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'We are Clavers': How I saw the Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver's Central States District conference

Dorothy Dempsey reflects on a fraternal event that drew hundreds to St. Louis for a time of service, fellowship, and spiritual reflection.

The setup for the Central States District conference of the Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary at the Hilton St. Louis Airport Hotel. (Our Lady & St. Rose Catholic Church/Facebook)

“We are Clavers: Always in service for the Lord” was the theme for the 75th Central States District conference for the Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary in St. Louis from April 5-7. The organization is a fraternal Catholic order for Catholic women, men, and youth formed 115 years ago. There is no race barrier, though it is a historically Black Catholic community. You need only be a practicing Catholic to join.

St. Peter Claver is the patron saint of enslaved people. Born in 1581 in Verdu, Spain, he died on September 4, 1654, in Cartagena, Colombia. The latter is now his feast day, as he was canonized in 1888 by Pope Leo XIII

It is estimated that Claver baptized over 300,000 enslaved individuals in Colombia. He boarded every incoming slave ship, visited the pens and nursed the sick, comforted the distraught, and taught religion. He was a Jesuit missionary who dedicated his life to aiding enslaved Africans, also providing them food and medicine. He earned the title of “Apostle of the Negros.”

The Central States District conference was a small but powerful event. It proved to be quite accessible, allowing frequent dialogue among the participants. The Claver Ladies were on point with “Service to the Lord” foremost on their minds. Many worked tirelessly to make the conference a successful event.

There were many clergy in attendance. However, CSD chaplain Fr Christopher Rhodes, the pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Louisville, really left an impression on all in attendance. With memorable and uplifting words in his homily Mass, he spoke on the Gospel according to John. 

Therein was “Doubting Thomas,” who did not believe that Jesus was resurrected. There was also Simon Peter, the teacher’s pet of the disciples, who did not have all the answers and denied Jesus thrice before the cock crowed.

Peter, however, is the first to recognize the presence of the risen Jesus. He runs to meet him with an embrace, and is very anxious to serve him. Fr Rhodes reflected on how not one of the disciples dared to ask or confirm if the person sitting across from them, sharing their fish and breaking bread with them, was the resurrected Lord. Rhodes’ second reflection was on the realization of living a Christian life. He noted that just because someone proclaims or believes oneself to be the most skilled professional or an expert on a few subjects does not allow them to be ignorant or arrogant or unlistening. We must learn from those whom we think have no experience in our craft or trade.

Wisdom does not come with age; it is given to those who fear God. To be a disciple of Christ and serve God requires us to be humble and open to discussion on new and progressive ideas. This is especially true of those who are new at the table. The promise of anointing in our life must allow us to become “comfortable with being uncomfortable”—like Christ.

We must expect to be isolated, rejected, betrayed, handed over, detained, denied, lied on, and crucified, knowing and trusting and believing that trouble doesn’t last always. We must believe in God’s promise that the stone rejected by the builder will become the cornerstone. 

Just because someone attends church does not automatically make them Christian, just as eating German food does not make you German. At the end of Fr Rhodes’ sermon, he spoke of forgiveness. He said that as servants of God, we are required to forgive those who hurt us and love those who deny us. This is because forgiveness most benefits you, not them. 

Holding a grudge or anger against someone is like holding a piece of hot coal. You are the only one being burnt and in pain. The person you are angry with has moved on and is living their best life. You are still holding the grudge and allowing the person to reside in your head and heart, constantly reminding yourself of why you are still angry at them. Let go, let God, forgive, and move on.

Sometimes people who hurt others are still trying to overcome and deal with traumatic childhood and adult experiences that cause them to judge and hate others. As the saying goes, “Hurt people hurt people.” Use your spirit of discernment and allow people to spend time with you. Allow them to get to know the Christ in you. Allow them to know, trust, and believe in your walk with God. Then they will know, trust, and believe in your talk with God.

In the spirit of St. Peter Claver, and as Clavers modeling his life of service, we all say a resounding “Amen!”

Dorothy Dempsey is a senior citizen who loves to write. She thanks God for allowing her to share this gift through published articles in The St. Louis American, St. Louis Post Dispatch, Belleville News, St. Louis Catholic Review, and in various books.

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