The Malta Chronicle and Imperial Services Gazette.
18th September 1933.
Notice of Death of Mgr. De Piro.
Mgr De Piro Dead.
On going to press, we learn with the deepest sorrow of the death of the Most Rev. and Nobel Monsignor Dean G. De Piro D’Amico which occurred suddenly yesterday evening in his early fifties. The gentleman had conducted a religious procession at Hamrun and was in the act of imparting Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in the Parish Church when he was taken ill and fell down on the altar steps whilst reciting the prayers before the Benediction which ceremony had to be concluded by another priest. Mgr. De Piro was at once removed to the Central Civic Hospital where he passed peacefully away.
Neither space nor time permits us to pay our tribute to the memory of this saintly priest in this issue.
All Malta is plunged in deep mourning for his death, which is indeed a national loss.
The Times of Malta.
21st September 1933.
Editorial Page 2.
The Late Monsignor De Piro.
One of the best-loved perhaps the most beloved man in Malta has died in Mgr. De Piro. His sudden death has cast a gloom over all; each one of us rightly feels he is personally bereaved. The nation has suffered a grievious loss at a time when qualities such as those so eminently manifested by Mgr. De Piro are more than ever rare and valuable.
Mgr De Piro lived as he died in harness. Although believed to be slightly indisposed, his sudden death was entirely unexpected. He assisted at Benediction at eh Church of St. Caetano, Humrun on Sunday evening, collapsed during the service, and died quietly a little while later.
The most Reverend the Honourable and Noble Monsignor Canon Dean Joseph dei Marchesi De Piro D’Amico, D, D., to give his full title was connected with some of the most prominent families in Malta. He held the high office of Dean of the Cathedral chapter. He was one of the two Representatives of the Archbishop of Malta in the Senate. Last year he celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of his appointment as Spiritual Director of Fra Diegu Institute, Hamrun. Recently he had established a convent for missionaries at St. Agath’s Church Rabat, now nearly completed and was planning to go to Abbissinia next year in connection with missionary work.
Mgr. De Piro rendered great and valuable service to his fellow countrymen notably as regards his part in settling the politico-religious dispute, which has troubled the relations between Church and State. But it was as a father and a friend of the poor and outcast that his memory will live. He was a great Christian gentleman, full of the love of God and his fellow creatures. His personal humility, keen intelligence, and unwearied activity in doing good made him beloved far and wide during his life; in death his memory will be enshrined in the hearts of all rich and poor. He is survived by His mother and by his brothers, the most noble Igino Baron of Budak and the Noble Pius De Piro Gourgion to whom we offer our respectful sympathy.
The Times of Malta
21st September 1933.
Notice of Funeral Pg. 20
The funeral of Mgr. De Piro took place at 4.30 pm on Tuesday. The body was taken from St. Joseph’s House, Hamrun to the Adularia Cemetry. A long procession of motor-cars and carriages followed the hearse. Representatives of all sections of the community assembled at the graveside to pay their respects to the memory of a well beloved personality. His Excellency the Governor accompanied by his Aide-de-Camp and Mr. E Missed, Imperial Secretary, Members of the Cabinet, Members of Religious Societies including many priest colleagues of the deceased, Members of the Senate and Assembly, representatives of many Band clubs, and orphans from St. Joseph’s House, Fra Diegu Institute and the Zejtun Institute for girls were included among the hundreds of mourners present in the great Cemetry.
The Malta Chronicle and Imperial Services Gazette.
25th September, 1933.
The Fra Diego and St. Joseph Institutes.
A Successor to Mgr. De Piro.
We understand that the Right Rev. Mgr. E. Bonnici D. D. has been provisionally appointed to succeed the late lamented Mgr. G. De Piro D’Amico as director of Fra Diegos and St. Joseph’s Institutes.
As was his late predecessor, Mgr. Bonnici is a representative of the Clergy in the Senate.
The Malta Chronacle and Imperial Services Gazette.
26th September 1933.
Mgr. De Piro.
We reproduce the following from ‘The Times’ of the 19th Instant:-
Our Malta Correspondent telegraphs that Senator Mgr. Nobel Depiro, Dean of Malta Cathedral, fell suddenly ill during religious procession and died shortly afterwards. There is deep mourning throughout the island. In June 1932, he was instrumental in bringing to an end the differences between the Church and Lord Strickland’s party.
The Times of Malta.
19th October, 1933.
Notice for Solemn High Mass.
The Committee of the De Piro Missionary Institute now under the Presidency of the Hon. Senator the most Rev. Canon Mgr. E. Bonnici D. D. are arranging for a solemn High Mass for the repose of the soul of the late Hon. and most Rev. Dean Canon Mgr. De Piro to be sung at the Gesu’ Church Strada Mercanti, on the 23rd instant. Further details will be made public later.
The Malta Chronacle and Imperial Services Gazette.
20th October 1933.
The late Mgr. De Piro
Solemn Funeral Services.
As already announced in this paper, solemn funeral services will be held in the Gesu’ Church of Strada Mercanti Valletta, on Monday next, the 23rd instant for the repose of the soul of Mgr. G. De Piro.
At 6 a.m. on that day, a low Mass with Communion will be said by the Rt. Rev. Mgr. E. Bonnici D.D., Director pro. tem. of the Institutes formerly directed by the late lamented Prelate, in which boys and girls of the said institutes will take part.
Simultaneously various low masses will be celebrated by the respective local superiors of the Institutes.
At 8 a.m. a solemn High Mass "De Reque" will be celebrated at which the Rt. Rev. Mgr. P. Galea J. U. D. Vicar General and Locum Tenens, will officiate and the Seminary Choir will sing Gregorian Chants.
The organising Committee earnestly hope that no one will fail to pay his last tribute to the memory of this most worthy Maltese ecclesiastic whose whole life was unostentatiously spent on benefiting the poor of the Island.
Fr. Henry Cassano.
LET US GIVE TO OTHERS WHAT ST. PAUL HAS GIVEN TO US.
The population of the world is now approximately 1,800,000,000. This immense family is renewed (as has been calculated) every thirty five years, hence we see that some 50,000,000 persons appear before God’s tribunal every year – either to gain by their merits, eternal joy or to be sent into everlasting punishment. Now out of the 1,800,000,000 barely 600,000,000 are Christians; 200,000,000 non-Christians know and acknowledge God, but are not baptized. The rest are idolaters. It may be added that out of the 600, 000,000 baptized souls only little more than half belong to the soul of the Catholic Church; the rest wander about outside Her fold.
Out of 1,800,000,000, 1500 millions are still in darkness. These facts are enough to make any good Christians heart bleed and to long to do all it can to repair so great a loss. He feels impelled to help the great work of the Catholic Missions which considering the great demand, is so insufficient.
One can help the Missions in several ways. One of the best ways, is by fostering vocations – by helping promising subjects to obtain their end of going into Apostolic field to battle against error and to bring the Light of Faith to the benighted Pagan.
For this motive, there has been established in Malta, a Missionary Society: the Society of St. Paul; a religious congregation for preparing students for the Missions. It was founded the Rt. Rev. Mgr. Dec. Joseph Dei Marchesi De Piro in 1910. Blessed by the last three Pontiffs and canonically established by the Bishop of Malta, His Grace Mgr. Maurus Caruana O.S.B. in 1921, the Society has already got four Houses: three in Malta, and one in Australia; into which boys who feel the call to the Missions and show signs of true vocation are accepted.
But everyone knows what it costs to feed and clothe the student during the time he is being trained. With the greatest economy it takes £30 a year, or £2-10 a month, or 1/8 a day to keep each student. There are at present 17 students; but there are many more waiting to be admitted – good suitable subjects; and it is for this object that these burses are being established.
A burse consists in a sum of money of £250 for a student; and £50 for an Aspirant; the interest of which will provide for the maintenance of one student or one Aspirant. Another means is a sum of £100, by means of which a room is erected for a student and on the door of the room the name of the donator (if he likes) will be written. The amount may be given by one individual or collected among the friends of the Missions.
Whilst thanking all our benefactors, we remind them of the promise of our Lord, that they shall receive a hundredfold reward. We also wish to remind them of the daily prayers offered up at the Institute for all our benefactors.
For further news about our Society, write to:-
The Very Rev. Fr. Superior General S.S.P.
Rabat – Malta. (Phone – Rab. 3)
Article from Children’s Own – 170 – left out. No Date???????????
Times of Malta.
Saturday, 7th February, 1959.
St. Paul’s Missionary Society.
By Emmanuel Ellul.
Work among Maltese Migrants.
Very rarely do the good things in life receive the notice they deserve. The Society of Saint Paul falls in this unfortunate category.
A few days ago six members of this Maltese Society came to our Catholic Action Center to "sell" themselves on our invitation. By means of original colour slides and a good running commentary they showed us their mode of life, their homes, and their mission.
The Society of Saint Paul, founded by the late Mgr. Joseph De Piro, is essentially a missionary society, which gives first preference to the spiritual care of Maltese migrants in foreign lands.
Its members have an extra vow, besides the three common to all religious, to go to the missions. Although the Society received ecclesiastical approbation in 1921 it is only recently that it has grown and spread in foreign lands. Besides Malta the Society has houses in Australia and Canada.
Its members come from all walks of life. The Interview which the Father Master conducted in our presence with five of the members of the Society was the highlight of the visit. The members interviewed included two who entered the Society while still young, another coming straight from the Minor Seminary, a clerk, a dockyard employee.
The Saint Paul’s Society is a society without pretensions, yet it gets its work done. When one has the opportunity, or rather the good fortune, to get in contact with some of its members one is struck by the vivid desire of these aspirants to serve the aim of their beloved Society; they long for the day of their departure to work among Maltese migrants.
Moreover its members strike you for their simplicity and humility. This I think is largely due to the imprint of their saintly Superior and to their practical and genial Father Master.
Some other religious societies aim at having a good number of their member’s experts in Dogmatic Theology, Canon Law, Holy Scripture, etc. This is certainly praiseworthy. The members of this Society, however, learn what there is to know only to be able to discharge their ministry among their brethren wherever these happen to be.
The Society of Saint Paul is wholly Maltese, yet it is very little known in the Island. And it certainly deserves to be known better. I do in fact appeal to all Catholic and lay organizations, be they Catholic Action Centers or Y.C.W. sections, be they band, football or political clubs, to invite the members of this Society for an illustrated lecture. Father Master will be only too happy to deliver such a lecture and to illustrate how they live and by what means they try to achieve their aim.
The address of the Society of Saint Paul is St. Agatha’s Convent, Rabat Malta. Invite them. You will never regret it.
Time of Malta,
Tuesday, March 3, 1959
The Missionary of St. Paul.
An Active Organization.
The Society of St. Paul, founded by Mgr. Giuseppe De Piro in 1910 under the patronage of Pope St. Pius X, is one of the leading Christian organizations in Malta. Its early years were spent in a number of homes including St. Dorothy’s Convent at Mdina, the present Xara Palace Hotel, and the Piazza Celsi, though by the time of the society arrived there, efforts were being made to find the fathers a permanent home.
On October 3, 1932, the firs stone of what was to be the headquarters of the society, namely St. Agatha’s House, Rabat, was laid. In June of the following year the first part of this building received its blessing. In September, Mgr, De Piro, S.S.P., died.
For any young man attracted to the society, membership is comparatively easy, application for membership being made to the Superior General at St. Agatha’s; this is followed by an interview. If the applicant is considered suitable for training, he is asked to visit the society for two or three months and acquaint himself with its work. The society gains many members from the St. Joseph Institute, Hamrun, and the Festive Oratory, Birkirkara, with which it has very close connections.
TRAINING THE NOVICE.
Successful applicants to the society are termed novices and in a short religious ceremony, receive their ‘cloth’ or habit and then begin one year of noviceship training during which the novice decides to become either a priest or a lay brother.
At the end of this first year another ceremony takes place in the church and the novice, be he for priest or lay brother, takes his vows; the priest receives a cross as symbol of his status , and the brother a rosary, and henceforth observes the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.
The priest commences his studies, and these consist of two years of literature, two of philosophy and four years of theology; meanwhile the lay-brother is engaged in numerous duties in and around the college.
While living at St. Agatha’s, the students enjoy pleasant surroundings though many of their studies, consisting of theology and philosophy, take place at St. Mark’s College, Rabat, under the tutelage of the Augustinian Fathers, and also at many foreign schools and universities.
The society debars nothing that benefits the education of their students, and residents enjoy all manner of recreation including football, tennis, and similar pastimes and hobbies.
One person who finds no difficulty in spending his spare time is Father V. Camilleri, S.S.P. Having a great interest in archaeology, Father Camilleri has spent long hours in the catacombs that lie beneath the Society church and buildings, excavating a labyrinth of graves and tombs lying there. The catacombs take their name from that of a young girl who fleeing from a marriage to the pagan prefect of Sicily, one Quintanus, finally found refuge in Malta. It is said that she came to the catacombs to pray for the souls of people buried there: here, a statue now adorns the main altar of St. Agatha’s Church.
There is a story about this statue that it was endowed at one time with supernatural powers: in the early centuries, during the siege of Rabat by the Turks, a nun had a vision in which she saw the statue standing on the battlements of the city and as the statue stood there the arrows of the Turkish soldiers turned back in flight. On hearing of this vision, the Maltese leaders placed the statue of the saint on the walls of the city and on seeing it the besiegers fled, and thus the city was saved.
Many years passed before any real investigation was carried out in the catacombs, much of the digging being done by the members of the society, until 1949, when Professor Ferria, S.J., deciphered an inscription discovered in the tomb while doing so, noticed a number of paintings under a ¼ inch of plaster covering the catacomb walls; he instructed the students and priests on the methods they should use to uncover these valuable finds.
March 1955 saw the beginning of the main post war excavation of St. Agatha’s, under the capable hands of Father Camilleri, who has uncovered a number of unique affrescoes in the crypt of St. Agatha.
The catacombs extend for an area of approximately 35,000 square feet and are being excavated to even greater depths. Besides the many paintings and affrescoes, steady work in the catacombs under Father Camilleri has revealed six types of graves, the most important being those described as Saddle –backed canopied table graves – and an Arcosolium grave.
These finds were supplemented by a number of Agape tables around which the funeral banquet took place. It is hoped that even more important finds will be made in the near future: this would be a just reward for the efforts of Father Camilleri and his assistants.
When the long hours of study are over, the priest must leave his brothers to journey to far corners of the earth to assist Maltese emigrants.
Children's Own - 198
Edmund Shields, S.S.P.
A Great Maltese.
"Children's Own" has already printed an article called "Maltese Society For Emigrants" about Mgr. Joseph De Piro, the founder of that Society. Now , this year , Mgr. Joseph De Piro has been chose by the "Christus Rex Society as that priest whose life and good works should be set before the Maltese public for admiration and study during the coming year. You may, perhaps ask, "Who was Mgr. De Piro?"
Born of noble parents at Mdina, on 2nd November 1877, Joseph De Piro shoed his great soul from his early childhood. At 11 years of age he began attending the Lyceum, where he always had excellent results. After spending two years as a soldier in the Maltese Militia, he studied Law at the Royal University of Malta. But his legal career was shortlived, for he had only bee through the 'course' for six months when all of a sudden he felt himself called to a nobler course - that of the priesthood. It all happened on the 8th May 1898, while, along with the rest of the University students, he was praying before our Lady of Pompei at the Jesuits' Church in Valletta.
In no time at all, after breaking the news to his pious mother (who was not in the least surprised at such a divine call of her godly Joseph), he left for Rome to start studying for the priesthood. While still a theological student he had already thought of founding a Maltese Missionary Society. But its hour was not yet come. In March 1902, he was ordained priest by a Cardinal in the Basilica of San Giovanni Laterano.
One reason why he wanted to become a priest, was strong which to work amongst the orphans and the poor. And he fulfilled that wish to the utmost. A glance at the many charitable institutions which were under his personal care and supervision will help us see this clearly. He was responsible for St. Joseph's Institute of Hamrun, still run by the Missionary Society of St. Paul which he had founded; Fra Diegu Institute, the "Gesu Nazzarenu" Institute at Zejtun ( where he also helped to found the Missionary Sisters "Tan-Nazzarenu"), and also for the "San Francesco de Paola" Institute at Birkirkara.
Apart from all this charitable work he was also at that time Secretary to the Archbishop of Malta, Deacon of the Cathedral's Canonical Chapter, Rector of the Seminary for two years, and representative of the Maltese Clergy in the Senate.
But over and above all others his greatest and most beneficial service to the Church in Malta was undoubtedly, the foundation of a Maltese Missionary Society, whose members make a special missionary vow to go to any part of the world where their superiors may at any time send them - preference being given to the Maltese communities abroad. It was on 30th June 1910, when he founded his beloved Society. All's well that ends well. And they were not few who thought that such a bold venture would soon collapse. But God's will was otherwise. Today this only Maltese male religious institution is a flourishing Society an nobody can deny the great work which the Missionary Society of St. Paul is doing, especially among the Maltese emigrants in Australia and Canada. It is enough to mention that since 1948, 13 members of the Society left Malta for Australia and Canada to look after the spiritual needs of the Maltese emigrants.
On 15th September 1933, Mgr. De piro led the procession in the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, which was taking place for the time at Hamrun. But when it came to the Sacramental Benediction in the church after the procession, he fainted during the "Tantum Ergo". Though he was only 56 years of age, that stroke killed him. He died on the same evening at the Central Hospital, Floriana, where he had been taken. He did not have even the consolation of rendering up his soul to God in the House of his Society, surrounded by his beloved sons.
His remains now lie in a sarcophagus built in a newly-constructed crypt at St. Agatha's House, Rabat, the Motherhouse of the Missionary Society of St. Paul. There, after night prayers, we daily visit our Founder and beg his protection from Heaven. But I suppose that nothing can help better to keep this great Maltese man alive in the memory of our people, than to join the Society he himself founded in order to continue the work he wished to, and did, perform.
Bernard Mangion, S.S.P.
Article is in Maltese.
The Sunday Times of Malta.
19th September 1971.
Raymond J. Cordina S.S.P.
MGR. J. DE PIRO - FOUNDER OF THE SOCIETY OF ST. PAUL
Mgr. J. De Piro, founder of the Society of St. Paul and one of the two representatives of the Clergy in Malta's now defunct Senate, died 38 years ago, on September 17, 1933.
The Most Reverend the Honorable and Nobel Monsignor Canon Dean Joseph dei Marchesi De Piro d'Amico, to give him his full title, was born on November 2, 1877. At 11 years he entered the Malta Lyceum from where he passed to the Royal Malta University to study Law. His sense of duty made the young marquis enter the Maltese Militia which had been formed at that time.
With brown hair, hazel eyes, fair complexion and standing 5ft 7 inches in his boots, 18-year-old Private Joseph De Piro, Royal Malta Regiment cut a handsome appearance. After two years of military life, where his conduct was "very good" Joseph was discharged by purchase. He came out full of energy and bearing an iron will, qualities which were to stand him in good stead through the years that lay ahead.
At about this time he was chosen as a member of the "Onorati" at the Casino Maltese but out of humility he turned down the offer.
In May 1898, Law student Joseph De Piro felt himself called to take up the priesthood. This needed great courage on his part, he was not only relinquishing peerage and honour but also riches. His parents had the good sense not to offer opposition, and after a retreat of eight days he entered the Capranica Collage in Rome, to study for the priesthood.
Four years later, on March 15, 1902, he was ordained at the Basilica of St. John Lateran. He celebrated his first Mass in Malta, on March 30, 1902 at the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul at Mdina. His home adjoined the Cathedral and as a young boy he used to cross over from the roof of his home to the roof of the Cathedral and together with one of his brothers would climb u pipelines tot he top of the roof.
Now he had reached the top of his ideal. Six days later he returned to Rome and his studies. There he fell ill and after recuperating at Davos, Switzerland, he returned to Malta on March 2, 1904. He went to live in Qrendi, and served in that parish.
Tact and understanding.
At Qrendi Fr. De Piro was loved by all as he was always at the service of all. He adapted himself to the environment and the mentality of the people, and his tact helped over many an embarrassing situation. For instance, it is said that mothers at Qrendi while in church would not think twice about breast-feeding their babies. Fr. De Piro wanted to do away with this custom. So with tact, patience and understanding he explained that this behaviour was not very appropriate and by time this custom ended.
He had passed three years working in Qrendi, when he was called up to take charge of Fra Diegu Institute Hamrun. During the following years he was in charge of practically all the major charitable institutions in the island.
He was Director of Fra Diegu Institute, Hamrun, St. Joseph Home, Hamrun, Jesus Nazzarene Institute, Zejtun and St. Francis de Paule Institute, Birkirkara. Near St. Joseph Home he founded a Home for male babies to be cared for until they reached the age of admission to St. Joseph's. He also extended his beneficial work to Gozo where he opened another Home for boys known as Casa di San Giuseppe.
As a token of appreciation for Fr. Joseph's work His Grace Archbishop Maurus Caruana made him a Monsignor, later promoting him to Dean of the Cathedral Chapter. He accepted only on obedience. Some time later, His Grace made him his secretary.
After three years in this office Mgr. De Piro was installed Rector of the Archbishop's Seminary at Mdina. He was also the Director of the Society of Adoration of the Clergy. But his main work was the founding of Religious Society for men, naming it the Maltese Missionary Society of St. Paul. This Society has since flourished and is doing excellent work in Ethiopia, Australia, Canada and Peru'. The Society has three Houses in Malta, the Mother House being at St. Agatha's Rabat.
Mgr. De Piro was by now well known for his goodness, piety, religious zeal and charity towards all.
Of him it could be said that he was the perfect image of a peace maker. He filled this role from his earliest days as a priest; but he was above all, a communicator. He could put his ideas across. He had dreams and followed them up to a successful conclusion. He had what nowadays we call weight. The sort of person who makes you look around as he entered the room and was not happy about it. He did not take no for an answer and made you feel at ease. He talked sense. His piety radiated all around him.
He was mourned nationally when his end came. On that day of September 17, 1933, Mgr. De Piro led the procession with the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows through the streets of Hamrun. The feast was being held for the first time and large crowds had gathered. When the procession entered the church Mgr. De Piro delivered a homily, mentioning the late parish priest of that town. As he was a bout to give benediction he collapsed on one of his helpers. Heroically staying there so as not to create panic, he suffered quietly. Later he was taken to the Central Hospital at Floriana (now Police Head-quarters), where he died shortly after.
People like Mgr. De Piro are needed any time any place. Some of them glow, carry out their mission and go. But others are remembered forever.
Fr. Gerald Bonello M.S.S.P.
MGR. DEPIRO - A HUNDRED YEARS FROM HIS BIRTH.
This man was a man of God; and moreover, a priest of God too. He founded a Missionary Society to bring the knowledge and the love of God to those peoples bereft of them; in his lifetime he personally looked after the needs of God's poor and their orphaned children - and lived in their midst, eating their food and not too rarely wearing their clothes. God was his life.
Mons. Can. Cap. and Dean, the Noble Joseph Dei Marchesi De Piro D'Amico Inguanez Navarra was born on the 2nd November 1877, (a hundred years ago), in the old city of Mdina, from the Noble Alessandro and Ursola Agius Gauci. Joseph was the seventh of nine children.
Born into such a distinguished family, the young De Piro could have made sure headway in the society of his .. He had already started reading law at the Royal University of Malta. However, God had other ideas about him to which he responded most generously and promptly. Later on in life this docility to God's call was to manifest itself even more often in him, however much he stood to lose in human and material terms.
His diary, in an entry in 1901 when he was still studying theology in Rome, records the reasons that led him to decide to become a priest, as well as the difficulties such a life entails. Then follow further reasons why he was to reject proposals to start up a career in Vatican Diplomacy and , instead embrace a life of poverty by taking up quarters at St. Joseph's Institute, St. Venera, after his ordination to the priesthood. Such a decision meant also that he was voluntarily to separate himself from his family and all human comforts. This may appear rather odd to understand, but his life-choice had been made, definite and irrevocable: and he had decided for God. This explains all his efforts on behalf of the poor, the many times he used to visit his family in order to ask for some money to cater for the needs of so many orphans that he was to look after in later years, the thousand and one ways he proved he practiced was again made public on his death-bed when the hospital authorities discovered that his clothes had been cut from the same cloth used to be worn by his orphans.
Mgr. G. De Piro was God's man the core. He was always ready to lay up even his most cherished plans whenever obedience demanded this of him. When still a theology student in Rome, his diary records that he had already felt the presentiment that he was to found a congregation of missionary priests, but he stopped thinking about it when advised to by his spiritual director. In 1903, struck with tuberculosis, he was obliged to go to Davos, Switzerland, where he spent eighteen months, all alone, and being so consciously aware that his hopes of ever founding a missionary congregation were such a remote possibility. He felt again so near to God there, and he tells us that then he prayed and prayed, for no other companion was left him but prayer. On his return to Malta, urged on by his conviction to found a missionary congregation, he finally fulfilled his life's call and the 30th June, 1910, opened a house for the first members of his congregation at Mdina. One would have thought that now he would have dedicated himself exclusively to his Institute. There is no doubt that his missioners, still in their formation, were constantly in his thoughts. But again he gave full value to his superiors' wishes as representing for him God's will that was to be fulfilled most faithfully. And thus he always accepted all the tasks thrust upon him by his Bishop: the care of five homes for orphans, all at one time; intervening in the 'Sette Giugno' riots in Valletta; representing the church in the 'Assemblea Nazionale' for the formation of the New Maltese Parliament between 1919 - 1921; he also had a decisive role in smoothing out the differences that arose between church and state in the early thirties. At one time he was also Rector of the Major Seminary, Dean of the Cathedral Chapter. And when Miss Curmi turned to him to help her found a Missionary Congregation of nuns he was only too glad oblige, and thus the congregation of Jesus of Nazareth came to be born.
Amidst all these multiple and varied works, however, his heart always burned for his congregation. He always found time to be with his own, to encourage them in their call to serve God in the Missions, and recruit new members. He was all care to pilot this boat well. And the joy he felt when his first missionary left Malta to serve in the missions in what was the Abyssinia was indescribable. This was Bro. Joseph Caruana M.S.S.P., a lay-brother, who worked in that country for 45 years uninterruptedly without ever taking a holiday, and whose life is almost legendary. Bro. Caruana's departure filled him with such enthusiasm that he was planing to go to Abyssinia himself within few months, but death thwarted him on the 17th September, 1933.
The work he has started still lives on. The Missionary Society of St. Paul passed through so many vicissitudes after his death. By the help of God it is now, however, firmly established. St. Agatha's, Rabat, is its Motherhouse, while its members in Malta still look after St. Joseph's Home for boys, besides running also two youth centers, the Oratory at Birkirkara and De Piro Youth Center at Rabat, and secondary school; "Stella Maris" is the novitiate house in Gozo. In the missions Paulist Fathers are to be found in Australia, the U.S. Canada, Peru and Pakistan.
Thus lived the man, outlived now by what was so dear to him. His personality, aflame with love for God, sought its fulfillment in the service of His Church, His poor, and His people still ignorant of His Son. His life was an uncompromising fidelity to this call.
Times of Malta
Tuesday, 8th November 1977
Prof. J. Aquilina
MGR. GIUSEPPE DEPIRO (1877 - 1933)
Before writing the profile of Mgr. G. Depiro, founder of the Society of Saint Paul whose centenary is being celebrated by the Society, I paid a short visit to St. Agatha's Mother House at Rabat to see for myself the founder through his work and almost as directly as seeing him visually, through personal contact with some of the members of the Society. I could not have a better guide than Father Tomlin, the director of the House who patiently answered my questions after having shown me round the place and taken me up on the roof where I could see the new children’s playground and the considerable expansion of the present premises.
"Where do you get the money for all this?" I asked, for the building that is completed and the expansion under construction must cost thousands of pounds. "How do you manage to find enough money for all this to pay the bills?"
The answer was simple - we have no money, we do not even try to make money. We run the only free college in Malta; free of course, in the sense that we don’t' charge fees. We rely on Providence and providence does not fail us."
That is a tremendous statement that must baffle any hardheaded economist who places his faith exclusively in figures and planning. God seems to have his own plans, and they succeed where economists' long-term plans often come to naught either because of some miscalculation or because of the intrusion of some unforeseen disrupted cases. God's plans are simpler and unfailing in their results as I could see from the whole set-up of the Society.
"What is the main purpose of your society" I asked him. "Mainly missionary work; preaching and spreading the Word of God where Christ is still unknown and looking after orphans. We have orphanages in Ghajnsielem Gozo, and a number of missionaries abroad spreading the Word of God mainly in countries that are short of priests."
But to go back to the word Providence that has been providing so much to the Society of St. Paul - what exactly is it? Is it a big, impressive word that seems to mean so much and in fact means nothing or is it a word with significant content? To the believer Providence is the translation into concrete action of God's care for those who need help and it operates through human agency. These are good people whose profound faith in God's love creates a mystic atmosphere of intimate communion with God. In the case of the Society of St. Paul, the human agent who acted on behalf of God communicating from him a message of love to his new congregation, was Mgr. Giuseppe Depiro, by social rank on the father's side, a member of the Maltese nobility. On the mother's side he was an Agius, a typically Arabic surname, combines two ethnic trends and fuses them into one national unit-the unit of Maltese nationality.
Mgr. Depiro's original vocation was to become a lawyer, but he changed his mind to the higher call of the priesthood, a vocation that came to him after he had lost an older brother. But there were early signs of his holiness even before he made up his mind to become a priest. He dispossessed himself of earthly wealth. His mother used to refer to him as "the poor man of the family". No wonder that when he set up the Society of St. Paul he laid down both chastity and poverty to which he added free service to our neighbour, as essential conditions of the Order founded by him.
Mgr. Depiro, like Mgr. Preca (in both cases the pompous title was reluctantly accepted) lived spiritually in the abundance of divine grace that has maintained alive an Order of dedicated religious people who do not work for money but survive on the good will of day-to-day providence. Providence which, originally operated through Mgr. Depiro, continues to operate through a number of anonymous benefactors who make good use of their money by giving some of it to the society which gives it back to the children of the poor mainly in the form of education free of charge, and to its missionaries who must be helped not only spiritually but also materially to reach the Word of God where this is still unknown or ignored.
Malta, as far as numbers are concerned, has more than enough priests and churches to look after the spiritual needs of the population. The people are almost spiritually pampered by this lavishness, and the effect is perhaps undesirable in that, unlike countries short of priests who are crying for more missionaries, some Maltese may take their priests too much for granted and lose the sense of personal responsibility for the propagation of the Faith and the maintenance of the Church as themselves priests on a different plane - members of Christ's Mystical Body. For this reason, one might consider the Society of St. Paul as the outlet for surplus vocations. Indeed, there is nothing so bad and dangerous as a frustrated newly ordained young man who suddenly finds himself unable to translate the religious ideals of his generous youth into action because he does not find the opportunity to do so.
Mgr. Depiro's emphasis on missionary work was the expression of his far-sightedness first because it is possible that he may have foreseen the need of an outlet for surplus priests, and secondly, (the order might be inverse) because he had a nonparochial view of Christianity, for Christ needs priests more where there are not enough of them than where there are enough or sometimes too many. Mgr. Depiro took his inspiration from Christ's love for man and God's universal fatherhood. As in the eyes of God we are all equal, so also within the congregation of St. Paul every member is equal - there are no servants and there are no masters. They are just the disciples of their founder who, having acted on behalf of His master Jesus Christ who expressly commanded his followers to preach his Gospel throughout the world, can regard themselves as the disciples of the Lord. They are not served but they themselves serve the Church in the first place the others in the Spirit of brotherly love. That makes them truly followers of the Lord. Mgr. Depiro is not a canonised saint, but there is no doubt that he was a holy man - one of the undeclared saints whose work bears witness to the love of God and Man.
In our violent age unfortunately good people do not hit the headlines. The glamour seems to be reserved largely to political trouble-makers and vulgar criminals; for this reason we are obsessed of the fear of the worst - the fatal finger on the trigger or the push-button. It is salutary to take our minds away from this horror and think of the good people; Mgr. Depiro is on of them, who worked for the Kingdom of God which is the kingdom of peace and justice on earth.
Dates in his career.
1907 - He was appointed spiritual director of the Institute of Fra Diegu.
1910 - He founded the Society of St. Paul.
1911 - Was nominated Canon Coadjutor of the Cathedral Dean.
1915 - Was appointed Secretary of Mgr. Archbishop Dom Mauro Caruana O.S.B.
1918 - Was appointed Rector of the Episcopal seminary in Floriana.
1922 - Was appointed director of Sr. Joseph Institute in Hamrun.
1925 - Crated the Boys' Orphanage in Ghajnsielem Gozo.
1932 - Was nominated representative of the clergy in the Senate. It was in this year
that the foundation stone of St. Paul's convent was laid, but he did not live to
see the foundation ceremony.
Bro. Joe M.S.S.P.
Maltese Who Spread the Good News.
Monsignor Giuseppe De Piro will long be remembered as the Founder of the Maltese Missionary Society of St. Paul. Born in the ancient capital, Imdina, on November 2, 1877, of the Nobel Alexander and Ursola Agius Gauci, he was the seventh of nine children.
As a young lad, the future founder of the M.S.S.P., was educated at the Lyceum in Valletta, where he prepared himself for higher studies. There he earned prizes in painting, handwriting, drawing and other subjects.
In so many ways De Piro was like all other boys but even then he might have envisaged that a great mission in the Church was awaiting him. In fact at the age of 14, he was already conscious of his vocation to the priesthood. But that had to take time to mature.
At the age of 15 he joined the Maltese Militia where he served for 4 years. After he was discharged he studied Law in order to become a Lawyer. But one day, exactly on the 8th day of May, 1898, while praying at the shrine of Our Lady of Pompei in Valletta, there and then he took his decision to study for the priesthood.
He studied Philosophy and Theology in Rome. During his stay there his constant thought had always bee that Malta should help more in the evangelisation of the world by having its own Missionary Society. After his sacred ordination to the priesthood, his principal preoccupation was to implement his ideal. And surely the happiest moment of his life was when His Holiness Pope Pius X blessed and encouraged him and the first group of youngsters who knelt at his feet.
The Missionary Society of St. Paul was born. Mgr. De Piro was surely a man who had a wold vision. He died on the 17th day of September, 1933, his memory never to be deleted from the hearts of the Maltese, both rich and poor.
ALEXANDER BONNICI, OFM CONV
GIUSEPPE DE PIRO, 1877-1933
FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARY SOCIETY OF ST. PAUL.
Published by the Missionary Society of St. Paul, 1988
(Article by Sister Marie De Piro, SSD.)
This biography in one volume is the English Translation of the original Maltese Version. It gives a detailed and documented account of a very full life, animated by a great ideal and dedicated to the Local Church and the people of Malta - the native land of Mgr. Giuseppe De Piro. However the horizons visualized by Giuseppe De Piro extended far beyond the Maltese Islands, his ardent desire was that Malta could share with Christians and Non-Christians across the world, the inestimable gift of Faith, received from the Apostle Paul in 60 A.D.
The seven chapters narrate the first years of Giuseppe's life, his call to the Priesthood and the subsequent steps leading to and accompanying the fulfillment of his ideal - the founding of a missionary Congregation. The consolations and difficulties he encountered are recorded as also Giuseppe's determination to realize his ideal in spite of frustrating setbacks.
The thirteen chapters reveal the personality of Mgr. De Piro, in various fields of apostolic activity and bring out chiefly his love for the poor and needy, his devotedness to the Church, his patriotic concern for Malta and his missionary impulse. The last chapter dwells on his loving dedication to Christ which marks his whole life and accompanies the circumstances of his last day on earth. His unexpected death, after he had carried the Blessed Sacrament in Procession, came as a shock to the people of Malta who knew and loved him, but the memory of this saintly Priest and man for others will never be forgotten.
This is a brief account of the development of the Missionary Society of St. Paul after the death of the Founder.
The numerous references give the sources on which the Author scrupulously based details concerning the De Piro Family, the life and activities of Mgr. Giuseppe De Piro.
IN THE INTRODUCTION the reader may glean historical events in Malta dating back to the XVI century, and Giuseppe De Piro's LIFE is closely associated with the history of the Maltese Islands during the first decades of this century. His personality influenced the outcome of important events during and after his life-time.
In our modern world of achievements which are not always for the benefit of mankind, and in our dynamic life where for many there is no place for God - the achievements and the saintly life of this humble servant of God can be an inspiration for us all.
A little more than a month ago, the Missionary Society of St. Paul, founded by the Servant of God Joseph De Piro, celebrated the fifty-fifth anniversary of the death of its Founder. On this occasion there was organized the unveiling and blessing of a commemorative plaque which was affixed on the front of the Dorothean School at Mdina. For this occasion there was invited Sir Anthony Mamo, the first President of Malta, to deliver the speech. Today, 2nd November, the birthday of the Servant of God, we are going to reproduce this same speech.
I wish to confess that I feel highly honored to have been asked to partake in this short and sweet ceremony. For this I would like to thank Father Superior and all the Members of the Missionary Society of Sr. Paul.
In my short address, which I had prepared in advance, I shall undoubtedly have to repeat facts which have already been treated in a much better way by Father Superior in his Homily. This is bound to happen since we are both talking about the same person. But indeed one never grows tired to listen to the same things said about Mgr. De Piro who was such a good, noble and saintly man.
As has already been said by Father Superior, Humility was the virtue that Mgr. De Piro practiced most throughout all his life. This virtue, together with his other great qualities, rendered him to all the Maltese people. Although he belonged to the Maltese nobility, he always despised praises and privileges and whenever possible, also avoided all personal honors.
It is, however, not only fair and proper for us but it is also a duty that we adhere to the command that we find in the Holy Scriptures which says: "Honor the works of those who act benevolently, for their acts should never be forgotten, and their name and reputation should not be obscured by the march of time."
And it is exactly to comply with such a command that we are all gathered here today in front of this magnificent building which, together with other places and mansions adorn the City of Mdina, so bewitching to all its visitors.
We are gathered here in order to extol this noble person and to commemorate his deeds inscribed here in bronze letters on this marble plaque. But it is certain that Mgr. De Piro who, during his life time worked endlessly for a good Christian formation of may children and many youths, now rejoices in heaven when he sees that his birth-place is today converted into a school where many student generations acquire sound moral and civil principles. It is my humble belief that this commemorative plaque itself as you will soon see, the ideals which Mgr. De Piro embraces and put into practice, are grouped into three Loves; his love for God comes first and above all other things; secondly his love for his country which he served wholeheartedly; and, finally, his love towards his neighbors through his unselfish service towards children, the poor and afflicted and the unfailing help he rendered to those who needed it.
In the practical fulfillment of such ideals only a few, those who are God's chosen, will reach such a degree of sanctity and perfection as achieved by Mgr. De Piro. However, I am sure that each one in his own circumstances in life, can derive his own inspiration and motivation from such ideals.
By this commemorative plaque, the Missionary Society of St. Paul is erecting another small monument to Mgr. De Piro. But the real monument, the outstanding and perennial monument to Mgr. De Piro, is the Missionary Society of St. Paul itself. It does not only recall but it also commemorates and perpetuates his masterpiece and, so to say, his own life.
The Society he had founded was only a sapling at the time of his sudden and early demise. But it was God's sapling and it was of a good quality, strong and sound and was planted in a well prepared plot of ground. And because it was God's sapling, it laid down its roots in fertile soil, having been well looked after and cultivated with great care by his sons, the members of the Society. The sapling grew into a large tree and it now spreads its branches well beyond the shores of our island and is now yielding its fruit in far away laces.
All of us here, friends and admires of the Society, are well aware of the care and solicitude with which the members of the Society carry on their Founders undertakings. They are very active in various fields both in our diocese as well as beyond, amongst Maltese migrants and in the missions amongst the indigenous. It is of great comfort to learn that new vocations to the M.S.S.P. among the indigenous are taking root too.
Let us all pray and hope that the process of canonization of the Servant of God Joseph De Piro will end with the solemn declaration of a Maltese citizen as a Saint in Heaven. Thus the Maltese nation which is renowned for its two-thousand years of Christianity and which owes its birth in Christ to St. Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles and the Patron Saint of the Society, will have one of its children elevated to the highest honors of the Church.
Note: We wish to remind our readers that on the 7th October, at St. Agatha's Church, Rabat, Archbishop Mercieca presided the first session of the Tribunal which is going to hear the witnesses in the Cause of Beatification and Canonization of the Servant of God Joseph De Piro.
Conrad Sciberras M.S.S.P.
MGR. JOSEPH DEPIRO - SPIRITUALITY TRAITS.
This year the Missionary Society of St. Paul is celebrating the hundred and ten anniversary of the birth of its founder, Mgr. Joseph De Piro. In this article, Conrad Sciberras mssp deals with two aspects of Mgr. De Piro's spirituality.
A short-cut towards sanctity is doing God's will in the present moment. Indeed, for God it is not important what we do; He is interested in that we do well His will in the present moment. Original? Hardly so because it was Christ himself who defined his mission on earth in such terms -"Because I came down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of Him that sent me" ( Jn.6,38). "Not those who say 'Lord, Lord' shall enter the Kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father" (Mt.7, 21). Thus loving God is not mainly a matter of feeling, but one of the will. It means doing His will.
Mgr. DePiro was a man who matured early in this spirituality. As a young third-year theology student in Rome, while preparing himself for the Diaconate with a spiritual retreat, he considered what his future work as a priest should be. He was not living in the future; he had to decide whether to take u the studies at the "Accademia Ecclesiastica" for a diplomatic career, or wither he should return to Malta and take up a more humble but pastoral work. Some days previously the President of the "Accademia Ecclesiastica" himself expressed his desire to the Rector that Fr. DePiro continues his studies there.
The decision was not an easy one to arrive at. As in other such circumstances he took a piece of paper and listed the reasons for and against going to the Accademia. What interests us here is reason number 5 on the 'against' side. He wrote: "As generally out of the first graces I ask the Lord after communion is to make me know His will, I believe that it is He who is suggesting me refusal".
To arrive at a pint when one hears distinctly that voice - God's voice - inside him is no quick job. It takes years and years of training and prayer. Mgr. DePiro did make it!
Christ gave us another way to come to know God's will - "He who listens to you, listens to me" (Lk. 18,16). Our superiors, irrespective of their I.Q. or sanctity, can be to us transmitters of God's will. Mgr DePiro knew this and acted accordingly. On the 11th August, 1929, while giving a talk to a group of his novices, he said; "therefore we should always be ready to do what our superiors desire because they are in a better position to judge things and because in their will we recognize God's will". The novices were listening to a man who knew what obedience was all about.
When in 1908 Mgr. DePiro put forward to Bishop Pace his idea of setting up a Missionary Society, the Bishop gave a negative answer due to the fact that the Salesians had only recently come to Malta. To introduce simultaneously tow religious congregations in our small dioceses, where other Orders already existed, appeared to the Bishop as imprudent. Mgr. DePiro obeyed. It was like the grain of wheat that had to die before it can produce fruit.
Mgr. DePiro was an extremely busy man - not that this in itself is something to be given importance. Besides founding the Missionary Society of St. Paul, Mgr DePiro was not the type to 'invent' work. It was his sense of obedience that made him accepts from his superiors an ever increasing list of responsibilities.
He was appointed director of several children's Homes: Fra Diego (Hamrun), St. Joseph (St. Venera and Ghajnsielem, Gozo), Jesus of Nazareth (Zejtun - which he set up with Miss Curmi). T. Francis de Paule (B'Kara) and others. He acted also as a Secretary General to H.G. Dom Mauro Caruana O.S.B. and was the Bishop's representative in the Maltese Parliament (1932). Besides he was nominated by the Government of Malta co-adjutor to the Dean of the Cathedral. He was a member of the National Committee formed "Pro Maltesi Morti e Feriti il 7 e 8 Giunio (1919)". He played an important part in the "Assemblea Nazionale" in the formation of the New Constitution and the Maltese Government (1919 -1921), and later in persuading His Majesty's Government to grant elections in June. He was involved in reconciling Lord Strickland with the Church. He even was Rector of the Bishop's Seminary.
These are but some of the responsibilities Mgr. DePiro had, many of which concurrently. He had them because his superiors asked him to. He was not the showy type as proved by the fact that he decided against a diplomatic career which would have showered him with honors.
One might be carried to think that a man of such influence and high position would surely be difficult to approach. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many are those who have testified in writing that they were struck by his humility. Among these we have three nuns who were at Fra Diego Home of which Mgr. DePiro was director for more than 25 years. They said that the Monsignor was extremely humble and that he liked to stay with the children. Mr. A. Bugeja of Rabat left written that quite often the Monsignor would give his seat on the train to some worker.
One of the most significant episodes, however, has been handled to us by Mr. Francis Xerri of B'Kara: "One episode left a great impression on me. Mgr. Depiro and myself were walking through Hamrun when he met a girl who was physically disfigured. He stopped and talked to her with great love. (She once lived in one of the Homes which were under his care)". No further comment is called for.
"Because he had regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold form henceforth all generations shall call me blessed" (Lk. 1,48).
The Missionary Society of St. Paul, Mgr. DePiro's most precious gift to humanity, in propagating its founder's charism, would at the same time fulfill his Magnificat.
The Sunday Times
18th September 1988.
Fr. Noel Bianco MSSP (Melbourne, Australia)
Mgr. De Piro: a priest for Maltese migrants.
The name Mgr. Joseph De Piro has always been associated with those in need, especially the poor and the orphans. He dedicated his life to these people. But as a priest his heart burnt with zeal to help the spiritual needs of the people of God wherever they are.
Through the Missionary Society of St. Paul (MSSP), which he founded, he passed on to his priests and lay brothers his missionary charism. The aim of the Society has always been to take the Church to countries which had never heard the Gospel before. Closely associated with this aim was the care of Maltese migrants.
For a long time the Maltese had been leaving their country to seek a better future for themselves and their children. Migration creates problems of displacement and alienation, as families are cut off from their roots to start a new life elsewhere. It takes a long time for the migrant to acquire a sense of belonging in a new country.
All this has religious, cultural and social implications and migrants, at least initially, need a lot of help. In the early years of this century. Maltese migrants felt the need of some assistance from the Maltese Church. They saw necessity of having Maltese priests who could help them because they understood their language and shared their culture. Mgr. De Piro was very much aware of these problems and did his best to help.
As Secretary to Archbishop Dom Maurus Caruana, Mgr. De Piro received sad reports about the practice of the faith by some of the Maltese migrants. Those who sent these reports were aware of Mgr. De Piro's efforts to establish a missionary society and so felt that he could help them or at least champion their cause.
A letter, dated September 9, 1914, written by a certain G. Fenech, from San Francisco, USA, addressed him as "the benefactor not only of the Maltese in Malta but also of those spread throughout the world". Fenech asked Mgr. De Piro to send out one of his priests, but Mgr. De Piro could not help because, as yet, there was not member of the Society ordained priest. Mgr. De Piro promised to do his best.
Fenech showed great confidence. He wrote to Mgr. De Piro again: "I am confident of your ability to find a priest who will come to the aid of the Maltese in California". Mgr. De Piro kept his promise because, with the help of another priest, he made arrangements for Fr. Andrea Azzopardi, a Franciscan, to go to San Francisco. After Fr. Andrea's arrival, Fenech writes joyfully: "I thank you wholeheartedly in the name of all the Maltese in California and your presence will be visible for eternity in the church which we will build in San Francisco".
In 1916, Mgr. De Piro received pleas for help from Fr. William Bonnet of Sydney, Australia. He mentioned Fr. Jones Cassar who had been working there for 40 years. Fr. Bonnnett then asked for more priests. With a tinge of sadness Mgr. De Piro answered on November 17, 1916: "As yet the missionary spirit is still very limited in Malta". And he continues to tell Fr. Bonnett: "When you are celebrating Mass, please remember our Society which is still in its infancy - the Society for the missions. We pray that there will be a time when we reap some of the fruits of our labour and efforts…we pray that one day we will set foot in Australia - so please help us with your prayers, because one of the missionaries of the Society of St. Paul will be working alongside you".
Mgr. De Piro tried hard to promote and encourage this work. In the Almanakk ta' San Pawl, which he published, he gave information about the good work being done for migrants in Corfu', Egypt, Detroit and elsewhere by other Maltese priests. He worked consistently to make the Maltese public aware of the needs of their brothers and sisters overseas. He was also personally involved in migrant work when, in May 1922, he went to Tunis with a group of priests to conduct a mission and celebrate the feast of St. Paul. Many Maltese took part in the celebration and received the sacraments. This first-hand experience of migrant work helped Mgr. De Piro to clear his own mind and to see more clearly that, by helping the Maltese, new ways of helping other people could develop.
In those years of intense activity, Mgr. De Piro was working hard to get his newly formed Society canonically recognized. He was coming up against a number of difficulties. Because of the missionary nature of the Society he sought the approval of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Propaganda Fidei), in Rome.
In drafting the first rules of the Society Mgr. De Piro wrote: "The aim of the little Society is to be of help to those nations where there is a need of evangelical workers, but in a particular way and before anyone else to the Maltese who are away form their homeland". This last part created confusion among the Roman officials about the truly missionary nature of the Society and delayed somewhat the much needed recognition. Mgr. De Piro struggled very hard to clarify the position and was eventually understood. Yet he kept in mind all the time the needs of the migrants and hoped that his Society would be able to do missionary work among migrants.
In God's good time this apostolate became a reality for the Society 15 years after his death when, on August 2, 1948, Fr. Augustine Grech, MSSP, set foot in Australia. Mgr. De Piro's Charism was kept alive throughout the last forty years and the Society's migrant apostolate extended itself to Canada and the United States of America.
EIGHTY YEARS AGO THE SERVANT OF GOD MGR JOSEPH DE PIRO
FOUNDED A MISSIONARY RELIGIOUS INSTITUTE
WHICH HELPS MALTESE MIGRANTS
The great visionaries of history were people who were able to see beyond their situation and their minds were constantly open to new ideas. They were able to be sensitive to the present needs of those around them and yet dream about possibilities for the future. Such a visionary and a dreamer was the Servant of God Mgr Joseph De Piro.
Although his main vision, since the early years of his priestly studies, was the establishment of a society which would send priests and brothers to the missions, he also saw the real need of the Maltese who had been leaving the country to seek a better future for themselves and their children. In the early years of this century, Maltese migrants felt the need for some assistance from the Maltese Church. They saw the necessity of having Maltese priests who would be able to help them because they shared their language and culture. Mgr. De Piro was very much aware of these problems and did his best to help.
As Secretary to Archbishop Dom Maurus Caruana, Mgr. De Piro received sad reports about the practice of the faith by some of the Maltese migrants. Those who sent these reports were aware of Mgr. De Piro's efforts to establish a missionary society, and so felt that he could help them or at least champion their cause.
A letter, dated September 9, 1914, written by a certain G. Fenech from San Fransicso, U.S.A., addressed him as the benefactor not only of the Maltese in Malta, but also of those spread throughout the world. Fenech asked Mgr. De Piro to send out one of his priests, but Mgr. De Piro could not help because, as yet there was no member of the Society ordained priest. Mgr. De Piro promised to do his best.
Fenech showed great confidence. He wrote to Mgr. De Piro again: I am confident of your ability to find a priest who will come to the aid of the Maltese in California. Mgr. De Piro kept his promise because, with the help of another priest, he made arrangements for Fr. Andrea Azzopardi, a Franciscan, to got to San Francisco. After Fr. Andrea's arrival, Fenech writes joyfully: thank you wholeheartedly in the name of all the Maltese in California and your presence will be visible for eternity in the church which we will build in San Francisco.
In 1916, Mgr. De Piro received pleas for help from Fr. William Bonnett of Sydney, Australia. He mentioned Fr. James Cassar who had been working there for forty years. Fr. Bonnett then answered on November 17, 1916: As yet the missionary spirit is still very limited in Malta. And he continued to tell Fr. Bonnett: When you are celebrating Mass, please remember our Society which is still in its infancy - the Society for the Missions. We pray that there will be a time when we will reap some of the fruits of our labour and efforts… we pray that one day we will set foot in Australia - so please help us with your prayers, that one day one of the missionaries of the Society of St. Paul will be working alongside you. In God's good time, the Society was able to start this missionary work amongst migrants.
This happened fifteen years after Mgr. De Piro's death when, on August 2, 1948, Fr. Augustine Grech MSSP set foot in Australia. Mgr. De Piro's Charism and vision is still alive today and migrant work is also being attended to in the U.S.A. and Canada.
While people migrate for a better life for themselves and their children, migration itself has its own challenges. Migration creates problems of displacement and alienation as families are cut off from their roots to start a new life elsewhere. It takes a long time for the migrant to acquire a sense of belonging to a new country. All this has religious, cultural and social implications and migrants, at least initially, need a lot of help.
The members of the Missionary Society of St. Paul have always made themselves available to the Maltese Community to help them face these new challenges in a new land. Over the last forty-two years the role of the migrant chaplain has gone through significant changes. In the early days, when people were leaving Malta in great numbers, the chaplain's role - apart from administering sacraments and comforting those in need - was also that of a social worker. The Society's priests and brothers helped people find accommodation and housing and jobs, and introduced them to the local church. People were living in crammed conditions until they established their own homes and this created a range of sociological and other problems.
The Maltese needed those who acted as mediators between them and Government departments. Some got into trouble with the law and had to be helped in the courts. The main focus of the chaplain's work was on two levels: community-building and attention to individuals especially through home visitation. This is still the focus of the Society's apostolate today.
The present major challenges facing migrant chaplains today are on two levels: the aging migrant population and the care of their children especially those born in their adopted country.
The aging Maltese need the special care of our priests and brothers. As migrants get old, they become more home-bound and the environment becomes more threatening. They lose their workmates and their social involvement. Their children sometimes live far away. It happens that even those who mastered the language of their adopted country will, in some cases, lose that means of communication and resort to their native Maltese alone. This isolates them further from the general population. Loneliness sets in with renewed vigor when their marriage partners die and they do not have that community support that would have been found had they still been in Malta. Strategies for their pastoral care are continuously revised so that they can be relevant to their needs. For this reason, the Society together with Maltese Associations and local authorities organize social welfare programes, grief support groups, home visits by community groups and individual counseling to help these people in their great need.
The other major challenge, which is very much misunderstood and not recognized by a superficial knowledge of migrant work, is the care of the children of those who were born in their country of adoption. One might think that these would have no problems because they can speak the language and appear to integrate well. However, if one were to look closely, they too have problems with their cultural and religious identity and even their educational aspirations. These problems can be seen especially in the breakdown of family life and in the tensions that they feel as they try to make themselves part of the new country even though they were born there.
For this reason the Society has been involves in fostering youth groups and drop-in centers, marriage preparation course, leadership and vocational courses and sacramental programs which, while exposing the person to the new culture, affirms the Maltese culture they came from. The problem of identity is very crucial for the well-being of the human person; but, when one is of a different ethnic origin to one's neighbor, this issue can become very acute.
These challenges are being addressed by the Missionary Society of St. Paul in those places where her members are working with migrants. We thank God for the foresight of Mgr. De Piro who, so many years ago, recognized the special needs of so many thousands of Maltese who had to leave our shores in search of a better future. In celebrating the eightieth anniversary of foundation, the Society thanks God for her forty-two years of selfless service to the Maltese in those countries where presently her members are working.
Fr. Lonnie Borg MSSP,
(Missionary in Pakistan)
EIGHTY YEARS AGO THE SERVANT OF GOD JOSEPH DE PIRO
FOUNDED A MISSIONARY SOCIETY
From time to time the Spirit of God raises up charismatic leaders (so) that they may proclaim the perennial message of Salvation, through faith in Jesus Christ, in a (new) way relevant to their age. The Servant of God Joseph De Piro, the founder of the Missionary Society of Saint Paul, was such a person. He realized how necessary it was for the Church to adopt new methods and techniques of evangelization. In fact, for the last 80 years, the Society he brought into being has co0ntributerd immensely in the field of missionary apostolate and service. Doubtlessly it was the Providence of God and an intense spiritual life that enabled the Servant of God and his sons to accomplish great things for the cause of Christ and the Church. The 80th anniversary of the foundation of the Society, being celebrated this year, is also a time of reflection: while learning from past experience, we project ourselves with courage and new hopes for the future.
A Missionary Society comes into being.
From the very foundation of "The Little Society of St. Paul", the Servant of God Joseph De Piro, infused in his first members the idea of a missionary zeal and apostolate. From the very beginning, his objective was clear. In a letter written to Mgr. P La Fontaine, he refers to the Society as: " I and the young members who form the Society for foreign missionaries."
In the early stages of growth of the Society the actualization of missionary life in its strict sense was somewhat remote, because there were no members abroad. The Servant of God needed vocations to build up and strengthen his society. One could ask: "But did De Piro actually want a missionary society?" We can confirm what he had in mind by reference to the Rules of the 'Institute for Overseas Missions', as he himself called the Society: "The aim of the Little Society is to make known the Gospel to people belonging to a world that has no knowledge of it and in a special way to help the Maltese who live away from the Island".
As if this were not enough, the Servant of God named the new founded Society after St. Paul, the Great Apostle of the Nations. He did not choose him because he is the Patron saint of the Maltese Islands, but rather because St. Paul is a model for all missionaries.
The first Rules and the circumstances in which they were written are a must for anyone attempting a serious study about the nature of origins of any particular institute or congregation. In our case too, the original Rules reveal what the Founder had in mind and heart. His primary aim was that the Society would do missionary work in those territories where the Gospel message was not yet known. The Servant of God, coined this missionary idea in our special and characterizing vow, the Vow of Missionary Service. Here it is proper to mention the Founder's other great wish, namely that all members would be committed to the three essential vows of Chastity, Poverty and Obedience. This means that the members are religious as well as missionaries.
A glance at the history of the Society would reveal that in 1916 the Founder asked Rome to consider the Society as 'Missionary'. In fact, on the 7th of November of the same year, the Congregation of the Sacraments issued the decree whereby the first member of the Society could be ordained with the 'titolo missionis'. Unfortunately, this proved disappointing for the Servant of God because the step forward that he thought he had made in obtaining the title had not led the Society anywhere nearer canonical stability. However, he did not lose hope and, with new courage and determination, he continued in his striving to obtain recognition and autonomy for the Society.
The Missionary dream comes true.
As time passed, the problems encountered were not few, but as the Servant of God was a man of faith, these did not quell the ardent desire that one day members of the Society would serve the Church in mission countries. In 1922, a Missionary Review entitled: 'St. Paul: Almanac of the Missionary Institute', was first published. Its purpose was to enhance the missionary spirit in the members of the Society whilst communicating its news. If we were to go through the pages of this publication, we would find that the Servant of God made many a reference to missions and missionary apostolate. At the time, his frequent use of the expression 'overseas missions', may have caused him some embarrassment, for at the time no member was actually serving in missions abroad; no member of the Society was as yet prepared enough to work in mission territory. So the Servant of God Joseph De Piro, deemed it fitting for the time being that some pastoral work be taken up with Maltese migrants. He arrived to this decision partly because of pressure from the local Ecclesial Authorities, and partly because of the numerous appeals for help in this regard. The Christian principle that, "Charity begins at home", applied here, and the Servant of God felt the need to help his Maltese compatriots abroad. In fact, in the June 1923 issue of the Almanac, he states that: "The aim of the Society is to work in faraway countries. But first and foremost it's the Maltese who are abroad that are to benefit".
In connection with this, he himself went to Tunis where part of the time there was a fairly large number of Maltese emigrants. This experience surely strengthened his inner desire to have some members working in mission lands, not only among the Maltese, but also with those who had never heard the Word God. Problems never ceased, but the Servant of God never gave up hope: "May this small Missionary Society become a reality by having the honour of sending missionaries to non-believers across the world".
This reality actually took place on Tuesday the 21st of June 1927, when the Servant of God Joseph De Piro and his members saw the departure of the first missionary, Joseph Caruana, a lay-brother, to Abyssinia. Now the long dreamt wish had become a reality: the Society had its first missionary. Possessing a profound religious spirit and a fervent missionary zeal, Br. Joseph was the right choice. He became a model missionary for us to emulate. He was convinced that first he had to live out his religious life in order to draw people close to God. His life in Somalia was a long and fruitful missionary gift. He stayed there until his death on the 23rd of April 1975, never even returning to his homeland for a holiday.
Development of the Missionary Society
As early as 1916, the Society was asked to send its members to Australia. In a reply letter, the Servant of God Joseph De Piro, wrote to Fr. William Bonnett, a Maltese priest working in Sydney: "the time will come when we will step on Australian soil! But believe me, although the Society is a small one, the task is hard, and it is necessary for me to practice more patience… the day will come when you will have a missionary from the Little Society of St. Paul." The day actually did arrive, but not in the Servant of God's lifetime. It was in 1948 that work among emigrants in Australia was inaugurated. From that time other houses were opened in this continent. Other houses were also opened in Canada and the United States. The members who worked in these countries contributed immensely for the spiritual benefit of many, not only Maltese, but also of people of various nationalities who came in contact with them.
The development of the Society continued and in 1968 the first of a series of houses was opened in Peru', South America. This mission was another step towards the total realization of the Founder's ideal. A year later, on the 18th of June 1969, the Founder's greatest desire, which he did not live to see, namely that the Society would depend on the Congregation of the Propagation of Faith, was at last fulfilled. Four years later the Decretum Laudis was obtained. This was another important milestone marking the development of the Society. Now the Society had gained pontificial rights and was dependent on the Apostolic See. This was the day the Founder aspired to see. The Society now became officially known as the 'Missionary Society of St. Paul'. In 1982 another page in the history of the Society was written with the opening of the first house in the parish of Chak Jhumra, Pakistan, an Islamic State.
Looking back after 80 years of existence gives us courage and hope for the future to come. The long list of members who served abroad in various countries is quite a satisfactory recognition of what the Founder started at the beginning. The setting up of new formation houses in overseas countries, and the young members in formation aspiring to continue what the Founder started are proof enough that what God initiated through his Servant will continue to grow and flourish. Evangelization has no end.
"Christ raised from the dead is our faith". (1 Cor 15:20)
"He died once for all and will never die again" (Rom 6:10)
Hence his Mission, his Society and his Church cannot fail to have a future.
The Times of Malta.
Fr. Noel Bianco MSSP
Missionary Society of St. Paul:
75 years of diocesan approval.
Emigration was a fact of life for many Maltese in most of our long history. After the second would war, thousands of our brothers and sisters left our shores because our small nation, so lacking in natural resources, could not guarantee their future.
It is only in the past few years, with the economic improvement and the slowdown in the birth rate, that we are realizing that there are other ways a person can earn a living in our island. The need to go abroad to seek employment is now almost non-existent. This might make us forget the plight of thousands of Maltese living abroad who made other countries their permanent home without any possibility of ever returning.
These brothers and sisters of ours and their children are still connected to us and we have responsibility towards them. Those who left these islands had to face a new would without any security and many of them suffered a great deal. Some of them have never felt at home in their adopted country and are forced to live there because they have children and grandchildren who will never dream of coming back to Malta.
As a missionary priest who has studied and ministered in Melbourne, I have heard hundreds of sad stories of our people who are caught in this situation. In most cases one can only listen to these stories and sympathize with them, but on the other hand there are many ways in which some of this suffering can be eased.
As a member of the Missionary Society of St. Paul, I thank God that, through the charisma which was passed on to us by Mgr. Joseph De Piro, we the members, have been helping to ease some of the pain of separation that our brothers and sisters feel.
An area that can cause considerable pain is loss of identity. It is the personal challenge of each one to come to terms with the question of who he or she is and what his or her place in society is. This question is crucial to one's development and it is not an easy challenge to face.
Migrants face this issue may times in their lives as they try to adapt to new situations and adopt different lifestyles to their own. This becomes a real crucial issue, especially for their children. The children of those from a migrant background are caught in the middle of this process and many do not succeed resolve this important challenge in their lives.
In my ministry, one of my special personal interests and concerns was the spiritual welfare of the children and grandchildren of the Maltese who migrated to Australia in the past 50 years. I have asked hundreds of first and second generation Maltese how they feel about their identity. Against the expectations of many, these children tell you that while they may consider themselves foreigners when they come to Malta, they feel a sense of homecoming.
We, as members of a missionary society, have been using practical means to keep the Maltese identity alive. We do this through our Migrant Centers and the personal and family assistance we give to our people. For this reason, the society has been involved in fostering youth groups, drop-in centers, marriage preparation courses, leadership and vocational courses and sacramental programes which, while exposing the person to a new culture, affirms the rich heritage our people brought with them to the new country.
On the 75th anniversary of the diocesan approval of our society we can thank God for the 48 years of our continuous service to migrants. As a missionary society we see the apostolate among migrants as very important and dear to us. As chaplains to the migrants we see ourselves as the bridge between the local church and these Maltese migrants.
Our presence helps our people's practice of the faith and for many the retention of their identity. We also see our ministry as vital for the welfare of the migrants' adopted country. In a world where there is so much hunger for peace and love, the message of God's love needs to be continuously proclaimed.
If we help the Maltese overseas to continue to grow in their Christian and personal identity, they can become missionaries in their own right wherever they go. I am proud to say that in many parishes in which I ministered I found Maltese men and women involved in different ministries within the parish and many were leadership positions.
We thank God for the foresight of Mgr. De Piro who, so many years ago, recognizing the special needs of so many thousands of Maltese who left our shores, encouraged the members of the society to keep the migrant ministry as precious for the Maltese province. In celebrating the 75th anniversary of the diocesan approval of our congregation, we rejoice at the privilege of having ministered to so many of our people abroad.
Fr. S. Tomlin MSSP
24th October, 1996
The Missionary Society of St. Paul.
Malta teeming, as it ever was, with priestly vocations, had always attracted the attention of the Church in Rome. Though small in size, in its chequered history, Malta saw hundreds of its best youths leaving its shores to propagate the Gospel in the world. Several attempts were made to have a proper organization for training missionaries. In fact, at about the middle of the last century, Propaganda Fide, the Church's department for missions, thought it was high time that something concrete should be done. So a certain Mgr. Casolani was ordained a bishop with clear instructions to start a missionary movement that would promote a continuous flow of Maltese priests to missionary lands.
The attempt failed for several reasons. But God, who was behind the good intentions of the Church, had his own ways to carry out Propaganda's endevour. The year that Bishop Casolani died saw the year of the birth of Giuseppe De Piro. He was to be the man that Providence had singled out to carry Propaganda's dream.
Giuseppe De Piro, later Mgr. De Piro, was born in Mdina on the second of November 1877. His father Alexander had his plans for his son. Handsome, cheerful, Giuseppe would make a fine lawyer. But Providence was planning otherwise. On the 8th May 1898, while the university students were gathered in church for the 'supplica' of Our Lady of Pompei, De Piro decided to become a priest. The Missionary Society that later he was to found had no doubt a link with that momentous decision. This year, on the 14th November, the Missionary Society of St. Paul is celebrating the 75th anniversary of its official birthday, in canonical terms its "Erectio Canonica". The local Church in Malta, through Archbishop Maurus Caruana, O.S.B., gave its blessing and the go ahead to Mgr. De Piro and his little frail band of young followers.
Cardinal J. H. Newman sys that at some stages in his life man is bound to give his best. Nobody now hesitates to state the foundation of the Missionary Society of St. Paul was De Piro's best moment of his life.
When Pope Paul VI in 1973 granted the Decretum Laudis, that is the final approval of the Society, he insisted with the then Superior of the Society that the Society should be faithful to the Church: "Ora siate fedeli alla Chiesa", - incidentally those were the Last words that Pius XII said to Montini when he appointed him Archbishop of Milan. Little perhaps, the Pope could imagine how true were these words as a characteristic of the Founder. Mgr. De Piro practiced this characteristic to a heroic degree. To serve the Church he almost sacrificed the Society, his pet project, that needed all his time of which the service of the Church left him very little. De Piro worked at a great and worrying pitch of intensity that may well had been the cause of his untimely death at 55 when the Society needed him most. There is no doubt that De Piro was a man for all seasons. The Church could rely on his sterling qualities, especially his great sense of duty. He was in fact entrusted with the direction of five orphanages, he was secretary to the bishop, representative of the clergy in the Senate, and for some time Rector of the Seminary. Besides of course many pastoral duties.
But amidst all this hustle and bustle of duties there was one golden string going through all De Piro's life: the foundation of a missionary Congregation. It's history now that almost nobody in Malta took seriously De Piro's dream. There were so many Orders in Malta who had their missions. Why create another one? Obviously, many thought, this weak point of De Piro will fade away with his demise. Few could imagine and measure the love of the missions that was bubbling in the heart of this great man.
But how all this dream of a missionary Congregation started?
Young Joseph De Piro as a young seminarian kept a diary. It is the story of his soul brimming with ideas for a future that was beckoning. It is the story of a soul that is gradually being moulded by the Holy Spirit for a future mission. It shows the struggle going within a soul where Christ is pushing himself to win priority in the dreams of the young seminarist. Friends are telling the promising student to start a glimmering career in the Academy that may lead him to be a bishop and eventually a cardinal. But no. Christ's vast fields of harvest enrapture Joseph's heart. "Something tells me" he wrote in his journal "that I must go to St. Joseph's orphanage in Hamrun and help there, because I feel that from St. Joseph a missionary Society has to be born".
In fact, that is what he did sometime after his ordination. At Sr. Joseph's God developed and matured his plan for Don Giuseppe De Piro. There he learned at firs hand a much needed lesson. We might say he even received an injection which is the basis of many of God's great plans. At St. Joseph's De Piro scrutinized and learned how Providence works through its mysterious ways. How to start a work of God with nothing to rely on. De Piro needed that lesson that would come handy as a special charism of his future Society: complete dependence on God. His Missionaries will accomplish great things for the Kingdom of God in proportion to their trust in God. De Piro will later summarize all this in one of his favourite dictums: "If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labour".
De Piro's idea of going to St. Joseph's from where a Missionary Society will be formed was hardly a rational one. St. Joseph's was all geared to receive orphans, not missionaries. Still I firmly believe that De Piro's writing in his diary was a divine inspiration. And as often happens with such inspirations God led them to their completion in a way know to Him and not as De Piro envisaged. In fact, the main bulk of his first missionaries came exactly from the orphans of St. Joseph's.
De Piro's Society then was to be born in the poverty of St. Joseph's. We might say in the poverty of Bethlehem. And in a world where consumism was looming ahead the Society will be shinning with a prophetic message of God's priority in life. All the works of the Society were to bear this important imprint. God will be the only security on which to build and execute his plans.
With the help of God working though benefactors the Society will continue to march to pastures new happy and thankful for the Church's blessing 75 years ago.
Fr. Frans Ferriggi MSSP
A script of a lecture delivered at the Maltese Center, 477 Royal Pde, Parkville for the Malta Historical Society.
17th June 1997
THE SERVANT OF GOD, (MGR) JOSEPH DE PIRO (1877 - 1933)
FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARY SOCIETY OF ST. PAUL.
The idea of this talk came to my mind when once, after one of the monthly lectures, the president asked me to talk about the work of the Congregation in Australia. I am not a historian but I accepted the invitation and at once decided to talk about the man who made all this possible, the Founder of the Missionary Society of St. Paul, Joseph De Piro.
Quite a number of us where born in Malta and know about it. Some know very little. Some know next to nothing. So I will start from there. Malta is a small island (the size of Philip Island) in the Mediterranean Sea, roughly 100 Km from Sicily and about 300 Km from Africa. We know that the oldest standing public place for worship in existence is in Malta. At one point Malta was inhabited by the Phoenicians, they by the Carthaginians and then the Romans took over. In 60 AD when Malta was a Roman colony, St. Paul was shipwrecked on the island. The writer to The Acts of the Apostles calls the inhabitants "Barbarians". That means that the people did not speak Greek, one of the main languages at that time. Professor Aquilina, I think, believes that the people spoke some sort of Semitic language. But there are no written documents of that time. In 870 AD the Arabs took over the island and again professor Aquilina believes that the old language died gradually. In 1090 AD Count Roger the Norman conquered the island and from that point onwards Malta became part of Sicily politically and so part of Europe. From 1530 to 1798 Malta was ruled by the Knights of St. John. Then the French ruled the island for just two years. Malta was an English Colony from 1800 until 1964.
This very simplistic history of Malta helps us to understand better the person we are to talk about today, Joseph De Piro, born in Imdina in 1877 when Malta was a British colony and when the British Empire was a world power.
THE DE PIRO FAMILY
The De Piro family is a noble family that went to Malta around the time of the Great Siege, that is 1565. But it is much, much older. This family went to Malta from Italy, from the cities of Pisa and Firenze (Florence). In Malta they had titles like Baron and Marquis conferred on them. This shows that they played some very important roles in the politics of the Island. They lived in Imdina but possessed land and buildings in Malta and in Florence. Joseph De Piro's father was called Alexander. His mother Ursula Agius Caruana. She was also noble by birth. Both were convinced Catholics. They fulfilled their religious duties. But they were deeply concerned about their social duties as Christians. So they were helped the poor, helped people in need and taught their children the value and nobility of manual work.
Imdina was very quiet city; before the Knights of St John built Valletta, it was the Capital city of the island. The Nobility lived there. Joseph De Piro was born in very rich and noble family when social position and titles of nobility meant so much. In the family there were seven boys and two girls.
Joseph De Piro: Early life and Priesthood.
Joseph was child number seven. He was born in 1877. All the children were given the best education available; Joseph first had home tutoring and then he passed the examination for the Lyceum. Apart from the intellectual education the children learnt some manual trade or trades; they had to give a helping hand in house chores although there were maids and servants in the home. The mother, Is-Sinjura Ursula, was a first class organizer. But she did not just give orders; she also did her share in the tasks undertaken. She also built a very Christian family; not simply in the traditional sense of going to church and praying but also in matters of social justice; they treated the people employed with them with the greatest fairness and they helped many poor beggars or people in need.
Joseph was first educated at home. Then he passed the Lyceum Examination. He did very well at school; he was also very gifted in the arts. He could have made a first class artist. He joined the Royal Militia for two years; there he was a part-time soldier and fulfilled his duties very conscientiously. Roll calls show that he hardly ever missed. He went to the University and started reading Law. He was preparing himself to become a lawyer or barrister. However on the 8 of May 1898, during a Novena to Our Lady of Pompeii at the Jesuits' Church, Joseph felt strong enough to decide to become a priest. He informed his mother of this decision - his father had already died. He made the necessary arrangements, talked to the bishop and some months later went to Rome. He stayed at the Capranica. In Rome he studied Philosophy and Theology. While studying in Rome, he wrote letters to a Maltese priest in Malta and he felt the call to do something for the missions, like founding a missionary society. He was also very much interested in the orphans and boys hit by poverty living at St. Joseph's orphanage, Hamrun. He was ordained priest before he had finished his third year of Theological studies. On the 15th of March 1920 he was ordained a priest. Soon after he came to Malta and sung his first solemn high mass on the 30th of March that same year. The Rector noted the following about him: "Joseph De Piro is naturally inclined to forgive always. He is very kind. He left behind him a much cherished memory in this College."
Sickness: (Tuberculosis) A time for reflection.
He had not completed his studies but obtained the necessary permission. He was thinking of finishing his studies and then studies further Canon Law. Yet his dreams were not to be fulfilled. Some months after he was ordained a priest he was diagnosed as suffering from tuberculosis - a very serious illness at that time. So the doctors suggested a long stay on the mountains. He went to Switzerland and stayed there from August 1902 to February 1904. During these months he did not just strengthen himself physically. For him it was a time of prayer, reflection and searching for God's will.
DE PIRO AND THE ORPHANS.
During his life, Joseph De Piro was assigned seven orphanages; for boys and for girls. I am not going to list them but I will speak at length about one, The Fra Diegu Institute for Girls at Hamrun. He was responsible for it from 1907 to 1933, the time of his death. During his busy life he never resigned from any of the orphanages although he resigned from other prestigious positions, as we shall see later.
His educational System.
His method or system of education was very simple and effective. He wanted children under his care to be better children, to receive sound formation which would serve well them when they were to leave the orphanage and love on their own. He never wanted children to be punished physically; not even to be abused verbally or shouted at. However this does not mean that he let things go by. He wished that children be corrected gently, showing them that they had erred, but that they were still lovable. Usually, after correcting a child, he would smile and offer a lolly. He was against unsupervised children and against laziness. He always appreciated the children's and the nuns' work and he showed his appreciation. He excused people's mistakes and was careful not to judge people's intentions. When people gave him something special, even during meals (like a very beautiful orange), he would say, "Well, let's give this to the children!" He wished and wanted the children to be happy and went to extremes to make them happy. All his means - and his family's - even houses, were used to help the poor. There were plays, holidays, games.
He organized at least two big lunches every year: Christmas and Easter and sometimes St. Joseph's, his patron saint. He organized outings at the family's property at Qrendi. He wanted children to learn not only academic subjects but other necessary trades or arts, like cooking, sewing, embroidery ('rakkmu'); for boys he insisted on trades such as printing, bookbinding, shoe-making. At St. Joseph's Boys' Orphanage (Gozo) he introduced a band which was very successful and is still in existence as the Ghajnsielem Band. Whenever he went abroad, he brought small gifts with him: like soap and perfume for girls. He held 'Prize days' and invited personalities at his Orphanages to be guests of honour. When children were sick he visited them in hospital and carried gifts with him, like oranges, for example.
One expects a priest to be interested in the spiritual welfare of those under his care. That was why he worked so hard. He taught them to have a fixed time of regular prayer. Every Thursday he spent an hour of Adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament with children. He wanted them to sing well in church and asked for a person learned in this matter to teach the children and the nun concerned. On special occasions he saw that there were priests to hear the children's and the nuns' confessions. He spoke of true and everlasting values-and he taught what he himself tried to live.
When Young Persons had to leave the Orphanage.
Our Founder was a rich man, he was noble by birth and he knew what earthly comfort was like. Yet he chose not only to help the poor, but also to live for the poor and to feel the pangs of poverty. He put his wealth and that of his family at the poors' and orphans' service. He begged from his mother and from his relatives. His mother used to call him, "Il-fqir tieghi!", "My poor son". When he was in need, he even went begging from his rich friends. On Thursdays he used to visit streets where his rich friends lived and paced up and down. Some say that was his way of asking for money. Probably it was very humiliating for him.
He involved his mother in his charitable works; she used to gather young women, even well-to-do women and they would sew liturgical vestments or do whatever was necessary and possible to help; She used to say, "These are my visits to the theatre and my films: working for the poor." Quite naturally, she also worked with the others. She also visited the orphanages and spent time talking to the girls who lived in the orphanage and she worked with them too.
Before passing on to another subject, I wish to emphasize the following points: He never resigned from any of the orphanages;
He did his best to advance every particular orphanage;
He was very gentle with those in charge and with the persons under his care;
He encouraged everybody to achieve the best one could;
He was interested in every person under his care.
HIS SENSE OF JUSTICE TOWARDS THOSE WHO WORKED WITH HIM.
Joseph De Piro had a great respect towards those who worked with him or those who were employed by him. When Fr. Joseph Spiteri was elected Assistant Superior, he told him to sign instead of him and state that he was assistant superior. He assigned another priest Fr. Gaetanus Bartolo to be responsible of the wages. So he explained everything in detail. Since wages were low, he used to put some extras money. He even handed a pension to ex-employees in need. He also used to visit the sick employees - either at home or at the hospital. In case of need, sometimes he even called a doctor. However he was always careful either not to humiliate the people involved; he would let others appear as if they were taking the lead.
HIS SENSE OF DUTY TOWARDS HIS COUNTRY: HIS PATRIOTISM.
The Seventh June Riots.
When Joseph De Piro decided to be a priest, his ideas was to serve God in whichever way he asked him. He was not after honors, titles or the lime-light. He was not after making a career in the worldly sense or of making money. I think most of us heard about the seventh June nineteen nineteen Riots; what is referred to as the "Sette Giugno". The Maltese people were striving for a better Constitution because they wanted to be masters of their destinies in their own country. At the National Assembly sitting on 25 February 1919, Monsignor Ignatius Panzavecchia suggested a motion calling for more autonomy in local problems. The session was adjourned for June 7, 1919. On that fateful day, the second sitting was in session. The meeting was held at "La Giovane Malta". There were big crowds in Valletta because many people were facing unemployment. The First World War was just over and the Empire did not need too many workers at the Dockyards as it needed during the war. The people were protesting because they felt they were treated unjustly. Some people became violent and attacked the premises of The "Malta Chronicle" and the English Club. The Maltese police did not try to control the situation. So the Lieutenant Governor called in the English soldiers to take charge. The soldiers fired at the people, many were hurt and four people died; two more died later because of inflicted wounds.
While all this was happening in the streets, the sitting of the National Assembly was in progress. Notary Salvatore Borg Olivier suggested a committee or deputation be chosen to form the draft of a constitution. Meanwhile an injured person was carried into the hall where the meeting was in progress and people started asking protection. The sitting was brought to a hasty end. Most people at the National Assembly left quietly because they sensed the explosive situation. Monsignor De Piro was asked to take charge. He and five other members formed a delegation. With great difficulty they took charge of the crowds and acted as mediators between the English authorities and the Maltese crowds. After negotiations, Barrister Caruana Gatto addressed the crowds and informed the angry people of the negotiations' results. First, that all the soldiers were to be called to their quarters and second, that those responsible were to be held accountable for their actions. Very slowly, the crowds dispersed.
On the 8th and on the 9th of June, there were further protests and some criminals took advantage of the situation; there was looting and poverty destroyed. Some people even tried to attack the Bishop's Palace at Valletta. Bishop Portelli and Monsignor De Piro faced the angry crowds and tried to calm the people and to reason with them.
1932: Senator in The Third Parliament (17 Oct 1932 - 23 Jul 1933)
At this time, De Piro was chosen as chaplain of the Third Parliament. On hearing the news, Bro Joseph Caruana MSSP who was in Abyssinia, wrote the following: "I have heard that you were elected Senator. Congratulations! In the "MALTA" I read that some rascals insulted you. I was very sad for you. I think they do not know you."
He was praised for being above party politics, for writing to help others and for not seeking his own interests. That is what "The Daily Malta Chronicle" said on the 19th Sept 1933 edition, two days after his death.
Mediator between Lord Gerald Strickland and the Church.
On the 27th April 1930, The Bishops of Malta and Gozo issued a pastoral letter saying, "It is a grave sin to vote for Lord Strickland, his candidates and those who side with him in his fight against ecclesiastical rights and discipline." Church authorities also condemned the newspapers "THE DAILY MALTA CHRONICLE" AND "IX-XEMX".
The British Government felt the Maltese were not free in the elections and the Constitution was suspended. This means that Malta returned to its pre 7th June 1919 political status.
During this 1930 - 1932 crisis, De Piro acted as intermediary. He met secretly with Lord Strickland several times. Very little is known about the meetings. He never said anything about it. One of our members told me, "He never said anything; he kept complete silence." In Maltese he told me "Qatt ma qabzitlu kelma", and "Fommu sieket".
After his death, "THE DAILY MALTA CHRONICLE", Lord Strickland's newspaper, said, "Peace was settled very quietly. There was none like him trusted by both sides. There was none like him who had the necessary qualities to accomplish this delicate mission."
This was another case where he sought the good of all involved: Church, State and all the individuals involved without making any personal claims for recognition.
HIS LOVE AND DEDICATION FOR THE CHURCH.
Joseph De Piro became a priest to serve the church and the people as a priest. He was a man for the people: he said mass, heard confessions even on days off, celebrated marriages, heard people's problems. However, in this section we will be speaking of this, the public positions he held in the church as an ecclesiastical figure.
Secretary to the Archbishop 1915 - 1918
Archbishop Caruana chose him as his secretary. He fulfilled this duty with his usual scrupulosity: everything in order, attention to detail, everything on time. During this time the Archbishop chose De Piro and other holy and experienced priests to organize meetings to help the newly-ordained young priests to settle down in their new and difficult vocation and profession. Records show his dedication to duty but we know very little else about him in this duty.
Rector of the Seminary 1918 - 1920.
The Archbishop asked him to be in charge of the Major Seminary, that is the institution where young men are trained to become priests. The priests who were seminarians under his care noted his fatherly kindness, his interest in those under his care, and his ability to correct gently.
In 1920 he wrote an eleven page letter to the Archbishop about the state of the seminary. In fact it was a detailed report. He spoke about the professors, combining truth and charity. He commented on the teaching of philosophy and theology and showed how teaching can be upgraded. He called for a resident spiritual director and confessor. He criticized the use of a certain book because the 1917 Code of Canon Law rendered it outdated.
Since there were financial problems, he said that if the problems faced were so great, it was better to close down the Seminary.
During the Summer Holidays, seminarians helped in liturgical functions in their parish church. Then, the parish priest had to write a report on the persons involved. But some parish priests wrote hasty reports for formality's sake. The Rector asked for more detailed and specific reports. The seminarians had some communal outings which were suppressed because of financial problems. The rector noted that seminarians turned indifferent and sometimes even hostile to each other since these celebrations were suppressed. He suggested that they be re-introduced.
On the 27th August 1920 Fr. De Piro handed in writing his resignation as rector of the Seminary. He said that he had to dedicate more time to the congregation he had founded, the Missionary Society of St. Paul.
Seeking Peace in the Gudja Parish 1922.
Those of us who were born in Malta and spent some years there, know how much pride and passion are involved in the parish church, the statue of the patron saint the committee in charge (il-partit tal-festa) and the village festa. In 1922 tempers flared up in the village of Gudja about some misunderstandings. The priest felt threatened and withheld daily mass, although masses were said on Sundays. Since no priests were available, the Archbishop asked Mgr. De Piro to take charge and to try to find a peaceful solution. He went there on the 13th of July and spent a month there. He and some members of the new congregation provided the necessary ecclesiastical services and worked hard to promote a message of peace. When the feast was over, he and the two members of the Society left Gudja. The people were grateful for what he did in their parish; they asked him to stay there; quite naturally, he could not because he had other duties.
JOSEPH DE PIRO AS
FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARY SOCIETY OF SAINT PAUL.
Although De Piro was involved in many activities, his main accomplishment was the Missionary Society of Saint Paul. He had this dream since he was a seminarian in Rome. When he was convalescing on the Alps in Davos, he had more time to reflect, plan and pray.
Between the years 1904 and 1907 he was exercising his ministry at Qrendi while recuperating. At the same time in 1905 he started sharing his ideals with fellow priests. He thought that other priests might be interested. On the 16th January 1905 something strange happened to him. He was in Valletta with another priest. A beggar approached the two priests and asked for money. Fr. De Piro gave him some. The beggar thanked him in a very unusual way, saying, "May Saint Paul be with you". In his diary, Fr. De Piro noted this strange expression, more so since it came from a beggar.
Fr. De Piro was talking of "A Society of Missionaries". Other priests told him that they had had a similar idea and had tried, but they had failed. There were priests who told him that was an impossible idea, unless something miraculous happened. In his diary, De Piro noted, "At the moment there will be neither vows nor oaths. However we must be ready to submit to the divine will with the greatest generosity. This should be the word which urges us foreword, 'I will follow you wherever you go'. He felt the need for a community of future missionaries. At that time in Malta there was 'The Big Mission' and 'The Small Mission'. These consisted of groups of priests who visited parishes and spent some time preaching there. De Piro took part in these missions on different occasions. But he said that his ideas were different; he meant going to foreign countries.
In 1908 Archbishop Peter Pace blessed his dreams and encouraged him to find other priests with similar ideals. In 1909 De Piro drew a sketch of his society. He wrote, 'Aim of the (Little) Society (of Saint Paul) is that of forming missionaries and sending them wherever they are required'. In 1909 the Apostolic Visitor Monsignor Peter La Fontaine was in Malta. Together they discussed De Piro's ideals. He told De Piro to write a letter to the Pope and to get his Archbishop's written approval. La Fontaine then carried his letter with him to Rome and gave it to the Pope, at that time Pius X. In a letter dated 27 January 1910, the Pope blessed De Piro and his ideals. An his non existent companions. De Piro wrote a phrase which was to cause him much trouble. He wrote about "A Religious Society to form missionaries in a special way and above all to work in colonies of Maltese migrants". His love of Maltese migrants caused him much trouble; later he explained himself better but he never wavered from his ideas.
Finally, Fr. De Piro could see his dream taking shape. On the 12th of June 1910 the Archbishop of Malta blessed a small rented house in Imdina. And some days later, on the 30th of June 1910 two young men joined him, John Vella and Joseph Francis Caruana. John Vella was to become a priest and late to leave the Society while Joseph Francis Caruana was to become a lay-brother and to be the first missionary of the Society in Abyssinia/ Ethiopia.
In 1916 De Piro would explain himself better to Pope Benedict XV in these words, '…to form an Institute for foreign Missions and in a particular way for those Maltese who live far away from their island…' Our Founder is daring enough and points out that when he said that the Institute is 'for the Maltese, before everybody else', he wanted to exclude no one. Finally, in 1921 (14th of November) the Archbishop of Malta issued a Decree, "Auctoritate Nostra Ordinaria" (By Our Ordinary Authority) declared canonically erected the Pious Society (of Saint Paul the Apostle).
JUNE 1927 THE ABBBYSINIAN MISSION.
The Maltese Capuchin Friars had opened a mission in Abyssinia, what we now call Ethiopia. This particular mission was in what we now call Somalia. The person in charge of the Mission, Friar Angelo Mizzi OFM Capp asked De Piro to send him some Missionaries. The people available were few because there were few members. After the long and necessary negotiations De Piro could send one member, Brother Joseph Francis Caruana. De Piro had to say the following about Fra Guzepp, as he was known. "His name is Brother Joseph Francis Caruana. He is a member of the Society of Saint Paul. He is 36 years old. In him I see a deeply spiritual man; he is able to adapt himself very well to children. He is also an able infirmirian. Here I will be losing his help; but I undergo this sacrifice knowing with certainty that the Lord will not refrain from sending me others instead of him."
Brother Joseph left for Abyssinia in June 1927. He worked hard, helped and loved the people, was a man of prayer and died in that land in April 1975, aged 83 years. He never left that country - not even for a short holiday.
It was not De Piro's style to do things by halves. He kept constant contact by correspondence with Brother Joseph, encouraged him, was proud of him and praised him, sent him money. He also wrote to authorities concerned with this mission; he encouraged people to pray for this particular mission. It was present in his heart until he died. In 1933 De Piro was thinking of visiting Brother Joseph and having two new missionaries accompanying him. But this was not to happen. De Piro died on the 17th of September.
THE MOTHERHOUSE, SAINT AGATHA'S RABAT.
De Piro hired the first house in Imdina. Later, he moved to two other houses, also in Imdina. This shows that he had other plans. We have written records showing that since 1921 he was negotiating to acquire St. Agatha's chapel in Hal Bajjada, Rabat, and lands surrounding it where he could build a house for his own Institute. He spent fourteen years of constant worry, trouble, negotiations and forking out money until he could lay the foundation stone of what is now The Motherhouse, on 3 October 1932. This was a very solemn day. He wanted it to be a special occasion:
to thank all his benefactors publicly;
to show what had been achieved;
to encourage those working with him;
to encourage the few members in his congregation;
to encourage young men to become new members;
to make his congregation known;
above all to thank God and praise Him publicly for His faithfulness.
On the 30th June 1933 Archbishop Mauro Caruana blessed the first part of the new house. Finally, De Piro and his Congregation could say that they had a home of their own. There they could live together and work to fulfil their dreams. The new House meant that they now had a base for training future missionaries.
The new house probably saved the Society from extinction. Less than three months later, the Founder died suddenly.
HIS LOVE AND CARE FOR MIGRANTS.
De Piro was always interested in those who are poor, those who suffer, those who undergo some hardship or other. Early in his life as a priest he was interested in Maltese migrants. When he wrote his constitutions and when he presented himself to church authorities, he always said that he wanted a missionary congregation which also gives special care for Maltese Migrants. Church authorities in Rome told him, "You cannot have both; either one or the other". He was always firm on this point. Finally he got what he wanted.
When there was a mission in Tunis in 1922, De Piro went and gave a helping hand. And he also wrote about it in his publication "Almanacc". In the "Almanacc" he also gave news about Maltese priests working among Maltese migrants and dreamed of sending his spiritual sons in countries like Australia and America.
OTHER MISSIONARY VENTURES WHICH DE PIRO UNDERTOOK.
"L-ALMANACC TAL ISTITUT TAL MISSIONI"
De Piro started to publish this "Almanacc" every year from 1922. He published it for the last time in 1933, the year of his death. It was again published in 1934 and in 1936. The its publication ceased.
He himself wrote most of the articles - nearly all of them follow his style of writing. He published it to keep his benefactors informed of the progress of his small society. He wanted people to appreciate the gift of faith and to do their best to share it with others. He rightly believed that all Christians are called to spread the Gospel in one way or another. He wanted also his young companions to be on fire with the love of God and to be ready to share this live with fellow human beings. He also saw it a way of making his congregation known and recruiting new vocations. He also saw its publication as a way of holding himself accountable for the money received; every year he published names or at least initials against the amount give; every single donation however small was acknowledged and he prayed for all his benefactors; he acknowledged all the generosity around him.
THE MISSIONARY LABORATORY.
In 1927, together with his mother, De Piro founded the Missionary Laboratory; this was a practical way to collect money and to get people interested in the missions. As usual, his mother was an organizer and a hard worker. His mother suggested a "Muzew tas-Somalia", "A Somalian Museum". Friar Mizzi sent lots of exhibits and postcards to help the venture.
CO-FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARY SISTERS OF JESUS OF NAZARETH.
Miss Josephine Curmi had started to help some orphans and gathered some girls around her. This was in 1913. Joseph De Piro encouraged her, guided her and later suggested that she give a missionary character to her Institute. He also guided her in dealing with civil and ecclesiastical authorities. He also suggested that the two Societies work together. He also wrote official letters for Miss Curmi. He is considered as a Co-Founder by the sisters of Jesus of Nazareth.
OTHER VENTURES IN DE PIRO'S LIFE TO HELP THE POOR.
The Oratory, B'Kara.
In 1910 The Notary Michael Casolani built a chapel, classes for religious instruction and a playground so that the poor children of the area could play and at the same time grow up as practicing Christians. However he had difficulties in running it. Between 1910 and 1912 it was run by the Salesians, they named it "Domenico Savio Oratory". However they could not run it for lack of staff. The De la Salle Brothers tried their hand and ran it from 1912 to 1918. They also had to move out for the same reason. Fr. Michael Sammut took charge for some time although his strength was very weak. In 1925 Mr. Casolani wrote a letter to De Piro to take charge; he saw the ability of De Piro to deal with the poor children. In 1925 they started the negotiations and in 1927 Casolani donated the Oratory to De Piro and the Society. In this place the children of poor people could go to play and enjoy themselves; they received Christian instruction; they received the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession; they attended Mass; De Piro introduced also the theatre as another form of recreation. This recreational and educational activity is still going on there.
Saint Joseph's Home, Ghajnsielem, Gozo.
In 1924 - 1925 the Parish Priest and the Bishop of Gozo His Brace Bishop Michael Gonzi asked De Piro to take care of St. Joseph's Institute for Boys at Ghajnsielem. De Piro accepted this position as duty on himself and also on his Society. However he layed down his conditions. One of his conditions was that he would accept any boy who needed help irrespective of the money available; another important condition was that he wanted to be the director thus assuming all responsibility and the possibility of running it his own way. Together with members of his Society, De Piro did his very best for the children sheltered there and in due time they even had their own band.
Laboratory for poor girls, Valletta.
In 1927 De Piro was thinking about those girls who leave the orphanages as they had reached their eighteenth year. He was thinking of a place where these young women could work and get paid for their work. He looked for such a place in Valletta and he also wrote letters to people in authority. Finally he could start this project and named it "Sacred Heart Laboratory". He found a number of women ready to help him, amongst them a certain Marija Assunta Borg. She was a very zealous and hard working woman but it seems that she wanted to things run her own way and considered herself equal to De Piro. De Piro stood his ground gently but firmly. At one point in August 1931 De Piro and Borg declared officially and legally that The Laboratory for Poor Girls was dissolved. At that time it was probably unique and it also showed how De Piro had the welfare of the poor and defenseless at heart.
1911: FR JOSEPH DE PIRO GIVEN THE TITLE OF 'MONSIGNOR'.
As we said in the beginning, Joseph De Piro was noble by birth. He saw the priesthood as the noblest thing a man could achieve. For him the priesthood was to be like Jesus, to serve the poor, to heal wounds, to live like the poor. So for himself he chose poverty and humility as much as possible.
His mother felt that he deserved some sort of title and so she went to the chaplain of the Archbishop and expressed her wish. Things started happening…everything behind De Piro's back. The Chaplain wrote to Fr. De Piro after lots of behind the scene dealings. De Piro came to know of his mother's actions and told her that he was very sad and that he could not accept. He told her among other things, "I want to remain a simple priest. Without any other titles. The priesthood is the greatest honor for me". He wrote also tot he Archbishop's chaplain explaining gently that he had to decline the title. He wrote, "Do me also the favour of informing the Archbishop that the title offered me is unsuitable to me because of my work". It seems that his mother had second thoughts after her son's words and said something to the Archbishop's chaplain or the Archbishop himself. However the Archbishop had a completely different opinion. On the 19th January 1911, the Archbishop answered De Piro in the following way.
Dear Father Joseph,
You never sought neither high positions nor ranks. Receive, therefore this position as coming from the hands of God and accept it as an act of obedience to me. Leave the rest to the Lord. Just as the Lord began the holy work of the missions, so He himself will develop it and perfect it.
Yours sincerely, Dear Father Joseph,
WRITINGS AND SERMONS.
De Piro did not consider himself an orator or a writer. When he preached, he preached because a priest has to preach. He used a very simple of style of speaking to the people. Yet he spoke through his faith and from his heart. I dare say he also spoke to the heart of his listeners. His written sermons show a man with a very positive outlook on man, life, God, and God's mercy. He wrote quite a lot. Again his writings seem very simple. However they reveal the same characteristics: a man full of faith, gentleness, compassion, love of God and of neighbour. A passion for God, the Church, man and mission. However his writing is never sloppy or childish. It is just simple so that his readers / listeners could understand him clearly.
I hope you realize that our Founder was a very interesting man. This is a very brief and incomplete sketch. But it helps you understand how we came to Australia, for example. May this sketch encourage us to be better persons and more at peace with ourselves.
CENTENARY OF MGR. DE PIRO'S priestly ordination.
Stanley Tomlin, MSSP
Malta, with its numerous priestly vocations, had always attracted the attention of the Church in Rome. Though a very small Island, Malta saw hundreds of its best youths leave its shores to propagate the Gospel throughout the world.
Several attempts were made to have a proper organization for training missionaries. Towards the middle of the eighteenth century, Propaganda Fidei, the Church's Congregation for missions, thought it was high time something concrete was done. A certain Mgr. Casolani was made bishop with clear instructions to start a missionary movement that would promote a continuous flow of Maltese priests to missionary lands.
The attempt failed, for various reasons. But God, who was behind the good intentions of the Church, had His own ways to carry out Propaganda's endeavour. For the year Bishop Casolani died saw the birth of Joseph De Piro, who was to be the man Providence singled out to carry Propaganda's dream.
De Piro was born in Mdina on November 2, 1877. His father Alexander, had plans for his son. Handsome, cheerful, Joseph would make a fine lawyer. But God was planing otherwise. On May 8, 1898, while the University students were gathered in church for the devotion to Our Lady of Pompeii, De Piro decided to become a priest. The Missionary Society he later founded no doubt was a result of that momentous decision. On November 14, 1921, Archbishop Maurus Caruana gave his go-ahead to Mgr De Piro and his little band of young followers.
Cardinal Newman says that at some stages in one's life, one is bound to give one's best. The foundation of the Missionary Society of St. Paul was undoubtedly De Piro's best moment of his life.
When Pope Paul VI in 1973 granted the Decretum Laudis, namely the final approval of the Society, he insisted with its then superior that it should be faithful to the Church: "Ora siate dedeli alla Chiesa" - incidentally the last words of Pius XII said to Mgr. Montini (the future Paul VI) when he appointed him Archbishop of Milan. Little perhaps, did the Pope imagine how true these words were as a characteristic of the Society's Founder.
Mgr. De Piro practiced this characteristic to a heroic degree. To serve the Church he almost sacrificed the Society, his pet project, that needed all his time, of which the service of the Church left him very little. De Piro worked tirelessly and this may well have caused his untimely death at 55, when the Society needed him most. He was a man for all seasons. The Church should rely on his sterling qualities, especially his great sense of duty. He was in fact entrusted with the direction of five orphanages, secretary to Archbishop Maurus Caruana, representative of the clergy in the Senate, and for some time, rector of the Major Seminary … besides of course many other pastoral duties.
But there was one golden thread going through all De Piro's life: the foundation of a missionary congregation. Almost nobody in Malta took De Piro's dream seriously. There were already so many religious orders in Malta which had foreign missions! Why create another one? Obviously, many thought, this weak point of De Piro would fade away after his death. Few could imagine and measure the love of the missions that was bubbling in the heart of this great man.
As a young seminarian De Piro used to keep a diary. It is the story of a dream gradually being moulded by the Holy Spirit for an important mission. It shows the struggle going on within a soul where Christ was pushing himself to win priority in the dreams of a young seminarian. Archbishop Peter Pace was telling the promising student to start a glittering career in the Academy, leading him to be a bishop. But Christ's vast fields of harvest enraptured De Piro's heart. "Something tells me", he writes in his diary, "that I must go to St. Joseph's orphanage, in Hamrun, and help there, because I feel that from St. Joseph's a missionary society has to be born".
That is what he did some time after his ordination in Rome, on 15 March 2002. At St. Joseph’s God developed and matured His plan for Joseph De Piro. There he learned at first hand a much needed lesson. At St. Joseph's De Piro scrutinized and learned how Providence works through its mysterious ways. How to start a work of God with nothing to rely on . De Piro needed that lesson that would come in handy as a special charism of his future society: complete dependence on God. He would later summarise all this in a favourite dictum: "If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labour" (Ps 126)
De Piro's idea of going to St. Joseph's from where a Missionary Society would be formed, was hardly a rational one. St. Joseph's was all geared to receive orphans, not missionaries. But I believe that De Piro's writing in his diary was a divine inspiration. And as often happens with such inspirations, God let them to their completion in a way known to Him, and not as De Piro envisaged. In fact, the bulk of his first missionaries came exactly from the orphans at St. Joseph's.
De Piro's Society then was to be born in the poverty of St. Joseph's orphanage, we might say in the poverty of Betlehem. And in a world where consumerism was looming ahead, the Society will be shining with a prophetic message of God's priority in life. All the works of the Society were to bear this important imprint. God will be the only security on which to build and execute his plans.
On the occasion of the centenary of the priestly ordination of their Founder, the Servant of God, Joseph De Piro, the members of the Missionary Society of St Paul wish to invite all the Maltese and Gozitans for a concelebrated mass, led by His Excellency, Archbishop Joseph Mercieca, and which will be said at St John’s Co Cathedral, on Friday, 15 March 2002, at 6.30 pm.
The Sunday Times
4th June 2000
St. Paul's Missionary College, Rabat.
Mgr De Piro and the formation of the young.
The Missionary Society of St. Paul
90 years on…
Mgr Giuseppe De Piro had the formation of the young people very much at heart; he was personally committed to this important mission. In fact, when he came to present the constitution of the Missionary society of St. Paul (MSSP) to the first members, he would often refer to this apostolate.
He wanted to make it clear that he considered the formation and care of the young as an integral part of the MSSP charisma. During the 90 years of its existence the society has faithfully continued to fulfil this noble role through, among others, its secondary school for boys - St. Paul's Missionary College.
This college's initial objective was the education of boys who showed interest in the MSSP and its missionary ideal, who would become future religious members of the Society. This college was meant to be a 'greenhouse' for possible vocations to the religious life and the missions. Its founder sought to create the human and Christian atmosphere that would cultivate the growth and formation a religious vocation entailed.
The early statute of the college was very clear in this regard: "St. Paul's Missionary College caters for the education of those boys who feel they are called to lead a religious life as members of the Missionary Society of St. Paul."
Therefore, with its own school, the society could establish and maintain close contacts with a large number of boys; and provide them with an environment where they could pursue their physical, psychological, intellectual, moral and Christian growth, while witnessing a constant and living example of religious life.
The values and aims of this college center around its motto: "Instrue me et vivam - teach me and I shall live". Our students are the future citizens of this land; parents entrust them to us so that we can participate in their development. Together, parents and teachers, we must tap and develop the students' abilities as well as meet their educational and social needs and aspirations.
We must educate our students in the widest sense - academically, religiously, and socially. Being small, this school has the added advantage of giving the boys the personal attention they require in order to develop their unique personalities.
"If, like every other school, the Catholic school has as its aim the critical communication of human culture and the total formation of the individual, it works towards this goal guided by its Christian vision of reality 'through which our cultural heritage acquires its special place in the total vocational life of people'." And "Mindful of the fact that we have been redeemed by Christ, the Catholic school aims at forming in the Christian those particular virtues which will enable him to live a new life in Christ and help to play faithfully his part in building up the Kingdom of God." (The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School, 1977)
Parents in the Catholic School are members of the school community, a community that consists of staff members, students and their parents (and friends). The parents are the first educators of our children and by entrusting them to a school they are inviting it to participate in a community as an extension of the Catholic family.
Sharing this work of the Church places us all in a privileged and challenging position - that of "creating an atmosphere so animated with love and reverence for God and Man that a well-rounded personal and social development will be fostered among the children." (Vatican II, Christian Education).
Therefore, as an integral part of the school community, the parents, in their relationships with the students, teachers and the school's leaders, together should seek to build a community of faith and cooperation. Such an interactive partnership is very evident at St. Paul's and guarantees that education at this college is the development of man from within, freeing him from that which would prevent him from becoming a fully integrated human being. This is precisely why our college's educational program is intentionally directed to the growth of the whole person.
Is such a religious and holistic environment still relevant to the young people of the 21st century?
"The work of the builders is futile unless the Lord is in their midst" (G. De Piro, S.127) and "Love for Jesus Christ in one's heart brings about a strong desire that Christ becomes universally known so that everyone will love Him" (G. De Piro 2:462).
The essence of our commitment as Catholic educators is Jesus Christ. This commitment pervades the entire school curriculum and the life of this college. Its mission is to proclaim and witness with joy and hope the gospel in a Catholic environment.
To establish a truly Christ-centered community at St. Paul's Missionary College everyone strives to foster in the young students Christian values through example and interaction; to accept the challenge of living the teachings of Christ in a spirit of humility, love and joy; and to respond to the spiritual, academic, emotional and physical needs of the students lovingly and responsibly. The self-esteem, giftedness, uniqueness, talents, leadership of each boy are enhanced and promoted by means of
Research into school effectiveness shows that climate and ethos are important factors influencing personal and social development. Concluding his prize-day speech of 1997, the rector, Fr. G. Bonello, remarks that "the greatest care has always been taken so that the required ingredients are genuine and evenly balanced". The result is an educational institution where encouragement, support, consistent and high academic expectations, understanding and caring are the norm; and where the perspectives of teachers, parents and the young boys themselves area all regarded as important. The ethos of this college is such that its communities work and learn in an environment
This has been possible thanks to the hard work, strong, fair discipline and a belief in traditional values of past and present rectors and teachers who have always been committed to developing students' abilities and talents to the full. It has always been their aim to create well-rounded Christian young men whose lives will be an asset to society.
And this standard has been attained because in the true and noble De Piro spirit the leaders of this college have always been strong and never lose sight of their educational vision and goals. They do not just facilitate, they design and implement, and they are always on the lookout for appropriate resources to achieve their goals. They offer all their staff the opportunity to improve so that they bring out the best in them. They know that no matter how skilled, student-focused and positive they themselves are, they cannot possibly create and excellent educational environment in the school without the teachers.
Inspired by the MSSP charisma, they constantly install confidence, autonomy, and personal ownership of the teaching tasks in the staff and parents so that everyone is working for the same goal - the quality education and personal formation of every boy. They have always sought to promote a great sense of community where students, parents and teachers are given a chance to participate in the running of the school. They have painstakingly built a welcoming atmosphere where
They have built an ethos where there is a climate and a culture for change. And they have done this by speaking about their vision often and enthusiastically; by encouraging experiments and taking risks; by celebrating successes and forgiving failures; and by remaining steadfast in the face of their inevitable problems and missteps.
It is a demanding call, the challenges remain great and it will always take a lot of effort. Two thousand years ago, the apostle Paul wrote to the churches of Galatia: "so let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up."
The harvest (that awaits us) is not only in the afterlife, but also in this life. The harvest is students who can perform at the levels of which they are capable, who seek and obtain as much education as they can, and who, in a new and different age, can earn enough to keep themselves and their families out of poverty.
"This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise…" Archbishop Oscar Romero, quoted in The Tablet, 1997)
Dedicated and committed educators will reap this harvest, but only if they do not grow weary, only if they do not give up. Mgr De Piro did not; he remained steadfast in fulfilling God's will. He lovingly watered the seed with God's love and let it grow and spread, reaching even beyond the island's shores. His followers, together with St. Paul's Missionary College, continue to water more and more seeds with their love and dedication. Indeed, such a holistic education remains very relevant to the young people of the new millennium.
"Whoever removes the seed already planted cannot look forward to the day of harvest." (De Piro 2:412)
Saturday June 10, 2000
Fr. James Bonello MSSP
St. Joseph's Home for boys and the MSSP
More than 100 years after the Church opened and started operating what were then normally termed as orphanages, the state is now preparing what are being referred to as Proposed Standards for Residential Care Services. High time indeed!
What is today know as St. Joseph's Home in Sta Venera first opened its doors to receive its firs inmates on August 27, 1888, almost 112 years ago. A house was bought near tas-Samra Church in Hamrun which soon became too small for the number of boys seeking admittance.
In 1893, the founder of this home, Mgr Francesco Bonnici, obtained from the government the lease of a much larger house known as Il-Palazz l-Ahmar or il-Palazz ta' San Guzepp which had large gardens attached.
Soon the orphanage moved into the newly acquired premises to be able to accommodate and ever increasing number of boys. The founder-director of the home resigned from his office after 10 years and died soon after in 1905 at the age of 53. He was succeeded by Mgr Vassallo and later by the zealous Dun Gorg Borg Bugeja who died in harness in November 1922.
From the beginning it was felt that much attention had to be given to the technical formation of the boys as a warranty of future well being so that on leaving the home they could look forward to a better future by having a definite trade to depend upon. They were taught how to read and write and trained in a trade of their choice from among carpentry, tailoring, bookbinding, printing and shoemaking.
In more senses that one, St. Joseph's institute - Casa Bonnici as it became known - was a veritable residential trade school, possibly the first of its kind in Malta.
Mgr. De Piro was appointed director of this institute on the death of Dun Gorg. He was already then director of Fra Diegu Institute for girls, also in Hamrun and a few years earlier had founded the first religious congregation of religious for men, the Society of St. Paul.
By the end of 1922 the members of this new congregation were brought in to look after the boys because the De La Salle Brothers who were running the home could no longer man the posts. The Society of St. Paul has continued to look after this children's home ever since.
On June 30 of this year, the Missionary Society of St. Paul, as the religious congregation founded by Mgr. De Piro became known on obtaining pontificial status in 1973, will be celebrating the 90th year of its foundation. The MSSP is nowadays also working, according to its missionary charisma, in Australia, Peru', Pakistan, the US, Canada and the Philippines while still serving in St. Joseph's Home, Sta Venera, where it cares for 24 boys and young men continuing in the footsteps of its founder.