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Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver describe how Christian service has helped them grow in faith

Several hundred Catholics met in St. Louis April 5-7 for district conference

Faith, hope and love through friendship, unity and Christian charity in the community are the hallmarks of the Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver — the oldest and largest historically African-American Catholic lay organization in the United States.

Several hundred Knights and Ladies attended the Central States District Conference, held April 5-7 in St. Louis. The district covers eight states, including Missouri.

The fraternal order is named for St. Peter Claver, a 17th-century Spanish Jesuit priest who witnessed the conditions of enslaved Africans brought to the Republic of Colombia. He attended to their physical and spiritual needs and converted many to the Catholic faith —historians believe as many as 300,000 men, women, and children became Catholic through his influence.

Le Blanc
The order nationally has about 14,500 members in the United States and in Colombia and includes junior and senior divisions. (Junior members can join once they make their first Communion.)

Its mission is to promote social justice and the sanctity of all human life; develop youth in a nurturing environment; to give aid to the sick, homeless, imprisoned and disenfranchised; award scholarships and support education and vocations; assist others with emotional, physical and spiritual needs; support parish and community activities; and provide charitable support to worthwhile causes.

“The number one thing we’re supposed to be doing is evangelization,” said Supreme Lady Michaela Le Blanc, who became a member of the order at the age of 7. “The Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver invest in the local community. They invested in me when I was young, so you can’t help but give back — and that maintains your faith.”

The Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver in the Archdiocese of St. Louis support the work of the national order and its charitable arm, the Saint Peter Claver Foundation, through scholarships, social justice work, elder support, health and wellness, domestic issues and support for clergy, religious and vocations.

Locally, they also conduct a “Sock Angels” campaign, which asks people to donate new socks for homeless individuals and people in need served by local organizations. Other charitable works include tutoring, an annual Thanksgiving meal for anyone in the community and assisting at parishes where needed.

Several Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Louis shared why they are part of the Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver and how it’s helped them in their faith journey:

Brenda Vanderford, Faithful Navigator and Fourth Degree member; St. Elizabeth Mother of John the Baptist Church

Vanderford
Vanderford described the Knights and Ladies as a visible sign of faith in action. She joined the order after she entered the Church as an adult. Vanderford’s children became junior members at the age of 7. “The thing that you will see when we turn out at church, is everybody wants to know: What is this organization and how can I become a member? Once you share with them the basics of what you are, which is service to the community, I say when you look at it, it’s a service to God.”

Gerron Houston, Grand Knight and Third Degree member; St. Elizabeth Mother of John the Baptist Church

Houston
Houston was involved in starting the “Sock Angels” campaign, an annual event among parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Louis to collect new socks for homeless individuals and people in need served by local organizations. The campaign has since spread to other courts and councils outside of the St. Louis area.

“It’s a motivation to me. Number one, it helps me with my faith — it’s God’s work. The Spirit blesses this every year, and you’d be surprised the reactions we get from those beneficiaries when they receive about 2 to 3,000 pairs of socks every year.”

Patricia Bowers, past Deputy, Central States District and Third Degree member; St. Elizabeth Mother of John the Baptist Church

Bowers
Bowers became Catholic as an adult and said her involvement with the order has helped her grow in faith and meet other like-minded people. “Being a Catholic in my family, I was the only one. It was really a journey for me for me to come to the Catholic Church.” Her son also joined the junior division around the age of 10, and Bowers saw how it developed within him leadership skills with a faith foundation. She’s also helped as chairperson of the national charity committee. “I think the biggest piece is the education, the camaraderie, and just helping — doing what we’re supposed to do. We’re God’s people and we’re supposed to help those who are less fortunate.”

Ruby Douthet, Junior Daughter counselor, Vice President of the St. Louis Central Committee and Fourth Degree member; St. Matthew the Apostle Church

Douthet
Douthet has long been involved with the order and helped organize the recent district conference. She described it as “a family organization. As Christians we come together to serve God, and we’re raising our children to serve God. We’re not on the battlefield ourselves — we’ve got our sisters and brothers who are with us. Our motto is friendship, unity and Christian charity. And it’s Christian charity — not just regular charity.”


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