In the Magistral Villa in Rome, on Wednesday May 3, the first meeting of the complete Council of State of the Order of Malta was held, since the promulgation of their new constitution by the Pope, in September 2022. The electorate, highest body of the order, voted by an absolute majority the election of Fra John Dunlap, 66, for a term of ten years, when under the previous constitution the grand masters were elected for life.
The first Grand Master without a title of nobility
The former lawyer of the bar of New York, of Canadian origin, would have found his vocation in the 1980s, by taking care of the patients of the HIV, in the districts of Harlem, in New York. After studying law at the University of Nice, then a doctorate in Canada, this French-speaking man entered the Order in 1996. And pronounced his vows, as the first American member, in 2008. But if he is a member of the Sovereign Council since 2009, John Dunlap could not have become Grand Master without meeting the criteria then in force: having been a professed knight for ten years (i.e. being a religious having taken a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience), having more of 50 years, and to be able to attest to its quarters of nobility.
The promulgation of the new constitution of the Order of Malta by the pope on September 3, therefore allowed Fra John Dunlap to become the first grand master of the Order, without noble ancestry. For Fra Emmanuel Rousseau, Grand Commander, it is not a “revolution” but a sign that the order “is adapting to contemporary society”, allowing it, in particular, to “get out of the European paradigm”.
In June 2022, following the consecutive deaths of two Grand Masters of the Order, in 2020 and 2022, the Pope, Francis had already imposed Fra John Dunlap as the Grand Master’s lieutenant, to prevent a governance vacancy from occurring. short-circuits “the path of reform that the Order has courageously undertaken”. In fact, the order went through a serious crisis of internal governance between 2016 and 2017, and the resignation of its Grand Master Fra Matthew Festing. The Vatican had then decided to conduct a “process of renovation of order”. To take the opponents by surprise, the Holy See therefore, in 2020, imposed the name of the new lieutenant Fra John Dunlap, when he usually requires the vote of the sovereign council.
A new impetus for the Order
Fra Emmanuel Rousseau, Grand Commander of the Order (one of the four great dignitaries who henceforth accompany the Grand Master, editor’s note), and responsible for religious and spiritual questions, assures that the election took place “in a very serene”. He assures that since June, Fra John Dunlap had favored “a spirit of appeasement and management faithful to the spirit of the new constitutions given by the Holy See”. The election on Wednesday showed “that the life of the order was now taking a normal course according to the new constitutions”.
If the reform of the order led to the constitution of September 3, the new grand master recognizes before the members of the Complete Council of State that “many challenges await us”. For the Grand Commander, the main challenge is the very essence of the reform: to remember that beyond a humanitarian organization, the order is first and foremost a religious congregation. For this, the work that is beginning is that of the formation of its members: from the volunteers, to the religious who have pronounced their vows.
Before the Council, after his election, Fra John Dunlap evoked the spirit of the founder, Blessed Gerard. In this way, he subscribed to the historical continuity of the 900-year-old order and affirmed that the order will be able to face challenges “in unity and cohesion”. A unity which will be experienced from the weekend of May 5 to 9, on the occasion of the international pilgrimage of the order, in the Marian sanctuary of Lourdes.