Jeri Mahon’s time with the Columbiettes has come full circle.
She originally joined the women’s auxiliary for the Knights of Columbus in Schenectady, but transferred to the Rotterdam Columbiettes when she moved to the town in 1975. Now, she’s poised to rejoin the organization she joined as a young woman more than three decades ago.
But the return is bittersweet for Mahon, who is now the auxiliary’s financial secretary and once served as the group’s president.
She is among 16 members of the Rotterdam Columbiettes that have decided to join the auxiliary’s dwindling ranks in Schenectady, rather than disbanding the Catholic women’s organization outright.
“We just go with the flow,” she said this week. “That’s all we can do.”
Last month, the 46-member organization faced dissolution after the Knights of Columbus chapter in Rotterdam disbanded due to a lack of membership. By their organization’s constitution, the Columbiettes are required to have an affiliated Knights’ chapter.
“Once [the Rotterdam Knights] decided to stop, the Columbiettes couldn’t be in existence because of the constitution,” said Kathy Majer, a district deputy with the organization. “Unfortunately, it’s the end of an era.”
Nationally, the Columbiettes were started by the chaplain of the Knights’ New York City chapter, after he observed large numbers of women participating at Madison Square Garden rally in 1939. The Columbiettes were founded as a women’s group to promote the spiritual, social and charitable welfare among their members, while supporting the Knights in their various tasks.
Rotterdam’s auxiliary was first established in 1969, with Sioban Bonitatibus serving as the first president. At one point, their numbers swelled to more than 150.
The organization’s members volunteer with a variety of charitable organizations and also help area ministries. They also conduct baby showers for young mothers and are active in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.
Both the Knights and the Columbiettes fell on hard times after they lost their lease on the officers’ club at the former Schenectady Army Depot nearly three years ago. Both groups lost members when they moved to St. Gabriel’s Church on Hamburg Street, but the Knights were the ones most affected by the change.
“They weren’t even able to get officers, because their membership had decreased so tremendously, “ said Maryann Sniffen, the auxiliary’s president.
Meanwhile, the Schenectady Columbiettes were facing the opposite problem. While the Schenectady Knights remain viable, Majer said the auxiliary’s membership has dwindled to less than a dozen.
“A few of them are hanging in there,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Columbiettes’ Supreme Council is contemplating an amendment to their constitution that would allow the auxiliary organizations to exist as a separate entity. An official contacted at the council this week said there hasn’t been a decision.
Majer said both the Rotterdam and Schenectady auxiliaries simply want to continue, even if it means as a combined organization.
“We want to continue the work we do,” she said.