On September 9, 1981, when Bishop Hodges came to celebrate Mass in our newly constructed church he said, ‘Every parish in the diocese has something unique about it, yours is the only parish in the Diocese which is officially designated as a Black parish. It was founded specifically for you. But it also means that the Church welcomes what you have to bring to it your heritage as Black Americans and your deep spiritual roots.” It is that heritage and spirituality that has sustained St. Peter Claver Parish for more than 80 years.
On February 7, 1937, when Father Leo Landoll offered the first Mass, in a former boarding house, the mission began. The members who had been removed from other parishes now had their own. The mission began to grow immediately. Within a month Mr. John Holley and four others were received into the Church. The upper floor was converted into two classrooms and the Pallottine Missionary Sisters taught school to children of all faiths until its closure in 1964.
The priests that have served the parish, bring their own unique gifts to the parish. Like Father Leo Landoll, who recruited the first members and led the renovations on the church structure laying a firm foundation for the future church. Father Jerome Hoepf, better known as Father Jerry, who was a popular figure in the community and a master carpenter, who made many improvements to the church, rectory and school, Father Peter DeMeester, who was appointed by Bishop Swint, after the Precious Blood Father could no longer provide a priest for the mission and we were raised to parish status. Father DeMeester had boundless energy and an unconditional love and caring for each of his parishioners; he led to the greatest membership growth and facility development. He baptized more than 100 people, organized the Christian Mothers and The Holy Name Society, and encouraged church members to participate in deanery meetings. A new parish hall was constructed that housed the increasing number of students in the school and the church had many popular community activities. Father Patrick McDonough had a great interest in organizing the youth and helping the poor and needy in the community. With the help of the diocese, he began the Christian House which later became Bishop Hodges house on 6th Avenue providing food and clothing for the needy in the community.
Father Pat was popular for his forgiving spirit and caring nature. Many Catholics and non-Catholics attended Mass on Sundays just to hear his sermons. Chairs had to be added to the ends of the pews just to accommodate everyone at both masses. In January of 1980, Bishop Hodges gave the parish a grant to build a new church, which was dedicated in September of 1981. Father Andy Kraync, who offered a series of lectures on the history of Blacks in the Catholic Church. Father Lininus Uba, who helped secure a grant from the Bishop for major renovations to add a kitchen, accessible restrooms, and office space to the parish hall.
In recent years Father Chuck McGinnis and Father Douglas Ondeck have faithfully served the parish.
Even with the threat of closure of the parish many times the members have never lost their faith and trust in God to provide. We have prayed and continued welcoming new members, planting a community garden, using Lenten collections to provide goods and supplies to community agencies, taking up collections to provide assistance to the A. D. Lewis summer program, to provide assistance at Christmas to needy families, and being the home for the “Piecemakers,” a group of community women who make quilts to donate to community agencies.
As we celebrate 80+ years of our church and now shepherded by Fr. Shaji Thomas, we remember the priests and parishioners who laid the foundation of the parish and we ask for blessings and strength to continue to be loving, accepting and good stewards of the talents the Lord has given us.