The Commandery of the Monitor and the Merrimac (no “k” at that time) was established in 1991 in Southeastern Virginia, taking its original name from the famous battle of the ironclads that was waged in local waters during the Civil War. The name reflected both a significant local historical event, and the seafaring background of the founding members; RADM James Carey, United States Navy (USN), was the first Commander and the initial members were fellow Naval Officers. Current membership includes a diverse group of individuals, including members of all the military services as well as Knights and Dames with no formal military background, though the nautical tradition continues today with a significant number of Priory members having served in the U. S. Navy.
As with any new Commandery, building membership towards Priory levels was the key goal in the early years, and under RADM Carey’s leadership, that goal was quickly reached in 1993. The Priory of the Monitor and the Merrimac was established with Captain James Callaway, USN as its first Prior. Under the tenure of Prior III (1997-1999), Captain L. Frank Mach, USN (ret), a regular agenda driven meeting and Convent and Investiture schedule was established along with a Priory Officer set of goals. Chief among these was a defined list of supported local charities, many of which those early Priory officers were already involved with. These charitable endeavors were passed to succeeding Priors and flourish to this day.
The Priory altered its name at the start of the new millennium, or more accurately corrected a historically common mistake. Folklore has it that Merrimack was deliberately misspelled as Merrimac in the South, in response to the Northern victor’s use of the Confederate vessel’s original commissioned name USS Merrimack. At the time of the battle, the Confederacy’s name for the rebuilt (and newly ironclad) vessel was CSS Virginia. Whether true or not, numerous official historical documents have misspelled the name, and of particular local interest, a major crossing of local waters near where the battle occurred carries the same misspelling: Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge Tunnel.
The Priory’s first annual yard sale was held on 2004, turning unwanted items donated by priory members into increased giving to our local charities. It was originally dubbed "the Dames’ yard sale" because the idea was spawned by Dame Anna Holmes assisted by two other Dames who were invested on the same date in 2002. The yard sale has been the Priory’s largest single annual fundraiser since its inception.
With the 400th anniversary of Jamestown and the first European settlement in the Virginia Colony but two years away, Grand Prior MG Robert Disney asked the Priory of the Monitor and the Merrimack, along with fellow Knights and Dames from the Priory of Saint Thomas a’ Becket, to host an International Grand Convent in historic Williamsburg, Virginia. Priors COL Michael Franks, USMC (ret), from the Monitor & Merrimack, COL Buren “By” Shields, USA (ret) from St. Thomas a’ Becket, and past Prior VI (2003-2005), CAPT Keith H. Larson, USN (ret), serving as the Grand Prior’s Chief of Staff, took on the monumental task of coordinating this event. It culminated in an extraordinarily successful and memorable International Grand Convent in April of 2007, with over 400 international Templars and numerous international Grand Priors in attendance. Funding was generated for GPUSA and Priory initiatives, the fellowship and traditions of the order were sustained and expanded upon, and a lasting bond was cemented between the Priories of the Monitor and the Merrimack and St. Thomas a’ Becket.
In 2005, under Prior VII, CDR Robert Holmes Sr., USN (ret) and with the significant and ongoing support of COL Chev. Ken Kubilins, USA (ret), a lasting partnership was initiated with the Little Creek Lions Club to provide sweat equity support for 6-8 local festivals and musical events annually. From the outset, this has proved a win-win affiliation, building a wonderful camaraderie between people with a shared purpose as well as serving as a significant fundraiser for both organizations.
More recently under the Prior IX (2009-2011), CWO3 Betty Kemmerer, USN (ret), the Priory of the Monitor and the Merrimack was one of four Priories nationwide that elected to provide four year scholarships in support of students attending higher education in the Holy Land. She also attained approval for an official Priory Coat of Arms. While it includes the Priory shield which features the two ironclads that are the Priory’s namesake, also featured is another significant and relevant local landmark, the First Landing Cross. This cross, which is located among the sand dunes at Cape Henry (Fort Story) in Virginia Beach, commemorates the wooden cross originally raised there in 1607 by the first English settlers who came to Virginia in search of religious and personal freedom, and who soon thereafter founded Jamestown.
Past Prior Betty Kemmerer holds one other noteworthy historic distinction. In the Manual of the Order, the following appears:
“The original custom in creating a Knight in the U.S. Order was to dub the gentleman postulant with a sword while he knelt, lady postulants were embraced when receiving the accolade. In the 1990’s, the Grand Prior consented to accord the accolade to a lady postulant who had the right to bear arms (e.g., those who were/are commissioned military officers) in the fashion of a Knight, i.e., kneeling while being dubbed with the sword.”
Long before becoming Prior, Betty first entered the order when she was dubbed in 1998 by then Grand Prior X, RADM Chev. James J. Carey. She was thus either the first, or at the very least among the first, ladies to receive the accolade in this way, hence she has since been affectionately known within the Priory as “Sir Betty”.
Currently, the Priory of the Monitor and the Merrimack has sixty-one active members. Throughout its history, through the generosity and hard work of its Knights and Dames, the Priory has made significant contributions to local charities. We have been honored to have also played a small but meaningful part in supporting the larger missions of the Grand Priory of the United States. We are particularly proud of the contributions of two of our members: our first Commander, RADM James Carey, who later served as Grand Prior of the United States of America and is currently the OSMTH Grand Master Emeritus; and Prior VI, Captain Keith H. Larson, who relinquished his Grand Priorship in June 2012 and is now Past Grand Prior XVII.
Priors of the Priory of the Monitor and Merrimack
|Rear Admiral James Carey, USN||1991-1993*|
|Captain James Callaway, USN||1993-1994|
|Captain Henry Fred Berck, USN||1995-1997|
|Captain L. Frank Mach, USN||1997-1999|
|Captain Richard Aleks, USN||1999-2001|
|Captain Robert Jerns, USN||2001-2003|
|Captain Keith H. Larson, USN||2003-2005|
|Colonel Michael Franks, USMC||2005-2007|
|Commander Robert O. Holmes Sr., USN||2007-2009|
|CWO3 Betty Kemmerer, USN||2009-2011|
|Captain Brooks O. Boatwright, USN||2011-2013|
|Captain Clay Kemmerer, USN||2013-2015|
|LDCR Rev Chev Richard W. Inman, USN (Ret), CTJ||2015-2017|
|Chev Frederick Richard Kienle, GOTJ||2017-|
|*Commander, Commandery of the Monitor and Merrimac|