A Gentleman and a Scholar ... and a Knight

President McLean Invested in the Order of Malta


When longtime friend and member of the College’s Board of Governors Fred Ruopp first asked him to consider becoming a knight of Malta, Michael McLean spent time thinking and praying about whether he had a calling to do so. After all, as a tutor, and now in a special way as president of Thomas Aquinas College, his life was already dedicated to Catholic liberal education. Would it be wise to take on more?

Some History

The origin of the lay religious order was an 11th century hospital for sick and ailing pilgrims in Jerusalem, located near the Church of St. John the Baptist, the patron of the Order. As time went on, and Crusaders grateful for the care they had received donated generously to the Order and became members themselves, it began to combine its original work of caring for the sick and the poor with that of the knights — defending the Faith.

Following the defeat of the Crusaders by the Muslims at the end of the 12th century, the Order was forced to relocate to Rhodes, an island off of Greece in the Aegean Sea. There it flourished and developed a reputation for excellence in caring for the sick and the mentally ill. Early in the 16th century, however, after Suleiman the Magnificent laid siege to the island, members of the Order departed for the island of Malta, only to be attacked again by the Muslim emperor some years later. This time, however, despite an intense and lengthy siege, the knights of the Order — though less than 400 in number — vanquished Sulieman’s tens of thousands. His final demise came not long after at the famous Battle of Lepanto.

The Order remained in Malta, taking on the name of its new location. In 1834 it moved to Rome, where today, from its headquarters, it oversees the good works of its members worldwide.

While the Order of Malta continues to provide for the sick, operating numerous hospitals and clinics in locations around the globe, its members have long since laid down their swords. They strive instead to witness to the truths of the Faith by the example of their lives and by an articulate account of the teachings of the Church in the public square.

A Twofold Mission

Learning of the Order’s twofold mission, Dr. McLean was very much drawn to it, and decided to embark on an 18-month period of discernment as a provisional member. During those months, he served on the Western Association’s Defense of the Faith Committee, headed by Nancy Iredale, a friend and member of the College’s President’s Council. While especially concerned with issues related to the sanctity of life and the preservation of marriage, the Committee has been particularly focused in recent months on defending religious freedom from attack by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate that employers provide free coverage for contraceptive services — including abortifacients and sterilization.

In addition to his work on this committee, Dr. McLean and his wife, Lynda, participated in the Order’s annual pilgrimage to Lourdes, the site of St. Bernadette’s visions of Our Lady. There they worked with the knights and dames of the Order in caring for approximately 50 malades in search of healing for both body and soul. Says Dr. McLean, “I was edified by the joy and good humor of our malades, and grateful for the opportunity to care for them alongside the tireless knights and dames with whom we traveled. It was a week full of good works, memories of which Lynda and I will long cherish.”


On June 23, Dr. McLean was invested in the Order of Malta during a Mass in honor of St. John the Baptist at St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco. Vowing to “witness to and defend the Catholic faith, and to do works of charity, as the Order requires,” he received a medal (“decoration”) and a robe embroidered with the Maltese cross, both emblems of this ancient military Order.

Reflecting on his new membership, Dr. McLean remarks, “I have been fortunate in my life to be called to a spiritual work of mercy — ‘instructing the ignorant,’ as it were. Now, through the Order of Malta, I can not only further that work, but engage in a corporal work of mercy by caring for the sick as my other duties allow. This is indeed a great privilege.”


Posted: August 10, 2012


Each year in May, knights and dames of the Order of Malta make a pilgrimage from all over the world to Lourdes, bringing with them malades in search of healing in its miraculous spring waters. In the photo above, members of the “white” team from the Los Angeles area are pictured in front of the basilica of Our Lady of Lourdes. Dr. McLean is second from the right in the third row.

Isabella McNiff (’18) -- quote 2

“Real diversity of opinion is welcomed here. The tutors appreciate it when you have a well thought-out objection — but you always have to be prepared to back your opinion with a sound argument.” 

– Isabella McNiff (’18)

Broad Run, Virginia

“I am full of admiration for what the College, its founders, its leadership, its faculty and staff, and its students and alumni have achieved.”

– George Cardinal Pell

Archbishop of Sydney