By Sara Kraft
“Gentlemen, it’s our privilege to be down here with you tonight,” stated Knights of Malta Hospitaller Joe Mazur to the 50 men of various levels of cleanliness and roughness crowded in the dining area of St. Joseph’s Haven.
In 1099, the Order of Malta was founded as a religious and military order under its own charter to help sick and injured pilgrims to the Holy Land. As a lay religious order, members pledge to obey the laws of the church, defend the faith, and serve our Lord in the sick and the poor. Although its roots are ancient, the Order of Malta continues to live this pledge in our modern world.
Twice a month, along with numerous other charitable works in the greater St. Joseph community, the Order of Malta serves dinner to chronically homeless men through Community Missions Corporation. Community Missions provides safe, affordable housing and supportive services for low and moderate income men who have been chronically homeless because they suffer from addictions, substance abuse, mental illness or disability. In addition to a cold weather shelter, Community Missions owns and manages two apartment buildings (Juda House and St. Joseph’s Haven) providing housing to 34 men in 16 studio and 9 semi-private apartments.
“Our goal is to bring people from the streets to short-term housing, and then find a more long-term solution,” states InServ Community Services Executive Director Dave Howery, who is also a Knight of Malta. Numerous staff and volunteers are needed throughout the programs to help these men find more stability.
For over three years, the Order of Malta has bought and served dinner at the shelter once a month. Joe adds, “We are to serve the poor, the sick, and indigent. I don’t know how you can get any closer than these men.” Beginning in March, the Knights will serve a meal twice a month. Recent tradition has them serving meatloaf including finely chopped vegetables because not all of these men have teeth. The homemade angel food cake made by Jean Mazur for dessert is also a special treat.
“We find God in our interaction with poor, as they are people just like us. But for the grace of God, go I,” explains Bill McMurray of the Knights of Malta, the most recent inductee into the St. Joseph chapter of the Order of Malta. Bill was inducted into the Order of Malta in October of 2012 after a yearlong formation process.
Bill adds, “The Order of Malta is a hands-on experience which gets your hands dirty.” It focuses on how one meets Jesus in the least of God’s people. “We see the face of Christ in the poor. It helps with your spiritual life.”
For example, on one occasion Bill was serving dinner to a very rough, filthy man. Bill recalls being repulsed by the stench of the street, but recalls that in that moment, “Instantly, I saw Jesus in the disguise of the homeless. Before joining the Order of Malta, I never really spent a lot of time rubbing elbows with the poor.”
Jean Mazur adds, “We provide hands on helping. Just writing a check doesn’t do it.” The Order is especially involved in helping victims of armed conflicts and natural disasters by providing medical assistance, caring for refugees, and distributing medicines and basic equipment for survival. Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, one member of the St. Joseph Chapter went to help in the Order of Malta’s hospital in Milot, Haiti.
In addition to volunteering and financially helping at Community Missions Corporation, the nine members of the St. Joseph chapter also collect and deliver 200 pounds of clothing and bedding for the poor and homeless weekly, provide pharmacy services to hospice patients and the indigent, adopt needy families at Christmas, volunteer at a local food pantry and Open Door Food Kitchen and much more.
Bill says, “In this Order, we not only wear the robes. We also learn and defend the faith, and serve the sick and the poor. We become better people for doing it.”