Editors’ Note: We’ve devoted a set of articles to examining Catholic religious communities today. Despite the impressive variety of these communities, some common themes emerge: the importance of a shared prayer life; the difficulty of adapting to new circumstances; the relationship of community to place. To read all the articles, see the entire collection, The Varieties of Religious Community Today.
In the early twentieth century, many lay Catholics formed fraternal organizations—associations of mutual aid, service, and community—for support in the face of religious and ethnic discrimination. The Knights of Columbus is one such group. But Black Catholics, seeking support amid the injustices of the Jim Crow South, were denied membership in these organizations. And so they formed their own.
The Knights of Peter Claver (KPC) was founded on November 7, 1909, in Mobile, Alabama, by four priests of St. Joseph’s Society of the Sacred Heart and three laymen of the Diocese of Mobile. Modeled after the Knights of Columbus, KPC gave Black Catholic men the opportunity to serve God and the Church, to render aid and assistance to the sick and disabled, and to promote community. Over time, the group expanded to include women and children as well.
As a missionary, St. Peter Claver had witnessed the adverse treatment of African slaves in the port of Cartagena, Colombia. Reflecting on the suffering of Christ, Claver and his fellow Jesuits acknowledged the slaves’ human dignity by caring for the sick and dying among them. He also baptized many of them into the Catholic faith. He would become known as the Apostle of the Slaves.
Today, the Knights of Peter Claver are active in parishes around the country. In local chapters referred to as councils, courts, or subordinate units, KPC continues the legacy of its patron by serving the marginalized and vulnerable in society. The supreme legislative body is vested in the National Council Board of Directors. Subordinate units are grouped into districts and states throughout the country, with representation on the National Council. KPC is a fairly democratic organization, governed by its charter, constitution, and bylaws in keeping with its objectives.