GARDEN GROVE, Calif. — America’s newest unit of the Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary is now active in Southern California, established for Orange County at Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove on Saturday, April 9th.
Sister Thea Bowman Council #406 was formally instituted in the presence of Bishop Kevin Vann of the Diocese of Orange, himself a knight, as well as various representatives from the KPC's Western States District and national office.
The council is the first in the county for the historic Black Catholic fraternal order, joining several longtime units connected to parishes in nearby Los Angeles and in San Diego.
Efforts to establish a council in Orange County, which is less than 2% African-American, were started in late 2020 by local attorney Gunnar Gundersen, then a member of Irvine’s St. John Henry Newman Catholic Church, a parish in the Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter (created in 2011 to preserve Anglican patrimony in Catholicism).
Gundersen, a resident of Placentia, was the first known Ordinariate member to join the Knights and initially intended for a KPC council at St. John’s—before that plan was upended abruptly by the pastor and several parishioners last July.
Even so, several men connected to the Ordinariate and to Gundersen had by then become Clavers (under an at-large system for those unable to immediately join a council), providing momentum for an alternative plan.
Meetings with Vann commenced thereafter and formal recognition from the KPC national office, in view of a council for all of Orange County, was received in December. Their newsletter, the “OC Claver Review”, was launched the following month.
The group received official status in March, along with its name—in honor of Servant of God Thea Bowman, herself a convert to Catholicism from the Black Methodist tradition.
The new council is headed by a committee consisting of Gundersen (now a parishioner at the Church of the Transfiguration in Los Angeles), Ordinariate member Gregory Herr of Brea, and Anaheim’s Greg Walgenbach, a former Episcopalian priest who now heads the Orange Diocese’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace.
Herr will serve as Grand Knight, Walgenbach as Deputy Grand Knight, and Gundersen as financial secretary. Joining them will be Prince Powe Jr. of Fountain Valley as treasurer and Ronald Haynes of Westminster as recording secretary.
“It is a tremendous privilege,” Herr told BCM this week.
“I’m the beneficiary of work done by others—too many to name—and the originating work done by Gunnar Gundersen. The charter member Knights of 406 are extraordinary men. I am among giants of the Catholic Faith. We’re overjoyed to see this moment in Orange County.”
While the council is the first in Orange County, several Knights already resided within its borders—including former MLB player Darrell Miller Sr., who last November became the first Black permanent deacon ordained in the diocese.
The expansion of Claverism in the region is seen by Council #406 as a sign of great things to come.
“If we can expand the reach of KPC's unique charism in the Church in Orange County, the people of God will be built up and strengthened,” Herr said.
“It will mean that gospel-driven imperatives of social and racial justice will be more central to our spiritual lives—loving God and neighbor.”
Plans for expansion at the parish level are underway, as are plans for a KPC court (part of the women’s division known as the Ladies Auxiliary) as well as Junior Knights and Junior Daughters units for children.
KPC membership is open to Catholics of any ethnicity or tradition, and interested parties in Orange County can contact Herr at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).