The Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller, founded in 1099 AD, is among the oldest Orders of Chivalry in existence today, the third oldest religious order, and has continuously served the sick and poor for 965 years. It is now, and has always been, considered an “Order of Malta”.
At its inception in 1099 AD, the Order was a small lay community created by merchants from Amalfi, Italy, who funded a hospice that provided shelter and care for pilgrims visiting the Holy Land. Fourteen years later, in 1113 AD, the group applied for and was given its religious community rule by Pope Paschal II and became a Benedictine Order dedicated to its patron, St. John the Baptist. Most knights (but not all) lived and worked in obedience to the rule, which included vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Over time, the Order’s practices changed and the strictly religious nature of the community broadened to include education, public administration and its military roles.
Today, at investiture, all members take a personal vow to practice a Christ-centered life of virtue and charity, a commitment to personal spiritual development, and a renewed dedication of their energy and resources to care for the sick, poor and less fortunate in the world.
The OSJ was first and foremost a caring community of men and, eventually women, dedicated to caring for sick and defenseless pilgrims—regardless of one’s religion or ethnicity. It was respected locally as a medical treatment center and the administrative capabilities of its leaders was a model of public administration. However, the member were soon called upon, along with other Western powers of the time, to “defend the Faith”, which meant enlisting and training as warriors who would also participate alongside others to protect the Holy Land from invasion and, some say, preserve Western Civilization from annihilation. The Order ceased its active military function about the time it was exiled from Malta by Napoleon in 1798 and, today, the OSJ preserves only the military traditions of its distinctive robes and other ceremonial links to its military past.
Historically, we know that only noble families could actually afford to arm themselves and others and, by pledging their treasure and armies to a king’s service, the nobility of the time was recognized by the king’s award of the accolade of knighthood. The values we now know as “chivalrous” developed from those families that had secured and transmitted these chivalrous behaviors and traditions to others that followed.
For centuries, one had to prove nobility for several generations to be considered qualified for OSJ membership. In modern times, particularly respecting the democratic nature of the OSJ’s royal charter and constitution, the qualification for proving nobility is no longer required. Members are admitted to the Order because they have previously demonstrated a life of philanthropic and charitable service, and they pledge to continue to do so in the future.
The term “Hospitaller” originally referred to the nature of its medical and social work. It also distinguished the focus of this one branch of knighthood from others (e.g., the Hospitallers, the Templars, among others). The OSJ (Malta) still provides intervention and aid targeted to humanitarian, medical, and social causes.
OSJ members are all volunteers who collaborate to deliver sustained relief and assistance in over ___ countries. Its units are organized under the laws of their respective countries as charitable, nonprofit organizations. Each unit determines and manages its unique activities, cooperates with other units in larger programs, and supports international projects when requested.
The fundamental documents that govern the Order of St. John are its Royal Charter and Constitution granted by His Late Majesty King Peter II of Yugoslavia in 1964. For all OSJ (Malta) members, these principles and operational guidelines are unchangeable and represent the core values and procedures for daily governance.
The Order’s supreme legislative body of 20 Bailiff members, as well as all Grand Priors and Priors, is the Sovereign Council, which meets every two years to approve rules, policies and makes the major decisions affecting the OSJ. Between Sovereign Council sessions, the OSJ is managed by its executive body, Le Petit Conseil, consisting of five Conventual (constitutional) Bailiffs. These entities are assisted by other governmental and operational institutions that include: the OSJ Supreme Court, OSJ Ecclesiastical Council, Grand Priories, Priories and Commanderies.
Respecting its Charter and Constitution, the titular head of the Order is its Grand Master, who may also be its Royal Protector. When the position protector or Grand Master is vacant, the OSJ’s leader is its Lieutenant Grand Master.
The OSJ (Malta) consists of 3 Grand Priories and 17 Priories. There are 17 Priories and 43 Commanderies in 12 countries.
The OSJ is made up of more than 1,200 Knights and Dames. Members of the Order of St. John and its units are located in Europe, U.S., Canada, Caribbean, Latin America and Australia.
The Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller has included both domestic and international aid projects. From one-of-a-kind social services projects to major hurricane and flood relief in the U.S. to ongoing financial support of safety net programs, the OSJ is there in times of need. And, internationally, these programs have been the focus of OSJ members.
The Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller is fundamentally an Order of Knighthood and one cannot “join” it as one can join a civic organization or club. Membership is extended by invitation only to ladies and gentlemen who have demonstrated extraordinary previous service their Christian faith and to their fellow human beings. Prospective members are recommended by their peers and each Petition for Admission is approved by the appropriate unit leader. Because the OSJ is a Christian Order of Knighthood, each candidate must be baptized, be well-known in their community for their love of humanity, and be committed to working with their brothers and sisters in St. John in the future for the care of the sick and poor.
Inquiries about membership in the Order may be addressed to the Chancellor of The Russian Grand Priory of Malta.
OSJ members are all volunteers and its philanthropic and humanitarian activities are funded entirely by its members. Charitable funds come from member oblations and the private donations of its members, friends and the general public.
Humitarian and social service program support varies according to each unit’s ability to raise awareness about the humanitarian need or cause. Whether it is a domestic and localized project or an international situation requiring member attention, members rally to raise funds to meet the need.
Some resources are acquired from other nonprofits and hospitals, or from in-kind contributions of equipment and supplies that are repurposed and shipped at OSJ expense to an intervention site.
The OSJ enjoys excellent relations with the U.N. and several governments, the European Commission and NATO. These relationships have greatly facilitated the distribution of humanitarian aid secured by OSJ members and their supporters.
The Knights of St. John settled on Malta in 1530 and flourished on the island for 268 years. Malta has always been considered the ancestral home of knights and dames of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller.
After the loss of the island to Napoleon in 1798, the diaspora of the Order was created and fueled by religious affiliations and nationalistic splits among the knights. For example, the contingent of English-speaking knights sought the protection of the English king, Catholic knights settled permanently in Rome (with the Pope as its protector), while the remaining knights (primarily non-Catholics and Orthodox) sought the protection of Czar Paul I in Russia.
The OSJ (Malta) eventually returned to Malta where its international headquarters is now located at 223 St. Paul St., Valletta, Malta. The Order is situated in an historic, townhouse-style palace, Palazzino Sapienti, located opposite the University of Malta Valletta Campus building.