The Knights of Peter Claver, Inc. and Ladies Auxiliary is the largest and oldest-continually extant predominantly African-American lay Catholic organization.
The organization was founded in 1909 by Josephite Father Conrad Friedrich Rebesher, a native of Kłodawa, (near east cost of Poland), who served as pastor of Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish. The seven charter members were Josephite priests: Father Conrad Friedrich Rebesher, Father Samuel Joseph Kelly, Father Joseph Peter Van Baast, and Father John Henry Dorsey, and laymen: Gilbert Faustina, Francis Xavier „Frank“ Collins, and Francis „Frank“ Trenier.
The Order is named after St. Peter Claver, a Jesuit priest from Spain who ministered to African slaves in Cartegena, Colombia, South America, in the 17th century. Peter Claver is said to have converted over 300,000 slaves to Catholicism. It was modelled after the Knights of Columbus.
In 1922, a Ladies Auxiliary was formed to provide the same opportunities for Catholic Action to African American lay women. The Auxiliary was officially recognized as a division of the Order in 1926. A program for Junior Knights existed from the Order’s earliest days. The constitution of the Junior Knights Division was adopted in 1917 and the division formally recognized in 1935. The Junior Daughters division was officially recognized in 1930.
The Sublimed and Meritorious Fourth Degree was organized in 1917. This division is open to Knights who after two years of continual membership have proven themselves to be active workers in the Church, the community, and the Noble Order. A similar Fourth Degree, the Ladies of Grace was established for members of the Ladies Auxiliary in 1979. Members of the Fourth Degree Knights are addressed as “Sir Knight,” and members of the Fourth Degree Ladies of Grace are addressed as “Gracious Lady.”
The organization is active in the United States of America and South America. It has 298 Councils (men divisions) and 312 Courts (ladies divisions). For youths between the ages of 7 and 18 years old, the organization has 123 Junior Councils (young men) and 208 Junior Courts (young ladies). The Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary provides opportunities for all Catholics to be actively involved in their faith by living the Gospel message. The Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary engages in a variety of church and community service projects. It supports charitable appeals of many national and international organizations such as the NAACP and the United Negro College Fund, Catholic elementary and secondary schools and Xavier University in New Orleans.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recently renewed a grant to the organization to continue the National Environmental Health and Justice Literacy Project, a program designed to educate citizens of poor communities about environmental health hazards. The Knights of Peter Claver is a member of the worldwide International Alliance of Catholic Knights.
The following is a list of the Most Worthy Supreme Knights who have served as chief executive officers of the Knights of Peter Claver (and their terms of service):
The following is a list of the Most Esteemed Supreme Ladies who have served the Knights of Peter Claver Ladies Auxiliary (and their terms of service):