HARTFORD – You may have noticed them at the installation of Archbishop Leonard P. Blair, men wearing black berets and white capes and women attired in black dresses and black capes with black mantillas.
They are knights and ladies of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (EOHSJ), one of the oldest organizations within the Catholic Church. A chivalric order of knighthood that traces back to the first crusade, it exists under the radar of many Catholics, perhaps because it supports no local causes. Its purpose is to defend the Holy Sepulchre, the sacred place in the Holy Land where Jesus was buried and rose.
On Nov. 23, six men and women from the Archdiocese of Hartford were invested as members of the order at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. The six joined a group of about 60 members of the order within the Archdiocese of Hartford.
Newly invested from the archdiocese were, as priest knights, Father Jeffrey V. Romans, assistant chancellor and secretary to the archbishop; Msgr. Michael Motta, pastor of St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish in Unionville; and Father Philip Sharkey, pastor of St. Rita in Hamden; and, as ladies (or, more formally, as “dames”), Elizabeth Rubino of St. Patrick in Farmington; Suzanne Gueble of St. Margaret in Madison; and Francie Klesch of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Waterbury.
The order numbers about 30,000 members worldwide, subdivided into 52 lieutenancies in 38 countries on five continents. Based in New York City, the Eastern Lieutenancy is one of nine within the United States and includes 22 archdioceses and dioceses in the four-state region to which Connecticut and thus the Archdiocese of Hartford belong.
No longer wielding the sword in battle, the order now is primarily honorific. Its main purpose is to reinforce and support Christianity in the Holy Land. The order’s insignia is the Jerusalem cross, symbolizing the five wounds of Our Lord.
At the ceremony at St. Patrick’s, hosted by the Eastern Lieutenancy, close to 120 men and women were invested as priest knights, or, within the laity, as knights or ladies. At the railing of the cathedral, they took part in a rite imbued with tradition dating back to the order’s founding in 1099. Ceremonially attired in chivalric capes, they stood wearing berets and mantillas, respectively. In keeping with the ancient tradition, knights received the ritual tapping on the shoulder of the ceremonial sword as they were dubbed into the order as priest knights or knights. Ladies were signed with the cross.
Father Romans said of the experience, “I personally was very moved by the whole of the festivities. It was an honor to be a part of something that has such a rich history. It was a particular joy to have my parents and some friends come down to New York to be there as I was invested in this order. I do plan to make a pilgrimage in the next couple of years to the Holy Land, as I have done in 1997, in the hopes of helping others to witness firsthand the holy sites that we so often hear about in the holy Scriptures.”
All new members received the Jerusalem cross, in red enamel and bordered in gold. The full insignia of the order are normally worn with formal dress when other decorations are worn. Miniature versions may be worn on less formal occasions, including a lapel pin, serving as a reminder of the member’s need to pray for the Holy Land.
Each of the archdiocese’s new members, in person with the Transcript, or via email or telephone, conveyed both humility and a sense of honor consistent with a section of a pamphlet that the lieutenancy gives to nominees.
The pamphlet states, “Selection occurs because of meritorious service to the Church, to the community and to one’s fellow man. Many times this is not obvious to the individual as meritorious service, but indeed extraordinary often flows from the ordinary.” It goes on to say, “This honor comes to you as a distinguished Catholic of demonstrated fidelity, notable accomplishments, and readiness to serve the Church.”
Membership carries with it certain spiritual and temporal responsibilities, the first of which is daily prayer for peace in the Holy Land. Praying the “Memorare” to Our Lady, Queen of Palestine, is especially encouraged, as the Blessed Virgin Mary, under this title, was officially declared patroness of the order by the Apostolic See. A major responsibility is working for and contributing to the preservation and spread of the faith in the Holy Land and supporting the missions of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.
Father Thomas Barry, Ms. Rubino’s pastor, who was invested into the order in 2012, suggested that she apply for membership. She also is a member of the Order of Malta, a lay religious organization of the church that serves the sick and the poor.
Ms. Klesch is a former teacher, and has participated in Immaculate Conception Parish’s religious education program and many other activities, including a recent Holy Land pilgrimage that she described as transforming.
Referring to the prescribed tenets of the order, Ms. Klesch and her pastor, Father John Bevins, a member and longtime promoter of the order, said it is important for members to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land at some point to help them understand the importance of promoting the support of the Holy Land.
Nominees for membership must be baptized Catholics in good standing within the church and are usually identified on the basis of their contributions of time, talent and treasure to their parishes, to the wider Catholic Church and to their interest in the aims of the order.
The process typically begins at the parish level, with approval by the local bishop through the Holy See.