Fra’ Giacomo Dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto was elected Grand Master at a time when the Sovereign Order of Malta was in a period of disarray, following the resignation of his predecessor after a high-profile controversy. Quiet, gentle, with clear ideas and strong determination, Fra’ Giacomo restored serenity, improved relations with the Holy See, and continued the Order’s (already well-developed) process of modernising itself to handle the challenges of the 21st century.
Born in Rome on December 9, 1944 into an aristocratic, professional family with close ties to the Vatican, he graduated in humanities from the University of La Sapienza, Rome, in Christian archeology and the history of art. A distinguished academic, he held posts at the Pontifical Urbaniana Institute, taught classical Greek and was also chief librarian and archivist for the institute’s important collections. Over many years, he published a range of notable academic essays and articles on aspects of medieval art history.
Fra’ Giacomo’s work for the Order spanned his adult life, helping the less fortunate in society, and for over 40 years attending the Order’s annual international pilgrimages to Lourdes with the sick. He joined the Order in 1985, taking religious vows in 1993. He held a number of senior positions, as Grand Prior of Lombardy and Venice, then Grand Prior of Rome, later as Lieutenant ad interim, before being elected Grand Master in 2018.
A man of deep spirituality and great warmth, he reached out personally to those in need. Even as Grand Master, he continued to attend the soup kitchens in Rome, and serve the homeless guests at the Christmas lunch organised by the Grand Priory.
Upon his election, he embarked on a series of state and official visits, and came to Britain twice in the glorious summer of 2018. He remarked that, contrary to what he had heard about British weather, he had the impression that England was always full of sunshine.
In Stow-on-the-Wold he opened an Orders of St John Care Trust residential home, insisting on meeting all the staff and all the patients, and had a word for each. Although he didn’t speak English, the warmth of his support and encouragement was such that no one noticed what language was spoken.
At home in Rome, he welcomed heads of state, ambassadors, and national and international dignitaries. More recently, he visited Germany, Slovenia and Bulgaria.
His participation in international conferences included his November address at Unesco, where he stressed the importance of education and the need to respect human dignity, and emphasised that the resolution of global problems demands global cooperation. During these journeys he always visited the Order’s care and health facilities, thanking staff and greeting patients warmly.
Giacomo Dalla Torre enjoyed meeting and working with the young, and every year attended the Order’s international summer camps for young people with disabilities. At last year’s, he addressed the 500 participants in his typically strong, vigorous voice: “My dear, impressive young helpers and guests!” he said, speaking of “… this special experience, [which] is a combination of spirituality, of love, of enthusiasm and fun. It is a privilege to be with you and to see how much everyone cares for everyone else …”
He was an informed lover of music, adored Italian opera, and had a formidable knowledge of history, especially of the almost 1,000-year-old Order of Malta.
Fra’ Giacomo Dalla Torre died on 29 April 29, 2020, exactly three years after his election to the Order of Malta’s most senior position.
Philippa Leslie is communications director for the Order of Malta in Great Britain