From left, Josiana Nibigira, Justine Niyonzima, Arianna Dacus, members of the Junior Daughters, a unit of the Knights of Peter Claver, bake cookies and cupcakes as part of a project for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. COURTESY PHOTO

News

For 113 years – 33 locally – Knights of Peter Claver have served God, Church and community

This month marks 113 years since the founding of the Knights of Peter Claver, a Black Catholic fraternal organization which has grown into the world’s largest historically Black Catholic lay organization.

In the Archdiocese of Omaha, the group has a 33-year history, with 23 women currently in its Ladies Auxiliary, 15 men in the Knights and 10 youths ages 7 to 18 in Junior Daughters and Junior Knights.

“We are a family organization,” said Perlie Whitley, Grand Lady of the Ladies Auxiliary, the Sister Barbara Beasley Court 308.

The Knights of Peter Claver “render service to God and His Holy Church, render aid and assistance to the sick and disabled and … promote social and intellectual association” among members, according to Whitley.

The local units are associated with St. Benedict the Moor Parish in Omaha.

Members serve at the parish as lectors, musicians, sacristans, choir director, ushers, greeters, office manager, coordinator for a St. Vincent de Paul pantry and pastoral assistant. They serve the wider community through numerous charitable events, including drives for coats, diapers and toys for those in need.

The women’s auxiliary unit (Court) and the Knights unit (Council) were established in Omaha in 1989. The ladies group, founded in August of that year, was named after Sister Barbara Beasley of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. She was the first African-American member of that religious order.

The men’s Knights of Peter Claver, St. Benedict the Moor Council 308, was formed a month later.

Both junior divisions were established in 1990.

The Sir Knights of Father Augustus Tolton Assembly No. 50 and the Ladies of Grace of Father Augustus Chapter No. 50 were established in November 2013.

Knights of Peter Claver are named after the 17th-century saint, a Jesuit priest who left Spain to be a missionary in Cartagena, a Caribbean port at the center of the slave trade. There St. Peter Claver ministered to the slaves, who were treated like animals, bringing them medicine, food and other supplies. During 40 years of ministry, the saint instructed and baptized an estimated 300,000 enslaved individuals.

The Knights of Peter Claver order was founded in 1909 in Mobile, Alabama, by four Josephite priests and three laymen to provide more opportunities for Black Catholics to serve the Church and answer the call to discipleship found in the Gospel.

Members follow the example of the early apostles, serving their communities and the Church in the modern world, Whitley said.