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Knights, Ladies of Peter Claver: Stalwarts of the Catholic Church

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
April 24, 2019

Knights, Ladies of Peter Claver: Stalwarts of the Catholic Church

The Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver have been stalwarts of the Catholic Church since the organization’s founding in the early 20th century, and the national fraternal organization of men, women and children is still going strong in several predominantly black parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Ladies of Peter Claver hold hands while praying the Our Father during a Unity Mass at St. Martin de Porres Parish in Chicago on May 1, 2016. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Arthur Eiland receives the Archbishop James Lyke African-American Male Image Award as the Knights of Peter Claver Ladies Auxiliary St. Felicitas-St. Ailbe Court No. 181 hosts its 25th annual awards luncheon Feb. 24, 2019, at Georgio’s Banquets in Orland Park. Along with awards, the court presented scholarships to young men. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

The Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver have been stalwarts of the Catholic Church since the organization’s founding in the early 20th century, and the national fraternal organization of men, women and children is still going strong in several predominantly black parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Members of the organization — which is technically independent of parishes, but whose members often have close ties to their faith communities — support their parishes financially, serve as lectors and extraordinary ministers of Communion.

Their spirit of service and charity will be on display next year when the group holds its national convention in Oak Brook, Illinois.

“We do whatever the church needs,” said Bobbie Levy, grand dame of the St. Felicitas-St. Ailbe Court No. 181. “We do things to help the church financially and spiritually.”

Court 181 was founded in 1976 with 11 members. Levy said she originally got involved in the 1980s because her sons wanted to be part of the Junior Knights at St. Felicitas and St. Ailbe.

“They joined, and I wanted to know what it was all about,” said Levy, whose sons are now grown.

Hers is among more than 18,000 Catholic families who are part of the Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver and its junior affiliates. The organization, part of the International Alliance of Catholic Knights, was founded by four Jesuit priests and three laymen in 1909 in Alabama to allow men of color to participate in a Catholic fraternal organization. The Ladies Auxiliary was founded in 1922.

The organization is named for and under the patronage of St. Peter Claver, a Jesuit priest who ministered to African slaves in South America in the 17th century. He is believed to have catechized and baptized more than 300,000 people during his 40 years of ministry.

St. Peter Claver recruited men and women to assist in ministering to the slaves, Levy said.

“We consider these to be the first Knights and Ladies of St. Peter Claver,” she said. “We strive to continue these services to the poor and the oppressed.”

Father Thomas Belanger, pastor of St. Philip Neri Parish, 2132 E. 72nd St., said many of his active parishioners are knights and ladies. Belanger is a knight himself and acts as chaplain to the council that is based at his parish.

The groups support the parish and raise money for young people, he said, and they are often among those who volunteer for other jobs around the parish.

“It’s good for parishioners who maybe want to enjoy that fraternal camaraderie,” he said.

“It’s a charitable organization,” Levy said. “We try to support the church first, and the community and the youth. We try to prepare them for the future and to carry on the organization.”

At St. Ailbe and St. Felicitas, the ladies’ efforts included maintaining a food pantry at the St. Felicitas for 20 years; it closed when the parish recently merged with St. Ailbe, which has its own food pantry.

The court also has held its signature event, the James P. Lyke African-American Male Image Awards, for the past 25 years. The event, which honors exemplary black men, was started to raise money for scholarships for boys to attend Hales Franciscan High School. In recent years, it has raised money for college scholarships for young black men.

The choice to help boys and young men was deliberate, Levy said.

“It seems like African-American females — it’s also hard for them, but they seem to be able to do better,” she said, in terms of college attendance rates. “This is a way for us to give back to the community.”

Over the years, the court donated more than $200,000 for scholarships to Hales Franciscan and has raised more than $114,000 for college scholarships.

There are other events and other courts and councils that raise money for scholarships for girls and young women.

Court No. 181 has 63 ladies, and the Junior Daughters division has 12 young women, she said. The group meets at what is now St. Katharine Drexel Parish at St. Ailbe Church, 9015 S. Harper Ave., since St. Felicitas and St. Ailbe parishes merged.

The name of the court, she noted, has not changed.

Leon Wallace, grand knight of Council No. 181 of St. Felicitas-St. Ailbe, said the council raises money for women’s shelters and for prison ministry. Members also work to recruit more men to the group so it can function going forward.

There are about twice as many Ladies of Peter Claver in Court No. 181 than in its brother Knights of Peter Claver Council No. 181.

“In the churches nowadays, there are more ladies than men,” Levy said.

Wallace joined the fraternal order about 20 years ago, following in the footsteps of his father, who also was a Knight of Peter Claver.

“It’s a nice group, and we give back to the church a lot,” Wallace said. “Giving back was part of what St. Peter Claver did.”

Topics:

  • black catholics
  • knights and ladies of peter claver

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