Earlier this summer, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops declared today, the feast day of Peter Claver, as a “Day of Prayer for [Racial] Peace in Our Communities.” In so doing, they enlist a long Catholic tradition of exalting Peter Claver, the seventeenth century, Spain born, Jesuit missionary to Colombia, as “the patron saint of racial justice.”
But perhaps it is time to reconsider Claver’s place in our canon.
I have been somewhat obsessed with the sainthood of Peter Claver ever since I first heard about it several years. Proclaimed the “slave of the slaves,” he captured my imagination immediately. I rushed to my campus library and devoured every hagiography about him it held on its shelves. I left the library disappointed: the historical Claver seemed far different than the man proclaimed in Catholic legend.
Rather than a hero of racial justice, Claver qualifies as an accomplice in racial injustice. On this feast day of Peter Claver, I encourage Catholics not to exalt white racial heroes, but to more bravely and forthrightly confront (and confess) its own corporate participation in anti-blackness.
For more on the white supremacist character of Claver’s sainthood, I share with you this article I recently published about him: