Mr Cooper, 66, of Tusmore said the award took him by “complete surprise” and “brought a tear to my eye”.
“You go into these programs and you take on responsibility but you don’t really look for reward – you look to just achieve and do the right thing for your faith and the Church,” he said.
Joining the Woodville/West Torrens branch on October 31 1979, Mr Cooper (pictured) said he had no idea at the time that his four decade association with the Knights would be so fulfilling.
Over the years he has served as treasurer and chairman at branch level, as State chairman from 2002 to 2006 and again from 2008 to 2010 and in 2012 was elected to the National Executive Council. In 2015 he was elected Supreme Knight, the highest ranking Knight in Australia.
During Mr Cooper’s three-year term he oversaw the Order’s support of Marriage Alliance during the same-sex marriage debate, as well as the recent commitment to Plenary Council 2020.
He was also instrumental in appointing a national development officer who is now charged with rebuilding the Order at a national and state level.
“We really do need a leg up,” he said, reflecting on how the Order’s national membership has dwindled from 10,000 in its heyday to currently 2500 members. In South Australia the situation is also of concern, with only 330 Knights on the books, of whom 180 are actively involved.
Mr Cooper, who together with wife Alison is a member of the Cathedral parish, said when he joined the Order as a 26 year old it was common for men in that age group to be Knights. However, over the years the average age has increased significantly.
He said the national campaign was aimed at making more men aware of what the Order does for the Church and what being a Knight means for the individual.
“The Knights have a great camaraderie. It’s the fraternal nature of the Order that keeps people there,” he said.
“It’s also been a good adjunct to my faith. We have a formation program and that changes year by year and tackles new subjects and I find that faith-building and reinforcing.”
Mr Cooper said many Catholics would be unaware of what the Knights did in their parish.
“Most of the Knights are the social energisers in the parish. The local branches are helping to organise annual dinners or programs that might be raising money for charities or organisations like Vinnies.
“We encourage Knights to make sure they are putting their hands up to help, whether that means being part of the parish council, the liturgy, or as Eucharist ministers.”
Although now living in the eastern suburbs, Mr Cooper has continued to be a member at the Woodville/West Torrens branch where he first joined.
His accounting background – which included a 43 plus year career with the RAA – makes him an obvious choice to fill the role of branch treasurer and as part of his service to the Church he undertakes the annual financial reviews for Newton and Dernancourt parishes free of charge.
Having just stood down as Supreme Knight he will now focus on his involvement in State Council sub committees, which includes preparing for the centenary celebrations in 2021. As a supporter of the International Alliance of Catholic Knights, he will also attend its biennial conference in Glasgow in October.
Anyone interested in joining the Knights can contact the State office on 8371 3301 or go to www.kscsa.org.au.
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