In the 11th century the Knights of Malta, known then as ‘Knights Hospitaller’, established a hospital in Jerusalem to care for pilgrims of any religious faith or race. The work of the Hospitallers grew in fame and in 1113, Pope Paschal II officially recognised the monastic community as a lay religious order. The Pope identified the Hospitaller Gerard as the Order’s founder, together with an established group of monks – the ‘Professed’ – who are still at the heart of the Order of Malta today.
Throughout the centuries the number of members coming from all over Europe continued to grow and contributed to the strengthening of the Order during its presence in Rhodes (1310-1522) and in Malta (1530-1798). While members of the Order of Malta in former times traditionally belonged to the aristocracy, the emphasis today is on a nobility of spirit and conduct.
The 13,500 Knights and Dames of the Order of Malta remain true to its inspiring principles, summarized in the motto “Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum” – nurturing, witnessing and protecting the faith and serving the poor and the sick – which become reality through humanitarian projects and social assistance in 120 countries. Members must demonstrate dedication to these principles and are admitted country-by-country through Priories and national Associations including the American Association.
The global website offers a more detailed history of the Order of Malta.
Over twenty Knights of the Order of Malta served in the American Revolutionary War, fourteen of whom became members of the Society of the Cincinnati. Many served with the French Navy assisting the Americans, including Admiral de Grasse, who commanded the fleet which kept the British from relieving General Cornwallis at Yorktown, bringing the war to an end.
In 1783, the Grand Master wrote a letter to Benjamin Franklin to communicate his acceptance of the “Libertas Americana” medal, awarded to him for the Order of Malta’s contribution to American independence. Click here to learn more about this letter.
In 1794 the Order of Malta discussed with the American envoy to France, James Monroe, the possibility of obtaining territory in the area of the new United States. In return, the Order would protect American shipping in the Mediterranean from the Barbary pirates. Monroe (later President, and sponsor of what became known as the “Monroe Doctrine”) was not disposed favorably to the idea, but passed the request on to President Washington. The Order was informed that it could settle in the American area but that sovereignty could not be ceded.
The American Association, approved at the request of Pope Pius XI, was installed on April 28, 1927, with headquarters in New York City. It became the tenth National Association of the Order, and the first in the Western Hemisphere. From its small beginnings it has grown to approximately 1,800 Knights and Dames.
There are 30 designated American Association Areas across the country with appointed Area Chairpersons. Knights and Dames assist in a broad number of charitable projects financially and with their hands-on volunteer efforts, totaling over 40,000 hours of service a year.
Emblematic of our commitment to the Order’s motto, The Association participates in the Annual Order of Malta International Pilgrimage to Lourdes with over 350 pilgrims traveling by chartered plane to support 50-60 sick Malades and their caregivers as our guests.
The Association holds its annual Investiture of new members each fall at our home church, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City celebrated by our Principal Chaplain, Archbishop of New York, presently His Eminence, Timothy Cardinal Dolan.
The Order of Malta has grown to three Associations in the United States; the Western Association founded in 1952 with headquarters in San Francisco, CA and the Federal Association founded in 1973 with its headquarters in Washington, D.C.
American Association, U.S.A
1011 First Avenue, Room 1350
New York, NY 10022