Knights of Peter Claver claim two top national officers here in Galveston-Houston

February 8, 2022

Above: Knights of Peter Claver Reginald Auzenne, center, now Supreme Navigator over the Meritorious Fourth Degree Division of the Order, processes at the 2018 National Convention in California. At the time, Auzenne was Supreme Captain, the 2nd highest rank nationally in the 4th degree division. He is flanked by (left) Knights Captains Robert Johnson, of Los Angeles, and Myron Creecy, of New Orleans. (Photo courtesy of Reginald Auzenne) Below: Bishop John L. Morkovsky, who led the Galveston-Houston diocese from 1963 through 1985, is saluted by the Knights of Peter Claver at a parish event. (Archdiocesan archive photo)

HOUSTON — Knights of Peter Claver, the largest African American Catholic lay organization in the United States, stand as a true family affair that includes the Ladies Auxiliary, Junior Knights and Junior Daughters, said a national officer based in Houston.

James K. Ellis of Houston became the 17th Supreme Knight and CEO in its national history, which is the top officer of the order. Reginald C. Auzenne, also of Houston, is the 18th Supreme Navigator over the Meritorious Fourth Degree Division of the Order, the top national officer of that division. This is the first time that both top positions are being held at the same time by members of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

“We have always wanted to serve our Church but didn’t have a platform to work together nationally with our brothers and sisters,” Auzenne said of the formation of the Knights.

Founded in 1909 by four priests of the Catholic order of Josephites, including a native from Poland and three black Catholic laymen in Mobile, Alabama, the Knights were named after St. Peter Claver, according to the Knights’ history. The Jesuit missionary, born in Spain in the 1500s, was known to minister to blacks on slave ships in South America, taking them food and medical supplies as well as prayers and Baptism.

The first Knights of Peter Claver in Houston was organized at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in 1916 by parishioner Albert E. Woodley, who moved to Houston from New Orleans and became the first Grand Knight in Texas.

The organization’s model was based on other Catholic fraternal orders, such as the Knights of Columbus, which at the time did not allow black members in all of their councils. Their main purposes remain promoting civic and social justice, contributing to charity, awarding scholarships and nurturing relationships with the community, youth and family, Auzenne said.

A knight since 1994 at his original parish of Queen of Peace in LaMarque, Auzenne recently presented a resolution from the Knights of Peter Claver to the family of retired Auxiliary Bishop George A. Sheltz at his December funeral vigil services “out of respect for our fallen brother.”

“Bishop Sheltz was an esteemed member of the Knights of Peter Claver. We have numerous deacons, priests, bishops, Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza and Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, who are all members of our organization here in Houston,” he said.

“We’ve tried to be a calming influence in these tense times of COVID-19. We’re not able to gather as we once did or to be present as much lately at parishes or at Archdiocesan Mass events. In my position, I made sure to put safety protocols in place for our Fourth Degree members when we are able to gather to ensure facilities are cleaned and social distancing is kept,” Auzenne said.

He added, “Our Supreme Knight has also put safety guidelines in place to ensure safe gatherings, as well as health and wellness initiatives for all members. Up to this point, we’ve been meeting primarily via Zoom and conference calling until further notice,” Auzenne said.

The Knights of Peter Claver State Deputy of Texas Adrian Adams, also of Houston and a member of St. Monica Catholic Church, said he works in conjunction with the national officers.

“One of my main charges is to recruit new members, so I also work with our national office in New Orleans,” Adams said. “Now we’re coordinating conferences for 2022 and trying to check if we can go back to in-person or need to continue virtually.”

If in-person state conferences return, he said that the Junior Knights would be in March in Corpus Christi and the Senior Knights in late April or May in Austin.

In those gatherings, they organize what projects may be needed for the community, Adams said.
Father Reginald Samuels, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston’s Vicar for Catholics of African Descent, said the Knights of Peter Claver do an excellent job promoting and advancing the causes of the African and African American Catholic faithful throughout the Archdiocese.

“The Knights of Peter Claver are true witnesses to the Catholic community of the Archdiocese,” he said. “They are witnesses by assisting the Catholic priests at the local Church level, and they live the life of faithful Catholic men.”