The Order of Malta

An International Organisation

The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, commonly called The Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM), or simply the Order of Malta, is the oldest Catholic lay order in the world. Over the past 900 years, since its foundation in Jerusalem in 1099, it has provided constant service in the alleviation of suffering among the poor and the sick throughout the world.

In 1113, Pope Paschal II promulgated the Solemn Privilege that officially recognised the monastic community of the Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem. This document, identified with the initial words of its text, Pie Postulatio Voluntatis, set the legal base for the sovereignty and independence of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, known today as the Sovereign Order of Malta, and was a fundamental element for its development. Founded in the Holy Land over half a century earlier as a monastic community looking after poor pilgrims in a hospital in Jerusalem, it is thanks to this solemn privilege that the Hospitallers of St. John became a lay and religious order. Today’s members of the Order of Malta bear witness to Christ’s words: “Love thy neighbour” in the Order’s motto: Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum – Bear witness to the Faith and serve the poor and sick.


Most members are married and live and work ordinarily, but a small number proceed, of their own free will, to taking full religious vows but they are self-supporting.Though the Order’s membership is Roman Catholic, it is not a Papal Order. It recognizes the Lutheran Johanniterorden and the Anglican/Episcopalian Venerable Order of St. John as sharing the same charism, and it collaborates closely with them in humanitarian charitable activities. Also, many non-Catholics are part of the Order of Malta’s Ambulance Corps and they actively assist the Order in its various works.


Over the centuries, the Order’s long-term headquarters was located in Jerusalem (1099-1291), Cyprus (1291-1310), Rhodes (13-10-1523), and Malta (1530-1798). Since 1834 it has been located in Rome. The Palazzo Malta and its other properties in Rome is an independent enclave, and the Order is recognised in international law as a sovereign entity. It maintains diplomatic relations with 112 states, and it has permanent observer status in the United Nations. This recognition supports and protects the Order in maintaining its humanitarian missions throughout the world, particularly in areas of extreme conflict. The Order is not politically aligned and it does not engage in secular or ecclesiastical politics. Its humanitarian work does not discriminate or differentiate, nor does it proselytise. Membership of the order is compatible with one’s respective citizenship.

Our Charitable Activities in Ireland

In 1938, the Irish Association’s Chancellor, the Marquis Patrick MacSwiney of Marshanaglass, and Dr. Charles Conor O’Malley, Professor of Opthalmology and Otology in University College Galway, commenced the Ambulance Corps’ services as the Association’s primary charitable activity. The first unit was established at Galway. Within ten years, ambulance corps’ units were established in other Irish cities and towns, and they are still actively engaged in providing emergency medical assistance to local and rural communities. This service provided the blueprint and example for the development of similar ambulance and mobile emergency medical services elsewhere such as Malteser Hilferdienst in Germany and Malteser International.

Subsequently, the Irish Association has expanded the range of its activities in the provision of care and support services for the disabled, elderly, marginalised and vulnerable, and in providing support for maternity and medical services in the Order’s hospital Bethlehem.


Given the Order’s fascinating heritage, it is unsurprising that those who feel attracted to it identify within themselves a combination of cultural and historical appreciation with a desire to help alleviate suffering, and thereby develop a more fulfilling spiritual life. Such a person may take deep satisfaction in knowing that s/he is part of a centuries-old continuity of pragmatic and impartial compassion and charity, and that s/he has a higher purpose in carrying that noble torch forward and pass it on to future generations. That high spiritual ideal which expresses itself pragmatically in humanitarian service and thereby fulfills and ennobles the member, adds to the Order’s uniqueness among other charitable organisations.

The Order’s membership is voluntary, but members must be Roman Catholic ladies and gentlemen. Most make their living in the professional and business spheres. Some are descended from the ancient nobility, but all are persons of proven merit – ‘Virtus Sola Nobilitat – Merit Alone Enobles’. All of them have a proven social conscience and have given service to their respective communities, and some of them had previously been volunteer auxiliaries in the Order’s Ambulance Corps. It is upon the basis of proven service to one’s community, and the practice of the faith, that they were invited to become members of the Order. 

Admission Procedure

Admission to the Order for any potential member as a knight, or dame, or donat, is solely the prerogative of the Prince and Grand Master, or during an interregnum, the Lieutenant of the Grand Master ad interim. However, it is the responsibility of each National Association to propose aspirants for admission.

Those who aspire for admission to the Order in the Irish Association, should be over 25 years of age, be established in a good career and have good prospects for promotion, be active in volunteer-work in his/her community or in the Order’s Ambulance Corps or in some charitable/humanitarian organisation. Also, s/he must be willing to act as a carer for the sick, the aged, and the disabled on pilgrimage, or as a carer for the disabled at the annual summer camp. Or s/he might physically help out the ‘Knight Run’ activity, and even provide a listening ear with warm food or beverage to a homeless person. They should provide moral and financial support for these charitable activities, or else become actively involved in fundraising for the Order’s charities.

The aspirant must be well known to the two existing members who propose and second him/her, and supported by five other existing members who know him/her. In addition to the completed Aspirant’s Form and Curriculum Vitae, the aspirant must also provide a written recommendation from his/her parish priest that is co-signed by the local bishop, and also a Garda Síochána National Vetting Bureau Clearance Certificate.

The aspirant must undergo two years’ probation in which s/he will participate in the Order’s charitable activities, ceremonies, festivities, spiritual retreats, recollections and formation days at the direction of the Chancellor of the Irish Association. If the Association is satisfied with the aspirant, it will then propose him/her to the Grand Magistry of the Order in Rome, for admission.

Successful aspirants are invested as knights or dames or donats with their Mantle and Insignia at a ceremony during High Mass that is held traditionally on the Feast of St John the Baptist, the Order’s patron, or on a Saturday closest to it. Their diplomas are presented to them thereafter.


Membership of certain self-styled Orders of Chivalry or of organisations that are hostile to Catholicism, is incompatible with membership of the Order of Malta. If in doubt as to the scope of this regulation, the Chancellor will be pleased to advise.

Further information may be obtained from:

The Chancellery,
Irish Association of the Order of Malta,
St John’s House,
32 Clyde Road,
Dublin 4,
D04 V963