Anna Alexander vs. Peter Claver

We're back for the first full week of saintly thrills and spills! Today we get our first matchup in the Mostly Modern quadrant as Anna Alexander faces Peter Claver. Of course it's all relative -- Anna lived in the 19th century and Peter straddled the 16th and 17th centuries. But what's a few hundred years among friends?

On Saturday, Quiteria the nonuplet warrior defeated Genesius in a fairly close battle 54% to 46%. She will go on to face the winner of Thomas à Kempis vs. Maria Skobstova in the Saintly Sixteen.

For those of you who filled out brackets in advance, is it already busted? Or maybe a saint you really wanted to win has lost, causing you to lose all faith in humanity -- or at least in the Lent Madness voting public. Just a reminder -- it's not really about which saints win or lose (they've all received their Golden Halos) -- it's about encountering Jesus through the inspiring lives of those who have come before us in the faith. So buck up! And live to vote another day.

Anna Alexander

Anna AlexanderAnna Alexander was the first African-American Deaconess of the Episcopal Church. Deaconess Alexander was born around 1865 on Saint Simon’s Island in Georgia. Her parents, James and Daphne Alexander, were well-educated and emancipated slaves. Her father, James, believed education was the path to a better life for the people on the plantation, and he continued to teach Anna and her siblings in defiance of Georgia laws that forbade the education of slaves.

James and Daphne Alexander instilled in their daughter a strong belief in shared and communal responsibility and the idea that change occurs in the relationships built within our communities. As a result, Anna is credited with establishing an Episcopal church and school in Pennick, Georgia. The community initially met in an abandoned farmhouse and then in an old store, where they converted the whiskey counter into an altar. Faced with antiquated diocesan and societal laws, Anna’s mission church struggled financially, and Anna took up sewing, teaching, and other jobs to raise money to purchase land for a permanent church and school. Through her community relationships, she drew upon the financial support of her fellow brothers and sisters. Through their combined efforts, they were able to build the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church and school.

At a Convention for Colored Episcopalians in 1907, Bishop C.K. Nelson named Anna a deaconess. During the time of her diaconate, it was virtually unheard of for a woman to be recognized as a leader in the church—especially an African-American woman. Anna’s hard work, devotion, and dedication to the Christian formation of black communities ensured that the voices of African-American Christians were heard throughout the Diocese of Georgia. Deaconess Alexander felt that anger about how society treated women and African-Americans was a wasted emotion and believed she could change her community through education and love. She exhibited this love through a devotion to Christian formation. Deaconess Alexander offers us an example of a life of faith rooted in a boundless love of others.

Deaconess Anna Alexander’s feast day is September 24.

Collect for Anna Alexander
O God, you called Anna Alexander as a deaconess in your Church and sent her as teacher and evangelist to the people of Georgia: Grant us the humility to go wherever you send, and the wisdom to teach the word of Christ to whomever we meet, that all may come to the enlightenment which you intend for your people; through Jesus Christ, our Teacher and Savior. Amen.

-Anna Fitch Courie

Peter Claver

Peter ClaverTimes of great evil are often opportunities for profound witness to the love of God. The deep evil of the transatlantic slave trade was just such a time, and it was into that moment in history that Peter Claver, SJ was born in 1580.

During studies in his home country of Spain, Peter joined the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits sent him out to be a part of their mission to the Americas. Peter encountered the horrors of the slave trade and through the tutelage of another Jesuit was introduced to ministry among the Africans who were being trafficked through the port of Cartagena, Colombia.

After being abducted from their homes in Africa, the victims of the slave trade became a commodity to their captors. They were packed inhumanely into ships, fed minimal amounts of food and water, and sailed across the Atlantic to the Americas. During the horrific journey, about a third of all African slaves died.

Each year, 10,000 slaves would arrive in Cartagena. As soon as a slave ship arrived, Peter descended into the hold—into the midst of the sickness, death, and suffering. He brought medicine, food, water, and words of comfort. As the slaves disembarked, Peter continued to minister among them. After six years of this ministry, Claver made his final profession as a Jesuit. He signed his name, “Peter Claver, slave to the Ethiopians [Africans].”

Peter continued his ministry among the slaves of Cartagena for thirty more years. In addition to his time in the port, he often traveled out to plantations so he could continue to care for the slaves.

During his four decades of ministry, Peter baptized at least 300,000 people. His ability to share the Good News of Christ was closely tied to his compassion and care for the physical needs of the victims of slavery. In considering the connection between preaching and service, he once said, “We must speak to them with our hands, before we try to speak to them with our lips.”

In the face of great evil and suffering, we may feel overwhelmed. Peter Claver reminds us of the profound difference that one person acting compassionately can make.

Collect for Peter Claver
God of grace and glory, we praise you for your servant Peter Claver, who made the good news known in Colombia. Raise up, we pray, in every country, heralds of the gospel, so that the world may know the immeasurable riches of your love, and be drawn to worship you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

-David Hansen

[poll id="208"]

Anna Alexander: Stained glass window at St. Ignatius Church, Episcopal Diocese of Georgia
Peter Claver: By Неизвестный автор ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


* indicates required

Recent Posts



308 comments on “Anna Alexander vs. Peter Claver”

  1. I voted for Peter because he went into the bottom of the ship and became the slave to the slaves.

    1. Yes, Oliver, great insight about Peter becoming a slave to the slaves. Yet he did so from positions (male, priest, member of a religious order with political clout) of considerable power. Anna Alexander went about her ministry from a position that held little power at the time (a black woman, not ordained for most of her ministry). I'm in awe of her dedicated spirit! Joe

    2. I would have voted with you, Oliver, but I'm an Alexander by heritage, and my first name is Alexandra, AND I adore St. Simons Island. How could I not vote for Anna? This was truly a tough choice.

    1. Anna carved a path where none was before for African American women in the post-Reconstruction south. She created a precedent and a model of faith. I admit a favoritism for Americans and Episcopalians in these contests, when there is a choice. In this case, it was a comfortable choice.

        1. Noted earlier, eloquently by the Reverend, Peter answered his call as did Anna. Not the same but well fulfilled, I think, by both.

      1. I'm with you on that. It is "nice" that he ministered to slaves, but I didn't read here that he fought against slavery.

      2. I'd say he did both, including doing the former by way of the latter. Speaking truth to power or fighting slavery can look very different in different contexts. He also did more than can be contained in the brief bio above.

  2. Peter was surely kind and many of my Catholic neighbors belong to the Knights of St. Peter Claver but I’d have been more impressed with someone who espoused liberation rather than merely bearable bondage. Anna is more relevant to me as a model of leadership and self-reliance in the face of oppression.

    1. I think this is what cinched it for me as well. Both are strong candidates, but in this time, I feel e need more Annas than Peters.

    2. My thoughts, too. Peter Claver was unusual for Europeans in his time for seeing Africans as fellow human beings to be loved, not property to be used. And it may be a lot to ask of him in his time to have opposed the systemic evil of slavery rather than merely care for those who were its victims. But in the end, the lack of any indication that he challenged the problem at its root made me vote for Anna who did more of that as she empowered freed slaves through education, worship and building community.

      1. Gretchen,
        I have done a lot of research on Deaconess Alexander, including interviewing former students and studying records. Anna's parents, James and Daphne Alexander were born into slavery on Butler Plantation. James took a great risk when Pierce's wife, Fanny, made a visit to the St. Simons home (not on the main plantation just outside of Darien) where he was enslaved. He was a 16 year old house servant at the time and he asked her to teach him to read. In reading her journal, I found she describes this request from an "Aleck." That is what Pierce always called James Alexander.

        Pierce was adamantly opposed to educating slaves, but she secretly taught him the alphabet, but records that she left before she could teach him to read. He then used his understanding of the alphabet to teach himself to read using the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer and he taught his children to read. Anna, however, was born in the year of emancipation. No law precluded her education. "Anna and her siblings" is inaccurate, but teaching his children was true and as Anna was the youngest of 11, he did teach some of his children, contrary to the law. The story of his learning to read, is the subject of this brief video:

        Fanny Kemble Butler had been a renowned stage actress in her native England and her published journal that mentions Aleck was read widely in the lead up to the Civil War. I found Anna's father an amazing man who raised a family that made a real difference in their community. While I find Peter Claver's story inspiring, Anna, was a black woman who started a church and school and depopulated her community as she arranged scholarships for her students to go to college and technical schools and lives they would never have aspired to without The Deaconess.

      2. Jack,
        I agree. As a deacon, she knew she was called to bring the hopes, needs, and concerns to the Church. She also knew the importance of working with the community and to bring about change.

      3. Anna felt anger was a wasted emotion, and worked to make changes with love and education. We need more people willing to forego the power of anger these days! I missed voting for Anna in round 1, but will keep an eye out for her in round 2; she has my support there!

    3. I’m with TJ on this one. Hard choice as both of these saints have well earned their halos!
      But Anna spoke truth to power, and was all the more remarkable for being a woman of color in a time even more restrictive than our own.

      1. There are as many ways to speak truth to power as there are ways to serve. Is the Altar Guild member more valuable for washing the chalice, or is the Kitchen committee worker that mops the floor? We are only taught that God calls us each according to their abilities, not what those abilities are (or must be) in order to be considered for service to God. We are judging - as 21st century citizens, and as mere humans - what God has already judged to be good. How, then, are we qualified to judge either candidate as "more good" than the other or say that they should have done more?

        1. All people are products of their time, nonetheless, Lent Madness requires that we come to a singular vote for each pairing. Whether you agree or not, I stated my reasons for my choice. It isn't a matter of judging either to be "more good" merely more relevant to me. My ancestors were slaves and the fact that someone did the best the could is likely to have been cold comfort to them no matter how true that statement may also happen to be.

    4. Yes, and I also think at this time it's particularly important for those who (like me) are white and relatively privileged to honor and accept the leadership of those who have been marginalized.

    5. Hmmm, I fear these critiques of Peter are anachronistic and miss the larger import of his work. He did speak truth to power, but that can look different that it would now. He didn't merely espouse "merely bearable bondage" or fail to oppose the systemic evil of slavery. Of course, people misinterpret the work of Jesus, Paul, St. Francis, etc. as not being opposed to the systemic evils and empires of their day. But they were opposed.
      Not that these are reasons not to vote for Anna!

      1. Thank you, Arnold. I am torn between these 2 very fine saints today. What Peter did flew in the face of all of his cultural conventions. I love the quote that you first have to minister with your hands before you can speak with your lips. I also love the dedication of Deaconess Anna, who believed that you answer the hatred of the past (and present) with love and education, and not simply loud voices. What choices these first match-ups have been!

      2. If he did oppose the systemic evil of slavery it is not made clear in the narrative. As I stated, he was certainly kind and did more than most of his day but being descended from enslaved people, his relevance to me is nearly impossible to separate from the fact that in that day and age I would have been the one in chains and I would have been looking for liberation.

  3. Difficult choice! I was on team Anna until I read “...reminds us of what one person can do...”. In our own time of daily news assaults on loving kindness it is good to be reminded we too can go into the bowels of the slave ship.

    1. I agree, Edna! I love Anna's devotion and will not be at all disappointed if she wins. Still, being among the slaves in their pain and despair (and in the bowels of the ship, probably near death), I found very moving. And Peter continued even though it appeared the system of oppression would persist.

  4. Anna it is. I lived on St Simons , belonged to Holy Nativity, was even married there- but somehow missed learning about this dedicated soul. Thanks for introducing her to me and flooding me with memories of love and support so generously shared with me by so many (saints too) when I was in that parish.

  5. Well - currently 0 for 3. Voted for Peter Claver today. Will I go 0 for 4?
    Both are great choices. I hope this one is another close contest.

  6. This matchup was uncommonly difficult. I wish I could vote for both of them, but it's against the rules!

  7. Who better embodies service "to the least of these" than Peter Claver? I am humbled and awed to read his story.

  8. So a Jesuit recognized the wisdom of St Francis who said "Preach the Gospel, and when necessary use words." (Not sure if that is an exact quote, but the meaning was there.) A powerful reminder that if we are to make disciples of all nations, we must begin by living into Matthew 25. Peter Claver is an excellent example of doing just that.

    I also admired Anna Alexander, who learned her lessons well from her father and was willing to go to extraordinary lengths to minister to God's precious children.

    Having said that, today the message of Peter Claver spoke to me more forcefully, so he got my vote.

  9. These choices are mostly impossible. I am glad these saints already have their true golden halos.

  10. Difficult - "minister with our hands first, worry about preachments later" was very attractive, and he was a child of his time, but if he felt the slaves were human enough to convert, part of me wants Peter to have raised a holy ruckus about slavery. Anna wins for me, today

  11. To you who put together these brackets, you didn't make voting easy by any means. Also, this is a good education tool as some of these people haven't been heard of by many of us. Thanks for the good work

  12. As a Christian Formation Director, it was very difficult for me not to vote for Anna. However, I feel that Peter really made his way into the belly of the beast, offering hope and a sense of Christ's presence to those in their most desperate moments.

  13. Just a note, if Anna was born in 1865, slavery was over and there would have been no legal restrictions on her education (well, not until Jim Crow, but that's through separate but equal). Still, I voted for Anna, because I was not happy with Peter. Although, he ministered to the slaves, I see nothing that he spoke out against slavery. That is a wrong that we can never allow. To see evil and not speak against it is to endorse it.

    1. Every time Peter entered a slave ship or visited a plantation, he demonstrated publicly his opposition to slavery. Both Peter and Anna lovingly carried the light of Christ to people who needed it, at times when their actions challenged accepted ideas and practices.

      1. Thank you for pointing this out. Of course he was against slavery and going into the slave ships and serving them was a very open acknowledgment of this.

    2. Well slavery officially was "over" but it continued in many aspects for another decade and everyone knows that. Anna had the double barrier black and woman she seemed to meet them with love and perseverance. I think that is what both of these have in common - neither fought systems they gave of themselves for others which is what Jesus' example is about. To my mind it is not in the visible rebellion we change the world but in the caring, loving actions.
      Both of these are already winners in my mind because they put their lives where their beliefs were and bore witness to cruelty and hate.

      1. Anna provided tools for the next generation to transcend the boundaries set by their circumstance. She exhibited courage, persistence and sacrifice.

      2. The article says it was illegal to educate slaves. Anna was not a slave when she was born. Plus, during the period of Reconstruction, education was encouraged for slaves. Interestingly, when education became available for blacks in the South, whites felt it suddenly became necessary to institute public schools (public schools were not universal at the time) and what amounted to an educational arms race ensued.

        1. As I commented elsewhere, the write up on Deaconess Alexander is a bit confusing on the point you raise. You are right that law precluded her education. “Anna and her siblings” is inaccurate, but her dad did learn to read as a slave and then taught his children and as Anna was the youngest of 11, he did teach some of his children, contrary to the law. The amazing story of her learning to read, is the subject of this brief video:

          There were many schools in reconstruction, but Anna longed for one in deeply rural and poor Pennick, Georgia where her parents settled after emancipation. The black children in that area would have been left out of education without The Deaconess.

    3. Peter's actions spoke out against slavery. The slave hunters, masters and crews of the slave ships, the auctioneers at the slave auctions, and those who bought slaves convinced themselves that Africans were less than human. But Peter, through his actions, and at great risk to his own life, demonstrated over and over and over again that he believed Africans were God's children, fully human, and worthy of compassionate care and the sacraments.

      One of the hardest things to do is to submerge one's self, to devote one's entire life to serving the outcast, the other. Peter Claver did that. It may be actually be easier (and, more personally satisfying) to voice your opposition from a distance.

      I voted for Peter, but, Anna, too, was a fine choice. These are hard choices!

  14. I am voting for Anna, not just because of what she accomplished for the Kingdom of God, but she did this as a person who belonged to a oppressed people. Her work was so exemplary, that she garnered the respect not only of African-Americans, but also of the white community, no mean feat in South Georgia at the time.

  15. Tough call. Peter ministering to the enslaved people is holy, but nothing was mentioned about whether he said anything against the slave trade itself. Had to go for Anna, especially since she thought the anger was wasted and that love and education would work for change.

  16. Today it was Anna for me, although it was a tough call. What got me on Anna's side was how she worked through education and love, and how as a woman she did all of this despite people who were against her for being black and female. #neverthelessshepersisted

  17. Both beautiful testimonies to the transformative power of Christ’s love and grace. I finally went with Peter because I was impressed by the 300,000 baptisms. Anyone who can have that much influence must have been an amazing man.

  18. Deaconess Anna Alexander persisted even with her own Episcopal diocese putting up obstacles. She was like a mighty river which keeps flowing and going around the rocks in its way. And speaking of rivers, she would row her boat 20 miles to serve as a spiritual leader along the Georgia coast. Go Anna!

  19. Peter Claver did the unthinkable: he saw people as children of God whom his society regarded as animals. No one is so deserving of the Golden Crown.

  20. Another great matchup! I decided on Anna eventually, though my reasons were not so saintly. As it was unheard of for a woman, and particularly an African American woman, to be a deaconess at the time, so in my time it was unheard of for an African American to be President of the United States - until it wasn't. Spirit moving through history.