Editor's Report

New Order of Malta Lieutenant: Vowed Religious With Sharp Legal Mind


Fra’ John T. Dunlap, who was sworn in this month as lieutenant of the grand master of the Sovereign Order of Malta, is a familiar face in the order’s American Association based in New York since 1996.

As lieutenant of the grand master, Fra’ Dunlap was the personal pick of Pope Francis.

“It’s quite an honor. Everyone is thrilled,” said Deacon Jeffrey Trexler, executive director of the 1,800-member American Association.

Fra’ Dunlap, 65, a longtime parishioner of St. John the Evangelist and Our Lady of Peace parish in Manhattan, has served since 2009 on the order’s Sovereign Council, its governing body. He is a religious brother with the order, professing his final vows in 2008, the first American member to do so.

The native of Ottawa, Canada, is an attorney who joined the law firm of Dunnington Bartholow & Miller in New York in 1986, becoming partner in 1993. Since 1997 he has served as a legal adviser to the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations.

Deacon Trexler said he believes Fra’ Dunlap’s background in international law, knowledge of Church hierarchy, standing as a professed religious and “his sound mind and good character” all contributed to his appointment as lieutenant where he will work on the reform of the order’s constitution requested by Pope Francis. The reform process began in 2017.

Fra’ Dunlap succeeds Fra’ Marco Luzzago, who led the Knights of Malta since 2020 and died June 7 at age 71 after a sudden illness.

The order said June 13 that the pope’s decision “will allow the Order of Malta to accelerate the reform process and return to an ordinary administration under a grand master soon afterward.” The order said it was grateful to Pope Francis for “his paternal solicitude.”

The Order of Malta traces its history to 1048 in Jerusalem. The Hospitallers of St. John in the Holy Land built a church, convent and hospital named after St. John the Baptist to assist pilgrims. Under the leadership of Blessed Fra’ Gerard, founder and first Master, the religious community became a lay religious order.

Deacon Trexler said Fra’ Dunlap, as a member of the Sovereign Council, “has been involved with the governance of the order for a long period of time. He knows the ins and outs of what should and shouldn’t be done.”

The deacon described Fra’ Dunlap as “a very humble, honest man, a very religious man.”

“I feel he’ll bring new life to the order in the 21st century, continuing the charism of the order, which is to care for the sick and the poor of the world,” Deacon Trexler said.

Rory Kelleher, a member of the American Association’s Board of Councilors, has known Fra’ Dunlap since 2004. The two have served as longtime volunteers at the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center in Manhattan.

On Sunday mornings, they help to bring patients to Mass, serve as lectors and assist with other duties. He said Fra’ Dunlap socializes with patients and comes to know them in the process, which is especially important because some don’t receive many visitors.

“John is a very dedicated volunteer,” said Kelleher, an attorney who is a parishioner of Our Lady of Good Counsel and St. Thomas More in Manhattan.

Fra’ Dunlap shows commitment to his religious vocation in “what he does and how he lives it,” Kelleher said.

Deacon Trexler added, “He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty.”

Kelleher said his friend is well suited to the responsibilities of his new position in Rome, including charitable endeavors, as evidenced by his recent visits to patients at a health clinic in Rome and to distribute food to the homeless.

“He not only knows the people involved,” Kelleher said. “On issues, he’s inclined to find the right path by bringing together different views to find a solution.”