COLUMBIA — History was made for the Knights of Peter Claver and the Ladies Auxiliary during their 57th Annual Gulf Coast District Conference in Columbia April 30-May 2. Officers were installed during the Memorial Mass, including those from the newly established council and court from St. Martin de Porres Church, the first group to be established in Columbia.
“Ten years ago, the Grand Lady Vertelle Amos Kenion came to Columbia and spoke to St. Martin de Porres Rosary Society,” recalled parishioner Geraldine Allen. “She handed me a package and asked me to start a council and court in my parish.”
Allen said that she tried several times but could not get enough interest. Still, she kept all the paperwork. When Father Paul Williams became pastor, Allen decided to try again and asked her friend and fellow parishioner Charlotte House to assist her. With their pastor’s approval, the women organized one of the largest beginning councils and courts in the region, with 23 men and 26 ladies. Father Williams was also inducted as a third degree knight Deacon Roland Thomas and his wife, Victoria, longtime members of St. Martin de Porres Church, were glad to join the organization.
“We had been trying for many years. Things like this happen at the right time, and that time was now,” said Mrs. Thomas.
The two highest ranking national officers for the council and court were present for the conference, Supreme Knight Judge Arthur McFarland from St. Patrick Church in Charleston, and Supreme Lady Mary Louise Briers from Montgomery, Ala.
Bishop Robert J. Baker was also present to celebrate the Memorial Mass after being inducted as a third and fourth degree knight in a private initiation ceremony held before the Mass.
“Thank you, St. Peter Claver Society, for helping us as a church reflect the mind and heart of the good and great shepherd, Jesus Christ, Son of God,” Bishop Baker said during the homily.
The bishop made requests of the councils and courts present. He asked for their prayers for him, their own pastors, and for future vocations.
“I would ask that you pray for holy priests to come from the African-American community to help our diocese reach out in a better way to the African-American community in South Carolina,” said the bishop.
He suggested the council and court establish a committee to pray and work specifically for vocations.
The first Knights of Peter Claver council was founded on Nov. 7, 1909, in Mobile, Ala. Today there are more than 1,000 units in 23 states, with South Carolina welcoming its first council in 1949. The organization is named after St. Peter Claver, a Jesuit priest from Spain who ministered to the poor, especially the many slaves who were being shipped from Africa in the 1600s. Through Claver’s Christian example, many slaves converted to Catholicism.
“One of the reasons the Knights of Peter Claver was founded was because black men had no Catholic organization they could belong to at the time,” said Judge McFarland. “The organization did and continues to give its members a significant role in the church.”
McFarland, who has been the supreme knight for four years, said his units have been busy with several large projects. For example, they recently made a $100,000 contribution to the Mother of Africa Chapel in the National Basilica in Washington, D.C. They are also working on a national fund-raising campaign to raise money for Xavier University in New Orleans, the only African-American Catholic college in the country.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops renewed a grant to the organization to continue the National Environmental Health and Justice Literacy Project, which educates citizens of poor communities about living near dump sites.
This project has involved all the divisions throughout the country.
On a local level, the organization stresses working for the diocese and the parish.
“We encourage our families to give service to the parish priest and engage in every aspect of parish life, such as extraordinary ministers of the Eucha-rist, lecturers, deacons and altar servers,” said McFarland.
The conference brought councils and courts from the entire gulf region. Approximately 500 knights and ladies came to the national event.
“It made me so happy to be here,” said Joan Moore from St. Anthony of Padua Court 276 in Atlanta. “I met the Columbia group in March, and our court gave them a donation to help them start their court. The women are like sisters to me.”
“We feel as though we are being treated like royalty,” added Margaret Wilkerson from the Atlanta court.