Grand master of the Catholic order Knights of Malta

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Fra Andrew Bertie, a descendant of Britain's royal Stuart family who was grand master of the Knights of Malta, has died, the ancient lay Roman Catholic order said. He was 78.

Bertie, who was the 78th grand master of the 900-year-old charitable order, died Feb. 7 in a Rome clinic, the group said in a statement. No cause of death was given.

Bertie was elected to lead the order in a secret conclave in 1988. Officially known as the Sovereign Military Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, the group was founded with a pilgrims' hospice in 11th century Jerusalem and has the status of an independent state. It maintains diplomatic relations with 100 nations.

The Knights of Malta has 12,500 members and operates in 120 countries, providing medical and social services, particularly in war zones and impoverished areas.

The grand commander of the order, Fra Giacomo della Torre, was sworn in as interim head of the group pending the election of a new grand master, the statement said. Elected for life, the grand master carries the title of prince. The position is equal in rank to a cardinal and is the highest a layman can achieve in the Roman Catholic Church.

Bertie's father, James, worked as a foreign-exchange dealer at the stock exchange in London. His mother, Lady Jean Crichton-Stuart, was a descendant of the Stuarts, the ruling family of Scotland from 1371 to 1603 and of England and Scotland from 1603 to 1714, with an 11-year interruption in the 17th century.

Andrew Willoughby Ninian Bertie of the Earls of Lindsey and Abingdon was born in London in 1929. He studied at Ampleforth, a Benedictine boarding school in northern England, and earned a degree in modern history at Oxford's Christ Church College. After military service with the Scots Guards, he worked for a time as a financial journalist in London. He then taught French and Spanish at Worth School, a Benedictine campus in southern England.

Bertie joined the knights in 1956 and took vows of poverty, obedience and chastity in 1981.

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