In 1995, Rose Bente Lee, DM, gave a million dollars to the Order of Malta, in honor of her husband, to build a home in Washington for the frail elderly. Through the efforts of Annelise FitzGerald, DM, the wife of the Hon. William FitzGerald, founder of the Federal Association, Cardinal James Hickey, the archbishop of Washington, donated the land and loans were secured from the state of Maryland and Prince Georges County, to build what became Malta House. Mrs. Lee’s dream came true. While the house was being constructed, the Malta House Committee met monthly at the Fitzgeralds’ house for discussions, over breakfast, with experts on every aspect of taking care of, and assisting, the elderly. What an opportunity for all of us! We met for over a year getting educated while we waited for the house to open.
Meanwhile, Victory Housing, the housing affiliate of the Archdiocese of Washington, was preparing to build and operate Malta House. All of the other houses run by Victory Housing were on the campus of a Catholic parish, which would supply volunteers to assist the residents. In our case, since we had no parish affiliation, the Order of Malta was to supply the volunteers.
The house was to have an interesting design of 15 bedrooms with baths, a dining room and living room in each of two wings. A kitchen serving both wings connected them, alongside a shared garden. This design gave us an opportunity to build the home on a more favorable financial basis than having a full second floor. With this arrangement we also were able to obtain a less complicated occupancy permit from Prince George’s County. On the partial second floor two apartments were built for on-site staff. The plan of the house was completed with a library for large-print books and books on tapes and CDs, executive offices, supply rooms, a barber shop/beauty parlor, and a medical examining room.
When the house was under construction, I was head of the Spiritual Life Committee. I called my dear friend, Msgr. Kenneth Roeltgen, the rector of Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, to tell him about the project. He drove an hour and quarter each way that day from Emmitsburg to see the house.
”Irish, what do you really want?” he asked me upon his arrival.
Without so much as a pause I coughed out, “Two seminarians from September to May to have lunch with the residents and give a homily or Bible study.”
He replied “On one condition. That you be their academic supervisor!”
“Deal,” said I.
Here we are in 2020, beginning our 25tth year with our seminarian program. Over that span a chapel was added in 1998. Since the House was non-denominational in its admission policy, some felt we could not have a tabernacle.
But years later, I called Archbishop William Lori of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and told him of a rather suspect idea that had come up at a meeting, that we display the Blessed Sacrament from time to time.
He replied: “Rosie, this is your lucky day. It so happens I have a tabernacle in my closet at the cardinal’s house. It won’t win any aesthetic awards, but if you come over to the Pastoral Center tomorrow, I’ll have Father Antonocelli put it in your car!”
The chapel was built by Catholics and staffed by the Order. Now, thank God, we have a tabernacle! With the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel day and night, the Lord was there for those in the house at any time. With three Masses a week and Confession available, we were coming closer to fulfilling the work of our Order.
We did not have any vestments, however, so I went out privately and raised the money for a complete set of liturgical silks made by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd near Baltimore, in the same convent that houses young women under court order to reform. We had a closet built in one of the guest baths, so that our priests could robe in private. Since then many have come to celebrate Mass there, including two cardinals and two bishops.
Our Volunteer Committee, chaired by Suze Collins, put in heroic service since the doors were first opened. This job was enormously difficult, because the House is in a part of town where many people are reluctant to come. Muggings have occurred nearby. Yet I have been coming there every week for 12 years and never met with any untoward incident, although we have had to be aware of, and provide for, security.
Two years ago, Suze needed assistance. We reorganized the volunteer effort by asking the nine parish prayer groups in the Federal Association to adopt Malta House for one activity a month. As a result, we have had: a Day of Recollection in September, a Halloween party in October, a Thanksgiving celebration in November, three parties in December, a toast to Martin Luther King in January, a Valentine’s Day Senior Prom in February, a Saint Patrick’s Day party in March, a Lenten Day of Recollection and a talk on the Order given by Shep Abell in April. We wrapped up the year with a Fourth of July party for the residents, staff, and volunteers. This solution for volunteers worked wonders and has taken the burden off of the Volunteer Committee.
Since 1995 the health system of our country has changed and now our residents are more frail and elderly when they come to live with us. As a consequence, the four doctors and one nurse on the Malta House Committee gave up the medial examining room at the house. We do still have a visiting nurse come in once a week to check weight and blood pressure. But now each resident makes arrangements to see his own physician.
We have applied to the Grants Committee on two occasions, each time with success, for a van and a generator. Financially we are not a line item in the budget of the Order. Our expenses run about $6,000 a year. Some of us ask for our Annual Giving to be targeted for the Malta House Account. We use about 5 percent of the principal each year for Mass stipends, parties, presents at Christmas for the residents, and an annual cash gift for the staff.
Recently, Valencia Camp took over as head of the Volunteers Committee. The position was convenient for her as her father was living at Carroll Manor, an assisted living facility on the Pastoral Center Property.
Joan Desmond became the supervisor for the seminarians and was succeeded by Joan Glascow. I still schedule three Masses every week at Malta House.
Finally, many volunteers should be acknowledged: Jerry Giblin, Bill Colliton, Mary Connolly, the Page family, Jerry Collins, Fra’ John Collins Harvey, Joseph and Mary Swift, Margit Serenyi, Bill Lawler. For future volunteers, know that you will receive more than you give.