Black Catholic History Month: The Knights of Who?

“Claverism” observes 100th Anniversary in USA

Every Catholic and many a non- Catholic recognizes the name of the largest Catholic lay organization in the world, the Knights of Columbus.  This is a group of “practical” Catholic men who do charitable acts.  Indeed, over the last ten years, the “K of C” have donated more than a billion dollars to charitable causes.  The Knights of Columbus were chartered as a fraternal organization in Connecticut  in 1882.

Far fewer Catholics and others have heard of the Knights of Peter Claver.   This organization was founded in 1909 at Most Pure Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Mobile, Alabama.  The organization was founded to give “colored men” a Catholic fraternal organization. (Yes, sadly, there was a time that those other Knights allowed  no “colored men” among them.  Fortunately those days are gone.)  Like the Knights of Columbus, the Knights of Peter Claver are engaged in charitable works.  from their start in Alabama a century ago, they now have over 1000 subordinate units around the country.


But who was Peter Claver?

Pedro Claver Corbero (1580-1654) was born in Verdu, Catalonia.  After advanced Jesuit education in Barcelona, Tarragon, and Majorca,  Claver followed the call of God to minister  to slaves in South America.  In 1610, he traveled to Cartagena, Colombia, at the time, the leading slave port in the world.

Claver cared for the poor and the sick slaves.  He created a corps of catechists to teach the slaves the Bible.   It is said that Claver  baptized over 300,000 slaves in his 44-year career.  For his service to the slaves, Claver earned the title of “slave to the slaves.” In 1896, nearly 250 years after his death, Claver was declared patron saint of missions to African slaves.  Today, he is recognized as patron of slaves, Colombia, African Americans, and race relations.

The Knights of Peter Claver strive to carry out their charitable works with the same selflessness as St Peter Claver himself.


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November 2009
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