The Church Universal – The Knights of Peter Claver: An Introduction

The Church Universal – The Knights of Peter Claver: An Introduction


[♪] Fr. Joseph: Welcome to “The Church Universal” series, where we seek to tell the often untold story of the many groups, outreaches and apostolates in the Catholic Church which are making a positive difference in the world through their charitable works and prayerful lives. Hello, I’m Fr. Joseph Mary. And today I’m speaking with a leader of an organization that is the largest and oldest African-American Catholic lay organization in the United States. My guest today is the Supreme Knight of The Knights of Peter Claver. He’s also the Deputy President of the International Alliance of Catholic Knights, DeKarlos Blackmon. Welcome, DeKarlos. DeKarlos: Thank you. Fr. Joseph: Good to have you on the program. Tell us a little bit about the history and the work of The Knights of Peter Claver. DeKarlos: The Knights of Peter Claver was founded in 1909 in Mobile, Alabama at a time when African-Americans could not join the Knights of Columbus in the South. Since its founding, it has always been an order where everyone is welcome, regardless of race or ethnicity. Fr. Joseph: Beautiful. And yourself, how did you get involved like how long have you been involved with the Knights of Peter Claver? DeKarlos: Well, I joined the Knights of Peter Claver in late 2002, after prodding by the members of the Council in Huntsville, Alabama. I had always resisted for quite some time, [Father chuckles] resisted, resisted but they wore me down. I joined and shortly after that I became the Grand Knight of the Council, went on to become for our local conference in the Gulf Coast the Conference Vice-President and Conference President. And shortly after that I became the Supreme Knight. So, I had been a Knight for about 7 ½ years before I had become the Supreme Knight of the order. Fr. Joseph: Now we celebrate the feast of St. Peter Claver in the universal Church every year. Why was he chosen as your patron? DeKarlos: St. Peter Claver was a champion of the African slaves. St. Peter Claver believed that everyone had dignity. We choose… we chose St. Peter Claver as one to emulate. Fr. Joseph: Now you are also the Deputy President of the International Alliance of Catholic Knights. I wasn’t aware that there were so many different groups of Catholic Knights. DeKarlos: Yes, the International Alliance of Catholic Knights is comprised of 15 of the world’s different fraternal societies. It was started in 1979 by, of course; the pastor pre-Knight of the Knights of Columbus, Virgil Dechant and other Supreme Knights. There was about 6 of them at the time in Scotland. Fr. Joseph: Okay, what would be some of those groups that belong to the International Alliance? You mentioned the Knights of Columbus, …of course, the Knights of Peter Claver. DeKarlos: Some of those groups would be the Knights of Columbanus in Ireland, the Knights of the Southern Cross in Australia, the Knights of Da Gama in South Africa, the Knights of Marshall, the Knights of St. Mulumba in Nigeria. Fr. Joseph: Wow! So they’re all over the world, different Knights groups? DeKarlos: All over the world on 6 Continents. Fr. Joseph: What would be some of the similarities do you think between the screws between those groups as far as what they’re trying to accomplish? DeKarlos: Well, supporting the Church, supporting the hierarchy, supporting parochial communities and the mission to evangelize, to provide support for one another, a development of youth, social interaction. Fr. Joseph: Beautiful. We had on EWTN this past July, your 99th Annual Convention in Mobile Alabama where the Knights were founded; the Knights of Peter Claver were founded. Tell us what happens at that annual convention besides what our viewers saw at the Thanksgiving Mass. DeKarlos: Well the Knights of Peter Claver is an organization of the membership. So, when the National Council, the Supreme legislative body of the order come together, that’s where goals are set. The National Council board of directors between conventions; it is our responsibility to implement the wishes of the order as a whole. So, at that annual convention, that’s where direction is set. Fr. Joseph: And that’s where the elections would take place, that’s where you learned you were going to be the Supreme Knight, right? DeKarlos: That is correct. Fr. Joseph: In 2010? DeKarlos: In 2010 in St. Louis. Fr. Joseph: Great. Were you surprised by that? DeKarlos: Well, it had… yes, [Father chuckles] to put it bluntly, yes I was surprised. Fr. Joseph: Well, we have a video clip of that, that Mass. So, let’s take a look at that Mass, so our viewers can have a little bit of a taste of that Thanksgiving Mass at the Annual Convention. DeKarlos: OK. [♪] Lauren Warner: [singing] ♪ I have said, O Lord, ♪ ♪ that my part is ♪ ♪ to keep your word, ♪ ♪ to love your mouth is ♪ ♪ to be more precious ♪ ♪ than thousands of gold ♪ ♪ and silver pieces. ♪ All: [singing] ♪ Lord, I love your command, ♪ ♪ O Lord, I love your commands,♪ ♪ O Lord, I love your commands.♪ ♪ Alleluia. ♪ ♪ Alleluia. ♪ ♪ Alleluia. ♪ ♪ Alleluia. ♪ ♪ Alleluia. ♪ ♪ Choir: ♪ Alleluia, ♪ Alleluia, Alleluia. ♪ ♪ Alleluia. ♪ ♪ Alleluia. ♪ ♪ Alleluia. ♪ ♪ Blessed are you, Father ♪ ♪ Lord of heaven and earth ♪ ♪ for you have revealed ♪ ♪ the mysteries of the kingdom.♪ ♪ Alleluia. ♪ ♪ Alleluia. ♪ ♪ Alleluia. ♪ ♪ Alleluia. ♪ ♪ Alleluia. ♪ ♪ Alleluia. ♪ ♪ Fr. Joseph: Well, that was magnificent. We get a little bit of a taste. Our production crew did a nice job of editing it together to give you a sense. I have to admit, though, when I heard I watched the Mass on YouTube, it was our EWTN YouTube page. When I heard that Responsorial Psalm, I said, “That girl can sing.” [both chuckle] I had to listen to it a second and a third time. And then, last night you told me you were involved in writing the music for that song. DeKarlos: Yes. Lauren Warner, who was singing, she’s from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, actually a schoolteacher at Transfiguration School in Los Angeles, so she and I wrote that song for this particular liturgy. Fr. Joseph: And then the oboe player, you mentioned that he’s also related to you? DeKarlos: Yeah, that’s my Uncle Louis, another brilliant musician. So music is very, very important. Fr. Joseph: Why is the liturgy important to you? You mentioned that to me last night, that music should serve the liturgy and that the liturgy you really thought that that was important that the liturgy be done well here. DeKarlos: I think that when we come together as the people of God, everything we do should flow in and out of our corporate worship. That’s very, very important. So, while there are a lot of things that we like to do in life, I think first and foremost, the centrality of the Eucharist is a preeminent. So, when we come together for liturgy and worship, we have to put the best that we have together for that and truly reflect the cultures of the people. This was clearly the intention of the Mass in Mobile for that opening Mass to be authentically Black and Catholic. Fr. Joseph: Authentically Black, authentically Catholic, so we had the Ave Maria we had the liturgy done well and beautifully and that’s an important component. DeKarlos: Absolutely. Fr. Joseph: Right. Now, we noticed also that the Knights of Peter Claver is just not adult men, right? DeKarlos: That is correct. Fr. Joseph: It’s something larger than just a men’s group, talk about that. DeKarlos: That’s right. The Knights of Peter Claver, the order, is comprised of 6 divisions. We have the Ladies Division as well. In the addition to the Knights division we have the Ladies Division. We have the 4th degree Knights, the 4th degree Ladies. But very important we have the Junior Divisions the Junior Daughters and the Junior Knights because a development of youth is very, very important to the Knights of Peter Claver. It is most important that we augment whatever is done in Parish Schools of Religion and Catholic schools as far as presenting the faith forming young people in all their dimensions as people of God. Fr. Joseph: So, it’s really the whole family is encompassed by the Knights of Peter Claver. There are ways that they can all get involved. I think you have conventions also for the young people, right? DeKarlos: Absolutely. In fact, we’ll have our next convention in Orlando, Florida for young people. It’s very important that we provide young people the means for independence, the means for success moving forward but to be faithful citizens and just people of the Lord. Fr. Joseph: Now, you mentioned Lauren, who is singing the responsorial song and the Alleluia, that she’s a member of the Ladies Auxiliary. DeKarlos: She is. She is a Transfiguration Court 220 in Los Angeles. Fr. Joseph: Okay. So, she’s been an involved for a number of years. Although she looks very young, she could be part of the Junior League as well, Junior Daughters, right? DeKarlos: That’s right, that’s right. She, her father is the Deputy of the Western States. So, the Knights of Peter Claver is very important in her family. So, she was raised in the order as a Junior before, of course, becoming a Lady. Fr. Joseph: Now, someone who might be watching this program, why would you encourage them to become a member of the Knights of Peter Claver? What will it enrich their own lives? What are ways that they’re going to be able to help in the outreach that you’re involved in? DeKarlos: Well, I would encourage anyone who wants to learn more their faith to help the fellow man or woman to become members of the order. It’s about serving the whole people of God. As I had mentioned earlier, that it doesn’t matter what ethnicity, what race you are. But we believe that everyone by virtue of our Sacraments of Initiation we are all in this together. So, I believe strongly that everyone should come to become a member of the Knights of Peter Claver to carry out the apostolic work, the Catholic action that the Church asks of us. Fr. Joseph: What would be some of the ways that the Knights of Peter Claver are doing that? What are some practical ways that you are implementing, I guess, helping the society or communities and having a contribution to the betterment of others? DeKarlos: Well, some of it has to do with health screenings and what have you; things that local communities need supporting local parishes, supporting Catholic schools. In fact, St. Joseph Church in Huntsville has the Knights of Peter Claver Council 286 and they are very active in supporting Holy Family Regional School in Huntsville. That’s a school that serves the needs of everyone regardless of socio-economic status. So, much of it is in supporting our schools, healthcare throughout the country and promoting scholarships. Fr. Joseph: So you’re helping to raise funds for these different charitable works? DeKarlos: That is correct. Fr. Joseph: And that’s benefiting a number of people. Have you seen some ways that a community has been enhanced or individual lives have been enhanced through the work of the Knights of Peter Claver, ways that you….? DeKarlos: I have. I know personally being in Huntsville, Alabama, looking at the young people that have reaped the benefits of scholarships going to school. Some who may not have had the means, students at Holy Family School, whose parents were not able to afford that tuition to have tuition augmented or what have you to provide that basis. In Mississippi, there was an apartment complex and what have you that many years ago the Knights of Peter Claver were instrumental in founding low-income housing for people. So, there have been some very concrete ways that the Knights of Peter Claver has been able to help the community. Fr. Joseph: Now, as a Supreme Knight you told me that you’re doing a good bit of traveling, too. You must be if you’re going out to visit Los Angeles these other locations to see what’s going on universally in the United States for the Knights of Peter Claver. Talk about that. DeKarlos: Well, I try being the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Peter Claver is not a full-time job. And to be frank, [both chuckle] I have far too many irons in the fire that I’m running out of irons. [both chuckle] But I think it’s important to travel around to see what’s happening in local communities. We’re a wonderful organization. And I think it’s also good for people to see the Supreme Knight. I didn’t really realize how very important that was to the membership. I was recently in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, on vacation with my wife, Kenobi. We were celebrating our 12th wedding anniversary. While I was there I decided that I was going to go to a parish unannounced for Mass. Well, that wasn’t the smartest thing to do, I realize. Because someone called a parish… One of the ladies called another lady and said, “The Supreme Knight is here for Mass.” So, the woman comes at the end of Mass and she says, “Oh well, you know they called me and so I had to come here to see you.” And of course for me it would have been nice had she been at the liturgy but that’s beside the point. But it just showed me how very important it is for the leader to be present to the membership around the country. Fr. Joseph: And you also write articles. We’ll see in the next program, that the bishop who delivered the homily at this Mass he refers to a letter that you wrote in the summer. Would that be something in your publication? Is it something that’s sent universally? DeKarlos: Well, some of them are in the publication, of our semiannual publication “The Claverite” which talks about issues for members of the order but some of those things have also been published with EWTN News and National Catholic Register. Fr. Joseph: One of the employees here was a member of the Knights of Peter Claver, Dennis Jackson. And unfortunately, he had this unusual illness that eventually led to his death. I attended his wake and his funeral. I was really moved by the liturgy that took place at his wake–that you had the Knights and the Ladies of St. Peter Claver there in large numbers and they were a prominent part of prayers that were prayed for the repose of his soul. Talk about the prayers that you have for your deceased members. DeKarlos: Prayer is central to the Order. We are an authentically Catholic organization. So, everything we do should naturally be focused on our belief in God and the reflection of the Church’s mission. So, at the funeral, you saw the prayers, you heard the prayers and the membership praying reflecting that we believe life has changed, not ended. That’s something that we believe–that it’s not over; our brother is still with us. So, that belief in the communion of saints, these authentically Catholic issues, these notions, this is who we are, this is what we believe. So, in everything we do that has to be reflected. Fr. Joseph: Beautiful. And you’re even involved in that liturgy in some refinements that are going on in that liturgy for the wake service. So, that would be a typical thing that would happen in all the communities where there are knights and ladies. DeKarlos: That is correct. Whenever a member dies, that ritual it would be affected. Fr. Joseph: Now, if someone wanted to learn more about the Knights of Peter Claver, what would be the best way for them to do that? DeKarlos: I think the best would be to simply go online to …or to contact the Executive Director in the National office in New Orleans, Louisiana. Fr. Joseph: What are some of the resources that they might find on your website? DeKarlos: Information about the Knights of Peter Claver, the history of the Knights of Peter Claver, the National officers and there’s more. We’re in the process of revamping the Website to make it more user-friendly and to have a wealth of more information. Fr. Joseph: And that’s really something I think, especially young people but a lot of people generally get their information now from the Internet. I was looking there myself and I saw that they had photographs and the names of your 7 founders. Can you talk just a little bit about the 7 founders of the Knights of St. Peter Claver? DeKarlos: The Knights of Peter Claver was founded, of course, by 4 Josephite priests and 3 laymen in Mobile, Alabama. And of course the goal was to provide that opportunity for men of color who would have been lost from the Church to other outside secretive organizations. So, the goal was to provide something within the Church to keep our men very active within the faith. Fr. Joseph: What about the Ladies Auxiliary, what would be some of the works that they might be involved in? DeKarlos: Many of the works of the Ladies Auxiliary are, of course, the works of the Order as a whole. So, right now very big is sickle cell, something that really affects the African-American communities. So, the entire order is very much involved with that and the ladies are as well. Fr. Joseph: You mentioned that as a Supreme Knight that you wanted to bring a new emphasis to the pro-life outreach. Could you talk about that– why that’s important and what sort of steps you’re doing to bring about the pro-life message to the African-American community? DeKarlos: Well, the African-American, make no mistake, the African-American community is profoundly affected by the ills of abortion. We’re dealing with the degradation of the African-American family. So, the issues of life are not limited to just being anti-abortion but its conception to natural death. And I think it’s very important that all of our people are very much aware of that. Fr. Joseph: Very good. Well, we appreciate you being on this first episode regarding the Knights of Peter Claver. And we look forward to the second episode where we’ll talk further and our viewers will have an opportunity to hear a little bit more of your own personal story growing up here in Alabama. So, thanks for being a part of this, DeKarlos. DeKarlos: Right. Fr. Joseph: St. Paul writes that God gives a variety of gifts and inspires a variety of services for the common good. What gifts has He given to you? What service has He inspired in you? Perhaps you would like to be a part of the fraternity and outreach of the Knights of Peter Claver or the Ladies Auxiliary or Junior Divisions. May God bless and guide you. See you next time on “The Church Universal”. [♪]

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