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CURRENT ISSUE:  March 21, 2011
VOL. 49, NO. 6   •   Oakland, CA
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Knights and Ladies help
develop, keep the faith

Knights and Ladies of the Knights of St. Peter Claver at the installation of new officers Mass held at St. Benedict’s Church in Oakland in January.
Courtesy photo
Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver
Western States District Conference

April 29 to May 1, Hilton Hotel Newark

When Mary Lou Stelly left her New Orleans home and moved to California more than 50 years ago she, like many, faced the challenges of making a home and new friends in an unfamiliar place.

“I didn’t know anyone,” she recalled. Much of that changed after she joined the Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary in 1965.

At meetings she not only met new people, but many people who, like her, were black, Catholic and from the South. That made a big impact in her life. “Other than having children in Catholic schools, black Catholics didn’t have access to other groups,” she said, because blacks at that time were denied membership in fraternal organizations. The Knights and Ladies, as they are often called, helped me “develop and keep the faith,” Stelly said.

Next month Stelly, along with other Knights and Ladies throughout the diocese will have the opportunity to rekindle old ties and make new ones at the Western States District Conference which will take place at the Hilton Newark/Fremont Hotel in Fremont from April 29 to May 1. In addition to California, the district is comprised of Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

Who was St. Peter Claver?

A native of Spain, Peter Claver (1580-1654), joined the Jesuits at age 20 before leaving his homeland to become a missionary in the New World. After arriving in the port city of Cartagena, an important center of the slave trade, he devoted himself to the exhausted and badly treated slaves who arrived there, bringing food, medicine and other necessities for 40 years. Claver also counseled prisoners, visited hospitals and conducted missions. Even after becoming ill, he continued his ministry until he contracted the plague and spent the last four years of his life in constant pain. He was canonized in 1888.
During the conference, participants will “take care of business for the district,” said Stelly, who belongs to Court 122 now based or domiciled at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland. Members will authorize donations to agreed-upon charities, present awards to different groups within the district, gather for Mass, attend a banquet and perform some community service in the Fremont area.

The Knights of Peter Claver was founded in Mobile, Alabama, in 1909 to allow men of color the opportunity to join a fraternal organization. The organization was incorporated July 1911, also in Mobile. Over time, divisions of what is now known as the Knights of Peter Claver Inc., emerged, such as the Junior Knights in 1917 and the Ladies Auxiliary in 1922.

Nationally the Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary are comprised of districts and states. Men are called Knights and they meet in councils while women are called Ladies who meet in courts. There are 10 councils and nine courts in the Bay Area.

The organization has affected the lives of many parishes throughout the U.S. through its support of local parishes and their bishops, participation in various community activities, support of education, and promotion of social justice.

Father James Matthews, pastor at Oakland’s St. Benedict Parish, has been a member since 1971 when he was asked to join the organization as a young seminarian. “I was so proud to be a part of my black Catholic roots,” he said. “To be a knight means to fully participate in the life of the Church, to make its presence known and respected in our society.”

The Knights and Ladies have made significant contributions to the life of the Oakland Diocese. Father Matthews, whose council is Immaculate Heart Council No. 137, domiciled at St. Louis Bertrand Parish in Oakland, said that they were “the prime movers in the establishment of the Black Catholic apostolate in the 1970s”; they helped to maintain and sustain many parishes and schools that experienced “white flight”; and many Knights and Ladies have been called upon to use their leadership skills on consultative bodies of the diocese, such as boards, commissions and other diocesan entities.

Sensitive to the spiritual and pastoral needs of Black Catholics in the diocese, Bishop Floyd Begin, Oakland’s first bishop, came to the conclusion that the permanent diaconate could become “a good affirmation of pastoral leadership in our community, already demonstrated by a number of knights,” Father Matthews said.

While the Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver remains a predominately African American organization, membership is now open to everyone regardless of race.

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