To live to be a centenarian is certainly a distinction. To discover that you are the longest serving member of the 1.8 million Knights of Columbus in the entire world is quite another. That would be Paul J. Gleason Sr., who is a member of Phoenixville Council #1374 whose singular longevity in the Catholic men’s association was recently confirmed by the organization’s Supreme Council in New Haven, Conn. The Knights themselves constitute the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization.
Gleason, who is 100 years old and a member of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Phoenixville, joined in January 1930, right after he turned 18, just a couple of months after the stock market crash that ushered in the Great Depression. When he joined, he was the fourth member of his family to do so, following in the footsteps of his father and two of his brothers.
“I was surprised to learn I was the longest serving member,” said Gleason, who was honored in late November by a citation from the Supreme Council presented by State Deputy George Koch in the presence of government officials, his brother Knights and family and friends.
He wasn’t just a dues-paying member; he served in various offices of the council as well as grand knight for five terms. In his working life he was a compositor for regional newspapers for half a century.
He chaired the council’s bowling team and for half a century chaired its golf tournament which raised funds for charitable outreach. As a matter of fact, it was this facet of Knight’s programs that initially attracted him. “The Knights of Columbus are good for charity,” Gleason said. “Our council donates to schools and to St. Mary’s Shelter (in Phoenixville).”
Paul Gleason Jr., who is also a Knight, said his father still walks from home to the nearby Council, sometimes for meetings, but almost always for the Monday night poker sessions. “I think he especially likes the camaraderie,” he said.
In his own childhood, Paul Gleason Jr. well remembers the Easter egg hunts, the communion breakfasts and the Christmas parties, which revolved around the Council or the parish. “Ours was a typical Catholic family,” he said. “My father is a good man, a rock-solid guy.”