The Priory of St. John the Baptist formally came into existence on February 11, 1983.
Before then, it had been known as the Priory of Greater Chicago. In that year, Prior Chev. Donald Robert Weber, GCTJ and Grand Prior Charles Edgar Hires, GCTJ, expanded its territorial authority and renamed it as a result of its spreading influence. For many years the Priory of St. John the Baptist encompassed all of the states of the upper Midwest.
The Priory of Greater Chicago had played a major role in the Grand Priory prior to 1983, with regular meetings of the membership in the Chicago area for nearly a decade from 1968. Early in that time frame King Peter II of Yugoslavia, who lived in the Chicago area, had become the Royal Protector of the Grand Priory. As a result, he frequently attended Templar convents and banquets. These were gala events in Chicago, with much medieval ceremony.
Priory events move to Wisconsin
However, interest waned by the early 1980s and Templar activity in the upper Midwest shifted to Wisconsin with the formation of the Commandery of the Holy Sepulchre in Milwaukee in 1983.
From its very conception, the Commandery of the Holy Sepulchre attempted to create a religious setting for its retreats, convents, and investitures. A full communion service was incorporated into the investiture ceremonies, which were held at St. James Episcopal Church in Milwaukee during those first years.
The Commandery shifted venue to the DeKoven Center in Racine, Wisconsin by 1990, where convents and investitures continue to this day. The ceremonies ultimately influenced many other priories, evolving into well-orchestrated events that replicate the monastic setting and atmosphere.
Postulants arrive on Friday evening for a reception and then go into silence for the next 16 hours. A chapel is available for prayers; participants stay overnight; simple meals are served, accompanied with readings from St. Bernard of Clairvaux; three meditations are presented, touching on Templar history, spirituality, and activities; and the whole is punctuated by the monastic services of Compline, Matins, and Noonday Prayer.
The Convent and Investiture are performed with pageantry in the Collegiate Chapel, and the reception and formal banquet held in the Great Hall. These activities proved so successful that members from the Priory of St. John the Baptist regularly came up from Chicago to attend them.
The convents and investitures of the Commandery of the Holy Sepulchre were assumed by the Priory of St. John the Baptist in 1991. They continue to be held in early spring, attracting a number of postulants from other states.
When Prior Chev. Donald Weber assumed the position of Grand Prior VIII of GPUSA in 1991, LTC Chev. Thomas P. Curtis, GCTJ, became the prior of the Priory of St. John the Baptist and the leadership of the priory was transferred to Wisconsin.
Initially, the charitable efforts of the Commandery (and then Priory) revolved around support for the DeKoven Center in Racine. However, as the membership expanded in numbers, that too was widened to include such Christian support groups as the Holy Land Franciscans, Caritas for Children, and now many more.
New Commanderies and Priories
Earlier in 1984, a group from Minnesota had been so impressed by the ceremonies that they established a Commandery (Holy Shroud) which was renamed when it was made the Priory of Our Lady of Sorrows of the West in that state.
Under Prior Curtis’ leadership, the Priory established the Commandery of St. Norbert in the Chicago area with Chev. Terrence Quant installed as its commander. It became the Priory of St. Norbert after several years of dramatic expansion.
A Commandery was set up in the Detroit area along similar lines, made up of St. John the Baptist knights and dames. It became the Priory of St. Clair which, in turn, was instrumental in the creation of the Canadian Grand Priory.
The Commandery of St. Simon of Cyrene, set up in the early 1980s, went on to become a Priory under the leadership of its commander, Chev. Bruce Hudson, GCTJ.
The Commandery of the Holy Sepulchre, which relocated to Louisville, became the Priory of the Holy Sepulchre after many years of effort.
The Priory of St. John the Baptist has thrived over the years, sometimes expanding, sometimes shrinking as it spun off new priories.
Recently, it has been more active in northeastern Wisconsin, creating the Preceptory of the River Jordan to encourage fellowship and growth in that part of the state.
Each succeeding prior has added his or her touch to the activities and efforts of the organization. There are now a variety of Templar programs in Wisconsin, including “sweat equity” workdays, recruiting dinners, fund raisers, and Christmas parties.
Priors of the Priory of St. John the Baptist
Chev. Donald Robert Weber
LTC Chev. Thomas Pelham Curtis II
The Rev. Chev. Paul Evans Holbrook Jr., Ph.D.
MG Chev. Joseph Anthony J. Scheinkoenig
MG Chev. Michael Mitchell Berzowski
Chev. Jerry Patrick Hill
COL Chev. Robert McWilliam
COL Chev. Robert Roth
SGT Chev. Robert Hunt
Chvse. Margaret Anne Enders Bacon