Centennial Mass marks birth of Claverism in Texas

September 13, 2016

HOUSTON — From all across the nation, family, friends and guests gathered Aug. 28 to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the Knights of Peter Claver St. Nicholas Council #15 at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Houston. The Knights of Peter Claver Ladies Auxiliary St. Elizabeth Court #15 also marked their 90th anniversary.

Celebrated as the birthplace of Claverism in Texas, St. Nicholas Catholic Church, located just east of downtown Houston, welcomed Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, who presided over the anniversary Mass, and city of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. 

Before Mass, Mayor Turner shared a proclamation designating Aug. 28 as Knights of Peter Claver St. Nicholas Council #15 and Ladies Auxuiliary St. Elizabeth Court #15 Day in Houston. Father George Okeahialam, MSP, pastor of St. Nicholas Catholic Church, concelebrated with Cardinal DiNardo in marking the special occasion. 

Cardinal DiNardo said that he's "convinced Claverism has endured all of these years because of the ministries and outreach it has done."
"For 100 years, Claverism (at St. Nicholas) and this diocese has happened because some very, very important people realized that Claverism was needed for solidarity and unity."

Cardinal DiNardo also implored the church community to focus on its young people. 

"We need our young men of the African American Catholic community to be more intense about the fact that their Catholic faith is the source for great table fellowship," he said. "We need that."

"I urge and encourage that the local knights that they heed and pay attention to them as an important source for ongoing brotherhood in the Catholic community in this parish and in this city," he continued.

A reception followed Mass that honored and recognized many of the community's important leaders and founders, including Grand Knight Alfred Vampran and Grand Lady Frances Broussard. The winner of the Lady Ethel Shawy Scholarship, an annual award, was also announced.

In his invocation at the reception, Cardinal DiNardo called for St. Peter Claver's intercession for the community.

"Peter Claver (was) called to be a champion for all those who are oppressed most especially the African American people," he prayed. "May St. Peter Claver continue to smile upon all the members of this parish, may Claverism be itself an open arm to welcome men and women in grace so that the principles of Claverism of solidarity, friendship and care for those in need may shine out even more in the next 100 years here at St. Nicholas and beyond."

St. Peter Claver was beatified July 16, 1850 by Pope Pius IX, and canonized January 15, 1888 by Pope Leo XIII. The Spanish Jesuit priest was a missionary who later became the patron saint of slaves because of his ministry to Africans.

His feast day is celebrated on Sept. 9, which is designated as a National Day of Prayer by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Historic community, group
Albert E. Woodley, a New Orleans transplant, organized Council #15 on Sept. 16, 1916, just seven years after the Knights of Peter Claver's founding in 1909. This was the first chartered council, followed by the first chartered Ladies' court just a decade later. 

Council #15 had 20 founding members, including Father Carl P. Schappert, SSJ, who was pastor of St. Nicholas at the time. Through the years, council members have served on state and national levels, honoring Woodley's legacy.

The St. Elizabeth Court #15 was organized with more than 30 members, several of whom also served on state and national levels. The court was named after Father Schappert's mother.Today, there are more than 18,000 members in Knights of Peter Claver order.

Since 1887, St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Houston's Third Ward has been a place of acceptance and sanctity for thousands of people.

It was only 22 years after Emancipation, but there were already a number of former slaves and their children in Houston. The pastor at downtown Houston's Annunciation Catholic Church saw an ever-increasing number of black Catholic children and recognized their need for a religious-based education. 

He found land nearby, raised some money, and soon a small wood-framed school house was completed and dedicated to St. Nicholas by Bishop Nicholas Gallagher. The school site was quickly expanded to include a parish church. Eventually the community would move to a new location and a new church building, its third and present location at 2508 Clay St., a red brick church built in the Baroque style. 

Josephite Fathers staffed the parish for 83 years. Since 1997, priests from the Missionary Society of St. Paul currently serve the parish. Next year, the community will mark its 130th anniversary.

For more information like Mass times at St. Nicholas Catholic Church, visit www.stnicholas2508clay.org.

Marking 100 Years

Photos by James Ramos/Herald