Bishop Boland awarded the Grand Cross of Honor, Devotion by Knights of Malta
By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — It was so unexpected that he almost didn’t hear his name called. At the Order of Malta, Federal Association’s annual Investiture luncheon, Oct. 23, in Washington, D.C., Bishop Raymond J. Boland was surprised to hear his name announced as the recipient of the Grand Cross Pro Piis Meritus, the Grand Cross of Honor and Devotion, for service to the Order.
photo courtesy of John Massman
A surprised Bishop Raymond J. Boland shakes hands with Federal Association president Paul McNamara.
“I guess I should have been suspicious when they kept calling me to make sure I was coming to the luncheon,” he later said with a smile.
Bishop Boland, ordained in Ireland in 1957 for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., spent more than three decades in Washington, many of those years working with Cardinal James Hickey, principal chaplain of the Knights of Malta’s Federal Association. He was already familiar with the work of the Order when Cardinal Hickey asked him to serve as conventual chaplain to the Knights and Dames of Malta in northwest Missouri the year following his 1993 installation as Bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City –St. Joseph. Cardinal Hickey also asked Kansas City-Kansas Archbishop James Keleher to become chaplain to members of the Order in his diocese. Sixteen years later, Federal Association president J. Paul McNamara wrote to the Grand Chancellor His Excellency Jean Pierre Mazery in Rome requesting endorsement of a petition that Bishop Boland be awarded the Grand Cross Pro Piis Meritus at the 2010 Investiture Luncheon for his work and commendable service to the Knights of Malta.
The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, and of Malta (commonly known as the “Order of the Knights of Malta”), a Catholic lay, religious order, was originally a monastic community begun by merchants from Amalfi around 1050, who ran a hospice to care for and shelter pilgrims to the Holy Land. By 1085, the community had charge of the Hospital of St. John in Jerusalem. The first rector of the Order of the Hospital was Blessed Gerard Tonque, who died in 1120. Pope Paschal II sanctioned the establishment of the Hospitaller Order, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, in a Papal Bull dated Feb. 15, 1113, and placed the Order under the direct authority and protection of the Holy See.
During the aftermath of papal-sanctioned battles to recover Christian sites in the Holy Land, Raymond de Puy, the second rector, developed the Knights Hospitaller into a strong military force. He adopted the eight-pointed white enameled cross as the official symbol of the Order, which later became known as the Maltese Cross after the establishment of the Order on the island of Malta. He also divided the membership of the Order into clerical, military, and serving brothers and established the first Hospitaller infirmary near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
Saladin the Great invaded the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1187, captured Jerusalem and expelled the Order, which fled to Cyprus. The Knights remained on Cyprus until 1310, when they moved to Rhodes.
In addition to military and naval duties, the Knights were expected to continue performing Hospitaller tasks, a role that continues today. Not everybody associated with the Order was a knight: there were chaplains, surgeons, and serving brothers, as well as soldiers and sailors, known as sergeants-at-arms.
Islamic forces attacked Rhodes repeatedly and they were repeatedly repelled — in 1440, 1444, 1469, and 1480. Then in 1522, Suleiman the Magnificent attacked with 400 ships and up to 200,000 soldiers. After 6 months of siege, the Knights surrendered on Christmas Eve and were allowed to depart Jan. 1, 1523.
The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, as King of Sicily, ceded the island of Malta to the Order in 1523. Pope Clement VII sanctioned the Order’s possession of Malta by Papal Bull signed May 7, 1530, with the stipulation that the Order was to remain neutral in any war fought among Christian nations. The Order of Hospitallers quickly became known as the Order of Malta.
Strategically located Malta was a hilly island with few resources other than olive groves, wheat fields and good fishing. Hospitals were among the first projects the Knights undertook in developing their new home. Bishop Boland described it as a “rosary of castles along the Mediterranean to care for the sick and the pilgrims. In the beginning, considered a (largely symbolic) fief to the Kingdom of Sicily, the Order was required to pay an annual feudal tax, which included a “Maltese Falcon.”
The Knights built forts, watchtowers, homes for themselves and other members, and churches. They became skilled maritime traders, a primary means of economic support for the island. They also defended the region from marauding pirates.
The Ottoman Turks assaulted Malta several times between 1551 and 1644. The Great Siege of Malta took place in 1565, by an attacking force of 180 warships carrying almost 30,000 men. The Order’s Grand Master Jean de la Vallete, led a repelling force of 600 knights and some 6,000 soldiers and volunteers from Malta and the surrounding islands of Gozo and Comino, and with eventual aid coming from Europe, defeated the Turks.
The peace was brief. The Knights of Malta had agreed to the neutrality stipulation placed on them by Charles V in 1523, so when Napoleon invaded and occupied Malta in the early 1800s, they couldn’t fight back because France was a Christian nation. Napoleon expelled the Knights, who retreated to Rome, where their headquarters remains. A palace on the Via Condotti and the home of the Grand Master are owned by the Knights of Malta and still fly the Maltese flag.
Members of the Order seek to glorify God through their work with the poor and the sick and their witness of the Catholic faith.
The Order of Malta remains true to its motto: “Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum,” defense of the Faith and assistance to the poor and the suffering, which become reality through volunteerism carried out by the Knights and Dames in humanitarian assistance, medical and relief efforts. Today, the Order provides service in more than 120 countries, including the U.S., after Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of New Orleans in 2005. Bishop Boland said that many Knights and Dames of Malta give pro-bono services to the poor and the sick — as they did in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of the city in 2005 — and in their hometowns.
Today the Grand Master is styled “His Most Eminent Highness” and accorded precedence in the church hierarchy immediately following that of the most junior Cardinal. The Grand Master is elected from professed Knights of the Order who have vowed poverty, chastity and obedience at ordination. Many professed knights as well as members of the clergy who are not Knights of Malta, serve as chaplains to the Order. The majority of men and women accepted to the Order are accepted with Magistral Grace, in other words, deemed worthy through humanitarian works and spirituality for investiture into the Order, by the grace of the Grand Master.
Encouraged by Order leaders, more than 1,800 Knights of Malta and Maltese sailors enlisted in the French Navy specifically to assist Americans in their war for independence from Great Britain. In 1783, Benjamin Franklin, then the U.S. Ambassador to France, designed and had minted the first medal of the United States, the “Libertas Americana,” and presented it to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta in recognition of its assistance to the United States in the Revolutionary War.
The Sovereign Military Order of Malta in the United States dates back to 1927 and the founding of the American Association in New York City. By the 1950s, membership had grown so widespread that the Sovereign Council established the Western Association in San Francisco, encompassing the nine western states, Alaska and Hawaii. Then in 1974, the Sovereign Council approved the formation of the Southern Association — known today as the Federal Association, headquartered in Washington, D.C. Its members reside in 23 cities nationwide, including Greater Kansas City.
John Massman has long been the Kansas City Regional Hospitaller. He has served on the Association Board of Directors and Admissions Committee. Massman said there are about 32-34 active Knights of Malta in the Kansas City area and 4-5 in St. Joseph, which was established as a “Hospitaller Region” in 2005. The Right Reverend Gregory Polan, Benedictine Abbot of Conception Abbey, was invested as conventual chaplain for the St. Joseph region in 2009.
Massman is currently coordinating the start of a Region in Des Moines where they expect to have 2-3 members within the coming year.
“The Knights of Malta have a strong presence in Kansas City,” Bishop Boland said. “Did you know that one of the most famous treasures in the Nelson Art Gallery was originally painted for the Knights of Malta? Caravaggio’s John the Baptist in the Wilderness was once owned by the Knights in Malta. After all, John the Baptist is patron of the Order.”
Many familiar events associated with the sick or the poor are affiliated with the Knights. Christmas in October, when major repairs are made on homes of the poor in urban Kansas City with volunteers, was initiated by Knights John McMeel and Richard Miller.
The annual Anointing Mass is anticipated by the sick and the elderly on both sides of the state line. Bishop Boland had celebrated anointing Masses while he was in Washington.
“It was in keeping with the charism of the Knights of Malta to care for the sick. It made sense to start doing it here,” he said.
The springtime Mass, usually celebrated at Cure of Ars Church in Leawood, Kan., enables the sick, the elderly and those about to undergo surgery, to receive blessings from Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn and Kansas City, Kan., Archbishop Joseph Naumann; Bishop Emeritus Boland and Archbishop Emeritus Keleher.
The Soup-er Bowl luncheon, inaugurated by Bishop Boland in 1995 in conjunction with Catholic Charities, is an annual event to raise awareness of hunger in the Kansas City area. Each December, people, businesses, high schools and programs are honored for service to the hungry in the urban core.
The Anointing Mass and the Soup-er Bowl luncheon are two programs of service by Bishop Boland considered by Federal Association president J. Paul McNamara to be commendable, which prompted the award petition to the Order in Rome. And the rest is history.