Ladies Auxiliary of Knights of Peter Claver has storied history, legacy

Archbishop Gregory Aymond will be the main celebrant June 24 at the 9:30 a.m. Mass at St. Katharine Drexel Parish in New Orleans when the St. Theresa Little Flower Court 52 of the Knights of Peter Claver celebrates its 90th anniversary. A banquet will follow at the parish’s Holy Ghost Center on Louisiana Avenue.

When it was formed on June 10, 1919, this Ladies Auxiliary of the Knights of Peter Claver at Holy Ghost Parish was the sixth court established in the city of New Orleans. The court took the name of the Carmelite nun and doctor of the church, St. Therese of Lisieux, who had been canonized just three years earlier.

There were 20 charter members. Among the officers were Grand Lady Vivian Jules Antoine, Vice Grand Lady Clementine LeBlanc, recording secretary Louise Priestly, financial secretary Elizabeth Wartell Thomas (who would later serve as Grand Lady for 20 years), treasurer Mary Lou Washington, mistress of ceremonies Mary Banks and inner guard Mary E. Davis.

Other charter members were Ophelia Burton, Lucy Charles, Cecile Augustine, Fannie Cooper, Sydney Thompson, Henrietta Sims, Gertrude Geddes Willis, Arthe’mise Antoine, Vera LeBlanc, Marie Davis, Mary Block, Juliette Richards and Ernestine Vincent.

Of note, Willis served as treasurer for more than 20 years, and Antoine was Grand Lady from 1928-31, when a Junior Daughter Court was established. Its first National Counselor of Junior Daughters, Elizabeth Wartell Thomas was Grand Lady for 20 years beginning in 1932, then Vice Supreme Lady until 1958.

Court 52 of the Knights of Peter Claver was always housed at Holy Ghost Parish. When the parish was renamed St. Katharine Drexel in 2008, three years after Hurricane Katrina, the merger of Holy Ghost with St. Frances de Sales Parish resulted in Court 52 sharing its home with two additional Knights of Peter Claver ladies’ courts: Unit 47 (members from the former Blessed Sacrament Parish and Unit 325 (members from St. Frances de Sales, which also has a junior component). 

Community involvement

In its history, Court 52 was dedicated to many projects. Among the early accomplishments were helping with the construction of Xavier University’s library in 1932 and co-hosting the Knights of Peter Claver order’s silver anniversary convention in 1934.

Other projects that the court holds dear include conducting bingo; caroling and distributing gifts at a senior center; providing financial support and in-kind donations to local organizations such as Covenant House, Ozanam Inn and Days for Girls (where they make sanitary kits for girls and women internationally); adopting local schools and providing school supplies; organizing a tea party showcasing the talents of youth and seniors; and feeding, clothing and providing toys to needy families during the Christmas holidays. 

Linda Becknell, a 25-plus-year member of Court 52, considers herself a “committed soldier” who works in the community. She first became a Junior Daughter as a student at Holy Ghost School and then transferred to the ladies’ court. Becknell is involved at St. Katharine Drexel Parish as a member of the choir, and the environmental team. She chairs the fellowship team.

“I watched how concerned they were about each other as members of their court and the community and their camaraderie,” she said. “The Ladies are committed to continue the legacy of our ancestors, who provided services to our parish, community, churches and, most of all, to strive to nurture our youth in friendship, unity and Christian charity.”

For several years, members volunteered at Habitat for Humanity’s furniture store. The court also participates in a monthly parish Mass where members dress in all white. The court also holds a monthly youth salute, sponsors fellowships after Mass, an annual graduation Mass and financial donations.

Members are proud of the court’s legacy in the Catholic Church and its works in the community.

 “I think in terms of our faith,” said Jill Newman Benoit, Grand Lady since 2012, about the ladies in the group. “It brings Catholic women together to have a real place in the Catholic Church. They demonstrate their active involvement in the Catholic faith by helping the community. 

“We are in the community and doing what we are supposed to be doing –  we are supposed to be perpetuating our faith, passing on the word of the faith and helping our community, supporting people who are under-represented such as youth and seniors who bring so much to the church.”
Benoit said, in the future, Unit 52 hopes to re-establish its junior court that was active until Hurricane Katrina displaced many members. 

“It really is a beautiful organization once you get involved,” Becknell said. 

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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