Founded in the 11th century in Jerusalem, the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta is a lay religious order of the Catholic Church and a sovereign subject of international law. Faithful to its centuries old mission of service to the vulnerable and the sick, it runs medical, social and humanitarian projects in 120 countries.
The Sovereign Order of Malta’s mission is summed up in its motto “Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum”: nurturing, witnessing and protecting the faith (tuitio fidei) and serving the poor and the sick (obsequium pauperum).
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 13,500 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.
While members of the Order of Malta in former times traditionally belonged to the European aristocracy, the emphasis today is on a nobility of spirit and conduct. Nobility in this deeper sense means: carrying more responsibility or duties than others.
The Order of Malta’s commitment is realised in social responsibility, loyalty to the Catholic faith and Church, readiness to uphold Christian tradition and in reaching out to people in need.
Today, the majority of its members no longer come from ancient noble families, and are admitted because of manifest merits acquired thanks to the commitment in the Order of Malta’s works.
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 108 nations. The Order also runs hospitals, medical centres, day hospitals, nursing homes for the elderly and the disabled, and special centres 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 agency, works in the front line in natural disasters and armed conflicts.
The Order is also engaged in the cultural field.
The Australian Association of the Order is mostly involved in Palliative Care, support for the homeless, a Drug and Alcohol Detoxification Unit, disaster relief as well as medical and first aid services in Timor Leste and Papua New Guinea. Please see Our Projects for more details.
The government of the Sovereign Order of Malta has a similar structure to state governments. However, it also includes specific features associated with its nature as a religious lay order, as well as particular terminology evolved from nine centuries of history.
The head of the Order is the Grand Master who governs both as sovereign and as religious superior, and is assisted by the Sovereign Council, which he chairs. The current Grand Master is Fra’ Giacomo Dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto, who was elected for life in 2018.
The Sovereign Council is elected for a term of five years and is made up of the Grand Commander (the religious superior of the Order’s religious members);
Grand Chancellor (Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister of the Interior); Grand Hospitaller (Minister for Health and International Cooperation); Receiver of the Common Treasure (Minister for Finance), together with six other members, all elected by the Chapter General.
The life and activities of the Order of Malta are governed by its Constitution and its Code.
The Order of Malta operates through 12 Priories, 48 national Associations, 1 worldwide relief agency and 33 Volunteer Corps, as well as numerous hospitals, medical centres, day-care centres and specialist foundations.
The Order of Malta is made up of more than 13,500 Knights, Dames and Chaplains. Next to them stand 80,000 permanent volunteers and 42,000 employees, most of them medical personnel.
The Order of Malta runs medical, social and humanitarian projects in 120 countries. It is especially involved in helping victims of armed conflicts and natural disasters by providing medical assistance, caring for refugees, and distributing medicines and basic equipment for survival.
It has social assistance programmes to help the homeless in developed and developing countries, cares for people often pushed to society’s fringes including the disabled and elderly, provides first-aid and organises medical and social campaigns.
Members of the Order of Malta are admitted by invitation. They are made up of people with undoubted Catholic morality and practice, who have acquired merit over the years with regard to the Order of Malta, its institutions and its humanitarian works. The relevant Grand Priory or National Association is responsible for proposals of admission.
Volunteers are most welcome, for national and international projects. Please see Volunteer for further details on how to become involved in the works of the Australian Association.
The Sovereign Order of Malta is a subject of international law that exercises functions of sovereignty, recognised as such by more than 100 States and by the European Union, with which it exchanges ambassadors.
It has permanent observer missions at the United Nations (New York, Geneva, Paris, Vienna, Rome, Nairobi, Bangkok), and with the principal international organisations. Diplomatic relations allow the Order of Malta to intervene with timely and effective humanitarian aid in the event of natural disaster or armed conflict.
Due to its status as a neutral, apolitical and independent institution, and its humanitarian role, the Sovereign Order of Malta is able to intervene on an international level as a mediator in disputes.
Funds come from members, private and public donations and vary according to different countries, types of projects and situations. Resources for hospitals and medical activities usually come from agreements stipulated with the national health and social systems. The same is true for emergency services.
In developing countries, activities are often backed by grants from governments, the European Commission, the UN specialized agencies or other international organisations. Funds also come from donations or benefactors’ contributions to the Order of Malta’s activities.
The Australian Association, formed in 1974, currently has in excess of 300 members and aspirant members across every State and Territory of Australia. We also have ongoing and strong links with the Order’s National Associations throughout the Asia Pacific Region including in Singapore and the Philippines and with members of the Order in New Zealand, Hong Kong SAR, Thailand and Korea. The Order of Malta is committed to serving Our Lords the Poor and Sick worldwide and has done so for over 900 years. This website shares with you the history, mission and current activities of the Order of Malta in Australia, and provides links to the work of the Order world-wide.