By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published May 24, 2012
The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, Southeastern lieutenancy of the United States, held its annual meeting and investiture in Atlanta in April, bringing together nearly 400 members from 20 dioceses in the Southeast.
Knights, ladies and clergy knights from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina gathered for the events, including formal dinners, Masses and the investiture of new members. Masses were celebrated at Holy Spirit Church.
Speakers included Brother David Carroll, Ph.D., former under-secretary of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, who spoke about the history of the equestrian order, and Rami Qumsieh, an electrical engineer and a Palestinian Catholic who has a special interest in Christians in the Holy Land.
The organization, a more than 900-year-old order of chivalry under the patronage of the Holy See, is dedicated to supporting the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and to responding to the needs of Catholics in the Holy Land. Its work covers Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus. The knights and ladies fund seminaries, schools, hospitals and social centers throughout the patriarchate.
The purposes of the order are to strengthen the faith of its members in fidelity to the pope; sustain and support the charitable, cultural and social works and institutions of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, especially those affiliated with the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem; support the preservation and propagation of the faith in the Holy Land; and uphold the rights of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory celebrated the memorial Mass and conferral of promotions on April 21. Other prelates concelebrating the Mass included Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans; Archbishop Thomas Rodi of Mobile, Ala.; Bishop Gregory Hartmayer of Savannah and Bishop J. Kevin Boland, Savannah bishop-emeritus; Bishop Ronald Herzog of Alexandria, La.; Bishop Robert Muench of Baton Rouge, La.; Bishop David Foley, bishop-emeritus of Birmingham, Ala.; and Bishop William Houck, bishop-emeritus of Jackson, Miss.
Some 82 knights and ladies were promoted to knight/lady commander, knight/lady commander with star, or knight/lady grand cross.
Archbishop Aymond, the Southeastern lieutenancy grand prior, celebrated the Mass and ceremony of investiture on April 22. Forty-four women and men were invested as ladies and knights of the order and six priests, as well as Bishop Hartmayer, became clergy knights. Twelve of the newly invested knights and ladies are from the Atlanta Archdiocese.
Among the local investees were Michael and Patricia Coleman, who have been parishioners of Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Decatur, for nearly 10 years. They first became interested in the order when it came up during a casual discussion with a priest.
“We talked about family, our life experiences and the order,” said Michael Coleman, who retired last year from the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office after more than 25 years. His wife, Pat, works as a flight attendant.
Coleman said the process took about a year and half, from when they first became interested to when they were invested. In addition to opportunities to serve the church, the Colemans have enjoyed meeting other Catholics who seek the same type of service.
“We love the people in the order. Everybody just seems outstanding,” he said. “They are great people: really helpful, thoughtful and congenial.”
After the annual meeting, the Atlanta diocesan representative, George W. Levert, turned over the leadership to Samuel M. Jannetta. Levert was in his leadership capacity for the last seven years and oversaw the growth in the local order to over 150 knights, ladies and clergy knights.
The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem is one of the oldest institutions in the Roman Catholic Church. Its roots date to the 11th century and the first Crusades led by Godfrey de Bouillion. The warriors received knighthoods for their actions at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. They constituted a guard of honor at the shrine and were approved as an order by Pope Pascal II in 1113.
The order was reorganized and revitalized in the 1960s by Popes Blessed John XIII and Paul VI. Blessed Pope John Paul II enhanced the status of the order again, making it a public association of the faithful, according to the website of the order.
Today, the order has approximately 26,000 members in 52 lieutenancies in Europe, the U.S. and Canada, Latin America, Australia and the Far East.
U.S. Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien, the equestrian order’s grand master, has said he hopes to convince more people of the importance of belonging to the chivalric organization and “that this is a worthy spiritual endeavor.”
“We look to forward the cause of peace in the Holy Land—that’s the Holy Father’s burning desire—and to stopping the exodus of Christians, to make more available the holy places to more people and to encourage pilgrimage to the Holy Land,” he told Catholic News Service at the time of his appointment last August.
The number of pilgrims from the United States and other parts of the world to the Holy Land has dwindled considerably and he said he would like to see more people visit the “singular, unique part of the world where Christ walked, taught, performed miracles and rose from the dead.”