Tuesday, March 4, 2008

ACACIA, The Masonic College Fraternity

by James N. Katsaounis

The Acacia Fraternity is not the oldest, or largest, or most famous college fraternity, but its origin is distinctive and its record distinguished. With nearly 46,000 initiates since its founding in 1904 and with chapters spread across the United States and Canada, the Acacia Fraternity stands out among its peer collegiate Greek-letter fraternities as being the only college fraternity that uses a Greek word as its name in place of a series of Greek letters and was founded solely by members of the Masonic Fraternity.

acacia2The Acacia Fraternity began with a simple meeting between two old friends during the fall of 1903 in the University of Michigan library when these two Masonic brothers, William J. Marshall and Charles A. Sink, began lamenting the death of the University's Masonic Club of which they were members. The Masonic Club established in 1894 had an unfortunate demise because many of its members were not dedicated enough to ensure its survival, so Marshall and 13 other members of the former Masonic Club decided to organize on a fraternity basis. Membership would be restricted to those who had already taken the Masonic obligations, and the organization was to be built upon the ideals and principles inculcated by vows already taken in the lodge room. According to Marshall, the Acacia Fraternity would "take only those who are interested and will work rather than keep it open to all Masons of the university." Thus, the Acacia Fraternity was born.

After completing a constitution, by-laws, ritual and organization for the Acacia Fraternity, on May 12, 1904, the articles of incorporation were filed and the first official meeting of the Acacia Fraternity was held on May 14 by its 14 founding fathers.

News of the newly formed Acacia Fraternity spread quickly across America through Masonic publications, and within six months two additional chapters of Acacia were chartered at Stanford and Kansas; in 1905, Nebraska and California; and then in 1906, seven more chapters were born.

Since Acacia's founding in 1904, changes in the student enrollment of American colleges and universities have resulted in changes in membership requirements from time to time. The average age of college men began to drop below the Masonic age requirement of 21 years (with the lewis or Mason's son notwithstanding.)

In 1931, 37 chapters had been chartered and the matter of membership requirements changed by adopting amendments making Masons and sons of Masons eligible to membership. Two years latter in 1933, membership requirements were changed again to admit to membership Masons, sons and brothers of Masons, and any person recommended by two Masons. Eventually Masonic requirements were removed.

Today, members of Acacia are no longer required to belong to the Masonic Fraternity; however, since it was founded by Masons, it still enjoys informal and spiritual ties to Freemasonry. Many Acacians eventually join the Masonic Fraternity, and Masonic lodges and Masons have been of invaluable service to Acacia chapters over the century.

During Acacia's Centennial Conclave, held in Indianapolis, IN on July 21-24, the future of this great fraternity was decided by its delegates when an aggressive strategic plan was adopted to ensure the future of the Acacia Fraternity for another hundred years. Acacia's Masonic heritage was emphasized in the strategic plan, and chapters are being ever more so encouraged to reach out to their local Masonic lodges to form relationships that will be mutually beneficial.

Pennsylvania chapters began to re-strengthen their relationship under the leadership of R.W. Past Grand Master James L. Ernette in 1997 when he reached out to Acacia by visiting its chapters and opening the doors of Pennsylvania Masonic lodges for Acacia chapters to conduct its three degrees of initiation. In 1999, Pennsylvania lodges voted at a Grand Lodge Communication to endow grants for Acacians native to Pennsylvania with a gift of $250,000 held in the Grand Lodge consolidated fund. Since 1999, the Grand Lodge has provided 125 grants for a total of more than $60,000 to Pennsylvania Acacians.

The evolution and development of Acacia over the last 100 years has resulted in a fraternity considerably different from what the founders originally envisioned. But, each major change has been an adaptation to the needs of new conditions, and each has permitted the fraternity to grow in reputation, influence and strength. The future will undoubtedly require further change, but so long as Acacia continues to stand for high scholarship, brotherhood and human service, the intentions of the founders will be well realized.

It would be appropriate to end with the words of founder William Marshall who stated in 1907, "The biological law of 'survival of the fittest' holds good with social organizations as well as with other institutions and organizations. Only those survive the test of the ages, which prove their usefulness to the human race. No organization, religious or state, social or industrial, with other principles than those which promote the best interest of all concerned can ever hope to continue its existence through the centuries to come."

The Acacia Fraternity ­ Celebrating A Century Of Brotherhood! To learn more about the Acacia Fraternity, visit www.acacia.org.

James N. Katsaounis
joined the Ohio Chapter of Acacia Fraternity in 1994 at Ohio University, Athens. He is an Ohio and Pennsylvania Mason; former Director of Public Relations for the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania; Past Master of Melita Lodge No. 295, Philadelphia; Most Wise Master, Kilwinning Chapter of Rose Croix, Philadelphia; Sovereign Master, Poor Richards Council, AMD, Philadelphia, and a member of numerous Masonic organizations. He is currently employed with Drexel University as Director of Communications for the Office of the Senior Vice President.

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