October 1, 2021

‘Doing more for God’

Junior Daughters learn ‘leadership and Christian charity’ through action

Members of Junior Daughters Court #97 pose at St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Indianapolis after the St. Peter Claver Feast Day Mass on Sept. 12. They are, from left, Gabrielle Guynn, Precious Olarewaju, Aniya Gibson, Gianna Peerman, Marissa Bardo, Preston Williams and Nydia Collins. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Members of Junior Daughters Court #97 pose at St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Indianapolis after the St. Peter Claver Feast Day Mass on Sept. 12. They are, from left, Gabrielle Guynn, Precious Olarewaju, Aniya Gibson, Gianna Peerman, Marissa Bardo, Preston Williams and Nydia Collins. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

When Raelynn McGowan speaks, the 12-year-old presents the poise and maturity of someone beyond her age.

And when she talks about what she considers the source of that maturity, the joy in her voice creates an audible smile.

“It’s cool to be surrounded by these ladies,” said the member of Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis. “I learn a lot from both the teens and the women.”

The “teens and women” are her fellow members of Holy Angel’s Knights of Peter Claver St. Catherine of Siena Ladies Auxiliary Court #109 Junior Daughters Court.

The Knights of Peter Claver is a national, historically Black Catholic fraternal lay organization. The Junior Daughters is a branch of the organization for girls ages 7-19.

Two Junior Daughters groups exist in Indianapolis—Raelynn’s group at Holy Angels, and another at St. Rita Parish.

Rosemary Brown, the St. Rita Knights of Peter Claver Ladies Auxiliary Christ the King Court #97 member who leads that court’s Junior Daughter Court, boasts of all the organization has to offer.

“I think it’s an excellent program to empower the young girls to be positive role models in the community as well as our churches.”

‘Service to God and his Holy Church’

The Knights of Peter Claver is named for St. Peter Claver, a Spanish Jesuit priest who ministered to African slaves in what is now Colombia.

According to its website, the organization’s mission is to “render service to God and his Holy Church, render aid and assistance to the sick and disabled, and promote social and intellectual association among [its] members.”

The mission of the Junior Daughters is similar, said Anita Bardo, Grand Lady for the Knights of Peter Claver Ladies Auxiliary Court at St. Rita.

“The goal is to teach them leadership and Christian charity,” explained the national organization’s immediate past Northern States District Directress. “The biggest way they do that is by service in their parish and in the community.

“At the parish level, our Junior Daughters play an active role as lectors, ushers, in the choir, as altar servers,” said Bardo. Doing so instills a sense of leadership in the members, as does “each one taking on a role and responsibility in the group.”

Her daughter Marissa Bardo is a 17-year-old member of St. Rita Junior Daughters Court #97. In her 10 years as a member, she has served St. Rita Parish in various roles. She now serves as its youth group leader.

Junior Daughters is “an organization that gets you ready for leadership by doing certain things in the Church and the community,” she said.

‘Helping people is fun’

Serving the community is another of the Junior Daughters’ major goals—a goal made more challenging during the last year and a half, said Angel Ingram. The member of Holy Angles serves as leader, or counselor, for the parish’s Junior Daughters Court.

“Operation Christmas Child is something Holy Angels [Parish] does each year,” sending Christmas gifts and hygiene items to organizations that help children, said Ingram. “But because of COVID, people were afraid of gathering to put the packages together.”

The parish’s Junior Daughters members stepped in to help, creating and wrapping packages with toys, school supplies, personal hygiene items and candy.

Jaden Hickman, 14, enjoyed the project.

“I joined Junior Daughters because I wanted to help people more,” she said. “When we brought the people the gifts, it made them so happy. Helping people is fun!”

The Holy Angels Junior Daughters members also participated in a project making 300 homemade Mother’s Day cards and care packages for women living in transitional housing and substance abuse recovery facilities “who don’t get much for Mother’s Day,” said Raelynn.

The St. Rita’s Junior Daughters have been busy in the community, too.

“Our latest project involved collecting face masks and hand sanitizer for Wheeler Mission in Indianapolis,” said Brown.

Marissa said she likes “our impact on the community, like handing out food [to those in need] downtown. You really see that you’ve helped them and how you’ve impacted them.”

‘Skills that stick with you for life’

The Junior Daughter members are impacted by the organization, too, said Bardo.

“The Junior Daughter counselors guide the girls and allow the girls to lead, to run the meetings, to come up with community service ideas and fundraisers, and the counselors guide and help them move forward with their vision,” said Bardo.

“They’re young. They have their ideas, and if it makes sense, then the counselors make it possible.”

The end result is the formation of future leaders who continue to serve their parish, the community and the people of God.

For instance, in addition to leading her parish’s youth group, Marissa serves as president for the Junior Daughters’ Northern States District, a 13-state area.

Her fellow St. Rita Junior Daughter member, Anavrin Reeves-Woods, serves as the northern district secretary, despite the college sophomore’s heavy load as a nursing student at Marian University in Indianapolis.

“I was in middle school and really shy” when she joined the Junior Daughters, said Reeves-Woods. “These people helped get me out of my shell and be more open, whether lectoring at church or running for secretary of the entire Northern States District.

“The girls in the court and the way Junior Daughters is set up has allowed me to branch out and learn many skills that stick with you for life.”

‘Everything we do is Catholic’

At the core of all the Junior Daughters do—and of every aspect of the Knights of Peter Claver—is the Catholic faith, said Bardo.

“Everything we do is Catholic,” she explained. “The whole organization is geared toward lifting each other up.

“We also take on social justice issues—bullying, human trafficking, racism, just to name a few. We as an organization educate ourselves and then take on challenges as a group to understand what our places are in our world, which are the pressing things I mentioned.”

The Knights of Peter Claver and the Ladies Auxiliary seek to “develop our youth in a positive and nurturing environment, to provide social and intellectual fellowship and to encourage each one to promote and improve social justice” causes, said Bardo.

‘Opportunity … to do more for God’

Raelynn spoke with pride about her Junior Daughters Court at Holy Angels.

“We all work together,” she said. “I’ve learned it’s more fun and you can get things done faster when you work as a team.”

She didn’t hesitate to share what she has gained through her participation in the Junior Daughters.

“I’ve gained maturity, and that it’s good to know what you want to be,” she said. “I’ve learned how to do fundraisers and charity [events].

“I’ve gained respect for others and [learned] to be helpful more. I learned you don’t have to get a reward for doing something, to just do it out of the kindness of your heart.”

Raelynn also noted one other benefit through her participation in the Junior Daughters.

“I feel closer to God,” she said. “I’m happy for this opportunity for me to get to do more for God.”

(Four parishes in Indianapolis have Knights of Peter Claver units: Holy Angels Parish, St. Rita Parish, SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral Parish and St Andrew the Apostle Parish. Each parish unit has a council for men and a court for women. Additionally, the groups at Holy Angels and St. Rita have a Junior Knights Branches for young men and a Junior Daughters Court for girls. Members of other parishes can join any of the parish age-appropriate groups. To do so, call the parish and ask for the contact information for the Knights of Peter Claver’s Grand Knight for men or the Ladies Auxiliary’s Grand Lady for women.)

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