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Knights of Malta elect first non-European grand master


Ordre de Malte

Fra’ John T. Dunlap;

J-P Mauro - published on 05/08/23

Recent changes to the order's constitution have made it so the grand master need not be an aristocrat, and now the lifelong term has been reduced to just 10 years.

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta, also known as the Knights of Malta, has elected a new grand master, and it’s the first time in the order’s history that their leader is not from Europe or the aristocracy. On May 5, the order announced that John Dunlap, a Canadian, will lead the Knights for a period of 10 years.

Dunlap, 66, was reportedly elected to the position by an absolute majority of 99 votes from the Council Complete of State, with councilors hailing from 18 different countries. Dunlap already has quite a lot of experience leading the Knights of Malta, as he was named interim head of the order by Pope Francis during a period of governance crisis in 2016-2017.

Since then, the order has adopted many reforms to its constitution, which has altered several aspects of the grand master’s position. One change is that the order’s leader no longer needs to have a noble lineage, which is how a Canadian lawyer has been elected. In another change, the grand master will now serve for only one decade, rather than being appointed to the position for life. 

The newly minted Grand Master John Dunlap informed Pope Francis of his election in a hand-written letter and was sworn in before Cardinal Silvano Maria Tomasi, the Pope’s Special Delegate, on May 5. The ceremony took place in the Church of St. Mary on the Aventine.

In his first address to the Council Complete of State as the official grand master, Dunlap said:

“I accept this office with a profound spirit of service and with the solemn promise of a constant commitment. I thank each of you for having placed your trust in me and for having shown your great love for, and dedication to, our Order by your presence here today. There are many challenges that await us, but united in the awareness of our mission of Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum (witnessing the faith, helping the poor), I am sure that we will be able to face them together united and cohesively, in the same spirit that guided Blessed Gerard, founder of the Order over 900 years ago.”

The Knights of Malta is an ancient chivalric order that was founded in 1530, but they trace their history back to the establishment of the Knights Hospitaller in 1099. In modern times, the group focuses on lending humanitarian aid to victims of natural disaster, epidemics, and war. It is estimated that the Knights of Malta employ about 52,000 doctors, nurses, auxiliaries and paramedics assisted by 95,000 volunteers in more than 120 countries.

Visit the Knights of Malta’s official website to learn more. 

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