They may not brandish lances, axes or don chain mail, but they are indeed, knights. Last September, 46-year-old Valentin, and 40-year-old Vincent Blatz were invested as knights into the Equestrian Order of the HolySepulchre of Jerusalem.
The orders were signed by Cardinal John Patrick Cardinal Foley, Cardinal Grand Master of the Order at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Detroit. Archbishop of Detroit Allen H. Vigneron knighted the brothers on Sept. 27, 2009.
It was a dream come true for the two men whose daily lives resonate the Catholic faith. As children, both remember praying a daily rosary and attending Sunday Mass with their sister Virginia, and parents, Paul and Sonja.
“Val and I grew up as acolytes at Mass and all of us were readers and eucharistic ministers at various times,” said Vincent. “Our mother was a convert from the Lutheran Church and she received her confirmation with Val.”
The brothers graduated from Oconomowoc High School, and went on to college. Valentin earned a bachelor’s of arts degree from Marquette University and a master’s of arts in humanistic psychology from West Georgia College. Vincent attended Carroll College and later Waukesha County Technical College.
Together they moved to Atlanta and returned home to Oconomowoc in 1995. Looking for a parish to call home, they attended a variety of Catholic churches but, despite the lengthy commute, the Basilica of St. Josaphat was the place that captured their hearts.
“The Franciscan Friars are great,” said Vincent. “We have known several since we have been there including Bishop (William P.) Callahan and the current rector, Fr. Jim Jankowski and the assistant Fr. Jim Ciamentaro and they all have been wonderful.”
As with most visitors to St. Josaphat, the overall beauty of the gothic style is enchanting to the Blatz brothers, but it was the power of the Holy Spirit that kept them coming back.
“When we are at Mass, we really feel touched by the Holy Spirit,” said Vincent. “We have never really felt that at any other parish we attended and we felt that was important for choosing a parish to call home as well as the loving nature of the Franciscan Friars. The drive can be challenging at times, but it is worth it to us.”
More than 150 Knights, Dames and guests attended the knighting ritual preceded by a Mass. During the ceremony, Valentin and Vincent knelt before Archbishop Vigneron while he placed a sword upon their shoulders.
“Then, members of the order dressed us in our regalia,” said Valentin. “It was a powerful experience. What an honor it was to be knighted by an archbishop.”
In 1099, crusaders known as the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre organized to protect the church and make the Holy Land safe for Christians. After the Roman Catholic Church was driven out of the Holy Land in 1292, the order was reformed.
Today, more than 18,000 Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulchre are devoted primarily to doing charitable work in the Holy Land for Christians and those of other faiths.
The mission statement of the order is “The special mandate given by the Holy Father to the Order is to strengthen the Christian life of its members and to support the Christian presence in the Holy Land by way of providing material aid by offering prayers for peace through the Holy intercession of Our Blessed Lady of Palestine.”
While neither Vincent nor Valentin ride horses as part of their responsibilities in the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, horses were originally involved. The equestrian association was derived from the Knights who all rode horses in the Roman era and throughout the Middle Ages.
“In Roman times, it was the second highest social class that had the privilege to ride horses,” they explained. “The Order of the Holy Sepulchre originally had the title of ‘Sacred Military Order’ until it changed from being a papal order and became ‘order under papal protection’ in1928. Then, in 1931, the name was changed and the title of ‘Equestrian’ was assigned.”
After a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2007, the brothers, who are both single, were drawn to the order and the call to preserve the Holy Land sites for future pilgrims.
“The pilgrimage so inspired me that I wanted to make sure in a small way that all Christians would have a chance to experience what I had,” said Valentin, adding, “I have always been intrigued by the knighthood orders. I also find a lot of great fellowship and fraternity among the men and women of the order. The fact that this is a ‘papal order’ also interested me – and I feel like I am part of the ‘pope’s guard.’ Of course, these days, we knights don’t fight with swords anymore, well, unless you consider truth, faith and charity to be symbolic swords. It is also a great honor to be recognized for one’s service in the church and for the church as the people of God.”
Sharing their faith, time and resources are important aspects of their Catholic faith, and Vincent and Valentin have served in many leadership roles in the Knights of Columbus, as well as volunteering in their parish.
“We take our mission seriously: to protect and assist Christians in the Holy Land, Christians who visit the Holy Land, and be an example of prayer life and foster a strong relationship to Our Lord,” said Vincent. “We also support financially the Holy Land sites through our annual honorarium. It also brings us in contact with like-minded Catholics and allows us to share our experiences and knowledge.”
The many similarities between the close-knit brothers are uncanny. In addition to their faith, values, parish, and religious orders, both are employed as systems engineers. Valentin specializes in Citrix servers and Microsoft Windows servers, and is on contract in Madison with the Department of Health Services. Vincent specializes in area networks and Microsoft Windows servers, and is in between contracts.
“We both enjoy traveling and, in addition to the Holy Land trip, we have taken numerous other trips all over the United States,” said Vincent. “We both enjoy working with computers and like collector and antique cars.”
Most important for Vincent and Valentin is growing closer to Christ, and through their membership in the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre Order, they believe their faith as Catholics is much stronger.
“We members of the Holy Sepulchre take an oath to self-discipline and a strong prayer life,” said Valentin. “We believe this oath and the commitment to it, give us special graces to set an example of living a virtuous life and having a solid relationship to Jesus through prayer. The charity and self-sacrifice make us stronger in our faith.”