In 1957, the Priory in the USA of the Order of St John was incorporated in New York and recognized by the IRS as a public charity for the purpose of supporting the international humanitarian endeavors of St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital Group.
On May 11, 1996, the Priory in the United States of America of The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem was constituted by the Grand Prior as The Most Venerable Order's seventh Priory during a service at Washington National Cathedral. John R. Drexel IV, GCStJ, was appointed by Her Majesty The Queen to be the first Prior of the U.S. Priory. The Priory had 785 Members at the time. In 2008, the Priory’s headquarters office moved to Washington, D.C., for a number of logistical, management and financial reasons. During the 48th Annual Service of Rededication, held November 8, 2008, at Washington National Cathedral, A. Marshall Acuff, Jr., GCStJ, was installed as the U.S. Prior, succeeding John R. Drexel IV.
In 1999, the Order of St John, which has over 21,000 Members worldwide, was granted Special Consultative Status by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The Order worldwide encompasses two charity arms: St John Ambulance, a leading global first aid and healthcare service whose global volunteers number over 250,000 in 30 countries, and the St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital Group.
The U.S. Priory currently has over 1,600 Members with strong, active groups across the United States. Each year there is a Service of Investiture and Rededication, and during the year local events are held around the country to support the primary mission of the Priory to raise funds to support the St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital Group.
Since becoming a Priory on May 11, 1996, the U.S. Priory has contributed over $27,000,000 to St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital Group.
History of the Order of St John
The Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem originated in a hospice founded around 1070 to care for pilgrims dedicated to St John the Baptist. The brothers and sisters of the Hospital, which was recognized as a religious Order by the Pope in 1113, nursed the poor and sick of any faith. The brothers also took on the role of defending Christians. When Jerusalem was lost in 1187, they established their headquarters in Acre on the coast of Palestine before moving to Cyprus and then in 1309 to Rhodes. In 1530 they were given Malta, which they governed until they were expelled by Napoleon in 1798.
The Order’s lands throughout Western Europe were managed by communities of its Members called Commanderies, which were gathered into provinces called Grand Priories. In Britain the estates were administered from a Commandery at Clerkenwell, London, from about 1140. This became a Priory in 1185, with responsibility for other Commanderies that had been set up in Scotland and Wales as well as throughout England. Ireland became a separate Priory.
In 1540 the Order was suppressed with other monastic and religious institutions by King Henry VIII. It was restored and incorporated by Queen Mary I in 1557, but Queen Elizabeth I again confiscated all its estates in 1559. The influence of the Reformation ended the Order’s activities in Scotland in about 1564.
The Roman Catholic Order of the Hospital of St John, which is now known as The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta (or simply the Order of Malta) survived its expulsion from Malta. In the 1820s its Knights living in France offered knighthoods to supporters in Great Britain, irrespective of their Christian denomination.
This initiative was not ratified by the Order of Malta, but the English Knights devoted themselves to charitable activities. They were recognized by Queen Victoria and their Order became an Order of the British Crown in 1888.