George Mason University has become the site of the first “academic” Freemason lodge in Virginia. Formed last fall, the Patriot Lodge has already held meetings and participated in several campus events, according to the “master” of the lodge, Jon Shelton, BA Government and Politics and Russian Studies ’94.
Freemasons are members of a fraternal organization that is formed into chapters called lodges. Many people are familiar with the Shriners, a major branch of the Freemasons, which provides free care to children in 22 hospitals across North America.
Other examples of academic lodges are at Harvard University and George Washington University in the United States, and the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.
Lodge members participated in Mason’s Homecoming parade and pre-game festivities, with historical reenactor and lodge member Donald McAndrews portraying the statesman George Mason in the parade. Members also walked in the American Cancer Society Relay for Life fundraiser held on campus in April.
The Patriot Lodge meets monthly at the Mason Inn, except for a summer break in July and August. At the monthly meetings, the business meeting is for members only, but the dinner, which features a guest speaker, is open to others.
Past speakers have included Ted Kinnaman, chair of the Department of Philosophy, which sponsors the lodge, and Patrick Mendis, an affiliate professor with the Department of Public and International Affairs who recently published a book titled “Commercial Providence.”
Shelton points out that in the 1970s, the Scottish Rite (another branch of Freemasons) established the Charles and Polly Webber American History Scholarship Endowment at the university, which continues to award $1,000 annually. The lodge is also in the process of establishing an award for graduate students pursuing a philosophy degree concentrating on ethics. The group hopes to award the first scholarship in summer 2012.
“Mason welcomes both the enthusiasm and the history of philanthropy typified by the Patriot Lodge,” says Tom Hennessey, Mason chief of staff. “It further exemplifies the depth and breadth of the diversity that is such an essential component of the university.”
The idea to do something Masonic on campus originated in 2009 from several underclassmen who were already Freemasons. Shelton and other local Masonic leaders then moved to form an academic lodge in order to celebrate their ties to the institution as well as to attract new members from across the Mason community.
Although the Freemasons are the world’s oldest and largest fraternity, they do not recruit members; an individual who is interested in joining must approach a member of the group and request a petition. One must be at least 18 years old, be of good moral character and, in the case of the Patriot Lodge, be affiliated with Mason (alumni, student, faculty, or staff).
Some traditional activities for Freemason Lodges are holding blood drives and child ID programs with the help of local law enforcement, Shelton says, adding that the Patriot Lodge hopes to team up with other Greek fraternities on campus on these types of events. He points out that most of the college fraternities and many other similar community service organizations were either started by Freemasons or based on their model.
In addition, as part of the Alumni Weekend, the Patriot Lodge will have an open house at the Mason Inn on Friday, Sept. 30, from 2 to 4 p.m. Information will be provided, as well as an opportunity to see the lodge set up in full regalia.
The open house will be followed later in the evening with dinner and a speaker at 8 p.m. featuring Mario Livio, author of “Is God a Mathematician?” Dinner requires an RSVP.