|New head of Knights of Malta works to change order's image|
By DICK RYAN,
Special to the National Catholic Reporter
William J. Flynn is no stranger to pomp and circumstance.
Last year the Irish-American business leader led the St. Patrick's Day parade up Manhattan's Fifth Avenue as grand marshal.
Since January Flynn has headed another group known for its ceremonial flourish -- the American Association of the Order of Malta. But that's an image he wants to change.
Flynn, who succeeds J. Peter Grace as president of the Knights of Malta, retired in 1994 as chief executive officer of the Mutual of America Life Insurance Co. and continues as its board chairman.
To many American Catholics, the Knights of Malta are considered an elitist club, taken with its tradition. Officially called the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, the order dates to 1070, making it the oldest religious order of chivalry in Christendom. A sovereign entity, subject of international law, the order began as a hospice infirmary for pilgrims in Jerusalem. Forced from the Holy Land by Muslims, the knights moved to Cyprus in 1291. Nineteen years later, they acquired the Aegean Island of Rhodes, occupied it for 200 years and became an international naval power during the Crusades.
No wonder, said Flynn, that "the public perception often seems to be that the Knights of Malta are too caught up with ritual and paraphernalia."
"Even a few of our own members seem to have the misconception that membership is really a reward for achievement in the business or professional world, or for generosity to the Catholic church and charities," Flynn said recently in his office on Park Avenue. "And that perception has to change.
"The fact of the matter is that service of the poor and protection of the faith have been two basic foundations of the knights from the very beginning. And there can be no other focus or direction and no more crucial emphasis, especially today."
Flynn has never been one to do things halfway. A few years ago, a couple of ardent Irishmen scolded him for lack of attention to violence in Northern Ireland. He became a major player in peace talks. As chairman of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, he commutes back and forth to Ireland almost as frequently as to his Garden City, N.Y., home.
"In all the positions I've held, in business and with different boards," Flynn said, "the only measurement of success I've ever used has been the effort and ability to really make a difference."
In his new position, Flynn wants to build the knights' membership of 1,800 by enlisting blacks and more women -- and people who are not necessarily business leaders, people who are known for service to the poor. "People are going to know the Knights of Malta for what we give and what we offer," he said.
If there is a black knight, Flynn hasn't met him. Women, known as Dames of Malta, are only 5 percent of the membership. Still, joining the knights is unlikely to become a routine affair. Membership is by invitation. Annual dues are $1,000, and bylaws list long-standing membership requirements. Candidates must be committed to church teaching, for example, and be sincerely interested in growing spiritually while helping the poor.
Flynn has two other goals: revising the order's mission statement by adding a specific focus on respect for life, and working more closely with American bishops.
In June, Flynn invited Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston to speak to the board about his role as bishops' committee chairman for pro-life issues. With the board's unanimous approval, Flynn committed a $250,000 grant to the cardinal.
Flynn also wants to restructure the board, having 24 members rotate by electing eight new members each year. Presently board members serve indefinitely.
The grand master of the knights, overseeing the worldwide organization, is based in Rome. In the United States, besides the association that Flynn heads, two smaller independent groups have formed: a Western Association based in San Francisco and a Federal Association based in Washington.
National Catholic Reporter, August 23, 1996
Dr. George Schwab (back to camera), Dr. Henry A. Kissinger (partially hidden), Secretary Powell, and William J. Flynn.
| Q&A: William Flynn; Guiding the Knights of Malta in Charity|
THE Sovereign Military Order of the Knights of Malta traces its origins to the time of the Crusades. This Roman Catholic charitable organization is currently dedicated to the relief of poverty and sickness around the world.
William Flynn of Garden City has been the president of the American association of the order for two years. He is the former chief executive officer and present chairman of the board for the Mutual of America Insurance Company in Manhattan.
In the past, he has served as chairman for the Advisory Committee to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, the Ireland Chamber of Commerce and the New York Foundling Hospital, among others. He is a member of the board of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity and the Ireland-America Economic Advisory Board and many other organizations.
He also played a part in the recent peace talks in Northern Ireland. The chairman of the National Committee on Foreign Policy, Mr. Flynn was instrumental in bringing the Sinn Fein leader Jerry Adams to the United States.
Q. How does the American branch of the order fit into the international organization?
A. I'm the president of the American Association of the Sovereign Military Order of the Knights of Malta. With 1,800 members, we're the largest group within the Order of Malta in the world. There are two other orders in the United States. The Federal operates out of Washington and the Western is based in San Francisco. They're smaller, but they're very effective.
I think there is a feeling that the American association hasn't realized its full potential. There's much more that can be done, and we're striving to perfect our ability to be more effective in taking on our mission, which is to help the sick and the poor and to defend the faith.
|Knights of Malta rift widens: opposition to Flynn growing. (American Assn. of the Knights of Malta membership want resignation of Pres. William Flynn)(Brief Article)|
WASHINGTON -- The rift between the leadership of the American Association of the Knights of Malta and its membership, which first came to light in November, is widening.
Twenty-one of the order's 28 area chairmen have called for the resignation of the New York-based association's president, William Flynn, his board and administration, exacerbating a dispute that was outlined in earlier correspondence obtained by NCR (see NCR Nov. 14, 1997).
While Flynn's supporters include the knights' conventual chaplain, New York Cardinal John O'Connor, and the knights' grand master, Andrew Bertie in Rome, the 21 area chairmen represent 85 percent of the American Association's 1,000-plus membership.
|Knights' battle of letters polite, bruising: board members take on highflying president. (William J. Flynn, president of the Knights of Malta)(Cover Story)|
From: National Catholic Reporter | Date: 11/14/1997 | Author: Jones, Arthur
People associated with the wealthy, powerful Catholic charity organization, the Knights of Malta, are disgruntled about Flynn's priorities for the Knights and the way he administers its funds. The issues, personalities and what is being done to end the problems, are discussed.
NEW YORK -- Leaders of the prestigious and usually sedate Catholic organization, the Knights of Malta, have been engaged in a polite but bruising, three-month internal fight over the direction of the organization.
The struggle, outlined in correspondence obtained by NCR, provides a rare look behind the formidable facade of the organization, formally known as the American Association of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
Differences have pitted long-term association members, including some Board of Councilors members, against William J. Flynn, president since January 1996. Two members called for his resignation.
Tensions within the 1,200-member organization, known for its high number of Catholic business, political and legal notables, were reflected in an exchange prior to the Nov. 4 New York City semiannual board meeting.
In October Flynn, board chairman of Mutual of America, urged William E. Simon, former U.S. Treasury secretary and self-made multimillionaire, to resign from the board. Simon wrote back, "I will be pleased to resign -- right after you do."
Remaining apolitical was scarcely the American Association's leadership style in the 1980s, when J. Peter Grace was president and had eight knights on the $4.9 billion W.R. Grace board. Grace was linked to many CIA-connected activities. One group of knights had direct or indirect links to the Central Intelligence Agency (NCR, Oct. 14, 1983) and CIA Director William J. Casey was himself a knight.
The approximately 15,000 worldwide members of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta was founded in the 12th century to protect pilgrims to Jerusalem. Its knights fought in the crusades, acquired land and wealth, and went through a series of historical successes and reversals down to the present day. Today the organization is diplomatically recognized as an independent entity, a "nation" of sorts, by some 40 countries, not including the United States.
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