Who was Peter Claver?
Peter Claver was a native of Spain. Born in 1581, he was a young Jesuit by age 20. He left his homeland after being assigned missionary work in 1610. He was assigned to Cartagena, South America (the present republic of Colombia) along the Caribbean. He was ordained there in 1615.
Cartagena, a port city, was a leading Caribbean shipping center. Slave trade had been established in the Americas for nearly 100 years, and Cartagena was a clearing-house for slaves. Purchased by slave traders in West Africa ten thousand slaves poured into the port each year after crossing the Atlantic in filthy holds of slave ships. The conditions were so foul and inhuman that an estimated one-third of the passengers died in transit.
The short but full life of Frederick McGhee gave him the broadest national impact of any member of St. Peter Claver parish. He spent only 21 of his 51 years as a member of the Catholic Church, but left an indelible mark.
Born in Mississippi as a slave on October 28, 1861, he was educated at Knoxville College in Tennessee. He received his law degree and practiced briefly in Chicago, moving to St. Paul with his wife in 1889. Parish records show that he was baptized in the mission congregation which preceded St. Peter Claver parish on February 15, 1891. One writer attributes McGhee's conversion "partly in response to the forthright stand of Archbishop Ireland on behalf of African-Americans."
Father Stephen Theobald
Like a steel instrument forged in fire, Stephen Louis Theobald was strong, direct, sharp, and at times even hard. The fire, however, did not burn out his heart, for he was also compassionate, artistic, eloquent, and deeply prayerful.
Theobald was born in British Guyana on July 5,1874. He was a lawyer, trained at Cambridge University in England, but wanted a career in journalism. Barred by his skin color from a press position in the United States, he moved to Montreal, Canada, and established himself with a leading paper there. Soon, another dream burned inside him: to be a priest.
Father Jerome Luger
Jerome John Luger initiated the most extensive reshaping of St Peter Claver parish in its history, but did not live to see it completed. Even today, however, his memory is connected not so much with the buildings he dreamed of as with the gentleness of his life.
Father Luger was born in North St. Paul on December 18, 1907. He was ordained on June 3, 1933, assigned as an assistant priest at the Cathedral of St. Paul. He served later at St. Mary's Church in St. Paul and at St. John the Baptist in Savage. His first and only pastorate began when he was assigned to St. Peter Claver, effective June 10, 1942. At the same time he was given the "Mission for the Deaf Mutes of St. Paul," but no written record or living memory indicates the practical implication of that chaplaincy.
Centennial Reflections From Parishioners
When a statue standing on the front lawn of St Peter Claver's convent was covered in black paint one night, it appeared first to be an act of vandalism. Perhaps it was intended to be so. But this act, almost two decades ago, revealed an important truth. What many had mistakenly thought to be an image of St. Francis of Assisi, a fair-skinned Italian, was in fact a statue of St Martin de Porres, the first African-American saint. Whatever the intent of the anonymous painter, he or she had provided the occasion to remember a part of our history. The statue has since been repainted to reveal Martin's habit and African skin.