“A CENTURY OF FAITH, HOPE, &; LOVE”
-Dr. Ansel Augustine
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 on April 7, 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. The first mass at St. Peter Claver
Church took place on Sunday, October 24, 1920 at 10am led by
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. Within two years, St. Peter Claver School opened,
dedicated to providing a quality education to the African-American boys
and girls of the parish.
In 1944, St. Peter Claver Parish eventually opened its new recreation
hall and the 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 several
decades. The Claver Federal Credit Union was founded in 1954 and thir
first St. Peter Claver School Mardi Gras Parade took place in 1955 and
became a yearly tradition for the neighborhood. 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 tumultuous 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
decided to leave St. Peter Claver Parish. For many parishes this may
have been the end of what had been one of the strongest spiritual
influences in their lives. The parishioners of St. Peter Claver, however,
once again preserved in the face of adversity.
In 1983, the Society of St. Edmund came to St. Peter Claver Parish.
The Society of St. Edmund had 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 Society 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
referred to him, was a vocal and influential pastor whose willingness to
address issues facing, not only his parishioners, but all the citizens
within the geographic boundaries of the parish, inspired renewed growth
in the Church up until his untimely death in 2013. Following his passing,
St. Peter Claver became an Archdiocesan parish and received our new
Pastor, Fr. John Asare Dankwah who has faithfully led the parish since
his appointment in 2014.
In 2005, New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. All of the
parishioners and students were displaced around the country. Th
church itself, took on about 6 feet of water and sustained significant
damages. Through the efforts of dedicated staff and volunteers, the
church was able to reopen and the school reopened as a central school,
taking on students from unopened schools around the Archdiocese,
serving them and their families until their schools and parishes were able
to reopen. 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 continued 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 up until it closed after 98 years of service in 2019 due
to the changing population of the neighborhood.
St. Peter Claver Church 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 is still one of the largest Black Catholic parishes in
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 with a Century of Faith, Hope,