Diocesan News

Black Catholic History Month: Knights of St. Peter Claver’s Drive For New Members in High Gear

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — The nation’s largest black Catholic fraternal organization is looking for new members, and the recruitment drive is already bearing fruit here in the Diocese of Brooklyn.

new council Knights Peter Claver
Area Director Anthony Andrews (second from left) says the establishment of a new council and court at St. Charles Borromeo in Harlem is an important sign of the growth of the Knights of St. Peter Claver. (Photo courtesy of Anthony Andrews)

The Knights of St. Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary Inc., a service group founded in 1909 in Mobile, Alabama, reports about 17,000 members in the U.S.

There are 300 Knights of St. Peter Claver councils (for males) and courts (for women) in parishes across the U.S. Councils and courts operate in tandem.

The Diocese of Brooklyn currently has two councils — Council #229  at Our Lady of Charity Church in Crown Heights and Council #333 in St. Clement Pope Church in South Ozone Park. Two other councils, one in Brooklyn and another in Queens, are in the process of securing their charters.

Once those charters are granted, the Diocese of Brooklyn and the Archdiocese of New York will have a combined total of five councils. A new council at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Harlem has been granted a charter, and an initiation ceremony for new members will take place on Nov. 13.

“We’re growing significantly,” said Dr. Anthony Andrews, grand knight of Council #333 and the area director of the New York Region. He credited the racial reckoning brought on by the murder of George Floyd with the increase in membership. “There is a real desire out there to speak to social justice concerns and to do it from a Catholic perspective,” he said.

Leaders like Andrews are excited about another new development. A long-dormant council in Buffalo has been re-established. The revived group, which has taken on the name of St. Martin De Porres, was the first council in New York State — established in 1949.

In New York State, the number of members has grown in the past year from approximately two dozen to more than 100.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Knights moved their recruitment efforts online, said Grant Jones, executive director at the national headquarters. They beefed up their social media presence. “And we were able to recruit, over the COVID period, 300 people that way. But then the biggest part of it is word of mouth, That’s how many people hear about us,” he said. 

“And something we started recently is establishing relationships with the offices of black Catholic ethnic ministries in dioceses around the country,” he said.

A crucial part of the organization’s history is the choice of its namesake, St. Peter Claver. Born in 1581, he was a Spanish-born Jesuit priest who became a missionary in the New World and devoted his life to addressing the horrors of the slave trade. He is the Church’s patron saint for ministry to slaves and missionary discipleship to the black community.

Newcomers are attracted to the organization for two reasons — social justice and serving the community, according to Shaniqua Wilson, an area director of courts in the New York Region.

“Because of everything that’s happening socially in the country, because we are a social-justice based organization, we are definitely in the forefront of a lot of hot-button issues. We are also the organization of choice for people that want to be better Catholics and want to be the hands and the feet of the church,” she said.

Along those lines, Wilson said members have raised funds and sent supplies to Catholic churches in Haiti after the Aug. 14 earthquake. Councils and courts also conduct local food drives for families in need.

“And we take up issues like human trafficking,” Andrews said. Other topics include grant and loan assistance for small-business owners, easing their recovery from COVID-19 disruptions. “We have a lot of black businesses that need help.’

Michele Guerrier, a new member of the court at St. Clement Pope in Queens, said she wanted to be part of a group that speaks out on important issues. “I want to be a voice for my people. I want to be a voice for my community. I want to make my community a better place,” she said.

In order to establish a council and court, organizers have to demonstrate that there is an interest. At least 12 men and 12 women have to sign a letter of intent. The church’s pastor must approve the idea. The charter is granted by the Knights’ national headquarters in New Orleans.

Anyone interested in joining can approach one of the councils or courts or can request an application from the headquarters online at www.kofpc.org.

Wilson added that a person does not have to be black to join. As she put it, “I believe wherever you can find good Catholic people — not just good black people, but good Catholic people — the banner of Claverism is sure to fly.”