What the papers say: 'Today's knights, dames with noble cause' article in the Catholic Voice
Article in the October edition of the Catholic Voice. By Fiona van der Plaat.
When Canberra doctor Jennifer Dunlop steps out late on a Friday night as a Dame of the Order of Malta, she is more likely to be wearing a crimson high-visibility vest than her flowing formal robes.Over winter in particular, you might have found a vest-wearing Dr Dunlop and any of the dozen local knights and dames of what is properly known as the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta teamed up with the Vinnies night patrol, handing out warm coats to those in need.
At other times, they can be found working with migrants, helping out in hospices and providing care to retired priests.
On a wider scale, the 900-year-old order provides humanitarian aid all over the world.
“We are encouraged to be vitally involved,” Dr Dunlop said, pointing out that the knights of old used to return from a day in the battlefield and then offer alms to the poor and sick.
Her own 20-year involvement in the order, thanks to its acceptance of “nobility of character in lieu of nobility of blood”, has been a case of putting her Christian vocation to work “in a way that would help”.
The order is one of the two non-pontifical religious orders recognised by the Catholic Church.
The other, also with a presence in the Archdiocese, is the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, which supports the diminishing Christian community of the Holy Land and is the main source of income for the Latin Patriarchate.
Hawker couple John and Geraldine Pratt, who have recently been promoted to Knight Commander and Dame Commander respectively, have both been members of this order for five years.
“We’re the ones who wear the funny hats,” joked Mr Pratt, referring to the berets the knights of his order wear, along with white capes bearing the Cross of Jerusalem.
Mr Pratt’s regalia also sports the Pilgrim Shell, which was pinned on by the Latin Patriarch to mark his pilgrimage to the Holy Land a few years ago.
He says the knights’ and dames’ presence at Mass, in full regalia, reinforces the liturgy and adds to the sense of occasion.
“We pop up a few times a year,” said Mr Pratt, a former Air Force flight navigator. “When we are all gathered there on the steps of the cathedral, people come up to find out who we are.”
While some of the Order of Malta knights and dames can be seen in their regalia at their “first Friday” Mass each month, the half-dozen Holy Sepulchre members around Canberra have had fewer chances to dress up while the Archdiocese has been without an archbishop.
They have a big occasion looming in Sydney, however, when the Grand Master of the order, America’s Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, will attend the investiture of new members at St Mary’s Cathedral.
Meanwhile, the two orders occasionally join forces for services in Canberra, creating a colourful spectacle that, for both, is the ceremonial tip of a serious spiritual and practical commitment.