By RON KUZLIK     7/11/2023

Two men from the Diocese of Orange were recently honored at the annual meeting of the California State Council of the Knights of Columbus.

Fr. Michael St. Paul, a Fourth Degree Knight and pastor of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Ladera Ranch, was honored with the Fr. Juan Perez Priest of the Year Award for the Southern Region of California.

Sir Knight Tom Collins, also a Fourth Degree Knight of Fr. Peter J.J. Juba Council #4922, which serves both La Purísima and Holy Family Catholic Churches in Orange, and Christ Cathedral Assembly #3479 in Garden Grove, was honored as the California State Knight of the Year for 2022-23.

The two originally received their awards in May in Ontario, California, and were later celebrated in June closer to home, with a special ceremony in Orange attended by Bishop Kevin Vann.

The Fr. Juan Perez Award was established in 1986 in honor of the Conventional Franciscan friar who blessed Christopher Columbus and his fleet of the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria on the explorer’s first expedition to the New World in 1492. Fr. Perez exhibited great courage and sacrifice when he later accompanied Columbus on his second journey in 1493 and is credited with celebrating the first Mass in the New World upon their arrival in Port Concepcion, Hispaniola (modern day Dominican Republic).

The honor is presented to a priest from the Northern, Central and Southern California regions for outstanding contributions to faith formation, brotherhood, Church and the Knights of Columbus Order. Candidates are nominated by the local Knights of Columbus Council, Chapter or Fourth Degree Assembly and approved by the State Deputy, who serves as the chief executive of the state Knights of Columbus council.

This year’s Southern Region awardee, Fr. Michael St. Paul, is one of six children and attended St. Justin Martyr Catholic Church in Anaheim. Prior to entering seminary, Fr. St. Paul received a Master of Science in Organizational Development and Bachelor of Science in Human Relations and Organizational Behavior from the University of San Francisco. He worked for the Walt Disney Company in a variety of administrative and management positions for a period of over 20 years.

“I worked the better part of half my life for the ‘Magic Kingdom’ and now I work for the Eternal Kingdom for the rest of my life!” he likes to quip.


Upon graduation from St John’s Seminary in Camarillo, he earned a master’s degree in Divinity and a Master of Arts Degree in theology as well as a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy. He was ordained in 2005.
His first parish assignment was at St. Joseph Church in Santa Ana. He was then assigned to St. Anthony Claret Church in Anaheim in 2009 before being appointed administrator and then pastor of St. Polycarp Catholic Church in Stanton in 2011. He was appointed to his most recent pastoral assignment at Holy Trinity in Ladera Ranch in 2020.

It was at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo that Fr. St. Paul got to know and understand the Knights of Columbus.

“The Knights of Columbus and Catholic Church go hand in hand,” he said. “The message of the Knights is to do the service of the Lord, to live the Gospel and share that with others.

“It’s been my experience over the years at all of the parishes that I have been that the Knights are waiting to help and assist the pastor and the parish as a whole.”

The Knight of the Year honoree is also selected by the State Deputy.

According to California Knights of Columbus State Deputy Rene Trevino, “The Knight of the Year has exhibited actions throughout the year which has benefited their councils and exemplifies the values of (Knights of Columbus founder) Blessed Fr. Michael McGivney.”

Tom Collins is an Honorary Life Member of the Knights of Columbus and has been a Knight since 1986. He served in the U.S. Air Force and earned a Bachelor of Business Administration from Long Beach State University. Tom and his wife Suzanne have been married for over 49 years and have three children and are parishioners at La Purísima Catholic Church in Orange, where he is a lector and a member of the La Purísima Finance Committee.

“Brother Tom Collins was selected for his dedication and professional actions as a member of the State Council Administration and Finance Committee,” State Deputy Trevino said. “All funds managed by the state council come exclusively from our local councils. Through Brother Tom’s professional efforts, we were true stewards of the council funds.”

During his 37 years as a Knight, he has served in a variety of capacities in service, leadership and ceremonial work. He has been a council financial secretary, Grand Knight on three separate occasions, District Deputy and member of the Color Corps (honor guard). Collins currently serves on the State Administrative and Finance Committee. At St. Cecilia Church in Tustin, he previously served as president of the parish council, sacristan, lector and Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. He was also a Cub Scout leader, Little League manager and American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) coach and Orange YMCA Man of the Year in 1992.

“When I separated from the Air Force, finished my education and got married, I knew I wanted to serve the Church and community, said Collins, “so the KofC was an easy choice. The joy we share working together makes me realize we receive more than we give.”

For more information on the Knights of Columbus California State Council visit www.californiaknights.org