It was overcast at 10 a.m. on Sept. 12 when the Knights of Peter Claver Ladies Auxiliary Blessed Katharine Drexel Court 288 led the solemn funeral procession at Holy Redeemer Roman Catholic Church in Liberty City. Somber women, elegantly dressed in white with sashes trimmed in gold and Shriner-like fez hats ornamented with long tassels, paid homage to one of their own, the late Gwendolyn Heastie Welters (April 30, 1924 — Sept. 6, 2013).
She was a member of Miami’s Ladies Auxiliary since its founding in 1987. The Ladies Auxiliary of The Knights of Peter Claver (KOP) follow the teachings of St. Peter Claver (1581–1654), a Spanish Jesuit priest known as the “Apostle of the West Indies.” Through his life’s work of charitable acts, promoting social justice, and corporal works of mercy he became the patron saint of “Negro Missions.”
The local auxiliary is comprised of women from Holy Redeemer and other parishes of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami, including St. Mary’s, St. Phillip’s, St. Monica’s and Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Miami’s Auxiliary’s Grand Lady, Bernadette Poitier, said “our goal is to render service to God, our church and our community. We strive to portray by example and deed the higher principles of Christian womanhood and to promote friendship, unity and Christian charity.”
Last year the Christmas Day edition of the Archdiocesan News featured the Miami Auxiliary. In it Welters, then 88, expressed concern, “not enough is being done to pass on the black Catholic traditions of education and service to the community. We must have younger members to carry on.”
Welters lived by example. The auxiliary's youth group, the Junior Daughters, are encouraged to emulate her dedication to Christian principles, education, religious and community service. Never “just a member” of organizations, she joined and became an officer helping to carry out each mission. She was the auxiliary’s financial secretary, lecturer, and the district conference chairperson. At Holy Redeemer she was also a Eucharistic minister and lector, member of the Parish Council, member of the finance committee and organizer/presenter of the Bylaws Committee.
Welters was a consummate volunteer with expansive activities beyond church. She was an active member who held numerous offices in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, The Links Inc., Dade Heritage Trust, the African American Committee and a charter member of the MRS Club. She was diligent about recruiting and mentoring young members for organizations.
The latest example was several years ago, when Ryan Smith, a member of Holy Redeemer church and a graduate student in history at Florida A&M University, was collecting information for a class paper. Welters suggested he contact Miami’s Black Archives. He did. In January 2013, after earning his master’s degree he returned to Miami, qualified, was hired by The Black Archives and began training as an archivist. Welters, chair of the board of the Black Archives expressed excitement for this achievement.
Helping young people find employment was not new to Welters. She and her late husband, pharmacist Warren, owned and operated Brownsville Drug Store. Through their pharmacy many neighborhood high school students received employment opportunities. For 46 years their store provided an important service to our community.