In 1962, Joseph Cardarelli Sr. achieved the highest level a layperson can reach in the Roman Catholic Church when he was appointed a "Knight of Malta" by Pope John Paul XXIII.

Cardarelli was among a group of four prominent Haverhill businessmen, including Louis Hamel of Hamel Shoe, who traveled to New York City that year to be invested in the American Association of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta by Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York. The four were inducted into this ancient order during a Mass held at St. Patrick Cathedral. Their appointments were sponsored by Richard Cardinal Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, under a direct appointment by the Pope.

Cardarelli, 88, died April 22 at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, one day after his 88th birthday and five days before he and his wife, Gertrude, were to celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary. Local orthodontist Dr. Joseph Cardarelli Jr. said his father was the last remaining Knight of Malta out of the group of four that had been appointed to the order when he was a child.

"He was very proud to be a Knight, very honored, and he respected it very much," Cardarelli said about his father.

For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church used military-like orders or societies to protect it and carry out its bidding. Orders such as the Knights Templar and the Knights of Malta were at the command of the Pope.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Knights of Malta served as the most important of all the military orders, both for the extent of its area and for its duration. It is said to have existed before the Crusades and continues to this day.

Cardarelli said his father was appointed a Knight of Malta because of his dedication to the church, for helping the poor and the sick, and for giving back to his community in many ways.

The title "Knight of Malta" may be an unfamiliar one to many people, but not to the Boston Area of the Order of Malta, which has 240 active members. According to MaltaBoston.org, Boston is one of 26 Areas of the Order of Malta, American Association USA. Its members reside in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.

The Order of Malta is a worldwide, lay, religious order of the Roman Catholic Church. Founded more than 1,000 years ago, its purpose is to promote the spiritual well-being of its members who dedicate themselves to help the sick and the poor. Knights and Dames of the Order are also charged with the responsibility to defend the Catholic faith, according to MaltaBoston.org.

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