Sisters who serve: the Ladies Auxiliary of the Knights of St. Peter Claver
FORT WORTH — Janae Tinsley joined the Ladies Auxiliary of the Knights of St. Peter Claver in 1998, but the busy technology specialist shied away from active participation. A family tragedy made her recommit to the organization dedicated to helping others.
“After my sister, Michelle, died in 2002 from an aneurysm, my whole life turned upside down,” recalled the cradle Catholic who grew up going to St. Rita Parish. “She was such a loving, giving person. To honor her, I decided to become more involved and engaged.”
Tinsley's six-year term as the group’s Texas State Deputy recently ended — a post that required her to recruit, retain, and reclaim members. The Nolan Catholic graduate was the first Fort Worth woman elected to a KPC state office.
“I was the voice for Texas as far as leadership,” added the Our Mother of Mercy parishioner who also served on the National Court Board of Directors.
Founded 113 years ago, the Knights of St. Peter Claver is a fraternal African American Catholic lay group — similar to the Knights of Columbus — dedicated to serving the Church and less fortunate. The Ladies Auxiliary was formed in 1922 to provide women with the same opportunities for service.
An international organization based in New Orleans, the KPC Ladies Auxiliary has 9,000 members nationally and 1,400 in the Lone Star State.
“We’re here to render service to the priest, the Church, and the community,” Tinsley continued. “The beauty of our organization is the whole family can belong.”
Although the median age of members is between 65 and 70, youngsters and teens are encouraged to join the organization as Junior Knights or Junior Daughters. Being at least seven years old and having made first Communion are the only requirements.
The Knights and Ladies of St. Peter Claver try to emulate the work of its namesake — a Jesuit priest from Spain who ministered to slaves in the New World during the 17th century.
“Peter Claver met the ships in Cartagena (present-day Columbia) and even though he didn’t speak their language, he comforted them,” said Linda Campbell, the two-term Grand Lady of the Ladies Auxiliary at Our Mother of Mercy Parish. “And that’s what we want to do — help those in need regardless of age, creed, or color.”
During the height of the slave trade in the early 1600s, the missionary frequented the ships where men and women were kept in pens and chained like animals. Bringing medicines, food, brandy, and lemons to the suffering occupants, he treated them with human dignity and reminded them of God’s love.
During 40 years of ministry, Claver instructed and baptized more than 300,000 slaves using simple pictures to explain the Christian faith. His efforts urging plantation owners to treat their workers humanely often ostracized him from well-to-do society.
Today, the apostolate that bears the saint’s name assists victims of natural disasters, seminarians, college students, and families struggling with hunger. When Katrina, a category 5 hurricane took lives and cut a path of destruction across Mississippi and Louisiana in August 2005, the Saint Peter Claver Foundation offered immediate assistance.
“Our KPC foundation — the charitable arm of the KPC — provided money to the people who needed it,” Campbell pointed out.
Homeless residents of New Orleans, seeking shelter in North Texas, were helped by the KPC Council and Court #89 at Our Mother of Mercy.
“Our parishioners found them places to live in the Fort Worth area until they were able to return home. A lot of them didn’t go back and stayed,” the Grand Lady recalled. “We got them clothing and other things they needed.”
Locally, the Knights and Ladies provide scholarships to graduating high school seniors, collect school supplies for students, and participate in the Mickey Leland Food Drive. Named for a Catholic, anti-poverty activist from Houston who died during a mission trip to Ethiopia in 1989, the state-wide project provided canned goods to the Tarrant Area Food Bank last year.
Campbell said joining the KPC Ladies Auxiliary 22 years ago made her a more caring person.
“I no longer just see a person who needs help. I see the face of Jesus in the people we’re helping,” she enthused. “I’ve always been a giving person but that has increased in me over the past few years.”
Years spent in the Ladies Auxiliary also enhanced Tinsley’s life both personally and spiritually. A bond exists within the order that extends beyond state borders.
“I could not have gotten through the grieving process without the Ladies Auxiliary. That’s when I realized what the sisterhood was all about,” she contended. “Ladies in Texas cities and even across the country reached out to me because they knew the relationship I had with my sister.”
When the Our Mother of Mercy parishioner underwent surgery in California, she was on the receiving end of similar kindness. Court members in Los Angeles became extended family.
“Ladies I didn’t know came to the hospital and checked on me when I was discharged,” she remembered. “They were so instrumental in my recovery. I think that says a lot about the organization.”
The Knights and Ladies of St. Peter Claver meet separately each month and jointly once a quarter. A highlight every year is the annual diocesan Martin Luther King Jr. Mass organized by both groups and held each January to commemorate the slain civil rights leader’s birthday.
With women dressed in traditional white attire and men wearing dark suits as they advance up the aisle at the start of the liturgy, the occasion attracts attention from parishioners who want to know more about the organization and its mission.
“People always ask who are you? What do you do?” Tinsley said, explaining the answer is simple. “We serve.”