Member, Royal Historical Society (London)  and Fellowship of Catholic Scholars


      The history of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (S.M.O.M.) in the United States is one of growth and transition. In the United States, there exists three separate Associations of the S.M.O.M. each having a distinct development. These Associations of the S.M.O.M. (a lay, religious order of the Roman Catholic Church) include the American Association, Western Association, and Federal Association. All three Associations, as Knights of Malta worldwide, have the same goal[1].

    Although characteristic in many ways to fellow Associations abroad, the three American Associations share one different trait from fellow European Order of Malta Associations in that “most of the members of the Order in the United States are Knights and Dames of Magistral Grace[2].”

    Regarding noble ranks of knighthood within the Order, classes consist of the Knights of Justice and Conventual Chaplains (who have taken the three monastic vows), the Knights and Dames in Obedience (who promised to strive for Christian perfection in accordance with the spirit of the Order) as well as the first four ranks of class three. These classes must traditionally be of noble heritage[3].

    Individuals who find themselves accepted into the non-noble ranks of Knights and Dames of Magistral Grace are usually some of the most influential and wealthy citizens of the country in which they reside. This is especially true of the members that reside within the United States and curiously enough they also tend to be much older than their European brothers.

    Due to the cultural and political differences that existed between Europe and America, many members here in the States have little enthusiasm for the support of noble categories within the Order. In fact, no provision exists within the Statues of the American Association for admission to the noble categories[4].

American Association


    The first association of the S.M.O.M in America was formed in 1926 into what was to become the American Association (or the ‘New York’ Association). The Association’s original thirteen Knights were, in most cases, American-Irish members of the Catholic Knights of Columbus.


     In April 1927, the Supreme Council of the S.M.O.M. granted these Knights a Constitution (Charter) creating the American chapter of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. This creation of the first eastern association (in New York) was at the request of Pope Pius XI. It was not until nearly fifty-nine years later that the first group of women invested into the Association. This investiture took place at St. Patrick’s Cathedral with sixty women being admitted as Dames of Magistral Grace.[5] An equal amount of Dames and Knights have been admitted into the American Association since 1986.[6]

    The Association’s first president James J. Phelan and later president George Macdonald were instrumental in increasing the Association’s membership and in bringing increased revenues into the American organization.


     In 1927, His Eminence, Patrick Cardinal Hayes was selected as the group’s first Chaplain.[7] It was through Cardinal Hayes that the relationship between the Order and American Catholics became formalized[8].


    Additionally, the Association was soon to receive the protection and guidance of Francis Cardinal Spellman.[9] He had originally became aware of the American Knights while a Monsignor in Rome working as an assistant to Mr. Edward Hearn (a founding member of the American Association),[10] and his connection with the Association strengthened over the next few years.


    Spellman possessed an exceptional ability to achieve things both political and economic. As a political manager and businessman, he had few equals within the Church[11].


     Spellman, while auxiliary bishop of Boston became the American Order’s official church patron. After becoming archbishop of New York in 1939, Spellman’s fame and political power continued to grow. He also never failed in bringing near constant praise to the American Association as he continued to collect enormous funds earmarked to various Catholic projects. By 1941 Francis Cardinal Spellman was listed as the ‘Grand Protector’ and ‘Spiritual Advisor’ of the Association (see fn. 9). Using his inherent talent, drive, and devotion to the Association, Cardinal Spellman was able to enlist the aid of some of America’s elite, including: John J. Raskob, chairman of General Motors; John Farrell, then president of U.S. Steel; Joseph P. Grace of W.R. Grace & Co.; Joseph Kennedy, a Boston entrepreneur; George MacDonald of Pennsylvania; and John D. Ryan.


     By the early 1950’s million of dollars in contributions were being raised by the Association. In 1951, Grand Master, Prince Ludovico Chigi became concerned at the enormous funds being raised.

    Over the next thirty years, the Order continued to grow and prosper worldwide with a marked increase of membership in the American Association. Today, the Association has over 1,800 members, including several hundred Dames. The Association has area organizations in Boston, Chicago, Fairfield, Conn., Providence, R.I., St. Louis and other areas in the eastern United States.

    In 1989, the American Association received national recognition when His Most Eminent Highness Fra’ Andrew Willoughby Ninian Bertie, Grand Master of the Order, presented President Ronald Reagan with the Collar of the Order pro Merito Melitense. This presentation at the Association’s annual dinner was the first time in the Order’s history that an American President had formally recognized the Order. According to the Association’s president, J. Peter Grace, “The President … [received] this award for his vigorous defense of the pro-life cause during his eight years in office, his commitment to Christian moral principles, and his dedication to traditional family values[12]”. Perhaps, Reagan’s remarks provided one of the best insights into this Order[13].

    With the forceful leadership of Peter Grace, the Order drew ever closer to national Republican politics. Later, in 1991, the Order’s Grand Master was received by President George Bush at the White House.

Requirements for Entry


     Regardless of the individual, whether they be Knight or Dame, the Association like its later Western and Federal Associations required that all candidates must be

§      believers in the Roman Catholic faith as taught by the Holy Father;

§      individuals interested in the care of dependent people, especially the sick and poor; and

§      individuals who in public and private defend, explain, and seek justice for the Faith and the Catholic community[14].

The Association and its Charities


    As with other Associations of the S.M.O.M., the American Association stresses the importance of hospitaller work and personal hands-on involvement with various charities and service oriented endeavors.


    According to a representative of the Association, the Order provides services to the sick and the poor in a number of ways including: ministering to the sick in hospitals and in clinics, feeding the hungry, and providing clothing and shelter to the homeless. The Association also provides services for AIDS victims, tending the elderly, provides day-care centers, and providing services for poor working mothers.[15] As with later Associations of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, the American Association became very effective in raising funds for the support of charitable activities including monies for soup kitchens, homes for battered women, food distribution centers for the hungry and medical clinics[16].


    According to American member William E. Simon (former Secretary of the Treasury and president of the John M. Olin Foundation), the Order of Malta stands for chivalry. “Chivalry, for us, is seeking out those who need material and spiritual help, and providing whatever we can to better their condition – for example, as Hospitallers ministering to the sick and the poor. That is our mission”[17]. Simon further states that


[a]s Knights and Dames, every time we can minister to a sick and lonely person, every time we can strike a blow against poverty, every time we can bring opportunity into someone’s life, and every time we stand unflinching for God and His Son, we are raising higher our Lord’s banner on the battlefield of life[18].

Western Association


    Although the American Association had been active in recruitment, raising funds, and conducting on-hands charitable activities since 1927, most of the Western states had remained unaware of the activities of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. In November 1951, Reverend John J. Mitty, Archbishop of San Francisco met with a delegate of the Grand Magistry over the possible creation of a Western Association of the S.M.O.M.[19] that would represent the S.M.O.M. throughout much of the Western states including California, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Nevada, Montana, Idaho, Alaska, and Hawaii.


    Two short years later in June of 1953, Archbishop Mitty invested the new Association’s first eight candidates into the rank of Knights of Magistral Grace. During these early formative years, the Order within the Western states grew and developed under the guidance of Prince Zourab Nickolas Tchkotova and the Very Reverend Benedict Blank, O.P. who served as the Association’s first Chaplain[20].




    In 1996, the American Association revised its by-laws, bringing them more in line with those of the Western Association.[21] With a membership of nearly 600, the Western Association is very active in charitable affairs. Donating recovery rooms to St. Mary’s Hospital (San Francisco), working in the Alzheimer’s Clinic in Summit, aiding the blind, sitting up soup kitchens, and over two dozen other charities and hand-on activities, the Association contributed annually over $500,000[22].




    As with the other two Associations, gaining membership in the Western Association is difficult yet extremely rewarding. Initially, Catholics, desiring membership must be recommended by two members of the Association. All individuals must have a strong background in charitable works and in a commitment to the Church. Once nominated, a candidate for the S.M.O.M. must pledge to conduct hands-on charitable work with one of the Order’s ‘signature projects’ or other activities. The future Knight must also pledge himself to take the Order’s pilgrimage to Lourdes.


Administration of the Association


    The Western Association is governed by a board of directors and officers numbering eighteen who serve a three year term. Besides the regular officers, there are also “Ecclesiastical officers, the Conventual Chaplains ad honorem and Magistral Chaplains who preside over the Association’s liturgies and offer spiritual direction ...”[23]


Federal Association

    With the growth of the American Association in New York and the later creation of the Western Association in 1953 the Sovereign Military Order of Malta continued to grow in the United States until in 1973 it became necessary to create yet a third Association.

    A group of Knights, living in Washington, D.C. had for some time wanted a third association that could address the concerns and development of the southern region of the country and especially those of the Washington area.[24] Finally, on the 15th of November 1974, the Sovereign Council of the S.M.O.M. approved the formation of the Southern Association of the Order of Malta. This Association originally had only nine members with the addition of eleven more Knights on the 22nd of November[25]. The Association’s first president was the Hon. William H. G. FitzGerald who served during the Association’s first formative years. In 1979, the Hon. Edward A. McDermott took over as head of the Southern Association.

    Six years later, in 1985, the Sovereign Council approved the name change of the Southern Association to the Federal Association. This change was approved to “reflect more accurately the national composition of the organization”[26].


    This Association like the previous American and Western Associations, required that all applicants be Catholics in good standing with the church and who have shown through their vocations, a degree of national or international distinction. These individuals should be leaders or authorities in their field of endeavor whether it be the military, foreign affairs, government, law, medicine, academics, or philanthropy/charitable activities. Of paramount importance are the applicant’s activities as they relate to the Catholic Church or church related activities[27].


    As the Association continued to grow, membership came from Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Jacksonville, Kansas City, New Orleans, and other smaller cities. The majority of the Association’s membership continues, however, to be drawn from Washington, D. C. and Baltimore with nearly half of its 600 members and 25 chaplains coming from these two areas.


    As the Association grew, it became more concerned with the personal commitment of its Knights and Dames to the Order’s hospitaller programs. Regarding the hospitaller and service programs, the Constitutional Charter states that: “[a]ll members of the order shall be under the teachings and the moral laws of the Church. Moreover, in accordance with the Code and the Regulations, all members are committed to devote their energies to the service of the Order and in particular, to the Hospitaller and social service[28]”.


     Emphasis is also placed on the members’ spiritual growth and hands-on volunteer service work. The Association encourages its membership to be actively involved in Project SHARE, Christmas in October, Providence Hospital, the Incarnate Word Senior Center, and many others local and national charities.[29] Members also place considerable emphasis on supporting certain charities and community interests indicative to their own geographical areas. These ‘signature projects’ whether large or small all have one thing in common in that members of the Order working separately and together should endeavor to bring happiness and charity to the poor and the sick.


    A relative new ‘signature project’ by the Federal Association is the Malta House in Washington which was constructed in 1995. The Malta House is a 30-room care residence for the elderly and was funded to a large degree by the Association and has become one of the major volunteer projects of the Knights and Dames of the Washington area[30]. Other projects by Association members include the Malta House open in Syracuse, New York, as well as the Malta Rehabilitation Center in Washington, and the Malta Park (a 132 unit residence for the frail elderly) in New Orleans. All three facilities were opened in 1996. Much of the credit for these successful projects is due to the capable direction of Milan C. Miskovsky, Esq. (former president from 1994-97 of the Association).


     Two years later in 1998, Association members in New Orleans opened Malta Square at Sacred Heart[31]. This residential unit is very comparable to the previous houses open in Washington, Syracuse, and New Orleans. Other ‘signature projects’ include: the Marian Manor in Baltimore, the Charlotte St. Elizabeth Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, St. Thomas Canterbury Parish soup kitchen in Dallas, Gift of Peace, Carroll Manor, Mass for the Sick, Christmas in April, and numerous others[32]. Besides providing funds within the United States, the Association also has contributed millions of dollars in food and medical supplies that have been shipped throughout the world.


The Associations and the New Millennium


    As the Associations enters the twenty-first century there will be much speculation as to their future activities and goals. The best indicator of the Associations’ commitment to humanity and the Holy Mother Church is found in one of their historical documents, The Daily Prayer of the Order[33].


“Lord Jesus, thou has seen fit to enlist me in Thy

service in the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem. I

humbly entreat Thee through the intercession of

the Most Holy Virgin of Philermos, of Saint John

the Baptist, of Blessed Fra Gerard and all the

Saints, to keep me faithful to the traditions of our



Be it mine to practice and defend the Catholic, the

Apostolic, the Roman Faith against the enemies of

religion. Be it mine to practice charity toward my

neighbors, especially the poor and the sick.


Give me the strength I need to carry out this my

resolve, forgetful of myself, learning ever from Thy

Holy Gospel a spirit of deep and generous Chris-

tian devotion, striving ever to promote God’s glory,

the world’s peace, and all that may benefit the Order

of Saint John of Jerusalem. Amen”.


* My thanks to J. M. von Stroebel, KM of the Federal Association, Jennifer Petersen of the American Association, and President Robert E. Bond, Knight of Grace and Devotion in Obedience, Western Association. This article first appeared in Nobilta (Rivista di Araldica, Genealogia, Ordini Cavallereschi, Volume VII, Number 32:433-443.

[1]…to promote the Glorification of God by the sanctification of its members, service to the Faith and to the Holy See and helping one’s neighbor , in accordance with its secular traditions. [And to remain] true to the divine precepts and to the admonitions of our Lord Jesus Christ, guided by the teachings of the Church, the Order affirms and propagates the Christian virtues of charity and brotherhood, performs works of mercy, particularly by aiding the sick, emigrants, refugees and exiles, abandoned children and the poor, ministering to their spiritual development and strengthening their faith in God, and it protects Catholic Missions” (S.M.O.M. Constitutional Charter, Article 2 , ‘Objects of the Order’).

[2] The only class that does not depend upon a person’s ancestry or require proof of nobility (The Order of Malta Today. Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Federal Association, USA, 1999).

[3] “The Vatican had insisted when approving the most recent Constitution and Code that the class of Justice should not be limited exclusively to knights in the noble ranks. Despite the fact that several knights of Magistral Grace had indicated their wish to make full profession, none were permitted to do so under the late Grand Master. Among several reforms that have been carefully introduced by the present Grand Master, without great fanfare and thus avoiding any controversy, was approval granted to two Magistral Grace knights who had proved their devotion and spirituality, to make full profession; this potentially opens up some of the highest offices.” Sainty, Guy Stair. The Membership, --

[4] Sainty, Guy Stair. 1991. The Orders of Saint John. NY: American Society of the Most Venerable Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, 47.

[5] American Association Charter. American Association of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Online-

[6] Sainty, Guy Stair. 1991. 46 & 47.

[7] The Order in the United States. Western Association History. 1998. New Members’ Handbook. San Francisco: S.M.O.M. Western Association, 10.

[8] Sainty, Guy Stair. 1991. 47.

[9] Spellman was a Monsignor when he became involved with the Association and later on becoming Archbishop of New York called himself ‘Grand Protector’ of the Association. For his ‘protection’ of the Association, Cardinal Spellman was later made a Knight of Magistral Grace. In many ways, however, he proved not to be a fitting choice.

[10] Sire, H.J.A. 1994. The Knights of Malta. New Haven: Yale University Press, 260.

[11] Ibid., 261. This is self evident as Spellman obtained a sizable donation of $45,000 for a Vatican library project from millionaire John Raskob. Raskob, the builder of the Empire State Building, was shortly thereafter awarded the Order of Malta’s Grand Cross of Magistral Grace.

[12] Knights of Malta to Honor President Reagan. PR Newswire. January 10, 1989, PR Newswire Association, Inc.

[13] Your Eminence, Your Excellency, Your Most Eminent Highness, President Peter Grace, and ladies and gentlemen, tonight for me is a moment from humility: to stand here before you, the members of the most ancient order of its kind in the world, formed in the Holy Land 900 years ago ... But to stand in this way before the members of this order with its remarkable history, which speaks to the entire ebb and flow of Western civilization, and its noble present, which is a monument to the highest values of free men and women, is to be reminded once again that the only true calling of man is service to God, and to have served in that calling is cause not for pride but for gratitude.

Today, as for nine centuries, you, the Knights and Dames of Malta, serve the victims of poverty, hunger, and disease. I have often noted that in America we have a tradition that began when the first community of settlers joined together to help build a home for a newcomer: the tradition of neighbor helping neighbor, the tradition of the barn raising, and the settlement house and the church-run hospital, the tradition that Tocqueville spoke of in wonderment more than a century and a half ago when he observed that when there was a job to do Americans didn’t wait for the government but pitched in and did it for themselves. Well, yes, an American tradition, but one more ancient and universal as well, of which history offers few examples more crystalline and enduring than the Knights of Malta.


But to return to faith, hope, and love, your work with the ill, in particular, those with leprosy, now those with AIDS; your partnership with Americans [Americares] and its president, Bob Macauley, to move medicine to those in need all over the world; your support of Mother Teresa’s care for the poorest of the poor; your work feeding the hungry in Latin America -- these are some of the highest examples of love, compassion, and mercy in our time. They have the power of faith moving in the modern world.


I believe now, as I always have, that America’s strength is in «We the People.» This great experiment in faith and freedom will rise or fall on the courage of «We the People.» And you who have so willingly and ably taken up the burdens of freedom, through the Knights and throughout your lives, you who are surely part of what Jefferson called our natural aristocracy, you will surely be in the front as «We the People» turn to the dawn of America’s tomorrows”.


(Remarks at the Annual Dinner of the Knight of Malta in New York City. Public Papers of the Presidents. 25 Weekly Comp. Pres. Doc. 69, January 13, 1989).

[14] Our Origin. The American Association of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

[15] Petersen, Jennifer (AAS.M.O.M. representative). 1999. The American Association.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Simon, William E. 1994. Thanks to the Knights of Malta. Crisis, October: 25.

[18] Ibid., 27.

[19] A Brief History of the Western Association. Western Association History. 1998. New Members’ Handbook. San Francisco: S.M.O.M. Western Association, 11.

[20] Ibid, 11.

[21] The Order in the United States, 1998, 10.

[22] A Brief History, 1998, 11.

[23] Ibid., 13.

[24] A Brief History of the Federal Association. Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Federal Association, 1999.

[25] Ibid.

[26] A General Introduction to the Order of Malta and the Federal Association, U.S.A. n.d. Washington: D.C. Sovereign Military Order of Malta - Federal Association.

[27]Admission Criteria. Admissions Criteria & Procedure/Formation. S.M.O.M. – Federal Association

[28] S.M.O.M. Constitutional Charter, Article 9, Paragraph C.

[29] A Brief History of the Federal Association. 1999.

[30] Ibid.

[31] A General Introduction to the Order of Malta and the Federal Association, n.d.

[32] The Volunteer Projects and Spiritual Activities (1998-1999). Order of Malta, Federal Association, USA.

[33] Order of Malta, Federal Association, U.S.A. 1998 Annual Report. 1999. Washington, D.C.: S.M.O.M. and Daily Prayer of the Order of Malta -