More to Freemasonry than meets the eye

The Warren Reporter, New Jersey/February 4, 2009

Mansfield - Warren County residents Michael Iannitelli, James Taylor and Dwayne Dolly II share a common connection with such famous figures as Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Franklin D. Roosevelt; political activist Benjamin Franklin; Astronaut Neal Armstrong; jazz musician Louis Armstrong; actors John Wayne and Bob Hope; magician Harry Houdini; and businessman James C. Penny, founder of J.C. Penny department stores. Along with millions of other renowned and just plain regular guys in centuries past, they proudly call themselves Masons.

Throughout history people have called Freemasonry the most "exclusive fraternal order" and associated it with ancient traditions, doctrines, ceremonies, symbolism, brotherhood, and mystery. No longer shrouded in the rigid secrecy of the past, members of the Mansfield Masonic Lodge 36 are welcoming people to learn more about the good works of the organization.

Although the "Regius Poem," dated in 1390, makes mention of a chartered Masonic Lodge operating in 900 A.D., the first recognized Grand Lodge was chartered in 1717 in England with other Constituent Symbolic Lodges (local Blue Lodges) following throughout the world. The North American Lodge was chartered in Boston in 1733 and the first in New Jersey, St. Johns #1, was chartered on July 3, 1787. It is speculated the organization was started by stone masons.

Freemasons are known as the largest single charitable organization. They head Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children and Burn Institutes and support state and national foundations for research, teaching and treatment or rehabilitation services for children with learning and health issues. They also help brother Masons and their families; sponsor scholarships and other community programs.

Mansfield Masonic Lodge, located on Route 31, was chartered in 1814. Iannitelli, who lives in Lopatcong, holds the esteemed position of Worshipful Master, the highest office within the lodge. He became a Mason over 14 years ago.

"It's not what Freemason does for you; it's what you can do as a Freemason," Iannitelli said of the fraternity. "It gives you the opportunity to become a charitable person." The Mansfield lodge currently has about 200 members. A time honored process must be followed to gain membership to any Masonic Lodge. Iannitelli explains, men interested in joining must first "ask" a member to recommend them. They do not solicit members. After filing a petition, an investigative committee interviews the candidate to see if they are "of good character" and votes. If accepted, the candidate must then successfully complete a series of three "symbolic degrees" and one "proficiency" to advance, which involves the study of "morals and lessons" to gain "sufficient knowledge" of the organization.

Iannitelli said the process helps Masons distinguish each other and is not for purposes of secrecy.

"We are not a secret organization. If we were a secret, you wouldn't see our building out in the open as we are," Iannitelli said. "The only secrets there are in Masonry is the ability to prove you are a member. As a member of the fraternity I can probably go anywhere in the world and engage in Masonic communication and attend meetings. I would be able to prove I am a Mason."

Although Masons only accept male members, other spin off groups that welcome women are the Order of the Eastern Star, Order of Amaranth and Order of the Golden Chain. Groups for young people are the Order of Rainbow for girls and Order of De Molay for boys.

Taylor, who resides in Buttzville, joined the Mansfield Masons in 1991 after seeking recommendation from a friend. He serves as secretary this year and has held numerous officer positions within the organization.

"When I was growing up, all the people I admired were Masons. Everyone I met who I wanted to be like, were Masons," Taylor admits. "I thought it would be a good influence on me and it has been. I've been able to associate with people who have the same thoughts and beliefs I had."

Taylor said as a Mason he strives to act in ways that reflect the "ritual" and what is expected of members - be a good person, help community members, visit people in the hospital, be quiet and peaceful in society, support the Lodge, be a good citizen, and support the government.

"If you hang around with people that are true to their government and just to their country and always try to help people, then you will be a better person," Taylor said. "That is one of the precepts to Masonry - taking good men and making them better."

Although Dolly, who lives in Washington Borough, joined the Mansfield Lodge two short years ago, he moved up the ranks quickly and is serving as senior deacon this year. "The most important value of the organization is equality. It doesn't matter who you are or what you do, once you're in the lodge everyone is equal, regardless," Dolly said. "For every one of those famous guys who have been a member, there are thousands and thousands of regular guys who are members."

Mansfield Masonic Lodge holds regular business meetings twice monthly. They also host a spaghetti dinner for the Boy Scouts each April to fund their camp, annual blood drives, and AARP Defensive Driving courses. Their goal is to be more active in the community and develop other fundraisers to contribute to worthy causes and projects.

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