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Knights of Peter Claver establish first-ever seminary council

The nation's premier Black Catholic fraternal order has partnered anew with the religious society that founded them, creating a council at their seminary in DC.

Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary national officers with the Josephite seminary community following the establishment of Vy. Rev. William Norvel, SSJ Council #409 on November 12. (KPC)

WASHINGTON — “Love and service in action!”

These five words rang out in the halls of St. Joseph Seminary on November 12 as the Knights of Peter Claver instituted their first-ever seminary council, affiliated with the religious society that co-founded the Black Catholic fraternal order more than a century ago.

The new seminary council chose the short mantra as their council motto, reflecting the members’ dedication to the Church and to the Clavers as future Catholic ministers.

The Vy. Rev. William Norvel, SSJ Council #409, made up of 17 Josephite seminarians and a number of Josephite priests, is also the Clavers’ second collegiate unit, following a previous group at Xavier University of Louisiana (an institution also co-founded by the Josephites).

“What a way to round out Founders’ Week and National Vocations Awareness Week,” the order posted on social media following the initiation of the seminary council’s newest members.

“Welcome, new brothers, and know we are here to support you through your formation and service to the Church!”

The plans for a Josephite seminary council had been in the works for some time, following interest from the Clavers’ national headquarters and from knights in formation with the historic religious society, which has served in ministry with African Americans since 1893.

KPC executive director Grant Jones and Deputy Supreme Knight Ricky Sassau continued planning with the seminarians, culminating in this month’s event at the seminary, which itself was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The initiation ceremony in DC, which included Jones, Sassau, Supreme Knight Dr. Christopher Pichon, as well as several Northern District and local KPC officers, was followed by a Mass with St. Joseph’s rector Fr Nixon Mullah and resident priest Fr Robert “Bob” Zawacki. After the liturgy, a celebratory dinner was held with the community.

Likely the youngest adult unit within the 113-year-old fraternal order, the Josephite’s new council is named after Fr William “Bill” Norvel, who served as the society’s first Black superior general from 2011 to 2015. Norvel, who lives nearby at Sacred Heart Home in Hyattsville, Maryland, is also a longtime Claver.

The council is also likely to be the order's most international, with most members hailing from Nigeria—where the Josephites maintain their sole minor seminary and receive almost all of their vocations.

The inaugural officers for the seminary council include grand knight Br Cursey Calais, the Josephites' sole African-American professed seminarian. He will make his final profession as a Josephite religious brother on December 1. The council's deputy grand knight is Charles Nwamadi, who also serves as the seminary’s student dean. Chidiebere Dominic, Dominic Njoku, Lawrence Omatola, Aondosoo Kwaza, Innocent Okwarachukwu, Abiodun Michael, Anochirim Obioma, and Linus James will also serve two-year terms as officers.

Fr Anthony Bozeman, a longtime Claver and the seminary’s recently arrived academic dean, will serve as the council’s chaplain.

Founded this month in 1909, the Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary are the nation’s oldest and largest Black Catholic organization, and boast of more than 18,000 members among their knights and ladies, as well as their junior divisions for youth members.

New KPC members are accepted year-round, and interested individuals can contact the national office for more information, or register online before being initiated into a local council or court.

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).

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