CHAMPION — When a woman had a cardiac event last week during a Mass at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, volunteers from the Order of Malta were on the spot to provide medical assistance. Fortunately, the woman appeared to be OK, said Joe Sanders of the Order of Malta.
Volunteers staffed the new Order of Malta Hospitality and First Aid Center, located in Mother Mercy Hall at the Shrine, Oct. 1-9. The center opened for the National Novena to Our Lady of Good Help, which culminated with the 160-year anniversary of the 1859 apparitions of Adele Brise.
The three U.S. Associations of the Order of Malta — the American, Federal and Western — provided financial support and are coordinating the medical hospitality volunteers for the center. They have selected 35 days when occupancy is particularly high at the Shrine to provide on-site personnel, said Sanders, who grew up in Combined Locks.
“The Order of Malta is a 900-year-old order that was formed to help pilgrims that were journeying to the Holy Land,” explained Sanders, a member of the Western Association who has lived in California the past 35 years. “The military aspect ceased in the early 1800s. We are practicing our charism of care for the poor and the sick and defense of the faith.”
The relationship between the Order of Malta and the Shrine developed after members of the Federal Association learned of the validation of the Marian apparition site in 2010. Order of Malta members annually make a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France.
“Federal Association members said, ‘Hey, we travel every year over to Lourdes. We have a Marian apparition site in the U.S.; let’s go see what it’s all about,’” explained Sanders. “There was a group of six that came here. Bishop (David) Ricken found out they were coming to visit. Bishop Ricken met them here and wanted to know more about the Order of Malta and how we could get the order involved in the Shrine. He accepted an invitation to go on the Lourdes pilgrimage with the Order of Malta.”
Five years ago, a dozen members of the Federal Association made a pilgrimage to Champion. The next year, the American Association joined them and the year after, the Western Association joined. The number of Order of Malta pilgrims at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help has grown to more than 250, said Ken Hurley, a member of the Western Association from the San Francisco Bay area.
“We had our third pilgrimage here this year,” said Sanders. “Bishop Ricken always celebrates one of our Masses, either here or at (St. Francis Xavier) Cathedral. He also does a talk for us the first night. A year ago, he gathered (Order of Malta) leaders and shared the master plan for the building and the little area designated for first aid.”
The three associations offered to provide funds for the building and furnishing the center. Sanders and Hurley served as the nonmedical volunteers last week.
“We want to have at least two or three nonmedical people here on those days,” said Hurley. “Our intention is for nonmedical people to be out there, listening to what’s going on to be aware if there’s an incident.”
The father and daughter team of Drs. Andy Crighton and Meg Crighton (doctorate in pharmacy) of New Jersey served as the medical team.
“We really love the center here,” said Andy. “This is our first time here and just coming to this site and learning about it was tremendous. It’s something we’ve heard about through the pilgrimages. It’s our pleasure to serve here.”
Sanders said that Green Bay has an Order of Malta chapter with 16 active members. The Walk to Mary and Solemnity of the Assumption are obviously among the days when Order of Malta volunteers will staff the center.
“We have our dates set up and are getting our processes developed,” said Sanders. “We’ve stocked the place. We tapped some of our members who have clinics in other cities about what we should do.”
“It brings us back to our origin of the order, protecting pilgrims, ensuring their safety when they went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land,” said Hurley. “In essence, that’s what we are trying to do here for those who are suffering medically or physically. We will be here to support them.”