Knights Of Peter Claver
The Knights of Peter Claver, Inc. was founded November 7, 1909 in Mobile, Alabama by four Josephites priests and three laymen as an organization to allow men of color membership in a Catholic fraternal society. This Noble Order was incorporated on July 12, 1911. The Ladies Auxiliary was authorized in August 1922 and was recognized as a division of the Order in August, 1926. With strong support of the Catholic Church throughout the years, the Order now has over 700 subordinate units throughout the United States and a unit in Colombia, South America. Headquartered in New Orleans, Louisiana, the Order is comprised of over 18,000 Catholic family members. The Order is a member of the International Alliance of Catholic Knights.
Our Patron Saint is St. Peter Claver (d.1654), a Jesuit priest who, due to his life and work, became the patron saint of slaves. Declaring himself a “slave to the Negro forever,” he braved social ostracism to minister to the body and spirit of these abused captives. During his 40 years of ministry, it is estimated that Father Claver personally catechized and baptized 300,000 slaves. He formed a group to assist in ministering to the slaves – we consider these to be the first Knights and Ladies of St. Peter Claver. We strive to continue these services to the poor and the oppressed.
The Ladies Auxiliary has a nationwide membership of approximately 12,000 Ladies and 4,000 Junior Daughters. This membership is distributed throughout 403 Courts (local units) in 33 states. All of these Courts respond to a vast array of human needs with their various communities. Our national program supports many worthy causes, such as the United Negro College Fund; Sickle Cell Anemia, Cancer, and Hypertension Research and Support, shelters for battered women and children; and the NAACP and other organizations that support social justice. We also financially support African Americans who are in the religious life. We work in collaboration with other organizations that share our mission of service, truth and justice. We are members of the National Council of Catholic Women, the National Black Sisters’ Conference, the National Black Catholic Congress and the National Council of Negro Women.
St. Felicitas and St. Ailbe were two predominantly African American Catholic parishes in Chicago, Illinois. On April 25, 1976, 11 ladies were initiated into the Knights of Peter Claver, Ladies Auxiliary at St. Felicitas Church and Court #181 was established. Today, St. Felicitas – St. Ailbe Court #181 has 81 members; our Junior Daughters division has 20 young women. In 2018, the two parishes united as a single parish as St. Katharine Drexel Catholic Church. Court #181 retains the name of the two original churches.
Court #181 has been an active part of our community for over 40 years. We operated a monthly food pantry to serve those of our community in need. The Pantry provided for 150 people each month, of which 50% were seniors. We support a home for survivors of sex trafficking as well as a women’s domestic abuse shelter where we provide toiletries for the women and infant clothing during the holiday season. Court #181’s Junior Daughters make Easter Baskets every year for children and shut-ins that provide joy to both. The Junior Daughters also visit seniors at a senior living facility where they sit and talk with the seniors and provide them with self-care gifts they have packaged in colorful gift bags.
For the past 26 years, Court #181 has held the Archbishop James P. Lyke African American Male Image Awards. The award is named in honor of Archbishop James P. Lyke, who was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1939 and grew up in Wentworth Gardens, a Chicago housing project. He was ordained in 1959 and served the Church as Auxiliary Bishop of Cleveland, Apostolic Administrator of Atlanta, and finally, Archbishop of Atlanta. At the time of his death at the age of 53 from cancer, Archbishop Lyke was the highest-ranking African American Catholic clergyman in the nation. His dedication to the poor as well as to African American religious, educational and community issues made him a national leader. Archbishop Lyke’s life and service to community provides the perfect foundation for our efforts to present positive role models for African American young men in our community. The Archbishop James P. Lyke African American Male Image Award recognizes outstanding African American men for their leadership, Christian values, community service and dedication to the African American community.
As the Image Awards is also a scholarship benefit, all proceeds from the event help us to continue Archbishop Lyke’s mission of educating African American youth. Over the years, the proceeds from the Image Awards has allowed Court #181 to award over $146,000 in scholarships to deserving high school seniors and donate over $200,000 to an African American Catholic high school in our community.