- Santa Barbara, CA
The Grand Commandery of the West has a long history of contributing both internationally for major disasters such as the Nicaraguan Earthquake and Asian Tsunami as well as locally for projects important to members.
The Grand Commandery of the West, continuing the long tradition of the Order, contributes to the operation of three leprosy clinics in California. The clinics are located at the University of Southern California County Hospital in Los Angeles, the Contra Costa Health Clinic in Martinez and the San Diego City Health Department’s Hansen’s Disease Clinic. The clinics use the funds for the purchase of special lab equipment, updating educational information, providing interpreters, and for the transportation of patients to the clinic. We have also contributed to a program providing shoes for the Hansen’s disease patients who continually need custom-made shoes.
The Grand Priory of America as a whole has over the last several years found a new charitable focus in Organ Transplantation. The Western Commandery has been fortunate to be able to contribute to this campaign with a film produced by its member, Chevalier George Lilly, KLJ. The film Christopher has been seen by over 10 million people throughout the United States and has been distributed for viewing by prospective organ transplant patients. Over 50 copies are in circulation. This year a meeting was arranged at the National Institute of Transplantation (NIT), founded in 1984 at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Los Angeles, and attended by officers of the local commandery and the Mendez brothers, world renowned transplant surgeons and founders of the Institute.
The Order’s historical roots are in aid of Christians and the helpless in the Holy Land, and as we are under the religious protection of His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios III Laham, we have, over the years, contributed to humanitarian relief under his auspices. The Beit Sahour Medical Center in Bethlehem has been able to be helped with our funds as well. Since meeting His Beatitude Torkum Manoogian, GCMLJ, the Armenian Patriarch, on the Order’s Pilgrimage celebrating the 900 years of its founding, we have broadened our contributions to the Holy Land. We were fortunate that during a visit to Los Angeles, His Beatitude addressed us at a luncheon outlining the current great need in the Holy Land among the Christian minorities.
Recently, the Grand Commandery of the West has established a relationship with the Sisters of the Good Shepherd whereby we not only provide funds for homeless women and children but also volunteers and the material proceeds resulting from food and clothes drives we hold concurrently with our local events. Our Arizona Legation regularly donates books to a Veteran’s Hospital.
Also, the Grand Commandery contributes to the new Bob Hope USO Center at Los Angeles International Airport, which is providing expanded services to traveling military personnel. It contributes also to the Armed Forces Children’s Charity. The members of the grand commandery in Fresno have organized and paid for a Breakfast Ministry in conjunction with Alliant University, which is an institution specializing in psychology. Priests and ministers are counseled on how to deal with problems involving their congregations.
Several distinguished gentlemen brought the Order of St. Lazarus to California in the 1960’s; among them were Baron Waldemar von Barkow, Major Alan Weaver Hazelton and Chevalier Rodney Hartwell. Meetings were held in the magnificent South Pasadena house and private chapel of the Chancellor, Alan Weaver Hazelton, for whom the Order has named one of its most prestigious awards. Unfortunately, the Order lost its early foothold in the West with the death of Baron von Barkow. It was not until 1971 that the local presence of the Order was revived (now known as the Grand Commandery of the West), located in Los Angeles, and became the headquarters of the Order’s American delegation (now known as the Grand Priory of America). Our first Commander was Captain H. Carroll Parrish, USNR, then the Dean of Student Affairs at UCLA.
The first major Investiture of the Order was held in 1972 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. The principal speaker and presiding officer was Bishop J. Fulton Sheen, one of the outstanding religious leaders of the 20th century, an author of many books and the host of an important television show. The Order was honored to have such a great religious leader as our patron; on many occasions he addressed the growing membership and extolled them to become an elite army of Christian soldiers to revitalize Christianity.
The following year, the then Grand Master, Don Francisco de Borbón y Borbón visited Los Angeles in the company of a retinue of Spanish Knights. The meeting was again held in Beverly Hills at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, with the religious service held in the Church of the Good Shepherd. The unique ecumenical mission of the Order was fostering substantial growth, doubling attendance from the previous year’s one hundred.
The Jurisdiction of the West became a Commandery in 1973 with 50 members made up of many of California’s most distinguished community and social leaders. Among them was Hernando Courtwright, known fondly in L.A. as “El Padrino” and the owner of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where for many years the Order held its functions. We were also fortunate to attract Dr. Rufus von Kleinsmid and Dr. Norman Topping, two of the most esteemed and admired presidents in the history of the University of Southern California.
The Western Commandery again hosted Bishop Sheen at a large Ecumenical Service in St. Basil’s Church, which, at the time, was a milestone for solidarity and understanding among Christians. The service was attended by both Cardinal McIntyre and Cardinal Manning and many distinguished members of Los Angeles’s religious community.
The Commandery experienced significant growth through the 1970’s and 1980’s. At one point, the Delegation of the Northwest split off from the main body under the able leadership of Brigadier General C. Thomas Yarington, USAF of Seattle, who had previously headed the Western Commandery. Father Patrick J. McPolin became our Chaplain, a position he held for over 20 years. He is a well-known historian of early Los Angeles, who lives at the old Dominguez Ranch, an old adobe house that is both a museum and the site of the seminary for the Claretian Fathers.
We have Father Pat to thank for the use of the original Mission Church where Los Angeles was founded over 200 hundred years ago, locally known as “La Placita” or Our Lady Queen of the Angels Church, for our spiritual St. Lazarus Day service. Our most recent Vespers Service was held at the historic San Fernando Rey de Espana Mission, the 17th California mission established in 1797.
Our second Commander was the popular Jack Hennessy followed by H. William Dougherty, Gen. Tom Yarington, Wesley Cameron, Judge William Huss, Colonel John Moriarity, Harry Tarnoff and our current Commander, Richard Payatt.
The Commandery of the West became a Grand Commandery in 2006 by having grown to over 75 members and three legations beyond its core group based around Los Angeles. The Arizona Legation based in Phoenix, the Northern California Legation based in Fresno, and the Nevada Legation based in Las Vegas each have their own local meetings and pet charitable projects.
Today, the Grand Commandery enjoys taking initiative. It was the first to establish its own web site, the first to publish reports and news online for its members, and it continues to explores new ways to utilize modern technology in the Order to benefit the charities and people that it serves.
The Grand Commandery’s main event of the year takes place in early December to celebrate St. Lazarus Day. A Vespers service is held in the early evening in a local church, which is followed by dinner and dancing in a private club.
We attend a one-day spiritual retreat led by our Chaplain or other religious leaders at one of several scenic retreat houses in Southern California. The retreat is usually held in the spring or fall to take advantage of the weather.
Over the last few years, the Grand Commandery has held a “Day at the Races” in the private Director’s Room of Santa Anita Racetrack attended by members, their guests and prospective members. We have also hired coaches to take us to the Crystal Cathedral for their famous Christmas play and to attend the races at Del Mar. Whenever possible, we rent buses for events to make it as easy as possible for members to attend and to enjoy the camaraderie. The members of the Grand Commandery at the functions held throughout the year make an effort to welcome new members and integrate them into the group as our new confreres and consoeurs.
Many parties and events have also been hosted at the homes of the members, as well as at private clubs for visiting dignitaries. We have been fortunate to be addressed by several interesting speakers; last year a luncheon was held at the California Club in honor of His Beatitude, Patriarch Gregorios III Laham, who spoke to us about the situation in the Holy Land. The Grand Commandery has had many opportunities for exceptional events, including the memorable evening in a private home where Chevalier Martin Neary, the Director of Music for St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, led a group of boy choristers in red robes and white ruffs who entertained us with Christmas carols. We continually seek the opportunity to host new and unique events that will be educational, spiritually rewarding and culturally enriching for the Grand Commandery as well as for the membership.
The Grand Commandery of the West has several legations, or regional groups, located in Northern California centered around Fresno, Phoenix, Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada.