The Knights of Malta were among the earliest military or chivalric orders, founded as the Knights Hospitallers in Jerusalem in the 11th century to care for and protect pilgrims in the Christian Holy Land. After the fall of the Crusader States in 1291, the Knights were in Cyprus, then on the Isle of Rhodes, which they stubbornly defended until ejected by the Turks in 1522. Strategically located near Sicily, the island of Malta was given in 1530 to the Knights by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. They were based there until driven out by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798. The British expelled the French and ruled Malta until granting independence in 1964. The Knights were fragmented after the French expulsion with a complicated constitutional history. Centered in Rome in the twenty-first century they are widely recognized as a sovereign entity in international law, maintaining diplomatic relations with over 100 countries and with a permanent observer mission at the United Nations. The Order has over 13,000 members and employs over 40,000 medical personnel assisted by over 80,000 volunteers worldwide, regardless of distinction, to assist sick, homeless, and otherwise distressed persons.
Foster W. Stearns (1881-1956) was a native of Massachusetts and graduate of Amherst College, Harvard University, and Boston College. He was a librarian at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and State Librarian for Massachusetts prior to military service in World War I. Thereafter, he worked for the U.S. State Department until 1924 when he returned to librarianship at Holy Cross College, Worcester, Massachusetts. He served as a Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1939-1944, was also a Privy Chamberlain of Sword and Cape to Pope Pius XI, and a Knight of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. His collection, donated to Catholic University in 1955, covers over 800 years of history from the founding of the Order in Jerusalem in the 12th century, containing two hundred eighty one items described in a 1955 catalog by Rev. Oliver Kapsner, O.S.B. Materials include Order statues and early papal privileges, member lists, chronologies, and histories of the Order as well as of Rhodes and Malta. As an addendum to the Stearns Collection, Catholic University added nearly one hundred additional items, such as maps and periodicals, via gift and purchase.
The Carol Saliba Family Collection was gifted to CUA in 1999 by Dr. N. Alex Saliba of Louisville, Kentucky, a retired physician born in Malta. He inherited this collection of letters and documents from his father, Carol, a longtime Commander of the St. John Ambulance Brigade of Malta (an English branch of the Order). The Saliba Collection consists of one hundred forty two manuscripts, including autograph letters and documents, both originals and copies, primarily from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. The material has a focus on the Order’s internal affairs as well as their involvement in European politics, especially the Napoleonic era when they lost Malta and were unable to elect a Grand Master. Included are Maltese stamps and coins, memorabilia of Carol’s service in the Ambulance Brigade, and a seventeenth century water color of the flag and coat of arms of the Order.
Most of the Foster Stearns collection is cataloged and both collections were the focus of the 2015-2016 collaborative digitization project with the Malta Study Center at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. Access to original Malta and Order materials at The Catholic University of America is by appointment only, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on CUA Rare Books in general please see the earlier blog post by my colleague, Shane MacDonald.
 Officially the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta (Latin: Supremus Militaris Ordo Hospitalarius Sancti Ioannis Hierosolymitani Rhodiensis et Melitensis), commonly known as the Order of Malta.
 Oliver L. Kapsner, O.S.B. A Catalog of the Foster Streans Collection on the Sovereign Military Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Called, of Malta. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Library, 1955.
 In this case, meaning original, handwritten documents.