SUMTER — Chantal Fleming’s devotion to the Knights of Peter Claver Ladies Auxiliary was passed down to her through her family.
Her late father, Louis Fleming, was a member of the historical African-American Catholic fraternal organization and helped start the Knights unit at St. Jude Church in Sumter.
Her mother Emma has achieved the title of Grand Lady. Four siblings and a nephew also are members. Fleming herself joined the Ladies Auxiliary at the church when she returned home in 2000 after living in New York for several years. She has since earned the title of Grand Lady.
In May, she was honored with the title of Claver Woman of the Year at the organization’s regional convention in Mobile, Ala.
She was selected from a field of 11 nominees from seven states.
“I have nothing but positive things to say about her,” said Athanase F. Jones Jr., the Gulf Coast district deputy for the Knights of Peter Claver. “She’s truly a representative of our organization and our patron saint. She’s always there, willing to positively represent us, and she’s involved in so many things in the community as well as the organization itself.”
Jones said the woman of the year award goes to a member who represents the organization’s values and shows dedication in working with her local unit and serving in her parish and community.
“Chantal is involved in so many things that she met the criteria on all levels,” he said.
Jones said he was especially impressed with Fleming’s drive and dedication to help organize events such as the Knights’ annual convention in Jacksonville, Fla., in 2008.
Fleming said the award was a special honor because it came during the celebration of the Knights’ 100th anniversary. The organization was founded in 1909.
“I was so shocked when I received the award. It was a wonderful moment,” Fleming said. “I had my sister, Andrea, and my brother, Michael, there with me as well as other members of our unit in Sumter, and it was a thrill to have them there. It’s an honor to be able to serve our organization and community, and to be honored for a combination of things I’ve been doing here over the years.”
Fleming was born in Fort Campbell, Ky., and moved around frequently as a child with her parents and six siblings because her father was in the military. After stints in Alaska and Virginia, the family moved to Sumter, and she attended elementary through high school in city schools.
She graduated from North Carolina A&T University with a degree in psychology, and then received a master’s degree in counseling from Webster University.
She is currently working on a doctorate in educational psychology from Capella University.
Fleming spent 14 years as a counselor in New York before she decided to return to her hometown. She is now director of the TRIO student support services program at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College.
The federally funded program helps students who are the first in their families to attend college. It provides academic support, tutoring and other services.
Before taking the job in Orangeburg, she directed the TRIO Program at Central Carolina Technical College in Sumter, and also was a clinical counselor for the S.C. Department of Corrections in Turbeville.
Fleming said her hour-long commute each way to work gives her a chance to stay in touch with her faith.
“It’s just enough time to say the rosary or do some other reflection,” she said. “It’s worked out well.”
When she moved back to Sumter, Fleming started attending St. Jude again, which was her childhood parish.
“When I came back to South Carolina, I saw how active the Knights members were at St. Jude; how good they were at supporting their priest, the parish and the whole community,” she said. “I saw how active my parents were so I joined right away. My parents have definitely been inspirations to their children to be as active in the order as we are.”
Fleming said her unit’s work has included organizing fundraisers for scholarships for young people in the parish, holding safe Halloween celebrations and developing activities for senior citizens.
“I would say the thing I’m most proud of has just got to be Unit 316 at St. Jude,” Fleming said.
“I’m just proud that we’re there to support our priest and church, and proud of our passion for wanting to continue the work of our patron saint, Peter Claver,” she continued. “We’re there to be of assistance, to be prayerful and to be available for those who need us at any time.”
One of her immediate goals is to help bring more young people into the Knights of Peter Claver and the Ladies’ Auxiliary, and increase youth participation in the church overall, she said.
Fleming’s award is distinctive because she is a single woman and one of the youngest women to receive the honor in many years.
“It’s inspiring to me and a good feeling to be able to give of your time and of yourself wherever you can,” she said.
For more information about the Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver visit www.kofpc.org.