one of these guys without a tie on Sunday, and their wives and children are among those most excited about the remarkable growth in virtue and holiness these men are experiencing. This apostolate for men’s faith formation is so very necessary for our times!
How has the Knights of Divine Mercy grown?
There is only a handful, at this point, mostly because we have never ventured into any great marketing campaign to get the word out about Knights of Divine Mercy. It seems that, once people hear about it, they show great interest. There are some in Wisconsin, one in Wyoming, and one getting ready to be established in Rockford, Illinois. We’re hoping someone with marketing skills comes our way.
Fr. Richard Heilman, pastor at St. Mary's in Pine Bluff, WI, discusses his wonderful initiatives (including the Knights of Divine Mercy and the Combat Rosary), the amazing fruits of reverent, ad orientem worship (which include, among other things, a nearly 50% boost in parish finances within the space of a year!), and his work towards helping to restore authentic masculinity among men today.