Americans and Canadians have long been placed outside of the realms of royal and noble hierarchy of the great European powers.
And, whenever they have entered into these realms, it is often through marriage like with American actress Princess Grace Kelly and her descendants, most notably her son and half-American, Prince Albert II, current Head of the Grimaldi Family and Head of State of Monaco, or through emigration like with The Sound of Music Von Trapp Family who settled in Vermont from Austria to become American.
Another more recent example is American actress Meghan Markle who married into the House of Windsor which is most notable for being the Royal Family of the United Kingdom and a slew of other countries like Canada and Australia.
However, today marks the day when a current American and Canadian citizen has risen to the top of one of the great European thrones for the first time, one often forgotten due to its peculiar status, but one nonetheless that is sovereign and steeped in Catholic tradition, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM).
This American-Canadian is Fra' John Timothy Dunlap, a successful immigration, corporate, and international law attorney.
Fra' John Timothy Dunlap has worked as a legal advisor to the Permanent Obserservor of the Holy See to the United Nations, in addition to running a firm as a partner called Dunnington, Bartholow & Miller.
He has earned degrees from the University of Ottawa (B.A.) and the University of Western Ontario (J.D.), as well as an honorary doctorate from John Cabbot University in Rome for Public Service. He also attended the University of Nice. He is admitted into the New York State Bar and the Law Society of Ontario.
His education has thus allowed him to work for numerous foreign governments, corporations, and regular people, as well as to specialize in American, French, Italian, Canadian, and Canon Law (Catholic Church). These expertise have also allowed him to work at the International Commerical Court in Paris as an Arbitrator.
During his time with the Sovereign Knights of Malta, he rose to being the first American to take solemn vows in 2008 after having joined the order in 1996. He has also become a member of the Sovereign Council in 2009, the central body of the Sovereign Knights, as well as chairman to the Committee for the Protection of Names and Emblems and representative for the SMOM to the Alliance of the Orders of Saint John. These roles suited him well as a lawyer, as the Committe for the Protection of Names and Emblems specializes in combating groups that are fake and pose as the SMOM in order to often conduct fraudulent activities, and the Alliance of the Orders of Saint John includes all of the legitimate successors to the Sovereign Knights, from this Catholic legitimate and sovereign successor, to the Protestant versions in Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.
Fra' John Timothy Dunlap have served many other roles, and also specializes in religious non-profit charity law. Due to his expertise on all things law, and given the constitutional crisis facing the Knights, it seems to have been a prudent choice to select Fra' John Timothy Dunlap.
In fact, Pope Francis is actually the person who selected him and the Chapter General of the SMOM agreed.
Unfortunately, the reason for this is the former Lieutenant of the Grand Master Fra’ Marco Luzzago dying very suddenly last week, and thus, at his funeral today, Fra' John Timothy Dunlap was sworn in as the replacement.
The Sovereign Knights of Malta are mainly a charitable group now with recent works especially focused on Ukraine for example, but their work goes worldwide from the USA to Italy to South Sudan. The Order is sovereign having previously ruled parts of the Holy Land, North Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean, and currently possess no sovereign land, but do possess extraterritorial land, similar to an embassy. The Order was founded to run a Hospital in Jerusalem in 1099, and this transitioned into protectors of Christian Pilgrims to the Holy Land, to Crusading Knights, to Sovereign Rulers, to their current peculiar status.
Generally, the Grand Master serves for life as the Head of State, but during this constitutional crisis, a Lieutenant of the Grand Master is chosen who serves a year.
Expectations will be fierce on Fra' John Timothy Dunlap to end the Order's divisions and create unity around a new constitution.
Not only does Fra' John Timothy Dunlap break tradition as a North American, but he also does not appear to be of noble blood, which was a previous prerequisite.
Thus, it is a series of firsts for the Order.
What does this mean for SMOM, the USA, and Canada?
The SMOM will now have a legal expert as their head, which could either lead to SMOM retaining their sovereignty and creating an even better Order, or could lead to the downfall depending on Fra' John Timothy Dunlap's intentions.
The USA and Canada now have influence over one of the world's most lasting Catholic institutions. For two countries often seen as traditional Protestant strongholds, plus two countries that actually do not diplomatically recognize SMOM, it is something completely unexpected (Canada does have official relations, but not diplomatic relations with SMOM, while the USA does and has worked closely with the SMOM, but neither of these two diplomatically recognize the sovereign status, at least not explicitly).
What is even stranger is to realize that Fra' John Timothy Dunlap may be the only Canadian-born Head of State in the world now, as Queen Elizabeth II is Canada's Head of State.
In reality, there appears to be a lot to be optimist about because Fra' John Timothy Dunlap appears to be someone who loves the Order having risen from the bottom with no realistic chance to lead it one day.
With this historic selection, maybe Canada and the USA will establish diplomatic relations with SMOM.