The Origins of the Priory

The Origins of the Priory

NSW Priory Origins

On 25th November, 1981 the Grand Prior of the former Grand Priory of Australia, Bailiff Doctor Douglas Hodges convened a meeting in Sydney at the Royal Automobile Club to discuss with the four NSW resident members of the Order the possible establishment of a Commandery within NSW which would operate in association with the then existing Canberra Commandery, commanded by Commander Desmond Bradley.

The four Sydney based members, Chevaliers Christopher Arnott, Walter Peter Conley, Winston Michael Gray and Donat Robert Patrick Underhill, agreed with the Grand Prior to the establishment of an investigative committee to be chaired by Chevalier Conley to determine the feasibility of a Commandery being established in NSW based in Sydney.

The Committee met on 11th January, 1982 at which it was agreed that each member should put forward one name of an individual for prospective membership of the Order, by this time Donat Underhill had been promoted to Knight of Honour. Thus four Knights were to be the basis of the new Commandery.  At a meeting held on 20th April, 1982 – at the (now defunct) Imperial Services Club (ISC), four prospective members were introduced to the Grand Prior. Following a vigorous discussion and answers too many questions the four indicated their desire and willingness to join the Order. The Grand Prior considered the candidates worthy to become Knights of Honour.

The Grand Prior advised on 30th July, 1982 that the establishment of the Commandery of NSW centred in Sydney had been approved by the Grand Master and further that it was to operate in association with the ACT Commandery, based in Canberra. It was also announced that Chevalier Peter Conley had been appointed Commander of the Commandery with a promotion to the rank of Knight Commander of Grace.

The first major event for the new Commandery was the celebration on 6 September 1982 of the anniversary of the lifting of the Great Siege of Malta, held at the ISC. The Grand Prior Bailiff Dr. Douglas Hodges, the Prior of Victoria Sir Hubert Opperman and many other distinguished Knights and their ladies from Queensland and Victoria attended.

At a meeting on 24th May, 1984 it was announced that the Commandery of NSW had been elevated to the status of a Priory by a decision of the Petit Council with the approval of the Grand Master Prince Andrej at the instigation of the former Grand Priory. Commander Peter Conley had also been promoted to Knight of Justice and appointed the Priory’s first Prior.

With the raising of NSW to Priory status it had also been determined that the Commandery in Canberra would now become a subordinate Commandery of the Priory of NSW. Thus creating the first solid link between the State and the Territory.

The first Chapter Meeting of the new Priory of NSW was held at the ISC on 5th July 1984, after a Formal Dinner. Superintendent Peter Fleming represented the then Grand Prior.

At the meeting, the Knights of the Priory confirmed the appointment of Chevalier Peter Conley as the Prior in conformity with the Order’s Constitution. To support the new Prior, an Administrative Council was duly elected and installed. By this time the Priory of NSW consisted of 19 members in NSW, plus 5 members of the ACT Commandery. Later, regrettably, the Commandery in the ACT was to become defunct.

Over the years the Priory fluctuated under various Priors as it continued on its quest to deliver aid and support to the poor and those in need of medical assistance.

At a Ceremony of Investiture of 6 Knights and Dames in Canberra on 10th March 2007 officiated by Balliff Victor Techritz, (former Grand Prior of Southern Australia), the Commandery of ACT was formally re-established with Chevalier Ian J Nicol, AM, KSJ elected as the new Commander of the ACT Commandery. Regrettably Chevalier Nicol passed away suddenly on 26th December 2007. Doctor, the Chevalier, Anthony W Bubear KSJ was then appointed Commander and in October 2009 he was replaced by the Chevalier Timothy Street KSJ, JP. The current Commander is Chaplain Air Commodore Chevalier Dr Royce D Thompson GCHSJ.

Later in 2007 Chevalier Fred Maestrelli KCSJ took over the helm as Prior from Bailiff Anthony Rich GCSJ, at this time there were approximately 40 members spread between NSW and the ACT. It was during this period that significant advances were made in both the development of systems and processes as well as a major increase in the Priory’s fund raising activities. The Priory continued to grow and ostensibly operated independently not becoming involved in regrettable internal machinations.

Continuing that theme, in August 2010, following significant effort by Chevalier Schon G Condon KSJ RFD, the Priory of NSW was able to formerly establish its own Charitable Trust and obtain Charitable Gift Recipient status from the Australian Taxation Office.   This was a significant achievement as it now enabled the Priory to more fully function in an independent manner. Proudly the Priory set a standard that one hundred percent of the donations received be passed on in full and to this day this has been successfully achieved. All costs associated with the operation of the Priory are contributed or raised by the members.

Regrettably around this time there were major machinations within the Order nationally in Australia. Seeking to remain aside from such petty behaviours the Priory of NSW sought to remain independent. At this time Chevalier Peter Shilton KCSJ succeeded Chevalier Fred as the new Prior and thus in October 2010 the NSW Priory was granted full independence from the then (now defunct) Grand Priory of Australasia, and was established as an Independent Priory reporting directly to the Grand Magisterium located in London.

The Priory came into its own during this period and has set many standards that are now being replicated by others as we strengthen and build the Order as a whole. Prior Peter Shilton retired towards the end of 2014 and an election was held which resulted in Lt Col Schon Condon being appointed as the new Prior from January 2015.

Today the priority is a rapidly growing organisation with a diverse and powerful group of individuals bringing together the collective skills and determination to help the poor, the sick, the disadvantaged and spread the unity of Christ and St John.