It behooves me always to imitate the example of the ass. When he is evilly spoken of, he is dumb. When he is starved, he is dumb. When he is overloaded, he is dumb. When he is despised and neglected, he is still dumb. He never complains in any circumstances, for he is only an ass. So also, must God’s servant be… ut iumentum factus sum apud te.
Today is the feast day of St Peter Claver. Few U.S. Catholics have heard of Peter Claver. But elsewhere in the American hemisphere, he is well-known. So who was Peter Claver?
Pedro Claver Corbero (1580-1654) was born in Verdu, Catalonia. At age 13, he suffered a double tragedy when his mother and brother died within days of each other. At age 22, Pedro left home to join the Jesuits. After advanced Jesuit education in Barcelona, Tarragon, and Majorca, Claver followed the call of God to minister to slaves in South America. This ministry came about thusly: in 1605, Pedro met a man called Alfonso Rodriguez in Majorca. Alfonso became Pedro’s mentor. sometime later, Alfonso had a vision of an empty throne in Heaven. An unseen voice told Alfonso that the throne was for Pedro who would face great danger in the West Indies. Thereupon, Alfonso asked Pedro to go to the Islands and serve the slaves. In 1610, he traveled to Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, at the time, the leading slave port in the world.
Claver cared for the poor and the sick slaves, some of who were afflicted with leprosy. He would meet the incoming slave ships and provide blankets and fresh fruits to the arriving slaves. He created a corps of interpreters and catechists to teach the slaves the Bible. in 1616, he was ordained by the Bishop of Cartagena.
It is said that Claver baptized over 300,000 slaves in his 44-year career. That is more than any single person in recorded history.
In about 1650, Claver was stricken with a degenerative disease, possibly what later would be labelled Parkinsons Disease. He became bedridden, and a slave was assigned to assist him. historical evidence suggests that the man who was so kind to the slaves was physically abused by his slave caretaker.
Pedro Claver died on September 9, 1654. He was beatified in 1850 and canonized in 1888 by Pope Leo XII, who, in 1896 declared him patron saint of missions to African slaves. Today, he is recognized as patron of slaves, Colombia, African Americans, and race relations.
The Knights of Peter Claver is a Catholic men’s group founded in 1909 at Most Pure Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Mobile, Alabama. The organization was founded to give “colored men” a Catholic fraternal organization. (Yes, sadly, there was a time that those “other Knights” allowed no “colored men” among them. Fortunately those days are gone.) Like the Knights of Columbus, the Knights of Peter Claver are engaged in charitable works. From their start in Alabama a century ago, they now have over 1000 subordinate units around the country.
The Knights of Peter Claver strive to carry out their charitable works with the same selflessness as St Peter Claver himself. The Knights are an important social force for good works in African-American Catholic communities around the country.
Anyone researching African-American Catholic genealogy should check parish records for photographs and artifacts of the local unit of Knights of Peter Claver.
Knights of Peter Claver website: http://www.kofpc.org/
Member’s badge, St. Elizabeth’s Branch, Knights of Peter Claver, St Louis, Missouri. The badge pictured here belonged to Joseph Perry Micheau (1888-1975). When found in 2008, it was in an envelope in which it may have been obtained originally by Joseph Micheau. Original badge in the possession of Edna Micheau Penny, Carmichael, California.