In 1099, during the siege of Jerusalem in the First Crusade, a lay religious fraternity led by Fra’ Gerard (Fra’ was short for Frater, Latin for “brother”), began ministering to the sick and wounded at a hospice adjacent to the Church of St John the Baptist. After the victory, Fra’ Gerard and his companions continued to help the sick and wounded of all faiths, the pilgrims to the Holy Land and all in need. Seeing the Christ centered work the fraternity was doing, a number of Crusader knights joined Fra’ Gerard and his companions creating what became the first “order of chivalry”.
In 1113, by Papal Bull, Pope Paschal II approved the institution of the fraternity of “The Hospital of Saint John” recognizing it as a religious order of the Church and placing it under direct protection of the Holy See. As such, it is “exempt” from other ecclesiastical or lay authority, is a sovereign entity (having diplomatic relationships with 80 countries and a permanent seat at the United Nations) and is the first religious order of the Catholic Church with a centralized administration and government. It is the fourth oldest religious order in the Catholic Church.
Today, nearly 13,000 Knights and Dames around the world, as lay religious, continue to live out the motto Fra’ Gerard and his companions created more than 900 years ago, “Obsequium pauperum et tuition fidei” – Service to the poor and defense of the faith.
In Minnesota, Knights and Dames, along with the Auxiliary and friends of The Order, carry out their lifelong commitment made during Solemn Investiture Ceremonies at the Cathedral of St Patrick in New York City, by serving meals at the Dorothy Day Center, staffing over flow shelter space for homeless men, marching on behalf of the unborn and the elderly, coaching the unemployed and the under employed, and serving our parishes as Eucharistic Ministers, Lectors, Catechists and in a multitude of other capacities. Service is central to who we are.
Officially the Sovereign Military Hospitaler Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, we are more commonly known as The Order of Malta. Information on world wide efforts is available at http://www.orderofmalta.int. Information on The American Association is available at http://www.maltausa.org.
Steve Hawkins, KM
Steve Hawkins is a member of St John Neumann Catholic Church in Eagan, MN and a member of the Order of Malta, a lay religious order of the Catholic Church which for more than 900 years has lived out its call to “Serve the poor and defend the faith”. He and his wife Judi reside in Burnsville, MN.