The history of St. Peter Claver is a long and notable one. Its story is one of dedication and sacrifice by a people whose faith has been nurtured and flourished in the face of adversity.
St. Peter Claver emerged and blossomed from what was for nearly seventy years a parish known as St. Ann’s. The stately church building, that still stands today, was built in 1852, at an important time of development in New Orleans history. St. Peter Claver played an important part in the growth of the Treme area as the city spread.
The church property, which included a school, rectory and the Church building, was purchased by the Josephite Fathers in 1920 to serve the African-American population in the area. The new church was dedicated to St. Peter Claver, the saint who spent a lifetime working for the good of the African-American.
This was an especially significant event at a time when intellectual and spiritual progress of African-Americans was largely denied. The enthusiasm and loyalty of the early parishioners is perhaps best exemplified by the commitment of their service to St. Peter Claver.
The parish grew and flourished and in a 1921 census report it was noted that the Church boasted a membership of 5,573 parishioners, an indication of the potential and strength of the parish. The parishioners, though often in need themselves, were a generous and hardworking community. Witin two years, St. Peter Claver School opened, dedicated to providing a quality education to the African-American boys and girls of the pairsh.
In 1994, St. Peter Claver Parish opened its new recreation hall and three story school that still stands today. Over the years, St. Peter Claver School has educated many of the leaders of the city, region and nation. The parish school has a proud history of producing numerous national merit scholars, professionals and community leaders and continues in that history today.
The parish and school continued to grow and thrive over the next decades and in 1970, the St. Peter Claver family celebrated its golden anniversary. The sentiment of this significant celebration was one of pride and accomplishment and that this parish had afforded the people of the community opportunities undreamed of before the establishment of the Church.
St. Peter Claver embarked upon the second half of its century of existence with enthusiasm and hope. During the tumultous decade of the 1970’s and early half of the 1980’s the parish began to see some of the impact of economic hard times and began to also see many of the youth that had been educated by the parish school move to other neighborhoods and cities. This change left the parish with few parishioners and struggling financially.
In 1983, the Josephites and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament dedicated to leave St. Peter Claver Parish. For many parishes this may have been the end of what had been one of the strongest influences in their lives. The parishioners of St. Peter Claver, however, once again perserved in the face of adversity.
In 1983, the Soceity of St. Edmund came to St. Peter Claver Parish. The Society of St. Edmund has a tradition of serving African-Americans in the South and proudly answered the call of the need from St. Peter Claver parishioners at a time when both the neighborhood and the school statistics showed a marked decrease in professionals and when the crime ratios showed a marked increase.
St. Peter Claver Church was always blessed with the service and leadership of dedicated religious. The Soceity of St. Edmund continued this tradition by assigning Reverend Michael P. Jacques, SSE to the parish as Pastor in 1984. Fr. Mike, as many of the parishioners fondly refet to him, has been a vocal and influential pastor whose willingness to address issues facing not only his parishioners but all the citizens within the geographic bounds of the parish has inspired renewed growth in the Church.
Many of the young people educated by St. Peter Claver have returned to their parish and made new found commitments to the parish. St. Peter Claver school still survives and continues in its mission to give young African-American children a chance to compete largely due to the support of the parishioners and the determination of the pastor and principal and dedicated faculty.
St. Peter Claver Church and School maintains its position as a beacon of hope in this inner-city community that many have written off as lost to crime and poverty. The parish boasts more than 2400 registered families making it the largest African-American Catholic Church in the state of Louisiana. With a dedicated staff, a committed pastor, and a devoted and strong faith-filled community, St. Peter Claver intends to continue its good work well into the third millennium.