The primary mission of the Grand Priory of America’s Charitable and Hospitaller work is to support our two Flagship Programs: Organ/Tissue Donation Awareness and Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy). Our vision is to create awareness and to educate people in the importance of these programs in saving lives around the world, and to support projects that work towards these goals.

Introduction to Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy)

During the Crusades, the present day Military and Hospitaller Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem (MHOSLJ) was founded by the Monks of St. Lazarus. Leprosy was the scourge of the fighting knights in the Holy Land, and the monks ran hospitals treating this disease and welcoming all, regardless of nationality or religion.

While many are familiar with the history of the MHOSLJ after the Crusades, many of us do not know much about Leprosy, now known as Hansen’s disease. While it is a completely treatable disease, it unfortunately is on the rise in many developing countries around the world. Many of us are unaware that the incidence of Leprosy is increasing in many of the developed countries, including the United States.

The Grand Priory of America has designated Leprosy has one of its two “flagship” programs, along with Organ/Tissue Donation Awareness. Our Grand Master, Don Carlos, has also stressed the importance of the MHOSLJ in returning to the “root” of our Order, and work to educate our members on the importance of participating in programs designed to combat this devastating yet curable disease.

Through the American Association of the Order of St. Lazarus, our charitable arm, we support

  • Hansen’s Disease Clinics throughout the United States
  • Clinics in Irapuato and Morelia, Mexico
  • Rising Star Outreach providing mobile van clinics to 66 leprosy colonies in India

A Visit to Carville

In keeping with our Order’s ancient and ongoing interest in Hansen’s disease, the Southern Commandery has been active in supporting leprosy research and joining with the other commanderies in funding diagnostic training. Thus it was natural for 23 of our Commandery to visit the former federal leprosarium at Carville, Louisiana, one hot August Saturday. While the active research component of this century-old facility has moved to Baton Rouge, and the Carville grounds are now a National Guard Base, seven patients remain at the facility, together with a fascinating museum, buildings, Catholic and Protestant chapels, and a shady, manicured patients’ graveyard.

This was a day of highlights. We met with “Mr. Pete” Peterson, a patient/resident since 1951. He put a very human face on the dreadful disease most of us have only read about. He freely answered questions about his life and his illness. He was positive, not bitter, about what must have been a difficult life.

We were treated to a PBS documentary film about Carville and then a bit of a walk around the grounds. Our destination was the Sacred Heart Chapel where Carville’s patients and the Daughters of Charity who cared for them worshipped together.

The chapel entrance is fitted with an electric door, actuated by a pressure pad, so that it opens automatically for a person in a wheelchair. A plaque on the door told us it was a gift from our Order in the early 1970s. It still works perfectly.

Inside the lovely chapel is a 16th century Italian statue of the Madonna and Child. We were told the statue had survived, unscathed from a church in Italy which had been destroyed during World War II.

bob-witcher-with-madonnaSenior Chaplain (Episcopal Bishop) Bob Witcher
with the statue of the Madonna and Child

The statue stands atop a plinth bearing the inscription:

875th Year of Service
Presented by the Military and Hospitaller Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem
Under the administration of the 47th Grand Master
His Royal Highness Francisco de Borbon y de Borbon
to grace the Sacred Heart Chapel
U. S. Public Health Hospital
Carville, Louisiana
28 October 1973

Our Senior Chaplain, Bishop Bob Witcher, led us in the Noonday Office and shared with us his experience for 20 years of bringing Communion to the patients of Carville.

Links to Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy)