More than 100 years ago, the Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary was founded on a mission to serve others and effect positive change in the community.

Headquartered in New Orleans, the Order now has more than 700 subordinate units in several countries. It is the largest Black Catholic lay organization in the United States, including a strong presence in Milwaukee.

The Ladies Auxiliary of the Peter Claver Society are gearing up for this year’s Mardi Gras event, Saturday, Feb. 10. (Submitted photos)

And, if you ask long-time member Lillie Hollomann, not much has changed since its inception in 1909.

“The way I see it, I work for the Almighty Father,” said Holloman. “He gives me these opportunities in ministry so that’s what I do: I serve.”

Holloman is the Grand Lady of her court at St. Martin de Porres Parish, and has been a member of the Ladies Auxiliary since 1999. Throughout that time, she has served the group in a variety of positions, sat on a number of committees, and is the vice president of the group’s Inner Council.

A conversation with her about her involvement with the organization is a passionate one, filled with vivid memories of helping others throughout the years.

“My mom and dad always taught us to give our best to anything we’re involved in,” said Holloman, who spends her Monday mornings bagging bread at the local food pantry. “That means you treat others the way you want to be treated, be the best person you can be, and help others however you can.”

Holloman and other members of the auxiliary organize fundraisers, clean up neighborhoods and churches, and take communion to those who cannot attend church, among many other things.

Her actions in service to the Lord have earned her the Peter Claver Legacy Award for Community Service, which she will accept at the organization’s annual Mardi Gras event on Saturday, Feb. 10. The award recognizes a person who has been involved and lived the tenets of friendship, unity and Christian charity.

But the award is by no means Holloman’s main focus for the upcoming event. Instead, Holloman said she’s anxious to attend the event because of its fundraising goal.

In its 30th year, the annual event raises thousands of dollars for the scholarship program. The program awards several scholarships each year to students entering high school or college who have a 3.0 or higher GPA and are involved with their schools, communities or churches.

“We care so much about education because these students are the future of our Church,” Holloman said. “We raise money to help them succeed in whatever way possible.”

The challenge comes in when students may not have the means to further themselves, and that’s where organizations like the Knights and Auxiliary come into the picture.

“Children in the inner city may not have the funds to seek a higher education, so we do what we can to provide help and opportunities to them,” said Virgil Cameron, who is the President of the Inner Council and has been actively involved with the Knights for about four years. “Through all we do, we seek to make the world a better place, and a lot of that starts with our youth.”

The program as a whole promotes leadership, Cameron added, which is a valuable thing in today’s society.

“I just think it’s important to strengthen the community and the families that make up the community by giving back and providing guidance as we can,” he said.

According to Cameron, the group’s mission is to serve through works of mercy.

Named for St. Peter Claver, a Spanish priest who ministered to African slaves in South America, the Knights and Ladies of St. Peter Claver is open to people of any ethnic background.

“Ultimately, we aim to be unified with the black community as well as the wider community,” Holloman said. “We want to do what we can for others by reaching out, being involved and really making a difference in the lives of those around us.”