St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church records
Held at: Temple University Libraries Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection [Contact Us]1330 Polett Walk, Philadelphia, PA, 19122
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Temple University Libraries Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church of Philadelphia fills a unique position in the history of the Catholic Church in America. In 1886, African American Catholics from three local Philadelphia churches, having grown tired of the discrimination they faced at their home churches, united together as the Peter Claver Union with the goal of creating a “Church for Colored Catholics” in Philadelphia. Named after Peter Claver, a Spanish Jesuit of African descent, the organization found a home for their parish in 1892 in the former Fourth Presbyterian Church located at 12th and Lombard Streets, after being officially recognized by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 1889.
Aided by donations from Patrick Quinn and Katherine Drexel, the church was able to flourish and grow. In 1895, a rectory for the priests was added to the building. A parish school was erected between 1905 and 1908 where both boys and girls were taught, though separately. For many years, St. Peter Claver was the only church in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia where African American Catholic parishioners were welcome. The parish had many clubs and societies, including a very fine choir and a theater troupe. The boys and girls schools consolidated in 1947 with all children being taught by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.
Around 1950, the center of Philadelphia’s African American population shifted to North Philadelphia, away from the location of St. Peter Claver. Over the years, African American Catholics were eventually permitted to join other parishes. Parishioners from St. Peter Claver wanted to integrate other parishes and also wished to avoid traveling the long distances to reach the church. The church school suffered a number of problems and ultimately closed in 1984. The church was beginning to make a resurgence when, in 1985, John Cardinal Krol of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia decided that the existence of the parish was no longer justified and, thus, the parish was closed. At this time, all parish records were removed from the church.
The congregation was shocked and angered by the suppression of their parish and removal of certain sacred rites and ceremonies, and many saw the decision stemming from racism. However, rather than cease operations completely, St. Peter Claver became a church community. In this way, the church acts as a community hub for other churches and works to keep the faith, culture, and heritage of African American Catholics alive and vibrant.
The St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church records house the institutional records of the St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church of Philadelphia, PA. This collection, which dates from 1904 to 2009, with bulk dates of 1980 to 1994, consists of records and materials evidencing the workings of the church and its community, primarily during the time of the suppression of the church by the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia; the attempts of the members to reinstate the sacraments and parish status; and the challenges they faced in doing so.
The collection is arranged into five series: “I. Subject files and clippings, 1965-1998;” “II. Church records, 1904-2009;” “III. School records, 1933-1984;” “IV. Financial records, 1980-1994;” and “V. Audio/Visual materials and realia.”
The “I. Subject files and clippings” series dates from 1965 to 1998, with the bulk of the records dating from 1983 to 1998. Records within this series include newspapers and article clippings relating to the church’s suppression and the related community outrage. Multiple articles also document similar happenings at African-American churches in other cities. Also found within this series are books and other publications; programs, bulletins, and newsletters from other congregations; course material on Black History; and some interviews and biographical material. The press clippings are of particular interest in that they highlight the community outrage over the Catholic Church’s decisions regarding the parish, as well as evidence the more wide-spread problems between the Catholic Church and the African-American community. This series is arranged chronologically.
The “II. Church records” series dates from 1904 to 2009, with the bulk of the records dating from 1983 to 1993. Records within this series include newsletters, programs, and bulletins documenting events of the church; ledgers and other lists of baptisms, communions, and confirmations; minutes of various church societies; copies of the constitution and by-laws; and correspondence, memoranda, and notices to parishioners. These files evidence the regular happenings of the church and the services they provided to the community. Letters and other correspondence highlight the anger and mistrust many of the church members developed with the Catholic Diocese due to the suppression of their parish. They also provide information about the responses given by members of the Archdiocese and other constituents of the Catholic Church to community arguments for reinstatement of the sacraments and parish status. This series is arranged chronologically.
The “III. School records” series dates from 1933 to 1984, with the bulk of the records dating from 1974 to 1984. Records within this series include report cards, registration cards, student health forms, attendance records, reports, and records of tuition payment. These records evidence some of the student body of the schools included in the parish, as well as some of the administrative records of the school. Many of the materials are restricted and, as such, the series may be of limited use to researchers looking for detailed information on the St. Peter Claver school. An “Annual Report of the Vicar for Catholic Education of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia” may be somewhat noteworthy to researchers interested in Catholic education in Philadelphia. The series is arranged chronologically.
The “IV. Financial records” series dates from 1980 to 1994. Records in this series include Finance Committee meeting minutes and photocopies, receipt books, memoranda and letters regarding how finances were being handled in the church, records of offerings, supplementary income, various expenses, invoices, and reports. These materials evidence some of the financial dealings and challenges of the church, especially during the period following the suppression of the church and removal of its status as parish. Many of the Finance Committee meeting minutes have notes corresponding to various audiotape recordings in series “V. Audio/visual materials and realia,” which researchers may want to cross-reference. This series is arranged chronologically.
The “V. Audio/Visual materials and realia” series dates from 1925 to 1993, with the bulk of items dating from 1987 to 1993. Records in this series include audiotape recordings of meetings, slides and photographs, a Rosary, T-shirts, and microfilm. The slides and photographs evidence events and visual history of the parish while the realia of the Rosary beads and T-shirts provide tangible confirmation of church and community functions. The audiotape recordings related to minutes found in series “IV. Financial records.” This series is organized chronologically.
The collection is unique in that it highlights African American Catholics and their struggle to reinstate their “Mother Church” as a parish within the Archdiocese, in addition to some of the cultural challenges for Catholics of African descent well into the 20th century. While the records on the church’s activities are somewhat sparse due to the removal of the official parish records by the church upon its suppression, the resulting correspondence and records of actions taken by the community provide a glimpse of the “Black Catholics” in Philadelphia and their perspective on their own place in Catholicism. Researchers interested in the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia may also be interested in some of the correspondence from members of the church, especially John Cardinal Krol. The collection captures the passion and perseverance of the church’s community to preserve their parish, and their struggle against the gentrification of the neighborhood in which they lived and worshiped.
The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
This collection was minimally processed in 2013-2014, as part of an experimental project conducted under the auspices of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to help eliminate processing backlog in Philadelphia repositories. A minimally processed collection is one processed at a less intensive rate than traditionally thought necessary to make a collection ready for use by researchers. When citing sources from this collection, researchers are advised to defer to folder titles provided in the finding aid rather than those provided on the physical folder.
Employing processing strategies outlined in Mark Greene's and Dennis Meissner's 2005 article "More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal With Late 20th-Century Collections," the project team tested the limits of minimal processing on collections of all types and ages in 16 Philadelphia area repositories. A primary goal of the project, the team processed at an average rate of 4 hours per linear foot of records, a fraction of the time ordinarily reserved for the arrangement and description of collections. Among other time saving strategies, the project team did not extensively review the content of the collections or complete any preservation work.
- Temple University Libraries Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Annalise Berdini and Steven Duckworth
- Finding Aid Date
- 2014 January 30
- The creation of the electronic guide for this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the Archives with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.