About 300 people from 13 states and the District of Columbia gathered in Cleveland recently for the 84th annual Northern States District Conference for the Knights of St. Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary. KPC is the oldest and largest historically Black Catholic fraternal/sororal lay organization. It was founded in 1909 in Mobile, Alabama.
The conference took place April 20-23 at the Double Tree by Hilton Cleveland hotel in Independence. It was the first in-person gathering for the group since the COVID-19 pandemic. States represented included Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Maryland, Virginia, New York, Connecticut, Ohio, New Jersey, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.
(See photo gallery above.)
Attendees gathered for daily Mass, meetings, speakers and presentations. As part of the Eucharistic Revival, there was an Hour of Power adoration service on April 21. Father Damian Ference, vicar for evangelization and director of the diocesan Parish Life and Special Ministries Office, which includes Black Catholic Ministries, represented Bishop Edward Malesic and presided at the Hour of Power and was the principal celebrant at the closing Mass on April 23. Sister Jane Nesmith, SBS and head of Black Catholic Ministries in the diocese, also attended the conference.
The Knights of St. Peter Claver was founded by four Josephite priests and three laymen. The organization is led by lay people and has its headquarters in New Orleans, Louisiana. According to its website, it is dedicated “to mutual aid to our members, the development of youth and young adult spiritual ad leadership development, as well as our call to Catholic action for social justice concerns.” Members of KPC include men, women, girls and boys who are practicing Catholics.
Knight Daryl Anderson, conference president, and Lady Shaniqua Wilson, KPC Ladies Auxiliary and conference president, said they were excited about the conference and its liturgical components.
Father Anthony Boseman, SSJ, a knight, district chaplain and academic dean of St. Joseph Seminary in Washington, D.C., was the homilist for most liturgical celebrations, along with Father Gary Chmura, pastor of Our Lady of Peace and St. Adalbert/Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament parishes in Cleveland. Other local clergy also were invited to concelebrate.
KPC is named after St. Peter Claver, a Jesuit priest from Spain who ministered to African slaves in Cartagena, Colombia – a major slave trade port -- in the 1600s. He is the patron saint of African Americans, the enslaved, African missions, Colombia comedians, communication workers, interracial justice and seafarers.
St. Peter Claver was born in 1581 into a wealthy, devout Spanish Catholic family and was known for his intelligence and piety. His ministry lasted about 40 years and focused on the spiritual, physical and mental needs of the enslaved. He was known for boarding crowded slave ships to serve the enslaved when they arrived from their traumatic, transatlantic journeys. St. PeterClaver brought free medicine, food and bread and provided basic instructions using interpreters and pictures. He baptized more than 300,000 people and annually herd more than 5,000 confessions. In addition, he visited plantations, preached and ministered to the sick, sailors, traders, visitors, condemned criminals and many other citizens of Cartagena.
After a lengthy illness, he died on Sept. 8, 1654. His feast day is celebrated on Sept. 9. Many churches, schools and missions – especially in predominately Black areas – are named in his honor. He was canonized in 1888. His body is preserved and venerated in the Church of the Jesuit Residence named in his honor.
KPC offers various membership levels for knights (men), ladies, junior knights and junior daughters. There also are levels for clergy (priests and deacons), nuns and college students.
The website notes that the order is engaged in several national service projects and is a major supporter of the United Negro College Fund. In 2006, KPC completed a nationally acclaimed environmental health and justice literacy project to educate citizens of underserved communities on environmental health hazards. Currently, the organization is developing a national project to combat childhood obesity.
During the past five years, members have contributed more than $1 million to charitable causes and scholarships.
Click here for more information on the organization.