Service to others seems second nature to Mildred Webster who was honored as the Community Servant Award recipient at the Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary Mardi Gras Scholarship Ball last Saturday.
The first Mardi Gras Scholarship Ball was held in 1987 and was attended by 500 people. Webster, 84, helped with the fundraising and the planning for the original event, as well as many thereafter.
The Community Servant Award was presented in honor of Webster’s many years of service to the organization and its mission.
The Knights of Peter Claver, founded in 1909 in Mobile, Alabama, was created during a time when black Catholics could not join white fraternal organizations.
It was named after St. Peter Claver, a Jesuit priest from Spain who converted more than 300,000 African slaves to Catholicism. Today, it is the largest African-American Catholic lay organization in the United States. Its main goals are to provide service to God and the church, help the sick, disabled and poor, and provide social and intellectual encouragement to all members. There are over 700 units throughout the United States and one in Colombia, South America.
In 1926, a Ladies Auxiliary was established to offer the same opportunities in faith, unity and charity to African-American lay women. The Ladies Auxiliary now consists of more than 11,000 members.
The Knights and Ladies support local parishes, priests and bishops, living the Gospel message through a variety of church and community service projects.
The Milwaukee group is affiliated with four parishes, including All Saints, St. Francis, St. Martin de Porres and St. Michael.
Capuchin Br. Booker Ashe founded the first Court and Council of Knights of Peter Claver in Milwaukee in 1982. He sought a representative to talk to the ladies in an effort to get the Ladies Auxiliary started in Milwaukee, and Webster stepped forward.
After learning more about the Knights of Peter Claver, Webster contacted women interested in joining the organization.
“Ms. Webster is the type of individual that one can’t say no to,” said Dara Atendare Scott, one of the original Junior Daughters. “She always has a smile and knows the right words to say.”
Webster was voted the first Grand Lady of the Ladies Auxiliary of Milwaukee, a position she held for four years.
Over the years, Webster, a member of Blessed Savior Parish, Milwaukee, has served several positions with the Ladies Auxiliary, including Grand Lady, Faithful Navigator and Captain Evelyn Ashe and Area Deputy. She also formed the first Junior Daughters division in Milwaukee.
Webster, born and raised in Mississippi, began school at age 7 in a one-room schoolhouse connected to True Vine Church. Her parents sent her to a Catholic boarding school for a few months of high school in Jackson, Mississippi, but after a wood chopping accident, her father was unable to return to work and the family could no longer afford the dues for boarding school. Webster then attended high school at Tougaloo for two years.
In 1947, Webster and her sister visited their aunt in Chicago, where they graduated and found jobs.
Webster often traveled to Milwaukee to visit a cousin, and eventually moved to Milwaukee permanently. She worked in home care, taking care of the sick and homebound, and found a great passion for the work, putting in more than 60 years in the field. She married Walter Webster and the couple had one son, Harold Walter Webster. She also has one granddaughter, Anieya Walker. Walter died in 1978.
“I never went back to Catholic school,” said Webster. “But I kind of liked it. I always said if I had children I would send them to Catholic school. And I had one son.”
Webster sent her son to St. Boniface School, Milwaukee, for first through eighth grade, and while her son was in school at St. Boniface, she became more familiar with the Catholic faith.
“Back then, if you went to school there, you had to go to Mass,” said Webster. “So I would always take him. I just came to really like the Catholic religion and teachings.”
Webster volunteered and helped out with various activities and projects at the school. She helped with lunches, tutoring, working at fish fries and much more.
She decided to get baptized in the late 1970s.
“At that time, everybody at the church thought I was already baptized,” said Webster. “They didn’t know I wasn’t, because I was there all the time.”
Being baptized strengthened her faith, reaffirming her enthusiasm for the Lord and for helping others.
“Believing in God, it just makes a difference,” said Webster. “It makes you feel different. The feeling you have when you have faith in the Lord, it’s a good feeling.”
At 62, Webster semi-retired in order to travel, but she continued helping the organization whenever she could.
“I didn’t give up,” said Webster. “I kept my name on the records. I said, ‘Call me whenever you need me.’ I still did home care on the weekends.”
Even her health couldn’t stop Webster from helping the parish and the community. Webster suffered a light stroke that caused her to lose her speech and affected her memory. However, with the help of therapy, she quickly recovered. She also underwent a knee replacement surgery a year and a half ago. She continues to volunteer in the community and the parish.
“Ms. Webster has an enduring strength and much wisdom, yet is able to take care of everyone and everything,” said Scott.
Webster continues her service to the community. She helps with the bereavement and eucharistic ministries at Blessed Savior Parish, prepares the meals for the St. Vincent de Paul Society North Side Meal Program on the fifth Tuesday of the month, donates clothes, food and Christmas presents to the homeless, helps raise money for scholarships, and serves as the financial secretary of Court #234, St. Michael.
“Whatever I can do to help Peter Claver,” said Webster, “I have been doing ever since 1982. I’ve been able to help with fundraisers, Mardi Gras, service projects. I’ve done it all. I’m always here to try to help someone else. It’s just a feeling I think everyone should have-to always be willing to help.”