By Mary Kay McPartlin
Photo by Randy Romone
Catholic lay organizations are the backbone of the Catholic Church, where members work together to live the Gospel. The Knights of Peter Claver (KPC) is the largest lay organization of African American Catholics in the United States, and is named after St. Peter Claver, a Spanish priest who ministered to African slaves from 1610-1654.
Founded in 1909 in Mobile, Ala., the national KPC offices are now located in New Orleans, La., KPC follows the example of the early Apostles, working hard to serve their communities and the Church in a modern world. “Our members join because they want to serve and lead within the Church and community,” says Percy Marchand, associate director for the organization. “We are able to open up those opportunities to those who are interested.”
The organization encourages a dynamic service ethic by sharing its message along with the activities of members through a variety of media. This year The Claverite magazine will celebrate being KPC’s foundation for strong internal and external communication for 100 years. Although social media and use of virtual platforms increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, the biannual magazine offers something valuable to its readers.
“The Claverite offers a more permanent message and availability of what we are doing,” Percy says. “It helps spread the information of what our units across the country are doing. The content serves as a recognition of the hard work of our members.”
Societal unrest in the U.S. over the past two years has awakened a desire for many people to work passionately for social change. “A lot of Catholics are looking for an outlet. We’ve had many increases in membership of people who want to be involved,” says Percy. “They want to be in line with positive social justice movements that are going on today.”
Members submit their activities online or via email for use in The Claverite. The submissions are used in other ways, and often featured on social media before appearing in the print magazine.
Initiations are an important activity within the organization to welcome new members or new units. The pandemic created a need for virtual initiations. KPC created a format for those virtual initiations, ensuring continued growth at a time when many lay organizations became stagnant due to gathering restrictions. “We have been blessed not to have a huge reduction in numbers,” Percy says. “The largest increase came in our 18-30 age range with a 168% increase.” Many new members discover KPC on social media and through networking and then share their excitement through the same venue.
“Young people when they find something that’s hot, they spread it,” explains Percy. “One of the candidates in our first virtual initiation brought in almost 10 additional candidates. We have initiated hundreds of candidates so far using the virtual format.” The younger members have helped the organization at every level adapt to using technology. It’s made the work of the national office much easier. “We have had technology webinars,” Percy says. “While they were learning, we were learning as well. It was good to provide a useful resource. We are able to be a safety net for our members.”
Since 1922, The Claverite has been the organization’s way to communicate with members and the Catholic world. The organization’s partnership with FAITH Catholic Publications began in 2008. The addition of digital media has been added to KPC’s arsenal of communication in recent years, but the print magazine still makes the biggest impact, even with younger members.
“Typically, with most things in society, when everybody moves to the left, something on the right really stands out,” explains Percy. “The Claverite may be the one piece of mail that they get. That makes it stand out.”
KPC is a Catholic family organization with opportunities for the entire family. “We are the only Catholic and fraternal organization for the entire family,” Percy says. In addition to the Senior Division, KPC offers a Junior Division for Catholic youth between the ages of seven and 18 — members are required to have made their First Holy Communion. The Junior Division is led by a Junior Supreme Knight and Junior Supreme Lady as well as Junior District or State Presidents and officers. “One of the areas we are trying to focus on is the Junior Division, retooling it to make it more fitting and more responsive to the younger generation,” says Percy.
Youth access to KPC offers many different benefits. First, the organization is a way for them to deal with the peer and societal pressures that are so common today. “They need that strong spiritual guidance and support that we can provide,” Percy explains. Another benefit is found when different generations of KPC come together for activities. “Both generations have a lot to offer,” says Percy. “There’s the knowledge and resources of the older generation and the technology skills and the brain power with the younger people. It creates linkage and interaction.”
As content evangelists, the staff at the national KPC office continues to evaluate how to communicate the joyful message of the Good News. “You should definitely be rethinking how you communicate,” advises Percy. “The old message is not effective. You can’t just keep doing the same old thing that you have been doing. Help your people find a way to make it work. The more you guide them, the better off the organization will be.”
One thing KPC has learned is to focus its communication strategy. “Less is more,” Percy says. “Be more direct and straightforward. We are on information overload. People are living very busy lives. How can you adapt information to fit in a person’s daily life in a way that’s not detracting from it but enhancing it?” KPC avoids generic messages and focuses on information that impacts and guides members. The message of the organization is easily seen and shared in a variety of ways, whether as a personal invitation at church or on social media.
“There needs to be a total buy-in of what that message is,” says Percy. “This generation is all about genuineness in a message.” They encourage members to submit dynamic news and photos that show the work being done rather than static group photos. “We want to see the actual work happen,” Percy explains. “We want to see Catholic action.”
The national staff manages six divisions of the organization — Knights of Peter Claver, Knights of Peter Claver Ladies Auxiliary, Fourth Degree Knights and Fourth Degree Ladies of Grace, Junior Knights, Junior Daughters. Governed by a board of directors, KPC is under the leadership of an elected Supreme Knight and Supreme Lady. There are six districts/states in the U.S., each represented by a deputy and other officers.