By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published May 11, 2006
For 20 years the Knights and the Ladies Auxiliary of Peter Claver have served their parishes, communities and the Archdiocese of Atlanta, and at St. Anthony of Padua Church, Knights and Ladies past and present gathered to celebrate this milestone anniversary.
Dressed in their Claver finest—the women in all-white suits and dresses and the men in tuxedos—the Knights and Ladies Auxiliary of Peter Claver processed into St. Anthony and filled the pews of the church at the 11:30 a.m. Divine Mercy Mass April 23.
Celebrated by St. Anthony pastor Father Tim Gadziala, the Mass honored the tradition of Claverism in the parish—the first to have a council in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. There are now several councils around the archdiocese.
In his homily, Father Gadziala paid homage to St. Peter Claver, a 17th-century Spanish Jesuit who ministered in Colombia to thousands of African slaves shipped to the New World.
“St. Peter Claver saw beyond the color of skin and saw instead human dignity,” he said. “He is a wonderful patron who we look up to. Even though we are no longer slaves, we are all called to help each other, especially those who are marginalized.”
Father Gadziala, who was greeted with applause when he said he was very “honored and privileged” to be a new Knight, said he had had a devotion to St. Peter Claver since he was in the seminary.
“Peter Claver is sometimes a forgotten saint amongst people, especially white people, and he shouldn’t be,” he said. “He was a Spanish saint, and a universal saint, because he reached out to all people.”
At the end of Mass, several Knights and Ladies spoke, and the debutantes of the Junior Daughters of Peter Claver were introduced. Grand Lady Joan Moore and Grand Knight Lawrence Colin then presented gifts to the parish.
After the Mass, a reception was held to commemorate the anniversary. Members of the council and court, some of whom are now in other parishes, joined together to celebrate. Several district and national officers of the Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver were also present.
Founded in 1909, the Knights of Peter Claver is the largest predominantly black Catholic organization in the world. The organization is located in 39 states and has 330 courts and councils and over 100 junior branches of young men and women between the ages of 8-18 years old. In Atlanta, B. Janet Cooper introduced Claverism to the city after moving from Mississippi.
“When I moved here, there were no Clavers here. I knew I could pull the ladies together but I needed a man to help gather the men,” she said.
Cooper enlisted the help of Father Bruce Wilkinson, now pastor of Most Blessed Sacrament Church in Atlanta. Council 276 of St. Anthony’s began meeting in April of 1986.
“Once we started, we pledged among ourselves that we would always help our church, help our community and help each other,” Cooper said.
Sol Brannan, the second Grand Knight of the council, remembers well the early days.
“Many of us are still around. We wanted to do something for our church and in turn do something for ourselves.”
Genevieve Lewis was one of the charter members of the Ladies Auxiliary.
“For 20 years we have been doing good work here at St. Anthony. I have really enjoyed being a member because we are a family—the Knights, the Ladies, the Junior Daughters and the Junior Knights,” she said.
Grand Lady of St. Anthony’s Ladies Auxiliary Joan Moore was also a charter member. This is the second time she has served an elected term as Grand Lady. She said that St. Anthony’s is a “giving church,” and so when the council was formed, there was a great interest.
“It was wonderful. Once we were initiated we just ran with everything,” she said, adding that there were 29 ladies who were charter members.
Originally from Philadelphia, Moore said she had been involved in several charitable organizations before moving to Atlanta and was looking for something to be involved in “church-wise.” The Ladies Auxiliary proved a perfect fit. Moore began raising her grandchildren after her daughter died and wanted them to also be a part of the organization.
“I wanted my grandchildren to learn about Peter Claver and to see what he stood for,” she said.
The Knights and Ladies serve the church and the community in various ways. This year they spearheaded fundraising and donations for Katrina victims and held a raffle for archdiocesan seminarians. Their annual Good Friday Fish Fry brings in money each year that is donated to various causes. They also serve the area homeless shelters several times a year, and Moore said that 15-20 percent of all money raised throughout the year is given to the parish.
Grand Knight Lawrence Colin has been a part of the organization for the past seven years. He said though he is charged with the organizational duties of the Knights, he feels like “just another member” and paid respect to the charter members and those who came before him.
“Those guys who were the charter members, they are the ones who deserve all the credit,” he said. “For me, it’s just an honor to serve God and a wonderful way to serve Jesus.”