A Glimpse Into One of the Rarest Vocations On Earth

by Therese Ivers, JCL, OCV

Part I.  The Friars
Vocation directors often find it quite challenging to find new members for their communities in this day and age.  When the pool of candidates for Friars is limited to a percentage of a small group in which the majority of members are already married or in the diocesan priesthood, it can get very difficult indeed to grow one’s Order.  The Order being described might well be labeled the “hardest religious Order in the world to join”.  The head of this religious Order is a man who, while not a cardinal, holds the rank or precedence at the Vatican of a cardinal.  He is also a sovereign prince.  He rules one of the smallest countries of the world, and at the same time, is a friar of an ancient religious Order spanning centuries of the Church’s history.  Members in this unique Order are divided into two major groups.  Certain full fledged members are recognized in the Catholic Church as religious friars.  The others, men, women, and chaplains, are members who make a promise of obedience but retain their proper canonical status (lay/consecrated/clergy).  Recognize the Order yet?

sisters in spain

Known for its international charities throughout the world, this religious Order is popularly known as the “Order of Malta”. It’s official title is the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta.  The Knights of Justice are religious knights.  That is, they are as religious as the Dominicans, Franciscans, and Benedictines.  They take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  Their general superior is known as the Grand Master, and the current one is Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing, who was originally from the UK. This is a video of his audience with the Pope upon being elected as the Prince and Grand Master of the Order:

What does the Order of Malta do?  According to its website, “The Order of St John of Jerusalem is one of the oldest institutions of Western and Christian civilisation. Present in Palestine in around 1050, it is a lay religious Order, traditionally of military, chivalrous, noble nature. Its 13,500 members include Professed Friars and others who have made the promise of obedience. The other Knights and Dames are lay members, devoted to the exercise of Christian virtue and charity. What distinguishes the Knights of Malta is their commitment to reaching their spiritual perfection within the Church and to expending their energies serving the poor and the sick.”

Here is a quick video on some of the activities of the Order of Malta:

The Professed Friars of the Order of Malta come from the lay ranks of the Order of Malta.  They are dedicated to the defense of the Faith and to assisting the sick and poor.  These professed friars are known as the Knights of Justice.  They make religious vows.  What is unique about them is that they – for the most part – continue to live and act IN the world but are no longer OF the world.  Concretely, this means that the friars are religious who continue to live as befits their station in life.  If the friar was a doctor before, he can continue being a doctor, living in his house, and maintaining his style of life.  Knights of Justice support themselves.  He is a man of God, and thus he filters his life through this all encompassing new lens of being a religious friar.  So, while he might continue to maintain his style of life, and is expected to have a secure income for this purpose, he will be living in a spirit of simplicity and is expected to be generous in giving his time, talent, and treasure to the Church.  The Knight of Justice professes obedience, and lives this out in accordance with the regulations of the Order.  He also professes chastity.

Although there are no Dames of Justice (women) in the Order, there is a female cloistered “branch” of the Order with two houses.

One is in Spain and their website is HERE.

The other convent is in Malta itself.  Their website – in English – is HERE.

Part II to come.

For a fascinating look at the Order, you may
want to get this book:
To read more about the solemn ceremonies of
the Order of Malta, this book is great:

(c) 2012 by Therese Ivers, JCL, OCV

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