Order of Malta: World's oldest surviving order of chivalry

CINCINNATI - Its members are reported to include some of our nation's most prominent Catholics, with last names that include Kennedy, Bush and Hilton. Their good works are known worldwide, but we wanted to find out the impact the Order of Malta is making here in the Tri-State.

The world watched as the new pope chose Francis as his papal name, in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi. Pope Francis has a special place in his heart for the ministries of the poor. This is a mission the knights and dames of Malta have been dedicated to for 900 years.

The Order of Malta is a worldwide religious order of the Catholic Church and the oldest order of chivalry. It was founded during the first crusade in Jerusalem as the order of St. John.

Bill Burleigh has been a member of the local chapter since the '90s.

"For 900 years Malta has been dedicated to helping the sick and the poor and defending the faith and it becomes the mission of the order to defend the pope," said Bill Burleigh.

The order's headquarters is in Rome and there are three U.S. associations. The Tri-State's local chapter is part of the American Association and headquartered in New York City.

Liz Carter was introduced to the Order of Malta after working tirelessly for two years to open Ohio's first charitable pharmacy at St. Vincent de Paul.  

"We didn't know where we could go and how we could finish up this project that everybody had devoted so much energy to. And there they appeared," said Carter.

Carter says Malta's $250,000 donation was the reason they were able to open the doors in 2006.

"It's nice when you have people who have a great deal of influence and the wherewithal to do whatever they want and the thing that they want to choose is to think about the people that are struggling," said Carter.

Last year the pharmacy filled 45,000 prescriptions valued at $4.7 million.

Debbie Stanton has been getting her prescriptions filled at St. Vincent de Paul's pharmacy for two years. She drives from Fairfield every week.

"It's definitely a help. Without this pharmacy I couldn't pay my bills and make my budget," said Stanton.

"Members of the order including some fairly prominent people on a given Sunday go to the Hamilton County jail to have some religious services with the cell mates," said Burleigh.

Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann, a new member, is impressed by the order's work and way in which they go about it.

"I think that the culture of Cincinnati is understated. Some other parts of the country and the world are different, in New York the Order of the Malta and the Catholic Church is somewhat of a status symbol, more of a big deal," said Hartmann.

Each year thousands of members from all over the world and our local chapter bring the sick on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France to pray and bath in the healing waters near the rock cave where the Virgin Mary is said to have first appeared to Saint Bernadette in 1858.

Both Burleigh and Hartmann have made the pilgrimage to Lourdes.

"I think probably I was very moved by our experience at Lourdes, taking some very sick people and seeing what that did there. Cardinal O'Connor used to say Lourdes is not miracle of the body, it is a miracle, a transformation of the heart for people who go there," said Burleigh.

The members provide aid in 120 countries.

"Even though they sound like medieval mites coming to the rescue, which they sort of are, the work that they do is so much 21st century, so current to the needs that people face right now," said Carter.

As far as the secrecy goes, the people we talked to say there's nothing secret about it.

"There's a lot of satisfaction out of seeing things like the charitable pharmacy take form in Cincinnati where you know people are really being helped. Some charities you never are certain whether good is being done. In this case you know it," said Burleigh.
According to this year's membership application posted online, the initiation fee or "passage fee" is $4,000 with annual dues of $1,200.

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