These are the most frequently asked questions
about the Order of Malta.

1) What is the Order of Malta?
2) What do we mean by saying that it is a religious order?
3) Is it a military order?
4) Is it a chivalrous order?
5) What are the works of the Order?
6) How is the Order Governed?
7) What is the international organization of the Order?
8) How many members does the Order have?
9) Where have the main humanitarian missions been carried out in recent years?
10) How does one become a member of the Order?
11) How does one become a volunteer?
12) How are the Order's diplomatic activities conducted?
13) How are the Order's activities financed?
14) Where is the Order based?


1) What is the Order of Malta?

The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, better known as the Sovereign Order of Malta, has a two-fold nature.  It is one of the most ancient Catholic Religious Orders, founded in Jerusalem in around 1048.  At the same time it has always been recognized by nations as an independent subject of international law.

The Order's mission is summed up in its motto "Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum" - defense of the faith and assistance to the suffering.


2) What do we mean by saying that it is a religious order?

The Order was born as a monastic community inspired by St. John the Baptist.  This community, which was created by Amalfitan Merchants around 1050, ran a hospice providing care and shelter for pilgrims to the Holy Land.  In 1113 it received formal acknowledgement as a religious Order from Pope Paschal II.  Before the loss of the island of Malta (1798) most of the knights were religious, having taken the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Today, although some members of the Order are professed knights (having taken the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience), others have pronounced only the promise of obedience.  Most of the Order's 12,500 knights and dames are lay members.  Although they have not pronounced any religious vow, they are all devoted to the exercise of Christian virtue and charity, and committed to developing their spirituality within the Church and to expending their energies in serving the Faith and assisting others.


3) Is it a military order?

The Order had to become military to protect the pilgrims and the sick and to defend the Christian territories in the Holy Land.  The Order ceased to carry out this function when it lost Malta (1798).  Today the Order preserves only the military traditions.


4) Is it a chivalrous order?

Traditionally, Knights of the Order belonged to chivalrous and noble families of the Christian world.  The Order is still a chivalrous order today as it has maintained the values of chivalry and nobility.  Although the majority of its members no longer come from ancient noble families, they are admitted because of manifest merits towards the Church and the Order.


5) What are the works of the Order?

The Order of Malta works in the field of medical and social care and humanitarian aid in over 120 countries, supported by the diplomatic relations it currently has with 104 nations.  The Order also runs hospitals, medical centers, day hospitals, nursing homes for the elderly and the disabled, and special centers for the terminally ill.  In many countries the Order's volunteer corps provide first aid, social services, emergency and humanitarian interventions.

Malteser International, the Order’s worldwide relief service, works in the front line in natural disasters and armed conflicts.  For over 50 years, the Order has been dealing extensively with the treatment of leprosy - a disease that unfortunately still plagues various areas of the world - through its CIOMAL foundation (International Committee of the Order of Malta).  CIOMAL is also involved in the fight against disease or handicaps and has launched programs to assist mothers and children in the third world who suffer from AIDS.

The Order is also engaged in the cultural field.

Consistent with the Order's centuries-old tradition of medical, social and humanitarian care, the Western Association operates two Order of Malta Free Clinics, one in Los Angeles, the other in Oakland, which provide free medical care and referrals to people in need, and several parish nurse programs that provide assstance to the homebound.  The Western Association also provides financial and hands-on assistance for roughly 60 programs throughout the western U.S.  For more information about these, including volunteer opportunities, please read the Medical and Humanitarian Activities page. 

6) How is the Order Governed?

The life and activities of the Order are governed by its Constitutional Charter and its Code.

The head of the Order is the 79th Prince and Grand Master Fra' Matthew Festing, elected for life by the Council Complete of State.  The Grand Master is assisted by the Sovereign Council, in turn elected by the Chapter General (the assembly of the representatives of the Order's members, that meets once every 5 years).  The new Government Council is the advisory body of the Sovereign Council and provides advice on political, religious, medical and international issues.  A Board of Auditors performs auditing functions.  Both councils are also elected by the Chapter General.

Juridical issues are submitted to the Magistral Courts, appointed by the Grand Master and the Sovereign Council.

The head of the Western Association is its President, Richard Grant. He is assisted by the Western Association's Chancellor and Hospitaller, Michael Grace, its Treasurer, John Madden, its Secretary, Georgeann Fannon, an Executive Vice President for the North, Katherine Glaessner, an Executive Vice President for the South, Christopher A. Alders, the Western Association Board of Directors, and several committees, each with specific administrative responsibilities.

In addition, the Western Association is divided into eight Locations (in Los Angeles, Oakland, Orange, Phoenix, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle) and four Areas (in Monterey for the Diocese of Monterey, San Bernardino for the Diocese of San Bernardino, Tucson for the Diocese of Tucson, and Honoluli for the Diocese of Honolulu). Each Location has a President, one or two Vice Presidents, a Hospitaller, a Treasurer, and several other officers. Each Area generally has a Convenor, Vice President and Treasurer.


7) What is the international organization of the Order?

Today, the Order is present with its Institutions in 54 countries.  It has 6 Grand Priories, 6 Subpriories and 47 National Associations.  In the United States, the Order has three National Associations, the American Association, based in New York, New York, the Federal Association, based in Washington, D.C., and the Western Association, based in San Francisco, California.   


8) How many members does the Order have?

The Order is made up of more than 12,500 Knights and Dames.  In the Western Association, the Order has roughly 750 Knights and Dames.


9) Where have the main humanitarian missions been carried out in recent years?

The most significant aid projects have been carried out in Kosovo and Macedonia, India, in Southeast Asia after the Tsunami, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mexico, Congo, Sudan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Georgia. 


10) How does one become a member of the Order?

One can become a member of the Order of Malta only by invitation.  Only persons of undoubted Catholic morality and practice, who have acquired merit with regard to the Sovereign Order, its institutions and its works are eligible for admission.  The relevant Grand Priory or National Association is responsible for proposals of admission.  The Western Association has a Membership Committee, which can be contacted through the Association's administrative office in San Francisco.  


11) How does one become a volunteer?

Volunteers are most welcome.  The Calendar page on this website identifies the dates and times of several volunteer opportunities in the western United States by region.  The Medical and Humanitarian Activities pages provide additional information.  You can also contact the Western Association office at 415.788.4550.  Please see the section "The Order in the World" on this website for a list of Order organizations in other parts of the world.


12) How are the Order's diplomatic activities conducted?

In accordance with public international law, the Order maintains bilateral diplomatic relations with 104 countries.  It also has permanent observer status at the United Nations and the Commission of the European Union as well as in 17 International Organisations such as the FAO and UNESCO.  Diplomatic relations allow the Order to intervene with timely and effective action in the event of natural disaster or armed conflict.  Due to its neutral, impartial and non-political nature, the Order can act as a mediator whenever a State requests its intervention to settle a dispute.


13) How are the Order's activities financed?

Activities in the Western Association are funded essentially by its members.  In other parts of the world, sources of funding for the Order's activities vary.  Resources for the Order's hospitals and medical activities outside of the U.S. usually come from agreements stipulated with the national health and social systems.  The same is true for emergency services provided by the Order in other parts of the world.  In developing countries, activities are often backed by grants from governments, the European Commission or other international organizations.  Funds also come from donations or benefactors' contributions to Order's activities.


14) Where is the Order based?

After the loss of the island of Malta, the Order settled permanently in Rome, Italy, in 1834.  Its two headquarters, granted with extraterritoriality, are the Magistral Palace on Via Condotti 68 - where the Grand Master resides and the Order's Government Bodies meet - and the Magistral Villa on the Aventine.  The latter hosts the Grand Priory of Rome, the Embassy of the Order to the Holy See and the Embassy of the Order to the Italian Republic.

The Western Association of the Order has its administrative office at 465 California Street, Suite 818, San Francisco, CA.