SOUTH OZONE PARK — Dr. Anthony Andrews Jr. looked around, saw what was happening in the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death, and decided the time was right for a revival of a Catholic service organization that speaks to the needs of African Americans.
Two decades ago, Andrews founded Council #333 of the Knights of St. Peter Claver at his church, St. Clement Pope. He is the grand knight of the council and is looking for new members.
“There is interest now in blacks in America,” he told The Tablet.
Council #333 was active in its early years, but as time moved on and older members died, the group had trouble replenishing its ranks. The council never officially disbanded, however, and Andrews has high hopes for reviving it.
“We can be more active again,” said Andrews, the assistant director at York College who holds a doctorate in executive leadership.
He hopes to attract people by opening up membership to anyone in New York, not just his home parish of St. Clement Pope.
“We’re accepting people from throughout the city. Years ago, it was just our church,” he said.
The new version of the council will have an expanded mission. “We’re about service. We collect food for food pantries. We provide Thanksgiving dinners. We have toy drives for families who can’t afford to buy Christmas presents for their children. We have coat drives in the winter. But we also want to be speaking out on issues of social justice in New York. There is a need now for us to be more vocal,” Andrews said.
The Diocese of Brooklyn is seeking a better dialogue with black parishioners. In 2017, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio formed the Commission on Racism and Social Justice to look into racism in the church.
Over the past three years, the commission has sponsored candid dialogues with parishioners in Brooklyn and Queens to get their views on race. The commission has also met with priests to discuss how to preach about race issues and has advised teachers on how to form lesson plans aimed at fostering racial harmony.
The nationwide organization of the Knights of St. Peter Claver was founded in Mobile, Alabama, in 1909 by four priests from the St. Joseph Society of the Sacred Heart. It is the largest historically African American Catholic lay organization in the U.S. and is currently headquartered in New Orleans. It is named after St. Peter Claver (1580-1654), a Spanish priest who ministered to African slaves in what is now Colombia.
The organization has six divisions: Knights of Peter Claver; Knights of Peter Claver Ladies Auxiliary; Junior Knights; Junior Daughters; 4th Degree Knights; and Ladies of Grace.
There are approximately 15,000 members of the Knights of St. Peter Claver, including the ladies auxiliaries, in the U.S., according to Grant Jones, the executive director.
The national organization is excited about the revival of Council #333, Jones said. “New York City has one of the largest concentrations of black Catholics in the country. We feel we can offer them something. I’ve spoken to Anthony Andrews, and he’s very determined to get the group active again,” Jones told The Tablet.
The V Encuentro process in 2016 found that there were approximately 166,000 black Catholics in the Diocese of Brooklyn at that time, about 13 percent of the Catholic population. V Encuentro was a comprehensive look at the Catholic Church in America by the Hispanic/Latino Ministry. Among other things, it looked at population trends.
There are approximately 3 million African American Catholics in the U.S., according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The USCCB named the Diocese of Brooklyn and Archdiocese of New York as the top two dioceses with significant African Americans numbers.
When Andrews was establishing Council #333 in the 1990s, he received encouragement from then-Bishop Thomas Daily.
“Bishop Daily saw the value in doing this. He felt it could be a way to keep blacks in the Catholic Church. A lot of them were leaving to join other Christian denominations,” Andrews said.
A Knights of St. Peter Claver had already been established at Our Lady of Charity Church, Crown Heights, Council #229. Andrews and the folks at St. Clement Pope used that as a template for forming their council.
“When our council was established, we had a lot of Catholics of color who were looking for something a little different. They were active in the church. They belonged to the Holy Name Society. They wanted to join a service organization, but they also wanted something that spoke to them,” Andrews said.
While the Knights of St. Peter Claver is historically an African American organization, Andrews said it accepts all races. “You don’t have to be black to become a member,” he said.
For more information on the Knights of St. Peter Claver, visit www.kofpc.org.