St Peter Claver Knights Celebrate 100 years

(CNS) -- The Knights of Peter Claver, the nation's largest lay organization for African-American Catholics, will celebrate its 100th anniversary this November. The group's national chaplain, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph N. Perry of Chicago, explained the significance of the Knights and their organization's century of endurance. "Their importance stems from their origin in a different social climate, where African-Americans were not generally accepted in various clubs, organizations, or lodges of that nature," he said. In the early 20th century, black Catholics needed an alternative to secular fraternal organizations. Membership in some groups, such as Freemasonry, was forbidden by the Catholic Church, yet in many cases those groups were the only option available to black men in the age of segregation, Bishop Perry explained. The founders of the Knights of Peter Claver "wanted to create something for African-American men by way of spiritual direction (and) charity," he said. Following the organizational model of the Knights of Columbus, four Josephite priests and three laymen founded the Knights of Peter Claver in Mobile, Ala., Nov. 9, 1909, with an initial membership of 40 men. They choose as their patron St. Peter Claver, a 17th-century Jesuit priest from Spain who ministered to slaves in what is now Colombia.

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