By PAUL A. BARRA
SUMTER — Church nobility filled the St. Jude parish hall with activity Oct. 24 as the Knights of Peter Claver and the Ladies of Peter Claver celebrated a zone meeting. Nineteen new members, including four youth, were initiated into the two service organizations from Zone 5 (Sumter, Charleston and Savannah).
Following the initiation ceremony, the Claverites held a business meeting and workshops; the annual event culminated with a liturgy on Sunday, enhanced by the knights in their full regalia and the ladies in formal dress.
One of the Claver dignitaries present was the immediate past national Supreme Knight, Paul C. Condoll of New Orleans.
Members of the Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver “We represent about 30,000 men and women and have a direct impact on 2.5 million mostly African American Catholics,” Condoll said. “The Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver render service first to God and then to each other and to our Church. We do all the things you need to do to call yourself a Christian.”
That includes working to assist the pastor and the parishioners of parishes in the Diocese of Charleston. Arthur C. McFarland, Chief Municipal Judge for the City of Charleston and a member of St. Patrick’s Church serves as the national organization’s advocate or legal counsel. He stays active in the Knights because it provides him a vehicle for ministry: “It allows me to contribute additional service to my parish. It’s a feeder organization for church service.”
Catherine Fleming Bruce, a new inductee and the diocesan director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry, finds another useful purpose in the Claver code.
“I read about them and observed them before I was asked to join. They’re a tremendous force for good (and) comprise a leadership corps that addresses evangelization in African American communities,” Bruce said.
Her mother, Emma Fleming, is the Grand Lady of Court 316 in Sumter. According to Fleming and Judge McFarland, members of Peter Claver courts and councils tend to be active in parish work and ministries.
“The Ladies of Peter Claver and the Knights work hand and hand and have high respect for each other,” Fleming said. “We encourage our members to be active in the parish and we get involved in many activities.”
Those activities include outreach ministries to the poor, celebratory events such as a Safe Halloween Night for the young of Sumter this weekend, educational programs and scholarships, fundraising and civic programs. The national organization contributed $100,000 this year to educational efforts and cleaned up the notorious Sugar Ditch in Tunica, Miss., according to Condoll.
He said that the Knights of Peter Claver was founded in 1909 by two Josephite priests in Mobile, Ala., after southern blacks were denied membership in the Knights of Columbus. Claver is patterned after Columbus, he said, except that the whole family tends to get involved when the parents are a knight and a lady.
Still, race is not a prerequisite for membership in a Peter Claver unit. One of the members of Council 316 is Richard N. Boisvert, a white man with two Haitian children. He joined St. Jude Parish 20 years ago, he said, because of its multi-cultural makeup.
“A lot of the people I associate with in this church are knights and ladies. I felt the need to be a part of this community because of its spirit. And it has proven to be a very supportive one, especially to my family,” Boisvert said.
The Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver also supported the formation of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry, according to Louis Fleming of Boisvert’s council.
“The idea was to enliven the spirituality of African American Catholics, but not to the exclusion of others,” Fleming said. “We all want to bind up the wounds of the broken Body of Christ.”
The service organization is strong in the southeast and in Texas, but not every diocese is interested in founding a branch. Condoll said that about 300 Catholics wish to start a council and court in Washington, D.C., but have been unable so far to gain the approval of Cardinal James Hickey there even though Boisvert said that the ramifications for parishes are obvious.
“We assist the pastor and parish in any way we are asked to,” he said.
Zone Five is part of the Gulf Coast District. The Knights of Peter Claver and the Ladies of Peter Claver are headquartered in Louisiana, where 60 percent of their membership is located.
PHOTO: Attendees at the Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver induction were (seated from left) Catherine Fleming Bruce, District President Gwendolyn Lewis, Emma Fleming, and District Deputy Mary Briers. Standing are (from left) District Deputy Fred Briers and Immediate Past Grand Knight Paul Condoll. (By Paul A. Barra)