By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published April 14, 2011
This year marks the silver anniversary of the first council of Knights of Peter Claver in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, formed at St. Anthony of Padua Church in the mid-1980s.
“In 1986, several men and women had a vision,” wrote Joe Barker, the current Grand Knight of Council 276, St. Anthony Church. “These individuals sought to provide a central organization where Catholics could become a part and work together to fight social injustices and work towards bringing the historic works of St. Peter Claver into the lives of those around them.”
Barker remembers seeing Knights of Peter Claver around his home parish in West End Atlanta, where he has worshiped for more than three decades. He felt a call to get involved and learn more after his kids started hanging around the youngsters who were members of the Junior Division at the parish.
“If that’s what Peter Claver is, then I want to be a part of it,” said Barker, reflecting on his first involvement. “It was easy for me to align myself with an organization like this . . . that does such outstanding things for the community, for the parish and for each other.”
“I grew up in the church and now serve alongside many of the people I worshiped with over the years,” Barker added.
In March the Knights came together to celebrate their anniversary year with a gala and Mass, joined by Knights from other councils in the archdiocese and national representatives, including Supreme Knight F. DeKarlos Blackmon, the youngest man chosen to hold the lead office in the order.
Blackmon, 34, an Oblate of St. Benedict, spoke about religious vocations and encouraged members of the organization to make that a focus over the next few years.
“Today, there must be a revitalized sense of urgency to make this family organization to become even greater,” he said. “This should be the same revitalized sense of urgency that our founders exercised . . . sincere and even passionate in welcoming the emerging changes our future brings. We, collectively, must build on this historic foundation, a common sense transformation.”
“The promotion of vocations to holy orders and the consecrated life is not a task reserved to priests,” Blackmon said. “Rather, it is a task that rightly belongs to each of us by virtue of our baptism. … We must bring about meaningful opportunities to encourage and talk about vocations. We cannot emphasize enough that each of us has a responsibility to foster vocations.”
This is one of the reasons the Knights of Peter Claver have such a strong youth component. Getting the youngsters started with service to their church and community early can be a great aid in fostering vocations.
The Junior Division of the Knights of Peter Claver welcomes Catholic youth between the ages of 7 and 18, once they have made their first Communion. The Junior Division is structured in much the same way as the adult group, or Senior Division, with a Junior Supreme Knight, Junior Supreme Lady, and officers.
Youngsters are involved in a multifaceted ministry that seeks to strengthen many aspects of their faith. Spiritual, social, educational, physical and cultural are a few focuses the Junior Division strives to include in its program. Junior meetings are usually held once a month.
There is also a Ladies Auxiliary as part of the order, which was officially recognized in 1926, almost two decades after the order’s initial founding. Grand Lady Lisa Blair, who leads the Ladies Auxiliary at St. Anthony of Padua Church, has been involved with the group at the parish since 1998 and has watched it grow over the last decade. She feels the order creates a wonderful family of faith that can support parishes and communities locally and also provide a means to connect with Catholics from across the country.
“I am called to serve in the best capacity that I can,” she said. “Our members are valued as a person first, regardless of rank or status. We celebrate our good fortunes and support each other in times of sorrow. No matter where we are in the U.S., if there is a KPC unit, we immediately have brothers and sisters in Christ and St. Peter Claver, who will welcome us with open arms.”
Four Josephite priests founded the order on Nov. 7, 1909 in Mobile, Ala. It was established so that African-American men, who were barred from membership in other Catholic organizations, could be accepted as full members in a Catholic fraternal organization. Their patron, St. Peter Claver, was a Jesuit priest born in Spain in the 1500s, who spent his life ministering to slaves in Cartagena, Colombia, South America, where they arrived on slave ships from Africa.
The Knights of Peter Claver is the largest historically African-American Catholic lay organization in the United States, with units in some 400 parishes in the United States. In 2006, a unit was established in San Andres, Colombia, South America.
The organization, which has its headquarters in New Orleans, consists of six divisions, including Knights of Peter Claver, Knights of Peter Claver Ladies Auxiliary, Junior Knights, Junior Daughters, 4th Degree Knights and Ladies of Grace. The order is governed by a board of directors and is under the leadership of the Supreme Knight and Supreme Lady.
All of the divisions at St. Anthony of Padua Church work together to provide activities and outreach opportunities for their parish family and to minister outside the church walls. They host a senior citizens Christmas party for seniors from the neighborhood, as well as community service projects, concerts, outreach to the homeless or families in need, and potluck dinners, among other events.
“I am particularly proud to be associated with you as bearers of the sacred trust, handed down by our founders and by each succeeding generation of members since,” Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory wrote to members of the Knights of St. Peter Claver Council 276. “It is a trust that gives to all members of our Church a share in the accumulated blessings of a Black Catholic heritage.”
“We are indeed indebted to you, the founding members of Council and Court 276,” he continued. “Having heard the call to follow Christ, you responded faithfully to it, in the manner that our patron, St. Peter Claver, did. You planted the seeds of Claverism in the Atlanta Archdiocese 25 years ago, and now those seeds are bearing good fruit.”
For more information on Knights of Peter Claver, Council 276, visit http://stanthony