Dear Knights and Ladies:
Once again, our Noble Order is blessed to celebrate another Founders’ Day on November 7th, marking 112 years of faith, fraternalism, and service. As we pause to reflect upon the good work our Order has done and the work that remains before us, we should keep in mind the dedicated Knights and Ladies who have gone before us building up Christ’s Kingdom through Claverism.
Given the increased attention the Order has given to social justice concerns, it is worthwhile to take a look at just some of the ways the Order has been involved in civil and human rights over the past 112 years.
- Past Supreme Knight, Eugene B. Perry, M.D., of Houston was a participant in the 1963 March on Washington.
- As a Board member of the Colored Teachers State Association of Texas, Past Supreme Knight John H. Clouser fought to equalize salaries between white and Black teachers in that state.
- Past National Advocate, Alexander Pierre “A. P.” Tureaud, under the Social Justice Fund (now known as the Human Development Fund), began a campaign in 1944 of sending Negro Digest and other positive Black literature to American seminaries.
- Grand Knight and attorney Ambrose A. Page of St. Louis filed one of the first lawsuits to integrate the American Legion in 1944.
- Sir Knight Clarence P. Thomas led the movement to integrate the segregated archdiocesan Holy Name Society unions in New Orleans in 1952.
- In 1934, Supreme Knight Louis Israel wrote to candymaker Milton Hershey to protest the exclusion of Black boys from the Hershey Industrial School in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
- National Chaplain Bishop Harold R. Perry, SVD, while provincial superior of his community, became the first Black clergyman to open Congress with prayer in 1964.
- From 1926 through 1934, the Order’s official organ, The Claverite, published editorials condemning the persecution of the Church during the Cristero War in Mexico. Donations were sent to support the Church in Mexico.
- Bro. Ralph Metcalfe, Olympic gold and silver medalist and U.S. Congressman from Chicago, joined the Order while on the faculty of Xavier University of Louisiana.
- Contributions from the Charity Fund of the National Council Knights of Peter Claver went to support the defense of the Scottsboro Boys in 1931.
- At the 1963 Convention in Indianapolis, the Order presented a special honor, the Caritas Dei Award, to the nation's first Catholic President, John F. Kennedy, for his interest in civil and human rights.
- In 1946, at the very first National Convention held in the North, the Order condemned and contributed money to the fight against restrictive housing covenants in Chicago.
- Past Western States Deputy, Herman J. Faulk, K.S.G., was a prominent member of the NAACP in New Iberia and was beaten during the horrific 1944 New Iberia Incident, in which Black professionals and NAACP leaders were terrorized.
- Past National Advocate, Aloysius Wickliffe, a Civil Rights attorney in Houston, was the campaign manager for Congresswoman Barbara Jordan.
- In 1935, the entire Order turned out at Mass in prayerful support of the passage of the Costigan-Wagner Anti-Lynching Bill.
- Past National Treasurer and Gulf Gulf Coast Deputy, Alexander L. Herman of Mobile, was elected to the Mobile County Democratic Committee in Alabama in 1954, the first African American elected official in Alabama since the nineteenth century.
- The Order’s co-founder and first National Chaplain, Fr John H. Dorsey, SSJ, was the second-ever Black Josephite priest. As early as 1914, the Order adopted resolutions calling for more Black priests.
- First Central States Deputy, Sir Knight Edward LaSalle, was the first Black recipient of the James J. Hoey Award for Interracial Justice in 1942.
- Past National Advocate and Civil Rights attorney Ernest "Dutch" Morial was the first Black appellate Court judge in Louisiana and became the first Black Mayor of New Orleans in 1978.
These are just a few historical facts that shed light on the ongoing commitment our Noble Order has had to proclaiming the dignity and equality of all mankind as members of the Mystical Body of Christ.
When Claverism was still in its infancy, it was called “the most important movement for colored Catholics that has taken place for many a day.” It is no wonder then that Saint Katharine Drexel was one of the early contributors to our Order; that Servant of God Fulton Sheen participated in our 1963 National Convention; and that the spiritual daughters of Venerable Henriette DeLille, the Sisters of the Holy Family, and Servant of God Thea Bowman through the Institute for Black Catholic Studies, have all benefited from Claver Charity.
We have a commendable history, and we offer prayers of thanksgiving to Almighty God for the good He has enabled us to do; but we know that there is still work to be done. Take inspiration from our history, find hope in our present work, and never cease to invite others to join the Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver in the cause of Catholic Action!
(All pictures courtesy of the KPC National Office.)
Father Conrad F. Rebesher, SSJ (February 20, 1878 - June 24, 1938) was born in the town of Kladau in Germany. He entered the minor seminary program at Epiphany Apostolic College at the age of 18 and was ordained a priest of the Catholic Church on June 21, 1905.
Fr. Rebesher was the pastor of the Most Pure Heart of Mary Church – the church in which the Knights of Peter Claver and its first council were formed. Under his leadership, the construction of a new church building and facilities for the parish school were completed.
Fr. Rebesher is credited with being the primary person to conceptualize and draw up the plan for organizing the Noble Order.
Fr. Samuel J. Kelly, SSJ (August 14, 1878 - March 31, 1949) was born to Protestant parents in Northumberland County. He converted to Catholicism at the age of 16, entered the minor seminary the next year, and was ordained a priest of the Catholic Church September 29, 1905.
Fr. Kelly was the Pastor of St. Peter’s Church in Pascagoula, Mississippi which was constructed under his direction in 1907. He stressed the importance of education, individual improvement, and self-respect.
Recognizing a serious need to bring Black Catholics back to the Church, Fr. Kelly frequently consulted and met with Fr. Rebesher regarding the founding and framework of the Noble Order.
"THE PEOPLE OF GOD'S ADVOCATE"
Fr. Joseph P. Van Baast, SSJ (February 5, 1876 - March 25, 1916) was born in Vught, North Brabant in the country of Holland. He was ordained a priest of the Catholic Church on June 21, 1904.
Father Baast was the Pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church on Mon Louis Island and St. Peter’s Church in Chastang, Alabama. He commuted by train, small boat, and horseback several times a month serving missions throughout Mobile, Alabama. Fr. Van Baast’s ministry was so instrumental in the lives of those he tended that—at the behest of community members—three different Catholic chapels/churches were constructed to allow worship under his leadership. The members hosted fish fry’s, raffles, and other fundraisers to raise the money needed to construct the buildings.
Fr. Baast was a frequent advocate for the economic welfare of his parishioners – voicing his concern for the financial hardships they suffered as the industries in which many of them were employed slowed. To this effect, he organized a shoe factory in order to provide jobs and skills training to the community.
Understanding the economic hardships, lack of resources, and a desire for continued spiritual brotherhood, Fr. Baast greatly understood the need for the establishment of a Catholic fraternal organization open to Black membership. He researched existing organizations for years and after meeting with resistance or lack of response, he met with Fr. Rebesher and later Fr. Dorsey about establishing a new organization for Black lay Catholics.
"THE HISTORY MAKER"
Father John H. Dorsey, SSJ (January 28, 1874 – June 30, 1926) was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He entered St. Thomas College and began minor seminary studies at the age of 19. He became the second Black-American priest educated and ordained in the United States on June 21, 1902.
Fr. Dorsey had been a parishioner of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Baltimore, the first parish established for Blacks and also the home parish of the first Black US-educated and ordained priest, Fr. Charles R. Uncles, SSJ.
Fr. Dorsey engaged in preaching missions along the Gulf Coast and was known for his powerful preaching style. He was the homilist for the Solemn High Mass held in celebration of the founding of the Knights of Peter Claver. Fr. Dorsey was also the first National Chaplain of the Noble Order, serving from 1909-1923. He consistently attended the annual conventions and was usually featured as one of the main speakers on the program.
Hon. Francis "Frank" Trenier (December 24, 1875 - September 17, 1941) was born in Mobile, Alabama. He married Bertha Less Freeman in 1902. Their family was completed with the birth of six children.
Trenier spent the majority of his professional career as an insurance agent. He also worked as a blacksmith, railroad machinist helper, insurance agent, and popular musician, affiliated with the Excelsior Band which was founded in 1883 and existed for over a century.
Trenier joined the Knights of Peter Claver through Mobile Council No. 1 on November 7, 1909. He was selected as the first National Secretary of the Knights of Peter Claver and was the Editor of “The Shield”, the first official publication of the Order.
Hon. Gilbert Faustina, (October 27, 1879 - July 21, 1941) was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. He married Susie Ritter in 1899 and they raised their 10 children in Mobile, Alabama.
Faustina was a successful entrepreneur and real-estate developer. He owned and operated a cigar manufacturing business and Faustina’s Beach which was the only beach open to African-Americans in the entire Gulf of Mexico at the time. Faustina was also a successful real estate developer who provided quality, affordable rental units to Mobile residents.
Faustina was committed to substantially improving conditions among African-Americans. He pushed for self-development along social, economic, political and cultural lines and advocated for Blacks to hold their jobs, live within their means and save money, take care of their health, educate their children, respect their race, support their churches, vote, buy Black, and own land.
As an independent businessman, he saw the need for an independent organization of colored men—free from outside pressures and prejudices. He was the third initiate of the Knights of Peter Claver, following Frs Rebesher and Dorsey on November 7, 1909.
Faustina served as the Noble Order’s First Supreme Knight. He served from 1909 – 1926.In 1926, he was selected as Supreme Navigator of the Meritorious Fourth Degree. He remained in that position until his death on July 20, 1941.
"THE FAMILY MAN"
Hon. Francis “Frank” Collins (October 14, 1859 - May 25, 1916) was born in Mobile Bay, Alabama. Collins married Odile Gibson in 1885 and provided for their 10 children as a ship carpenter at Collins Boat Yard, his family’s shipyard which constructed boats through the early 1950's. The Collins family were major property owners on Mon Louis Island.
Frank Collins joined the Knights of Peter Claver through Mon Luis Council Number 3 on November 21, 1909. He was instrumental in promoting and informing fellow parishioners at St. Rose of Lima Church about the benefits of joining the Knights of Peter Claver.
Jari C. Honora is a New Orleans native with Black Catholic roots dating back more than two centuries in Louisiana. He is a graduate of Tulane University and works in the Williams Research Center of the Historic New Orleans Collection, and also as a professional genealogist. He is a member of St. Katharine Drexel Parish, is an active promoter of the Knights of Peter Claver, and serves as the National Lay Board Member on the National Council Board of Directors. He is a member of Father Schmodry Council #52.