NORTH CHARLESTON—The Knights of Peter Claver Council 110 combined the serious business of honoring their members with the fun of dancing and socializing at their annual recognition banquet.
The gala had a special focus this year as the order paid homage to their centennial celebration. The men joined with the Knights of Peter Claver Ladies Auxiliary for the event at the Sheraton on March 12.
Judge Arthur C. McFarland, who emceed the banquet with Elease Amos-Goodwin, said they expected about 300 people to attend.
The 100th anniversary of the Knights was celebrated nationally in November 2009, McFarland said, and individual councils have continued to pay tribute to the milestone.
He said it is a huge achievement for an organization to reach 100 years and be as successful as the Knights have been.
“Everyone has shown such enthusiasm and appreciation for the Knights labor of love,” McFarland said. “It’s really been a labor of love for the Catholic Church.”
The Knights of Peter Claver chose the saint as their patron because of his ministry to slaves in the port of Cartagena, Spain, in the 1600s, and his devotion to ending slavery. The order was founded in 1909 in Mobile, Ala., by four Josephite priests and three African-American laymen.
Cornelius Dorsey, nephew of one of the four original founders, was a special guest at the celebration. His uncle, Father John Dorsey, was the only African-American priest out of the founders.
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone also attended and delivered the invocation and closing prayer.
At the start of the event, Grand Knight Melvin Green welcomed the crowd and said the Knights were founded with a three-prong purpose: to give black men a role in the Catholic Church through a fraternal order, to provide a way to care for their brothers and sisters in times of sickness and at death, and to be a vehicle for change within a segregated church and society.
Today, the order has over 700 units in 34 states and Washington, D.C., and established the first international unit in Colombia, South America, in 2006.
The Knights came to South Carolina 60 years ago and have units in Greenville, Columbia, Sumter and Charleston.
During the gala, the Knights honored the clergy who serve with them, and other members who exceed the call of duty.
Wilfred J. Steplight Sr. and Marjorie Alston Steplight received recognition as Knight and Lady of the Year, while Elise Davis-McFarland, Ph.D., and the Rev. Joseph A. Darby, pastor of Morris Brown A.M.E. Church, were presented with community service awards.
Four priests of the Diocese of Charleston who also belong to the Knights of Peter Claver earned recognition for their contributions.
Father Emmanuel Andinam is from Nigeria and serves as parochial vicar at St. Andrew Church in Clemson, St. Paul the Apostle Mission in Seneca, and St. Francis Mission in Walhalla. He is also director of campus ministry at Clemson University. In his award, Father Andinam was honored for his personal sacrifice and for answering God’s call.
Father Henry N. Kulah was born in Ghana and is administrator of St. Patrick and Our Lady of Mercy in Charleston. The Knights praised him as a well-versed preacher of the Gospel, a teacher, an excellent storyteller and a man of compassion.
Franciscan Father Patrick Tuttle, from Connecticut, is pastor of St. Anthony of Padua in Greenville and director of campus ministry at Furman University. In the presentation of his award, the Knights credited the church growth — from 150 to 1,300 — to Father Tuttle’s belief that by aiding the neighborhood’s physical needs, spiritual needs are also fulfilled.
Franciscan Father Paul M. Williams, vicar for African-American Catholics for the diocese, was born and raised in Virginia. He is pastor of St. Martin de Porres Church in Columbia and serves a number of roles for the diocese. The Knights pointed out his dedication to improving race relations and noted a host of honors he has received, including one from Pope Benedict XVI.
Bishop Guglielmone thanked the order for highlighting the four priests and the contributions they all make to the church and their communities.
“It is not a false pride and not a sinful pride when we let people know the things we have done because we lead by example,” the bishop said. He quoted St. Francis of Assisi saying: “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”
In honoring Mr. and Mrs. Steplight, McFarland said it is the first time he can remember a couple being honored for Knight and Lady of the Year. But the Steplights are indeed a special pair.
Mr. Steplight is retired from the U.S. Air Force and the Charleston Naval Shipyard.
In his presentation, McFarland said he “exemplifies the virtues of giving back to the community [and] recognizes the significance of providing direction and support to our community’s youth.”
Mrs. Steplight devoted herself to family and a career in education, working in the Charleston County School District and serving youth at St. Peter and St. Patrick churches. Her community activities and involvement with the Knights is extensive, McFarland said.
In recognizing Davis-McFarland, Judge McFarland said she answered the question of what a person can do for his or her community with two simple words: a lot.
Davis-McFarland is married to Judge McFarland. She is an active member of Morris Street Baptist Church and the Catholic community, and is the mother of two children.
Rev. Darby, a member of the NAACP, was honored for his extensive involvement within the ecumenical community, with youth, and more. He is married with two children.
The bishop encouraged the Knights of Peter Claver to continue their good work as they look to the future.
“So much good is done. Isn’t that what we’re about, building up the kingdom of God on earth?” he said.
Deirdre C. Mays contributed to this article.