ROME (CNS) ─ The Sovereign Order of Malta has elected Canadian Fra' John T. Dunlap as its 81st grand master, the first non-European to head the order in its history.
Dunlap was elected May 3 by an absolute majority of the 99 voters from 18 different countries, according to a statement released by the order.
A corporate and immigration lawyer from Ottawa, Dunlap has been legal counsel to the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations since 1997. He joined the Order of Malta just one year earlier and took his vows to become a professed knight of the order in 2008.
In June 2022, Pope Francis appointed Dunlap to lead the order as lieutenant of the grand master. The Order of Malta had not had a grand master since the death of Fra' Giacomo Dalla Torre in 2020.
Pope Francis issued a new constitution and code for the order in September 2022 following a lengthy review process with the help of his special delegate, Cardinal Silvano Tomasi, who had been working closely with the order.
In it, the pope underscored that the Order of Malta is a religious order that "depends on the Holy See," and that its sovereign nature is only meant to help facilitate its purpose and function, which includes providing humanitarian and charitable assistance around the world.
Founded in Jerusalem in the 11th century, the Order of Malta is a lay religious order recognized as a sovereign state by international law, which helps to facilitate its humanitarian missions around the world and maintain diplomatic relations with over 100 countries.
"There are many challenges that await us, but united in the awareness of our mission of 'tuitio fidei et obsequium pauperum' (witnessing the faith, helping the poor), I am sure that we will be able to face them together united and cohesively," Dunlap said to the voting members of the order following his election.
Dunlap was expected to be sworn in May 3 in the presence of Cardinal Tomasi.
According to the order's new constitution, he will remain in office for 10 years. Grand masters were previously elected for life.
The order's code specifies that the grand master must "devote himself fully to the growth of the order’s works and serve as an example of authentic Christian life for all members."
The Order of Malta oversees thousands of volunteers and medical professionals providing services from support for refugees to natural disaster relief in some 120 countries, according to data from its website.