November 8, 2013

Order of Malta serves those in need in archdiocese, around the world

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin stops to shake hands with Dr. Hans Geisler during the opening procession of an Oct. 14 Mass in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. The Mass celebrated the 900th anniversary of the formal founding of the Order of Malta, an order of lay Catholics that serves the sick, disabled and people in need. Geisler and his wife, Margie, right, are wearing the order’s habit. They are members of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. Also attending the Mass and standing behind Geisler are John Fink, editor emeritus of The Criterion, and George Maley, a member of the order. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin stops to shake hands with Dr. Hans Geisler during the opening procession of an Oct. 14 Mass in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. The Mass celebrated the 900th anniversary of the formal founding of the Order of Malta, an order of lay Catholics that serves the sick, disabled and people in need. Geisler and his wife, Margie, right, are wearing the order’s habit. They are members of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. Also attending the Mass and standing behind Geisler are John Fink, editor emeritus of The Criterion, and George Maley, a member of the order. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis was established by Pope Gregory XVI on May 6, 1834, as the Diocese of Vincennes.

So at 179 years old, it is a bit unusual for a Catholic organization in central and southern Indiana to be celebrating the 900th anniversary of its founding.

But that is what happened on Oct. 14 when members of the Order of Malta in the archdiocese worshipped together during a Mass at the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin was the celebrant at the Mass.

In his homily, Archbishop Tobin noted that the Order of Malta and the Redemptorist order that he oversaw as superior general for 12 years both trace their origins to the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy.

He humorously remarked, however, that the Redemptorists were “relative newcomers” and “just kids” when compared to the Order of Malta since they were founded only in 1732.

Pope Paschal II gave his approval to the order, which originally involved the ministry of lay Catholics from southern Italy in caring for pilgrims to the Holy Land, in 1113. It came to be called the Order of Malta because it was later located on that Mediterranean island nation.

Today, the order has 12,500 members worldwide and 3,000 in the United States. Men and women alike can join the order. In the order, men are known as knights, and women have the title of dames. Today, its members lead pilgrimages of the sick and disabled to Lourdes, France, and help people in need around the world.

For example, the order established a refugee camp in southeastern Turkey last year to give shelter to Syrians fleeing their country’s civil war.

In his homily during the Mass, Archbishop Tobin noted that throughout its history the members of the Order of Malta have viewed the people they serve not as the world sees them, but through the eyes of faith.

“The order has seen things differently for 900 years, especially in the sick, in the lost, in those far from home,” Archbishop Tobin said. “The order has protected and cared for them, seeing them with the eyes of Jesus. Or, rather, seeing the face of Jesus in the poor for whom they cared.”

Brigette Schutzman, who attended the Oct. 14 Mass, is among the people that local members of the order have helped.

A member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, Schutzman was 20 when she was involved in a car accident in 2007 that severely injured her and left her disabled.

In 2010, she participated in a pilgrimage to Lourdes sponsored by the order.

“The whole experience was beyond words, really,” said Schutzman. “The knights made it so much more special. If I had just gone to Lourdes [by myself], it would have been nowhere near the experience that I had with the knights.

“It was perfectly organized. We were just there to enjoy the time in a very spiritual way.”

The order pays all the expenses of the pilgrimages, and cares for all of the physical needs of the sick and disabled who travel with them. This allows the sick and disabled to focus entirely on the spiritual aspects of the pilgrimage.

Members of the order in the archdiocese also carry out ministry close to home by preparing and serving monthly meals for people in need at the John H. Boner Community Center on Indianapolis’ near eastside.

“The ladies of the order prepare the dinner, and then all of us serve it,” said Dr. Hans Geisler, a member of the order since 2003. “We’ve had everybody participate. It’s been a great ministry. I think we probably get more out of it than the people who eat the dinner.”

Geisler’s wife, Margie, also a member of the order, agreed.

“It just draws you more to God because of what you’re doing,” she said. “We defend the faith and take care of the sick and the poor.”

As much as she appreciates the care that the Order of Malta gives to those in need both internationally and locally, Margie would like to see that expanded, especially in the archdiocese through an influx of new members of the order.

“It’s marvelous. It needs to be done,” Margie said. “That’s why we need more members.”
 

(For more information on the Order of Malta in the United States, log on to https://orderofmaltaamerican.org.)

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