Columbian Squires Circle members from St. Mary of the Assumption get inside look at D.C.

Tawnya Panizzi
| Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

A trip to the nation's capital by a group of local boys included more than a view of the White House and other sights.

The Columbian Squires Circle 5444, out of St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Glenshaw, traveled last month to Washington, D.C., and members were privileged to go beyond the typical tour of museums and monuments, said Ray Newcomer, head of the youth group.

“The sightseeing that they did was undoubtedly a good learning experience, but a much more impressive aspect were the things they did that most people can never do,” he said.

The Columbian Squires is a Catholic fraternity for boys ages 10 to 18 whose mission is to build character. Run by the Knights of Columbus, the group dates back to 1925.

Among the trip highlights were participating in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia and celebrating Mass at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

“The trip was special for us,” said Brett Ford, club secretary and a senior at Shaler Area High School. “It took so much time to get permission to do the wreath laying, and we realize that was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

The tomb represents military personnel who were killed on duty but never identified. It is guarded every hour of every day of the year by members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry.

Ford said the ceremony took on extra meaning as the Squires dedicated it to one of their fellow members, whose recent diagnosis of leukemia prevented him from taking the trip.

“I think the whole trip brought us closer to God,” Ford said. “We went to Catholic University and saw the biggest church in the United States. Not everyone gets to do things like that.”

Newcomer, head of the St. Mary group since its inception three years ago, said it took more than 18 months of preparation to solidify the trip, in which 20 youths visited landmarks such as the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial.

“We saw the American History Museum and the Air and Space Museum and all the typical sites,” he said. “But being a part of the other things, like the prestigious ceremony at the Tomb, was such an honor to these young men. There was such large trust bestowed in them to participate in something so sacred. We waited a year for permission from the government to do that.”

To apply, Newcomer wrote a letter first to Gov. Tom Corbett and then to the cemetery officials. And then he waited.

“It was seven or eight months later when they replied with a specific date and time that we were allowed to do it,” he said. “We were very honored to be among those that they let do it. I don't think any of these boys realized how impressive it would be.”

Newcomer's son, David, said he was most taken by the Tomb's Changing of the Guard.

“I was amazed that the soldiers have to commit one year of their lives to be there,” said David, a sophomore at Fox Chapel Area High School. “They have to go through a 30-minute inspection before every shift.”

A highlight for David included snapping a photo at the statue of the Rev. Michael McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus, while visiting the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest church in the country.

“The Basilica was amazing, with a lot of nice artwork, and we had a church service where we all had a part in the Mass,” he said. “We all thought it was cool to get a photo with (the statue of) the founder of the Squires.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or

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