Founder Biographies

Fr. Samuel J. Kelly (August 14, 1878 - March 31, 1949) was born to Protestant parents in Northumberland County.  He converted to Catholicism at the age of 16, entered the program of Minor Seminary studies the next year, and was ordained a priest of the Roman Catholic Church September 29, 1905. 

Fr. Kelly was the Pastor of St. Peter’s Church in Pascagoula, Mississippi which was constructed under his direction in 1907.  He stressed the importance of education, individual improvement, and self-respect.  

Recognizing a serious need to bring Black Catholics back to the Church, Fr. Kelly frequently consulted and met with Fr. Rebesher regarding the founding and framework of the Noble Order.

Fr. Joseph P. Van Baast (February 5, 1876 - March 25, 1916) was born in Vught, North Brabant in the country of Holland. He was ordained a priest of the Roman Catholic Church on June 21, 1904. 

Father Baast was the Pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church on Mon Louis Island and St. Peter’s Church in Chastang, Alabama. He commuted by train, small boat, and horseback several times a month serving missions throughout Mobile, Alabama.  Fr. Van Baast’s ministry was so instrumental in the lives of those he tended that – at the behest of community members – three different Catholic chapels/churches were constructed to allow worship under his leadership.  The members hosted fish fry’s, raffles and other fundraisers to raise the money needed to construct the buildings.  

Fr. Baast was a frequent advocate for the economic welfare of his parishioners – voicing his concern for the financial hardships they suffered as the industries in which many of them were employed slowed.  To this effect, he organized a shoe factory in order to provide jobs and skills training to the community. 

Understanding the economic hardships, lack of resources, and a desire for continued spiritual brotherhood, Fr. Baast greatly understood the need for the establishment of a Catholic fraternal organization open to Black membership.  He researched existing organizations for years and after meeting with resistance or lack of response, he met with Fr. Rebesher and later Fr. Dorsey about establishing a new organization for Black lay Catholics. 

Hon. Francis "Frank" Trenier (December 24, 1875 - September 17, 1941) was born in Mobile, Alabama.  He married Bertha Less Freeman in 1902.  Their family was completed with the birth of six children.  

Trenier spent the majority of his professional career as an insurance agent.  He also worked as a blacksmith, railroad machinist helper, insurance agent, and popular musician, affiliated with the Excelsior Band which was founded in 1883 and existed for over a century.  

Trenier joined the Knights of Peter Claver through Mobile Council No. 1 on November 7, 1909.  He was selected as the first National Secretary of the Knights of Peter Claver and was the Editor of “The Shield”, the first official publication of the Order.

Father John H. Dorsey, SSJ (January 28, 1874 – June 30, 1926) was born in Baltimore, Maryland.  He entered St. Thomas College and began Minor Seminary studies at the age of 19.  He was the second Black-American priest educated and ordained in the United States on June 21, 1902. 

Fr. Dorsey was a parishioner of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, the first parish established for Blacks and also the home parish of the first Black US educated and ordained priest, Fr. Charles R. Uncles, S.S.J.

Fr. Dorsey engaged in preaching missions along the Gulf Coast and was known for his powerful preaching style.  He was the homilist for the Solemn High Mass held in celebration of the founding of the Knights of Peter Claver.  Fr. Dorsey was also the first National Chaplain of the Noble Order, serving from 1909-1923.  He consistently attended the annual conventions and was usually featured as one of the main speakers on the program.
Father Conrad F. Rebesher (February 20, 1878 - June 24, 1938) was born in the town of Kladau in Germany. He entered the Minor Seminary studies program at Epiphany Apostolic College at the age of 18 and was ordained a priest of the Roman Catholic Church on June 21, 1905.
Fr. Rebesher was the Pastor of the Most Pure Heart of Mary Church – the church in which the Knights of Peter Claver and its first council were formed. Under his leadership, the construction of a new church building and facilities for the parish school were completed.
Fr. Rebesher is credited with being the primary person to conceptualize and draw up the plan for organizing the Noble Order.

Hon. Gilbert Faustina, (October 27, 1879 - July 21, 1941) was born New Orleans, Louisiana.  He married Susie Ritter in 1899 and they raised their 10 children in Mobile, Alabama. 

Faustina was a successful entrepreneur and real-estate developer.  He owned and operated a cigar manufacturing business and Faustina’s Beach which was the only beach open to African-Americans in the entire Gulf of Mexico at the time.  Faustina was also a successful real estate developer who provided quality, affordable rental units to Mobile residents.
Faustina was committed to substantially improving conditions among African-Americans.  He pushed for self-development along social, economic, political and cultural lines and advocated for Blacks to hold their jobs, live within their means and save money, take care of their health, educate their children, respect their race, support their churches, vote, buy Black, and own land.
As an independent businessman, he saw the need for an independent organization of colored men – free from outside pressures and prejudices.  He was the third initiate of the Knights of Peter Claver, following Frs. Rebesher and Dorsey on November 7, 1909.
Faustina served as the Noble Order’s First Supreme Knight. He served from 1909 – 1926.In 1926, he was selected as Supreme Navigator of the Meritorious Fourth Degree.He remained in that position until his death on July 20, 1941.

Hon. Francis “Frank” Collins (October 14, 1859 - May 25, 1916) was born in Mobile Bay, Alabama.  Collins married Odile Gibson in 1885 and provided for their 10 children as a ship carpenter at Collins Boat Yard, his family’s shipyard which constructed boats through the early 1950's. The Collins family were major property owners on Mon Louis Island.

Frank Collins joined the Knights of Peter Claver through Mon Luis Council Number 3 on November 21, 1909.  He was instrumental in promoting and informing fellow parishioners at St. Rose of Lima Church about the benefits of joining the Knights of Peter Claver.