If you’re a part of the Catholic church, you’ve probably heard of the Knights of Peter Claver. This lay-led organization, founded by the Josephites in 1909, was formed in Mobile, Alabama, and it makes up the largest African American Catholic community in the U.S.
The Knights of Peter Claver organization was created to serve Black Catholics and to ensure their continued involvement in the church.
Additionally, the organization’s purpose is to be of service to God, give assistance to those in the community, further the advancement of civic and social justice, and to promote fellowship amongst its members.
Josephite leaders, which included Father Conrad Friedrich Rebesher, Father Samuel Joseph Kelly, Father Joseph Peter Van Baast, and John Henry Dorsey, saw the need for a Black Catholic fraternal order and feared the Church would lose many of its African American congregants to other organizations who had Black associations, such as as the Masons and the Elks.
In November 1909, an integral event took place that will forever impact the lives of Black Catholics – the initiation of the first 40 Black men into the Knights of Peter Claver.
In an article from The Colored Harvest, it was said that, “This is undoubtedly the most important movement for colored Catholics that has taken place for many a day.”
Since the inception of The Knights of Peter Claver, its members have made great strides in social justice reform. They’ve worked with organizations like the NAACP and the National Urban League to help with issues plaguing the Black community during the Civil Rights Movement.
The organization has several divisions, including the Ladies Auxiliary, the Junior Division, the Junior Daughters, the Fourth Degree Knights, and the Fourth Degree Ladies of Grace, that each work to contribute to charity, award scholarships, build strong relationships within their communities, and much more.
Facts about the Knights of Peter Claver:
- The organization is named after the Spanish priest, St. Peter Claver, who ministered to Afican slaves in Cartagena, Colombia
- The order is currently headquartered in New Orleans, LA
- Before the creation of the Knights of Peter Claver, those of African descent weren’t allowed to join any preexistent fraternal Catholic organizations
The Knights of Peter Claver’s formation was such an impactful event of the early 20th century for the Catholic church. The organization is still going strong today with over 100,000 members.
The organization’s efforts for continued representation, inclusion, and service to God make for a strong congregation that not only spreads throughout the community, but to the rest of the world.
To learn more about Catholicism and the great works of a church in St. Louis, Missouri, visit the St. Alphonsus Liguori “Rock” Catholic Church.