The Knights of Peter Claver marked the 100th Anniversary of their founding on Nov. 7. The Catholic fraternal group, the largest historically African-American Catholic lay organization in the U.S., says it will continue its founders’ commitment to the Church and to community service.
The organization was founded in Mobile, Alabama on Nov. 7, 1909 to allow black men membership in a Catholic fraternal society. It was incorporated in 1911.
Presently headquartered in New Orleans, the Knights of Peter Claver has over 18,000 Catholic family members among more than 700 units throughout the U.S. The fraternity also has one unit in Colombia. The fraternity’s Knights and Ladies are complemented by youth divisions of Junior Knights and Junior Daughters.
Goals of the order, listed on its website, include support for local parishes and bishops, the promotion of civic improvements and social justice, the awarding of scholarships, and the development of youth in a “positive, nurturing environment.”
The organization’s 2009 annual convention, held in New Orleans from Aug. 2-7, attracted thousands of people. Its convention Mass was celebrated by Archbishop of Atlanta Wilton Gregory.
Writing in the Knights of Peter Claver publication The Claverite, Supreme Knight Gene A. Phillips, Sr. said the Knights are determined to continue their founders’ commitment to the Church, the organization, and community service.
The society’s patron, St. Peter Claver, was born June 26, 1580 in Verdu, Spain of noble parents. In 1604 he took the vows of the Society of Jesus and in March of 1616 he was ordained a priest in Cartagena, Colombia, the Knights’ website says. On April 3, 1622, he solemnly promised to be the "Slave of the Black Slaves Forever"
Cartagena was a port of the “Middle Passage” in the slave trade. About 1,000 slaves landed there every month, often in dire straits.
“Father Claver proved himself a friend and advocate to the poor and slaves. Braving social ostracism, he administered to the ill, cleaning their wounds and feeding them. After 40 years of serving Christ and the poor, tens of thousands had embraced the Faith, responding to his language of love,” the Knights’ website continues.
The saint died in September 1654 and was canonized in 1888.
Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago Joseph N. Perry, the Knights’ national chaplain, preached a homily at the Church of St. Peter Claver in Cartagena in February.
Bishop Perry said that St. Peter Claver ministered to slaves who had survived the grueling passage across the Atlantic.
“He fed them, gave them whatever medicines he could put his hands on and taught them about Jesus, who suffered as they suffered,” the bishop said in his homily, which was republished in The Claverite.
“Oblivious of his own safety and comfort, he walked among the sick, starving, despairing blacks and comforted them. He treated their sicknesses and bound up their wounds before teaching them about the merciful God. He advocated on their behalf, pleading the dignity of black skin. Peter Claver absorbed in his own person the suffering of his dark flock.”
In addition to his example of generosity and courage, Bishop Perry explained, the saint also shows how to be patient and tolerant with those who are “intolerant or gripped in race prejudice and those who fail to show gratitude and appreciation for our goodness toward them.”
The Knights of Peter Claver website is at http://www.kofpc.org.