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February 17 - March 2, 2013

Knights of Peter Claver have long history of service

Members of the Knights of Peter Claver pray during Mass. Cardinal George was the main celebrant at a Mass with parishioners of St. Philip Neri Parish, 2132 East 72nd Street in Chicago on May 20 in celebration of the parish's 100th anniversary. The cardinal dedicated a new altar during the Mass. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

embers of the Knights of Peter Claver pray during Mass. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

A member of the Ladies Auxiliary of The Knights of Peter Claver sings in the choir during Mass. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Members of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Knights of Peter Claver stand during Mass at St. Philip Neri Parish, 2132 E. 72nd St., on May 20, 2012. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Members of the Knights of Peter Claver process down the center aisle at Holy Family Church prior to Mass in 2007. The Knights of Peter Claver and its Ladies Auxiliary is the nation's largest lay organization for African- American Catholics. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Odell Gordon prays during a Mass celebrating the 150th anniversary of Holy Family Church on Dec. 30. Holy Family is Chicago 's second oldest church and was one of five buildings to escape the Chicago fire on Oct. 8 in 1871. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Knights of Peter Claver Grand Knight of Council 378 Robert Russell, Mayo Graham of Council 181, Past Supreme Steward of Council 93 James Lipkin and John Buchanan, Area Deputy of the Knihts of Peter Claver Northern District discuss the process for inducting new members before their meeting at Our Lady of Sorrows Saturday November 7, 2009. Christopher Smith / Catholic New World

Knights of Peter Claver Sir Knight Samuel Coulter and John Buchanan, Area Deputy of the Knights of Peter Claver Northern District discuss the process for inducting new members before their meeting at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish on Nov. 7. Christopher Smith / Catholic New World

By Daniel P. Smith

CONTRIBUTOR

For more than 25 years, Lena Young has devoted time, energy and emotion to the Knights of Peter Claver — not that Young, a parishioner at Holy Angels, 615 E. Oakwood Blvd., would have it any other way.

Participation in the Knights of Peter Claver and its Ladies Auxiliary, the largest and oldest lay Catholic organization devoted to the African-American faithful, has led Young to rich friendships, deeper spirituality and a greater sense of purpose.

“I believe in all the worthwhile work we do for our churches, our communities and one another,” Young said.

Modeled after the Knights of Columbus, the Knights of Peter Claver delivered spiritual direction and fellowship at a time when the black populace was growing in the Catholic Church, yet struggled for acceptance.

Currently in its 104th year, four Josephite Fathers and three laymen founded the Knights of Peter Claver in 1909 in Mobile, Ala. The first group consisted of 40 African-American males and, at the time, was termed “the most important movement for colored Catholics that has taken place for many a day.”

The organization’s namesake — St. Peter Claver — was a Jesuit priest and missionary who dedicated his life to the salvation of the African slaves throughout his work in 17th-century Colombia. Canonized in 1888 by Pope Leo XIII, the Spanish-born priest is recognized as the patron of missionary work among African peoples.

Soon after the organization’s founding, the Knights became a more inclusive group with the establishment of a Junior Knights program in 1917. Women then joined the group, beginning with the Ladies Auxiliary in 1922 followed by the Junior Daughters in 1930.

The Knights quickly spread from its Alabama base, first touching its fellow southern states before spreading northward during the Depression and World War II eras. Headquartered in New Orleans, the Knights currently have more than 600 councils (local men’s groups) and courts (women’s) as well as more than 300 Junior Councils and Courts operating in nearly five dozen dioceses across the country.

The volunteer-powered Knights aim to provide support to the local pastor and parish, largely accomplished through service work and charitable endeavors.

On the local level, the Knights’ courts and councils run a range of service programs and events from food and clothing drives to pancake fundraisers and formal awards ceremonies. For instance, Court 181 based at St. Felicitas, 1526 E. 84th St., hosts the annual Male Image Awards, an event that raises capital for Hales Franciscan High School, 4930 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

Through the years, the Knights’ efforts have also supported causes such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Urban League, the Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation and youth tutoring programs.

“Our thing is service — to people, to communities and to the church,” Young said.

Charles Thompson, president of the Northern District, one of the Knights’ six national regions, has been involved with the Knights for more than two decades. A member of the Knights’ council based at St. Margaret of Scotland Parish, 9837 S. Throop St., Thompson values the fellowship and bonding among Catholics, particularly through the Knights’ community service initiatives.

“It’s inspiring to know that others care … and that they are eager to live out and develop their faith in Christ,” Thompson said.

The Knights of Peter Claver came to Chicago in 1930, when Chicago’s oldest African-American parish, St. Elizabeth, 50 E. 41st St., founded a local chapter. In the decades since, the Knights’ Chicago area presence has blossomed and established itself as a leading force. Chicago has hosted the Knights’ annual national convention five times, most recently in 1995.

With about 400 members spread across more than three-dozen parish-level groups, the Archdiocese of Chicago claims the largest contingent of Knights in the Northern District and remains among the largest diocesan groups in the country.

Like many other local Knights, Young’s involvement with the organization is a family affair. Her daughter, Tasheika, became a Junior Daughter while in grade school and is now a member of the Ladies Auxiliary alongside her mother.

“This is something we can be involved in and share together,” Young said, adding that the Knights is full of family members — parents, siblings, cousins — spanning generations.

“I know some that have been in the Knights since their teen years and are now in their 60s and 70s.”

“The friendship, unity and Christian charity bring us all together,” Young continued. “That creates a really wonderful feeling.”