Fra’ John T. Dunlap, was sworn in as grand master of the Order of Malta on May 3, 2023. / Twitter @orderofmalta.

Rome Newsroom, May 4, 2023 / 10:00 am (CNA).

The Order of Malta this week elected Fra’ John Dunlap as prince and 81st grand master of the Order of Malta.

He was sworn in on May 3 and will hold the office for 10 years.

Dunlap, 66, is Canadian and the first professed knight from the Americas to lead the sovereign state and religious order. He is a lawyer by profession.

The position of grand master of the Order of Malta has been vacant since the death in 2020 of Fra’ Giacomo dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto.

The order announced Dunlap’s election on May 3. He has been leading the order as lieutenant grand master since last year, when he was appointed by Pope Francis following the sudden death of his predecessor, Fra’ Marco Luzzago.

Dunlap was elected by an absolute majority from among three candidates, according to the order. There were 99 people from 18 countries who participated in the voting.

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is both a lay religious order of the Catholic Church and a sovereign state subject to international law.

In 2017, Pope Francis ordered reforms of both the order’s religious life and its constitution. He approved the order’s new constitutional charter and regulations last year.

In January, 111 members of the order assembled to elect new leadership, except the grand master, in an extraordinary chapter general convened by Pope Francis.

From Jan. 25-29, the Order of Malta held elections to choose nine councilors of the Sovereign Council as well as the four High Offices: grand commander, grand chancellor, grand hospitaller, and receiver of the common treasure. Each position is a five-year term.

Meeting with the group after the extraordinary chapter general on Jan. 30, Pope Francis told the capitulars: “You have written a very important page of history for the Order of Malta; thank you, you can be proud of it.”

Grand Master Dunlap is a lawyer specializing in corporate and immigration law. He has been a legal adviser to the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations since 1997.

He joined the Order of Malta in 1996, taking solemn vows as a professed knight in 2008.

Dunlap realized his religious vocation in the mid-1980s while volunteering with patients suffering from AIDs and other diseases in Harlem, New York. He has continued to volunteer weekly at the Cardinal Cooke Medical Center.

The pope’s special delegate to the Order of Malta is Cardinal Silvano Tomasi.