Pontificia Universitas Lateranensis

Institutum Theologiae Vitae consacratae

“Claretianum”

 

 

 

 

Tony Sciberras mssp

 

 

 

The Incarnational Aspect

of

the Spirituality of Joseph De Piro

 

 

Moderator: Prof. S. Gonzalez Silva cmf

 

 

 

 

 

Dissertatio

Ad Doctoratum Theologiae Vitae Religiosae assequendum

In Institutum Theologiae Vitae Consacratae “Claretianum”, Universitatis Lateranensis

 

Romae 2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

To

my dear parents, sisters and brothers,

superiors and members of  the Missionary Society of St Paul

and beloved friends

 


Contents

 

List of tables ................................................................................................................  xiv

 

List of abbreviations...................................................................................................... xv

 

Acknowledgements....................................................................................................... xvi

 

Introduction ..................................................................................................................  xvi

 

 

PART ONE ­– Joseph De Piro: His Life and Activity..................................................... 4

 

Chapter One – The private and public phases of the life of Joseph De Piro................ 6

 

Section I - The private phase of his life (1877-1904): From birth to the first two years of priesthood                  6

De Piro’s birth , childhood and early youth…6; Member of the Royal Malta Militia…9; Member of the Congregazione degli Onorati… 9; Drawing and painting…10; De Piro’s call to the priesthood…11; Death of Joseph’s father…12; Studies of philosphy and theology in Rome…13; Worries, prayers … but even projects…14; Minor Orders…16; Subdiaconate, diaconate and presbyterate…213; The “Accademia Ecclesiastica” issue put aside…20; Poor health…20; At Davos, Switzerland…21.

 

Section II - The public phase of his life (1904-1933): From the first years of

priesthood up to his death.............................................................................................. 22

 

(i) - A priest dedicated to the local Church.................................................................... 22

Assistant parishpriest at the Qrendi Parish, Malta…22; Procurator of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Consolation, Qrendi, Malta…24; Sindaco Apostolico of the Franciscan Minors Convent, Rabat, Malta…24; Canon of the Metropolitan Chapter…25; Effective Member of the General Committee of the XXIV International Eucharistic Congress (1913)…29; Co-rector of the Manresa Retreat House, Floriana, Malta…30; Director of the Associazione Sacerdoti Adoratori…30; Secretary of Archbishop Mauro Caruana…30; Member of the Commission for the formation of young priests…31; Deputy of the Commission for the temporary administration of the Major Semianry, Mdina, Malta…32; Rector of the Major Seminary, Mdina, Malta…33; Member of the Camera Pontificia Maltese…35; Dean of the Metropolitan Chapter, Malta…35; Acting Parishpriest of the Gudia Parish, Malta…36; Cooperator in the foundation and growth of Maltese religious congregations…37 - the Daughters of the Sacred Heart...37, the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus...38, the Missionary Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth...40President of the Special Consultative Committee for the restoration of St Paul’s Church, Rabat, Malta…41; Minister of the Word…42.

 

 

 

(ii) - A citizen who always contributed towards his country.......................................... 43

Archbishop’s Delegate in the Committee for the Peace Feasts…43; Member of the National Assembly (1919-1921)…43; The Sette Giugno Riots (1919)…44; Cashier of the Committee Pro Maltesi Morti e Feriti per la Causa Nazionale il 7 Giugno del 1919…45; Member of the Committee for the Visit of H.R.H., the Prince of Wales (1921)…46; Member of the Unione Leoniana…46;  Member of the governing board of the Malta War Memorial Hospital for Children…48; Member of the Special Committee of the British Empire Exhibition…48; Archbishop’s representative on the Committee of the Zammit Clapp Hospital…48; Archbishop’s representative on the Organising Committee for the Visit of the Duke and Duckess of York…49; Member of the Tourism Committee…49; Mediator between the Church and Lord Gerard Strickland…50; Senator in the Third Maltese Parliament…50.

 

(iii) - A father to the orphans and the poor.................................................................... 51

 

(iiia)  Institutionalised charity........................................................................................ 51

Director of Fra Diegu Institute, Hamrun, Malta…51; Secretary of the Committee of the Bishop’s Foundation for the bread to the poor during the War…52; Director of the Jesus of Nazareth Institute, Zejtun, Malta…53; Director of St Joseph’s Institute, Santa Venera, Malta…54; Director of St Joseph’s Institute, Ghajnsielem, Gozo…54; Director of the Home for babies and young children, Santa Venera, Malta…56; Director of St Francis de Paul Institute, B’Kara, Malta…56; His testamentary will and the Institutes…57; Director of the Workshop or Laboratory for unemplyed young women, Valletta…57; Director of the Birkirkara Oratory…58.

 

(iiib)  A non-institutionalised charity.............................................................................. 60

 

(iiic)  Working for justice............................................................................................... 60

 

(iv) - De Piro’s Missionary Spirit.................................................................................. 61

The “Idea”…61; A lot of work in Malta and for the Maltese migrants, but priority to the missions ad gentes…67; The “Saint Paul: Almanac of the Institute of the Missions”…67.

 

(v) - His sudden death.................................................................................................... 68

 

 

PART TWO - De Piro’s love for the underprivileged and for evangelisation............ 75

 

Chapter Two - De Piro’s love for the underprivileged: His institutionalised charity, his non-institutionalised charity, and his work for justice..................................................................................... 75

Introduction - Malta in the 19 and early years of the 20 centuries…75 - The population...75, The socio-economic conditions...75, Nutrition...80, The housing conditions...80, Clothing...82, Hygiene...82, Education...83; Begging...85The government’s share in charity...85, The local Church’s share in charity...86, De Piro’s share in charity...89.

 

Section I - De Piro’s love for the underprivileged through an institutionalised charity 89

 

 

 

(i)      Director of Fra Diegu Institute, Hamrun, Malta................................................. 89

De Piro’s dedication to Fra Diegu Institute...89; A very humble Director…91; A balanced formator – loving but firm…91; Financial guarantor for the Institute…92; Grateful towards the benefactors…92; A holistic formation - The learning of crafts…93, Care of the spiritual aspect of the girls’ life…93, Recreation, an important element in the girls’ upbringing…94; The Director’s love for the families of the girls of Fra Diegu…95; De Piro’s love even for the old girls…95; De Piro, the orderly Director and a one who trusted God’s Providence…97.

 

(ii)     Director of the Jesus of Nazareth Institute, Zejtun, Malta................................ 99

De Piro, the Director of the Orphanage…100; His charity, the virtue that showed most…103; His visits to the Jesus of Nazareth Institute…104; Did not talk frequently to the girls…105; But he was gentle and kind with the girls … and enjoyed their company…104; Non talkative but sociable…105; The poor and  humble Director…105; Holistic care of the girls…105 - The physical health…106, Food…106, Hygiene…106, Clothing…106, Schooling…106, Crafts…107, Recreation…107, He did encourage feasting…107, The spiritual aspect…107, Preparation for their future…108, Discipline and corrections…108.

 

(iii)    Director of St Joseph Home, Santa Venera, Malta.......................................... 109

Introduction…109; De Piro’s initial involvement at St Joseph’s, Malta…110; De Piro, the fourth Director of the Institute…112; At St Joseph’s with the members of his Society…112; What had been the situation of St Joseph’s before De Piro took over…112; Who were the boys at the Institute…113; How many boys at the Institute…113; De Piro was already quite busy when he took over St Joseph’s…113; Because of the above, St Joseph’s not an easy job  at all…114; In fact all this and many other duties made De Piro very busy and often tired…114; De Piro could not be all the time present at the Institute…115; Yet De Piro was synonymous with St Joseph’s…115; De Piro’s relationship with the boys…115; But he was never a one to be afraid of…116; Because he was very  humble…117; When correcting the boys he still showed them his love and kindness…117; In this environment De Piro helped the holistic growth of the boys…118 - The spiritual care…118, Food…120, Clothing…122, In sickness…122, The academic aspect…122, The trades…124, The music band…125, Money saving…126, Recreation…126, The boys’ relationship with their families…128, Reinsertion of the boys in the normal life after leaving the Institute…128, The end result…129; De Piro was not alone…129 - To these De Piro delegated responsibilities…130, … but he demanded accountability…130, … and dignity…130; Together with an organised good staff, De Piro had other sources of support - His own family…130, Especially his own mother…131, The benefactors…131, Himself a benefactor of the Institute…131, But more than anything else he believed in Providence…132; With all these De Piro worked miracles…132 - De Piro planned to send the St Joseph’s boys to the USA…133, He enlarged the building of the Institute…133, He provided a house for babies…134; No limits for his generosity…134 - De Piro was always in solidarity with the boys…134, The Director was in contact even with the families of the boys…135, De Piro helped the employees of the Institute…135, De Piro prepared the boys for life…136; “An internal feeling tells me that God, from this Institute, wants to form in Malta a Congregation of priests under the patronage of St Paul…”136.

 

(iv)    Director of St Joseph’s Home, Ghajnsielem, Gozo........................................... 137

Gozo - an introduction…137 - The population…138, Standard of living…138, The public health system…139; The Institute at Ghajnsielem, Gozo …139, - The attempts by the bishops of Gozo…140, The Gozo parishpriests sought the help of De Piro…140, A branch of St Joseph’s, Malta, to be led by the Society of De Piro …141, De Piro did not want any interference from the side of the local hierarchy in the administration of the Institute…142; Inauguration of St Joseph’s Institute, Gozo…148; The admission of the boys at St Joseph’s, Gozo…152; The Director, a very busy man…152; De Piro’s visits to St Joseph’s…153; In his visits De Piro mostly talked to the Fathers…153; No small talk from the side of the Director…154; At the same time the Director was very affable…154; Because he was humble…155; The Director’s contact with the boys…156; A holistic care of the boys…156 - The spiritual aspect…156, The physical health…257, Food…158, Clothing…158, Cleanliness…159, Academic formation…159, A trades school…161, The music band at St Joseph’s: background…162, De Piro started the music band at St Joseph’s…163, Recreation…164, Preparation for life…164; De Piro, the man who always had new projects in mind…165; The means with which De Piro directed the Institute - De Piro’s administration…165, His determination, courage and orderliness …165, The members of his Society…165, On his part the Servant of God respected the role of those responsible for the House…167, De Piro’s relationship with the employees at the Institute…167, Fundraising…167, The benefactors…168, But his faith in Providence over and above anything else…168; De Piro was therefore loved by the boys and all…169; Vocation recruitment at St Joseph’s, Gozo…170; But he never used any pressure on the boys…171.

 

(v)     Director of the Home for little boys, Sta Venera.............................................. 171

 

(vi)    Director of St Francis de Paul Home, Birkirkara (B’Kara), Malta................. 171

 

(vii)   A beggar for the children of the Institutes......................................................... 172

 

(viii)  De Piro’s testamentary will and the Institutes.................................................. 172

 

(ix)    De Piro’s care for the old boys and old girls of the Institutes.......................... 173

Director of the Sacred Heart Laboratory, a workshop for unemplyed girls, Valletta, Malta…173; De Piro’s second intervention in the Third Maltese Parliament in favour of the old boys and old girls of the institutes…176; The old girls of the institutes in his testamentary will…179.

 

(x)     The Birkirkara (B’Kara) Oratory...................................................................... 180

A Centre for boys…180; an Oratory for the sons of the people…183; The formation imparted at the Oratory…186.

 

Section II - De Piro’s love for the underprivileged through a non-institutionalised charity      188

 

(i)      Financial aid........................................................................................................ 188

 

(ia)    From his own money........................................................................................... 188

 

(ib)    From the money of Fra Diegu Institute and St Joseph’s Home, Malta........... 190

 

 (ii)    Non-financial help............................................................................................... 194

 

(iia)   Caring for the physical health............................................................................ 194

 

(iib)   A listening ear..................................................................................................... 195

 

(iic)   Academic formation of youth.............................................................................. 195

 

Section III - De Piro’s love for the underprivileged through his promotion of justice 197

 

 (i)     Stole-fees to confessors and conference masters............................................. 197

 

(ii)     Justice with the employees depending on him................................................... 197

The employees of the Major Seminary, Mdina, Malta…197;  The employees at St Joseph’s, Malta…197.

 

(iii)    Justice during the riots of the Sette Giugno 1919............................................. 199

The socio-economic history of Malta before the Sette Giugno…199;The National Assembly - justice with all the Maltese…200; Saturday, 7 June 1919 - justice with the unemployed and the othpoor Maltese…201; Sunday, 8 June 1919 - justice with the unemployed and the other poor Maltese (continued)…204; Monday, 9 June 1919 - justice with the Archbishop…208.

 

Chapter Three - De Piro’s love for evangelisation: De Piro’s “evangelisation to the faithful”, his “second evangelisation” and his “first evangelisation”........................................................... 210

 

Section I - De Piro’s “evangelisation to the faithful” or his evangelisation

to the Maltese in Malta............................................................................................... 211

 

(i)      De Piro’s drawn evangelisation in Malta.......................................................... 211 

Introduction: the devotion of the face of the suffering Jesus…211; De Piro’s drawing of the face of the suffering Jesus…212; A study of the drawing…212.

 

(ii)     De Piro’s preached evangelisation in Malta..................................................... 214

The Word of God as the basic source…214; Hagiography and the writings of spiritual masters as another source…215; The themes of De Piro’s preaching in Malta…215 - The Word of God…215, The incarnation of Jesus Christ…216, Jesus’ crucifixion…216, The Eucharist…217, The Sacred Heart of Jesus…219, God the Father…220, The Holy Spirit…220, Our Lady…221, Mary’s Immaculate Conception…221, Mary  our hope all along our life…221, Mary hope for peace at the time of the First World War…223, Salve Regina - Mater Misericordiae…225, Our duties towards Mary…226, As far as being consecrated to her…226, Saint Paul…227, Other saints…228, The other topics preached by De Piro…229.

 

(iii)    De Piro’s printed evangelisation in Malta or the “Saint Paul:

          Almanac of the Institute of the Missions”......................................................... 229

The contents in general…229; a more central topic - the Maltese migrants…230; the most central topic - the missionary animation…232.

 

(iv)    De Piro’s catechised evangelisation in Malta................................................... 235

 

Introduction - the teaching of catechism in Malta...................................................... 235

 

(iva)  De Piro’s personal catechetical evangelisation to the Maltese children......... 239

In Mtarfa, a Rabat suburb…240; in the Church’s charitable institutes…240.

 

(ivb)  De Piro’s catechetical evangelisation to the Maltese children and

          youths through his Society.................................................................................. 241

The teaching of catechism in the first houses of the Society…241; He organised catechism classes since the very first years of the Society’s existence…241; He catered for boys…and all of them…242; He paid from his own money for the lodging of the catechism classes…242; He even made available the first house of the Society for the teaching of catechism… and in fact several parts of the building…242; His continuous attention for development of the catechetical evangelisation…243; De Piro involved the members of his Society…243; The Founder involved especially the lay brothers…244; De Piro gave his support with his own physical presence…244; The catechetical service of De Piro and his Society did not have geographical limits…244; He and the members of his Society prepared the boys for the first holy communion and confirmation…244; … and even furthur than these two stages…245; The catechism teaching imparted in the house of De Piro’s Society was more organised than in some other places…245; De Piro and the members of his Society did more than memory catechetical teaching…246; He and the Society gave the catechetical formation within a holistic context…246.

 

(ivc)  The catechetical formation of children and youths: two main

          apostolates in De Piro’s Constitutions for his Missionary Society and in

          his correspondence with the ecclesiastical hierarchy........................................ 247

For all the members of his Society…247 - For the children…247, For youths…248, More than memory work…248, The basis for the teaching of catechism: a holistic formation…248, Youths helped by youths…248, The young helpers must be themselves helped…249, Love, crucial for youth catechesis…249, And this on an individual basis…249; Especially for the lay brothers…250 - In his correspondence with the local and Vatican hierarchy…250, In the Society’s Original Constitutions…252, In St Joseph’s Institute, Malta…253.

 

(ivd)  At the Oratory, B’Kara...................................................................................... 254

Introduction - The teaching of catechism in B’Kara…254; De Piro, the members of the Society and the teaching of catechism at the Oratory, B’Kara…256; The Oratory and the Society of Christian Doctrine (MUSEUM)…258.

 

Section II - De Piro’s “second evangelisation” or his evangelisation to

the Maltese migrants................................................................................................... 259

 

Introduction - Migration during the 19 and early years of the 20 centuries............. 259

 

(i)      De Piro’s contribution......................................................................................... 260

 

(ia)    Publication of information about the living of the christian life by

the Maltese communities abroad - the “Saint Paul: Almanac of the

......... Institute of the Missions”................................................................................... 260

 

(ib) .. He helped the Maltese migrants by finding for them diocesan or religious priests and nuns who could evangelise them.................................................................................................. 260

 

(ic)... He himself went to evangelise the Maltese in Tunis and Carthage................. 262

 

(id)    De Piro founded a Society whose secondary aim was the evangelisation

          of the Maltese migrants..................................................................................... 264

Before the foundation of his Society…265, after the foundation of his Society…267, De Piro continued mentioning the migrants even when facing misunderstanding regarding the principal aim of his Society…268, in the Original Constitutions…275, in the “Saint Paul: Almanac of the Institute of the Missions”…275.

 

(ie)    Why was De Piro so determined to evangelise the Maltese

          migrants............................................................................................................... 276

 

Section III - De Piro’s first evangelisation or his evangelisation

ad gentes....................................................................................................................... 277

 

Introduction - The missionary movement.................................................................... 277

Worldwide…278; In Italy…281; Several of the popes and the Vatican…284; The missionary movement in Malta…287 - The Opera della Propagazione della Fede…287, The Opera della Santa Infanzia…289, The Casolani Project…289The Crociata Missionaria San Paolo…291.

 

(i)      De Piro, a promotor of the first evangelisation or his evangelisation

          ad gentes.............................................................................................................. 292

 

(ia)    The publication of the “Saint Paul: Almanac of the Institute of the

          Missions”............................................................................................................ 293

The missionary work is for all…293; The truths contained in it - First evangelisation, a special evangelisation…294, It is God who calls the evangelisers and sends them to the ad gentes countries…294, The missions ad gentes are set up in the name of God…295, Missionaries are working for God…295In fact Jesus is the master of the missions…295, For De Piro the missionaries are those who…295, What is faith according to the Servant of God?…296, The tools of the missionaries…296, The importance of contemplative religious commmunities in the missions…297, The necessity of the indigenous clergy…297 : On the example of the first christian communities…299, Three reasons why the indigenous missionaries are necessary…299, The result of the work of the indigenous missionaries…299, Saint Paul, model of every missionary…299.

 

(ib)    The sending of missionaries..................................................................................... 300

The foundation of a Society for the evangelisation ad gentes…300 - Seemed to be primarily for Maltese migrants…300 : De Piro’s own writings…300The impression of others…301, The Maltese migrants, only a chronological priority - the missions ad gentes, the primary aim …302; De Piro sent the first member of his Society to the missions ad gentes…303 - Br Joseph Caruana in Abyssinia…304; More corrispondence between De Piro and Fr Angelo Mizzi; De Piro himself wanted to go to Somalia…306; De Piro provided continuous support to his first missionary…307 - The Somalia museum…308, The Laboratory for the Abyssinia mission…308; Further plans for Ethiopia…309.

 

(ic)    De Piro himself for Abyssinia............................................................................. 312

 

(id)    De Piro’s missionary convictions in the Constitutions of his Society............... 313

First among the apostolates of the Society…313; With no geographical limits…314; Within the context of a parish…314; Always subject to the local hierarchy…314; Accountable to the immediate superior of the Society…314; The prayerful life of the evangeliser - A support for his evangelisation…315, Prayer for the evangelisation itself…315; And by an exemplary life…315; What De Piro meant by evangelisation…316 - Evagelisation of the whole person…316, A non-possessive evangelisation or plantatio ecclesiae…316.

 

 

PART Three – De Piro’s Charity............................................................................. 318

 

Chapter Four - De Piro’s charity: aspects.................................................................. 319

 

(i)      An option for the materially poor....................................................................... 320

 

What helped De Piro opt for the materially poor........................................................ 327

Gratis apostolate…327; His humility…327.

 

(ii)     An option for the poor lacking the Good News................................................. 328

The choice between remaining in Rome in order to go to the “Accademia”, or returning to Malta where he could start the Society which was expected to help “… quelli che difettanto di operai evangelici”…328; A choice between continuing the option of the apostolate with migrants and the more immediate approval of the Society…329.

 

What helped De Piro opt for the poor lacking the Good News.................................. 330

The love of the Father shown through the Incarnate, Suffering and Eucharistic Son, the one with a  Heart full of love for all…330.

 

(iii)    An option for those in immediate need.............................................................. 331

 

What helped De Piro opt for those in the most immediate need................................ 332 

His adaptability…332.

 

(iv)    A personal involvement...................................................................................... 333

 

What helped De Piro be personally involved.............................................................. 335

The incarnate Jesus…335 ; Jesus in the Eucharist…336.

 

(v)     In unity with others............................................................................................. 337

 

What helped De Piro love in unity with others............................................................ 344

His leadership…344; Delegated responsibilities…345; Did not mince words…345; De Piro respected the roles of others…347; De Piro’s ability to relate well with the employees of the entities under his care…348; His ability to seek the help of others…348; He was able to dialogue…350; De Piro’s gratitude and appreciation…352.

 

(vi)    A limitless incentive and creativity.................................................................... 358

 

What helped De Piro live his limitless incetive and creativity................................... 370

Zeal, devoted dedication, responsibility, determination, courage, perseverance, consistency…370; De Piro’s belief in God’s providence…372; Did not give up when facing difficulties  because he believed that God’s help was stronger than the devil’s power…377; Strong intellect,  realistic and practical…378; Prudent…378; Methodical…379; Satisfied and happy with own achievements, grateful to himself…380.

 

(vii)   A solidarity with the poor and the needy........................................................... 380

 

What helped De Piro live his solidarity with the poor and the needy........................ 382

Jesus incarnate, the Suffering Jesus, Jesus in the Eucharist…382.

 

(viii)  Did not expose the others’ mistakes................................................................. 382

 

What helped De Piro not expose the others’ mistakes.............................................. 383

Good, pious and holy…383.

 

(ix)    A love towards those who did not support him.................................................. 383

What helped De Piro love those who did not support him.......................................... 386

God’s love for him, a sinner and therefore God’s enemy…386.

 

(x)     A holistic love...................................................................................................... 387

The physical aspect…389Food…389, Clothing…392, Hygiene…395, Physical health/care of the sick…396, Housing…398, Financial and other material help…399, Recreation…402; The spiritual aspect (that which had to do with the human character)…405 - Appreciation for service rendered…405, A listening ear … and more than that…405, The need of self government…406, Schooling…407, Trades/crafts…410, The music band…411, A good management…412, Discipline and corrections…414, Relationship with family…417, Relationship with other people outside the entity…418, Preparation for life outside the ecclesiastical charitable institutes…418, Vocation and decision making…418; The religious aspect (religious practices)…419 - Teaching of the catholic faith…419, Moral formation…423, Liturgy/paraliturgy…424, The Eucharist…425, Confession or the sacrament of reconciliation…426, Prayer and religious practices…427, The Marian devotion…430, Mary Assumed into heaven…431, Saint Paul…434, Saint Joseph…435, Other saints…436, Pastoral training…436; The religious life aspect…438The community dimension…439, The vows…439, Chastity…439, Poverty…440, Obedience…442, And the vow of mission…65.

 

What helped De Piro have a holistic charity............................................................... 445

Mary assumed into heaven…445; The lives of the saints considered together…445; The holistic charity of Jesus…446.

 

(xi)    Until it hurts......................................................................................................... 446

His own money…446; The Society’s and therefore his own houses…448; His own bed and clothes…448; His own rest…449; His own food…449; His own time…450; His own dignity, prestige, honour, status and reputation…453; Promotions in the civil society…454; Ecclesiastical promotions…455; His own health and his own life itself…455; A lot of psychological, moral and physical suffering (lack of understanding and support, discouragement, disheartenment, disappointment, sorrow, sadness, deprivation, pain)…458.

 

What helped De Piro live a charity until it hurts......................................................... 461

Jesus who suffered for him, a sinner…461; Jesus at prayer…463.

 

(xii)   De Piro’s charity until it hurts: not a need......................................................... 467

 

 

Chapter Five - An existence for a pro-existence: The incarnational

aspect of De Piro’s spirituality.................................................................................... 472

 

Section I - De Piro’s existence.................................................................................... 472

 

(i)  De Piro’s union with God the Father...................................................................... 473

 

(ia)    Experienced through his union with the Son...................................................... 474

Incarnate…475, Suffering…476, and Eucharistic…477.

 

(ib)    Experienced through his union with the Spirit................................................... 477

 

(ic)    Experienced through his union with Mary......................................................... 478

 

(id)    Experienced through his union with the saints.................................................. 479

 

(ie)    Experienced through his union with the Word of God....................................... 480

In general…480, St Paul’s Letters in particular…481, And the

Password…482.

 

(if)     Experienced through a continuous search for the divine will............................ 482

 

(ig)    Experienced through prayer............................................................................... 484

 

(ii)  All the above helped De Piro................................................................................. 489

 

(iia)   Know himself and accept himself....................................................................... 489

 

(iib)   And even humble himself.................................................................................... 490

De Piro could have had so much, but he gave up all…492

 

Section II - For a pro-existence................................................................................... 497

 

(i)  Hving tried to know God’s will, for him, De Piro went further; 

he did his best to do it................................................................................................... 497

 

(ii)  Through the cooperation of others........................................................................ 502

With the help of his mother and other members of his own family…502; In unity with his local Ecclesiastical superiors…505; Through the help of other priests…506; In conjunction with the Foundress of the Jesus of Nazareth Institute…509; De Piro’s collaboration with other priests at St Joseph’s, Malta…509; In union with the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus, the Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth, the members of his own Society and Maria Assunta Borg in the ecclesiastical charitable institutions…510; With the other members of the Maltese National Assembly (1918-1921) and those of its Central Commission…510; In conjunction with the members of his Society, those of the Society of Christian Doctrine (MUSEUM) and with Michael Casolani, for the evangelisation of the children in Mdina and Rabat, in the ecclesiastical charitable institutes and in B’Kara…511; With others in favour of the evangelisation of the Maltese migrants…511; The collaboration of others for the evangelisation of those who lacked the Good News…512.

 

(iii)  And by loving everyone according to one’s needs.............................................. 512

 

 

Conclusion..................................................................................................................... 517

 

Appendices.................................................................................................................... 520

1   List of Biblical references made by De Piro in his sermons.................................. 521

2   The references to Pauline Letters made by De Piro in his sermons..................... 526

3   De Piro’s humility.................................................................................................... 530

4   De Piro’s contributions to the local and universal Church and to society in general 535

5   The main and secondary aims of De Piro’s Society............................................... 537

6   The genesis of the Original Constitutions of De Piro’s Society

     (Documentation)...................................................................................................... 544

 

Bibliography.................................................................................................................. 550

 

List of Tables

 

01   The Maltese population (1842 – 1931)

02   Malta’s naval commerce (1904, 1914)

03   Education in Malta (5-9 year old children according to the 1903 Census)

04   Education in Malta (10-14 year old children according to the 1903 Census)

05   The Church’s charitable institutions in Malta (1725 – 1937)

06   The Gozo population (1807-1931)

07   The Gozo standard of living (according to the 1861 Census)

08   Table 3 repeated

09   Table 4 repeated

10   The cost of basic necessities in Malta before the Sette Giugno 1919

11   The escalation of the wheat price in Malta (1913 – 1918)

12   The number of references De Piro made to the Pauline Letters

13   The saints about whom De Piro preached and the number of sermons about them

14   Catechetical initiatives in Malta (Early 17th century – 1930)

15   Catechism books published in Malta (1752 – 1933)

16   Catechism initiatives in Birkirkara, Malta (1820 – 1909)

17   Important dates related to the Birkirkara Oratory (March 1910 – April 1927)

18   The missionary movement worldwide (1800-1932)

19   The missionary movement in Italy (1815-1931)

20   Missionary activities of some popes and the Vatican (1814-1933) 

21   The number of Maltese diocesan and religious priests, and male and female religious in the missions (1800-1933)

22   The prayer timetable at St Joseph’s Institute, Malta

23   References to Pauline Letters dealing with Christ’s union with humanity

 


List of Abbreviations

 

AAM          Archives of the Archbishop of Malta, Archbishop’s Curia, Floriana

AAS           Acta Apostolicae Sedis

AFSHJ        Archives of the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus

AMSJN      Archives of the Missionary Sisters of Jersus of Nazareth

APF            Archives of Propaganda Fide

APSAV      Archivum Provinciale S. Augustini, Vallettae

CIC            Code of Canon Law

COSM        Central office of Statistics, Malta

DP              Diocesan Process of the Cause of Canonisation of the Servant of God 

DPA           De Piro Archives, Agatha’s, Rabat - Malta

MG             Malta Government

ML             Malta Lyceum (Hamrun)

MSSP         Missionalis Societas Sancti Pauli

PAR            Public Archives, Rabat

PDS3                   Parliamentary Debates, Senate, 3 Parliament

RML           Royal Malta Library

RPA            Rabat Parish (Malta) Archives

RRC           Report of the Royal Commission

SCCS         Sacra Congregatio pro Causis Sanctorum

SSP            Societas Sancti Paoli

UMCI         Unione Missionaria del Clero in Italia

 


Acknowledgments

 

I wish to express my gratitude to the good Lord for having provided me with another possibility of going deeper into the life, activity and spirituality of our Founder, the Servant of God, Joseph De Piro.

My next thanks go to my parents, sisters and brothers. The family environment has always been for me the place where I grew up loving the search for truth in all its manifestations.

A special thanks goes to my brother Fr Paul who has been of great encouragement to me during this research. In spite of his many other duties he has always been more than available to give me excellent advices regarding contents and methodology.

I wish to thank my last Superiors General: Fr Stanley Tomlin for having supported me as far back as 1980 in obtaining the Licenciate in Spiritual Theology, especially in my dissertation about the Founder, when no previous similar research had been yet carried out; Fr James Bonello for having always personally and in a particular way supported in the Society anything academic, like this endeavour, especially matters regarding the Founder and the Society; Fr Bernard Mangion, the actual Superior General, who has continuously encouraged this research, conducive to enhancing our identity.

I wish to thank all the members of the Society, but in a most particular manner, I am indebted to Fr Martin Galea mssp, who has always been at hand in the technical setting of this thesis and Fr Gerard Bonello mssp, the College Rector, for making all the School’s facilities available for me.

My moderator, Prof. S Gonzalez Silva cmf, I will always consider as one of my greatest benefactors. When I could not dedicate myself duly to this thesis because of my other responsibilities as the General’s Delegate for Malta, as General Councellor, as Postulator during the Diocesan Process of the Cause of Canonisation of the Founder, and as Regional Treasurer, Prof. Silva waited patiently with me for better times. When better opportunities were available these last year and a half, he accompanied me along the arduous journey of discovery of one of the aspects of the spirituality of our Founder by reading, correcting and suggesting better ways how to present the Servant of God.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction

 

During the months of July and August 1982 the Missionary Society of St Paul, of which I am a member, held its General and Special Chapter which had the renewal of the Constitutions as its aim.  But on this same occasion the members present also unanimously agreed to ask the Archbishop of Malta to initiate the Diocesan Process of the Cause of Canonisation of our Founder, Monsignor Joseph De Piro.  In fact on 14 November 1984, the Superior General, Fr James Bonello, wrote to Archbishop Mgr Joseph Mercieca, and manifested to him the members’ wish.  On 28 January 1985 Fr Bonello wrote again to His Excellency asking him to approve me as the postulator of the Cause.  The Archbishop signed his “Admittatur” on 1 February 1985.  On that same day I started the very long journey, the end of which is still quite far away: the Diocesan Process has been closed on 25 January 2003, but the Apostolic one is still in its initial stages.

One of the first steps taken by the Postulation was the classification of the documents that were found in the De Piro Archives (DPA), at the Society’s Motherhouse.  These were sorted out according to subject and put in chronological order. Then all material was typed and presented in volumes for the members of the Society to study and meditate. In the meantime an attempt was made to meet as many individuals as possible who knew the Servant of God de visu or de auditu a videntibus and who were ready to give their testimony to the Ecclesiastical Tribunal.

Since 1948 the members of the Society have been trying to publish very short biographies of the Founder for themselves and for the general public. Short extracts of some of Monsignor’s writings were also distributed among the members. Five of us, members of the Society, have even written for Masters degree whole dissertations or parts of them about some aspect of the life of the Founder.[1] A historian, Fr Alexander Bonnici OfmConv., has even written a two-volume biography of the Servant of God. Notwithstanding these efforts, while doing the work of the  postulation, I have been noticing  that there was still a dearth of extensive scientific research specifically about the spirituality of  the Founder. To fill this gap I decided to study in depth the sources for such an enterprise: the life, the works and the writings of De Piro, the testimonies about him and all background material that could help the better understanding of Monsignor. Such material was found especially in the De Piro Archives, in the Archives of Propaganda Fide, in the Archives of the Archbishop’s Curia, at the Malta National Library, the Public Archives - Rabat, Malta, at the Central Office of Statistics, at the University of Malta Library, at the Malta Lyceum and in the archives of religious congregations and other entities.

On its part, then, this study made me conscious of a very crucial reality in De Piro: his incarnational spirituality or his making himself always one with the others in all kinds of needs. In fact I now consider the present thesis as a working definition of this incarnational spirituality.

Chapter One of this thesis presents in detail and from a historical point of view the life of the Servant of God. It is divided in two parts: the private and the public phases. While in the first phase De Piro was relatively restricted in his self-giving to the others, the second phase presents a much more active and public figure: he was the priest completely dedicated to the local Church, the citizen who contributed a lot to his country, the father to the orphans and the poor and the one who did his utmost to promote the missionary aspect of the Church, whether through his evangelisation to the faithful in Malta, or to the Maltese migrants, or to the ad gentes people.

In Chapter Two De Piro’s main charism is shown to be his love for the underprivileged and for evangelisation. This for four reasons: (1) these two ministries occupied the better part of his time. While many of his other activities implied only short periods of time, the Servant of God dedicated most of his time and all his energy for the underprivileged, especially in the Church’s institutions, and in favour of evangelisation, especially through the foundation of his Missionary Society; (2) while he carried out other duties, he continued with the charitable activities and his evangelisation; (3) whatever the contribution, his love for the underprivileged and/or his love for evangelisation were always reflected in it; and (4) in De Piro’s life, his love for the poor identified itself with his love for evangelisation, and vice versa.

While in the last mentioned Chapter the main components of De Piro’s charity have already began to emerge, Chapter Three deals specifically with these characteristics, those which have been showing more and more the Founder’s self giving to the others.  Fundamental among these characteristics is the holistic attitude of his charity.

Chapter Four –the concluding Chapter– presents the ingredients of De Piro’s incarnational spirituality: his complete union with God helped him know, accept and even humble himself, so much so that he always did his best to carry out the divine will for him through the cooperation of others and by loving everyone according to one’s needs.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part One

JOSEPH DE PIRO: HIS LIFE and Activity


A man of poor health, who lived a relatively short life of fifty-five years, ten months, and fifteen days would not normally achieve what Mgr Joseph De Piro did, both in society in general and in the Church ­-local and universal- in particular. Key to this characteristic was disclosed by the Servant of God himself in his continuous reference to Psalm 126 (127),1: «Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain».


 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

The private and public phases of the life of JOSEPH DE PIRO

 

The life of the Servant of God, Joseph De Piro, can be easily divided in two. The first phase covers the years in between his birth, on 2 November 1877, and the months he spent in Switzerland for his recovery from illhealth after his being ordained priest in 1902. The second phase starts with his return to Malta from Switzerland, on 2 March 1904, and ends up with his death on 17 September 1933. 

 

Section I

The private phase of his life (1877-1904):

From birth to the first two years of priesthood

 

This first phase of the life of Joseph De Piro incorporates his birth, primary, secondary and university education in Malta, his studies of philosophy and theology in Rome, ordination to the priesthood and the eighteen months he spent in Davos, Switzerland, to recuperate his health. Compared to the second phase, this first part of Joseph’s life can be considerd as quite hidden.

          - De Piro’s birth, childhood and early youth

Joseph De Piro was born on 2 November, 1877[2] at Mdina, the old city of Malta. His father was the noble Alexander dei Marchesi De Piro, and his mother, Ursola Agius,[3] also of noble blood. He was the seventh child of a family of nine.[4] According to the baptismal certificate Joseph was baptised at the Metropolitan Cathedral, the day after his birth.[5]

He was brought up in a truly Catholic family and gradually grew up to be a noble child not only in his ancestry but also in character. This was confirmed by the Archbishop of Malta, Mgr Peter Pace in his recommending Joseph for the Capranica College, Rome:

Il Barone Giuseppe De Piro mi ha fatto sapere, che suo nipote Giuseppe fin ora secolare intende abbracciare la carriera ecclesiastica, e stabilire per continuare gli studi in cotesto collegio che Vra. S. Illma e Revma degnamente presiede: e quindi mi pregava di raccomandarlo a tale oggetto a Lei.

 

Io ben volentieri mi presto a tale officio, trattandosi di un giovane fornito di tutte le belle qualità. Egli passò con lodi l’esame di matricola nella Regia Università, ed ora sta nel corso di scienze ed arti. È poi di morigerati costumi, ritirato sempre in casa dove non riceve, che esempi di virtù, essendo la Nobile famiglia De Piro distinta pei suoi sentimenti di religione e di pietà.[6]

 

It is very hard to say anything about Joseph’s early childhood. As one may expect, the only evidence we can have is from the way the noble families generally reared their children in those days, and from the interviews we made to people who lived at Monsignor’s times. These witnesses[7] gave valuable testimonies. All of them agreed that both parents, Alexander and Ursola, tried to give their children the best possible christian formation. The mother considered it her duty to pass on the basic christian truths to her sons and daughters. Besides this, the family was often seen going together to the Cathedral, at Mdina, for the mass, or for some other liturgical celebration. Baroness M. Trapani Galea, one of the nieces of the Servant of God, had this to say about the family of her grannies:

My grandma was very serious and she did not allow confidences. She used to tell us to keep the friends at the entrance hall only, and not further than that.

They were very religious people and as regards this aspect there were no compromises; what had to be done had to be done, and what had to be avoided had to be avoided. They were rigid as regards this; even in the hardest moments of their lives religion was first. They always said, ‘Fiat voluntas tua.’

The whole family was consecrated to Our Lady of Pompei. Alberto had done his best to restore the painting of Our Lady of Pompei in the Jesuit church in Valletta. He had introduced the devotion and put the painting. Alberto died when away from home; he felt sick, got out of his senses and lost a lot of blood. Guido carried him up the stairs and put him in bed. While sick his mother used to tell him, ‘Albert, trust in Our Lady and she will help you.’ On his part he told his mother, ‘Mum it is in her that I trust.’

Their father and mother insisted a lot on discipline and the conduct of their children. They preferred to get lower marks in languages, etc., but not in their conduct. They did not admit any excuse for misconduct.

They attended the church celebrations and they were very recollected. Everyone of them had the missal so that each one could follow.[8]

 

It was the custom among some noble families to give their children the first schooling at home. In fact this is what was done even in the case of the De Piro family.[9] To add to this it was not considered by the De Piros as downgrading that the children learn some trade or craft. The girls used to be instructed by the maids and learnt sewing, embroidery, and lace-making, while the boys learnt carpentry and other similar trades. Joseph got the tinsmith trade.[10] Over and above this, several of the testimonies already mentioned above confirmed that the parents were a strong example of both the human and moral virtues to the offsprings.[11]

At almost eleven years of age Joseph began his secondary education at the Malta Lyceum in Valletta.[12] Fortunately we, members of the missionary Society of St Paul, still have the many exercise books on which he used to put down the notes of his lessons. From these same records one can say that De Piro was very diligent in his work at school.[13]

In the year 1894 he passed the Matriculation examination and entered the Royal University of Malta. He studied Arts and Sciences for the first three years. Having finished this course he started reading Law, and this he did up to 1898, that is for just one year.[14]

Member of the Royal Malta Militia

Schooling was not the only activity that Joseph was involved in during the early years of his youth. Soon he joined the local Militia.[15] It is worth saying that the Maltese were never keen on having their sons enrolled as soldiers. It was very hard to persuade Maltese youths to serve their country by doing this type of work. To encourage them, the noble families on the Island decided to send their own sons for some time as members of the military corps.[16] Joseph, not even fifteen, was one of the youths who did this. In fact from the registers of the Royal Malta Militia one can know that he began his term of service on 11 October 1892, and served up to 23 February 1896.[17] His discharge certificate attests that his conduct and character were unimpeachable.[18] On the physical side Joseph at the age of eighteen was 5 feet 7 inches (1.75m) tall, his eyes were bright brown, his hair light brown and his general features were pleasant.[19]

Without doubt the military training strengthened the formation Joseph got from his parents, such as discipline, order, determination, comradeship, a sense of loyalty ... and a love for his own country.

Member of the Congregazione degli Onorati

While still at the University of Malta and at the Royal Malta Militia, Joseph, aged 18, was accepted, on 20 May 1895, as a member of the Congregazione degli Onorati. [20]

Mgr Arthur Bonnici presented this Congregazione among those organisations which practiced the Marian devotion.[21] In fact it was the first Marian Congregation in Malta.[22] It had the Assumption of Our Lady as patroness.[23] It was set up by the Jesuit Fathers for the Knights of St John of Jerusalem in 1600. Its original seat was in the Jesuit College or University, in Valletta, and was later removed to the Oratory annexed to the same Church.[24] As time passed by, besides the Knights, there joined the Congregazione several members of the highest strata of the Maltese society.[25] The members met for their weekly devotions and performed acts of mercy and corporal penances.[26]

          - Drawing and Painting

Since an early age Joseph showed an artistic inclination.[27] During his secondary education at the Lyceum he distinguished himself in drawing for which subject he gained several prizes.[28] A number of his childhood sketches still survive. His preferred medium was the pencil and he practiced by sketching details from such masters as Michelangelo, Raphael and Perugino. In these he paid particular attention to shading. The sketches were often carefully signed G. De Piro. Although some of Joseph’s sketches are undated, they must have been carried out between 1889 and 1898.[29]

A particular picture, in colour, seems to have been painted for some church or chapel. Entwined with flowers of all shapes and colours there are painted the words Indulgentia Plenaria and the picture is signed in full: De Piro-D’Amico Joseph. Lyceum, 1892.[30]

In 1893 Joseph took part in a drawing competition organised at the Governor’s Palace. Joseph was rather late in handing in his drawing and had to be reminded on the very closing date by Mr. R. Baden Powell, the secretary of the Governor General. Joseph won first prize and received the following congratulatory letter:

The Palace

8 Jan. 93

 

My dear Joseph,

Herewith I send you a little prize for your beautifully painted Fire Bucket. Yours was by far the best of the 12 sent in for the competition, and I congratulate you and thank you for having done it so well.

 

Yours truly - R. Baden Powell.[31]

 

Joseph seemed to have needed pushing to meet competition deadlines. On 4 July 1893, a certain G. Calleja wrote to him reminding him of a drawing competition that was to close on the l5 of the same month. Joseph was to present two portraits which had been sketched at the Lyceum.[32] Young Joseph also participated in other activities at the Lyceum. For example, in an extant letter he was reminded by a certain Julia S. Gatt that he should take part in a tableaux vivants.[33]

          - De Piro’s call to the priesthood

Providence, however, was planning otherwise; he was going to continue neither the Law studies, nor his military activity, nor his drawing and painting. At the age of fourteen, Joseph had already felt himself drawn to the priesthood.[34] He shared this with his father. The latter seemed to have considered him immature for such a responsible decision. Also, Joseph’s health was giving rise to some concern. Moreover, with his University studies leading him to a different profession altogether, he must have undergone anxious moments of goal searching. The legal profession, he felt, would enable him to help materially the poorer sections of the population,[35] but the call for the priesthood remained undiminished within him. Alexander, his father, tried his best to dissuade him. Jerome De Piro, a nephew of Monsignor, said this to Br Aloisius Aloisio: “His father never thought that his son would become a priest. Once Joseph talked to his father and told him about his wish to become a priest. His father immediately disapproved…”[36]

Joseph was the favourite child of the De Piro family. In addition, he was extremely sociable and he loved company, and he was considered to be a most eligible bachelor with his good looks and family background.[37]

Jerome De Piro continued saying that in order to test the sincerity of Joseph’s vocation, his father “… invited his son to go to Florence to some friends of theirs. Joseph did this… but when he returned he told his father that he had not changed his mind about the priesthood: he wished to become a priest.”[38] Events were soon to make Joseph’s strong desire possible.

          - Death of Joseph’s father

Early in 1898 Alexander and Ursola went on a trip to Italy. Alexander had a rather delicate constitution and suffered from poor digestion. On 10 January he was suddenly taken ill in Rome and died soon afterwards, aged forty-nine.[39] Reflecting on the sudden death of his father, at the end of the same year, 1898, Joseph, , wrote to his mother and his brothers and sisters:

L’altro anno secondo il nostro modo di vedere, ci è stato sfortunato, dico così perchè Iddio non opera che perfettamente e le sue azioni non possono essere altro che ottime; e poi in quella circostanza siamo stati tanto consolati, che non esito a dire che la nostra consolazione sopraffece il dolore della sfortuna.[40]

 

Joseph felt deeply his father’s loss, but these words seem to indicate that he saw in it God’s way of levelling his own road. Meditating on death, as a result of his father’s passing away and the grevious illness of his brother Berti, Joseph came to the conclusion that he could serve God by becoming a priest. In the summer of 1897, his confessor had told him not to give up. Now with his father’s death he could review his position. He himself put down into writing what made him think about his vocation:

 

RAGIONI PRO

1.      L’aver da fanciullo questa vocazione fino quasi al quattordicesimo anno.

2.      Non essersi tale vocazione in me per lungo tempo spenta negli susseguenti di mia vita.

3.      Fino a che non si fece più viva in me, nel principio dell’ estate passato, quando per primo la confessai al mio confessore.

4.      La meditazione della morte. Sento che questo è il vero stato a cui sono vocato.

5.      Il desiderio di darmi tutto a Dio avendo Egli tanto sofferto pei miei peccati.

6.      Il desiderio di camminare sulla via della perfezione, e così non temere la morte, anzi considerarla come il mezzo che ci reca alla vera felicità.

7.      L’aver letto in S. Alphonso de Liguori che egli era uscito dal mondo a 26 anni, ma sarà beato colui che ne uscisse prima.

8.      L’aver dopo riflessione trovato essere questo lo stato più confacente alla mia natura.

9.      La malattia di mio fratello.

10.  La morte di mio padre.

11.  Il sentirmi dover essere felice in questo stato, in tutte le controversie quali fin ora m’incontraì in questa vita. [41]

 

And in fact:

12.  Il giorno 8 Maggio ‘98, dopo una novena alla V. di Pompei in cui la chiesi di farmi conoscere la vera volontà di Dio: sentì la forza di decidere pel bene, cioè in favore allo stato sacerdotale.[42]

 

He immediately exposed his ideas to his mother.[43] Knowing him quite well the latter was not surprised at all at the sudden news. And being a really Catholic mother, Ursola encouraged her son to begin without delay his studies of philosophy and theology.[44] Coming from a rich noble family, money was not a problem at all. Therefore it was thought that Joseph should be sent to Rome for his studies. His father having died, there intervened his uncle who consulted the Archbishop of Malta, Mgr P. Pace, about the idea.[45] Joseph De Piro was going to stay at the Capranica College and study at the Gregorian University. Archbishop Pace even wrote a letter of recommendation to Cardinal M. Rampolla, the Protector of the Capranica, and to Mgr G. Coselli, the Rector.[46]

Studies of philosphy and theology in Rome

On 9 July 1898 Joseph collected the certificate of his studies from Malta’s Director of Education. This document once again attests to Joseph’s exemplary character:

No 1153

 

This is to certify that Mr. Joseph De Piro D’Amico Inguanez, son of the late Noble Alessandro dei Marchesi De Piro, after passing the Matriculation Examination in 1894 was admitted as a regular student in the triennial Course of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of this University, wherein he studied Latin, English and Italian Literatures, Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, Mathematics, Physics and Political Economy.

that after passing the Annual Examinations in the above subjects before the Special Council of the above faculty, he was admitted as a regular student in the Faculty of Laws, wherein he attended from October 1897 to May 1898 the courses of Civil, Natural and Constitutional laws.

And that during the above period his conduct was very good.

 

Given under the Seal of the University of Malta on this 9th day of July in the year of Grace 1898.

 

N. Tagliaferro

Director of Education.[47]

 

Joseph’s stay in Rome is well-documented thanks to the regular correspondence he kept with his mother.[48] On her part Ursola treasured and preserved all the letters she received. These letters provide precious glimpses not only of the events Joseph passed through, but also of the development of his character.

Joseph left Malta by sea on 10 July 1898, bound for Syracuse, accompanied by his youngest brother, Giovanni Pio. From there they took the train to Rome, stopping only for a few hours at Messina. They arrived in Rome two days later and on the 14 Joseph was already writing his first letter to his mother.[49]

On 13 July, Joseph went to the Capranica College to meet the Rector, Mgr Coselli, whom he described as a “Gentleman”.[50] To the latter he presented his certificates.[51] While talking to Mgr Coselli he admitted being rather weak in Latin, whereupon the Rector suggested he should enter the Capranica on 22 August. During this period he was expected to undergo an intensive course in Latin. Moreover, Mgr Coselli pointed out that this two-month period would enable him to brush up his philosophy.[52]

In Rome, Joseph stayed with relatives until he could enter the Capranica. Actually he did not enter on 22 August as had been suggested: on 24 August he was writing that he was going to join in about 12 days’ time.[53]

In the meantime, on 24 July, Cardinal Rampolla had formally granted his approval to Joseph’s application.[54]

          - Worries, prayers … but even projects

Joseph’s letters clearly suggest that he was passing through a worrying time. He was certainly concerned about his mother’s health which he thought could suffer as a result of her separation from a number of her children:

(24 - 8 - 98)

 

Borgo Vecchio 170

 

Carissima mamma,

 

Stasera, poco fa, ho ricevuto la tua lettera, la quale mi mise in pensiero sul tuo conto, poichè dai calcoli che posso fare è già da tempo che ti senti male; secondo me sarà la fatica dei nostri corredi, ma devi stare attenta a non affaticarti più di quello che ti è permesso dalle tue forze. Forse ti sarai inquietata un poco ancora vedendo approssimarsi la partenza di Gino e Teresina.[55]

 

Even before he started his philosophy and theology, Joseph had a number of projects in mind. Some of these projects were later to be realised.[56] At the same time Joseph’s health was in turn rousing worries to his mother who kept insisting he should see a specialist.[57]

On 5 September 1898 Joseph was admitted to the College, joining the philosophy class.[58] At that same time he enrolled at the Gregorian University to follow a course of lectures in philosophy.[59] Here De Piro dedicated himself wholeheartedly to his studies and did not lose any time:

Io, grazie a Dio finora ghadni nferfer (reggo ancora), ho molto da studiare ed il tempo dello studio mi sembra che sia un poco ristretto. Durante la giornata non ci è un quarto libero, con sempre in fretta per fare a tempo alla campana; se ci è un momento di ricreazione siamo tenuti di farlo insieme e non possiamo andare in camera senza permesso; perciò questa lettera deve essere breve perchè altrimenti non te la manderò neanche oggi.[60]

 

But Joseph had to continue experiencing the serious problem of ill health. While still in Malta he had first been taken sick in a rather grave way when he was supposed to sit for the Matriculation examination.[61] During the first year at the Capranica it seems that he still had some trouble. In fact on 5 April 1899 he wrote this to his mother:

Giorni sono ho fatto vedere la mia gola a Petacci. Localmente mi prescrisse il borato di soda, che lo applico per mezzo di uno spruzzatore o polverizzatore; non so come meglio chiamarlo; certi è che il borato è in soluzione, e poi internamente prendo il (fauler?) a goccie prima del pranzo; in quanto al bocato mi sembra che qualche effetto ce l’ha; il fauler (?) poi non so giusto quel che fà; ma spero che mi farà bene; il termometro dell’appetito segna piuttosto bene, e questo credo che sia un buon indizio.[62]

 

Also, while De Piro was in Malta for his first summer holidays the Rector of the Capranica, Mgr Coselli, wrote to him referring to the actual good health of the Servant of God:

Almo Collegio Capranicense

 

29 Agosto 1899

 

Mio Carmo De Piro,

Ho ricevuto la sua seconda graditissima lettera, dalla quale rilevo che godete ottima salute. Faccio voti affinchè il Signore si degni di rendervela lui che mai galiarda e salusta, affinchè possiate un giorno lavorare indefessamente nella mistica vigna del Signore e riportare in essa frutti abbondantissimi.[63]

 

The Rector made a similar reference on 7 October of the same year: “Ho ricevuto la vostra carma lettera dalla quale ho rilevato il vostro ottimo stato di salute.”[64] Even the following year Mgr Coselli mentioned again De Piro`s health: “La vostra lettera mi è stata graditissima per le buone notizie che mi dava della vostra salute.”[65] All this emphasis on the health of the Servant of God meant nothing but a lack of it during Joseph’s stay at the Capranica in Rome!

To add to this, on 13 May 1899, Berti, one of Joseph’s brothers, died after a grievous illness. During Berti’s illness Joseph had tried to fortify his heartbroken mother. In a letter dated 5 April, he wrote to her: “… ti debbo dire che il brontolare non è cosa buona; ma il pianto offerto al Signore per le offese fattegli credo che sia di un merito immenso; che un cuore afflitto pianga è cosa naturale, e quando Iddio permette che ciò ci accada facciamo di esso gran tesoro.[66]

Joseph’s letter of 15 May, infused with the deep sadness of Berti’s death, is one of his finest:

15 Maggio 1899

 

 A.C.C.

 

Carissima Mamma,

 

Il meno che ti possa consolare tra i fratelli credo che sono io, ma pazienza. Si vede che Iddio e la Vergine non ci hanno dimenticato poichè ci offrono spesso circostanze per manifestar sempre più la nostra fiducia in Loro. In quanto a Berti possiamo ben dire e con ragione che sta meglio di noi e che si trova in compagnia alle altre buone anime che ci lasciarono prima di lui…[67]

          - Minor Orders

It was during Joseph’s first summer in Malta, and precisely on 21 September 1899, that he received the tonsure and the minor orders from the hands of Archbishop Peter Pace. It was a private ceremony at His Excellency’s Palace, in Mdina.[68]

          - Subdiaconate, diaconate and presbyterate

Joseph De Piro received the subdiaconate on 14 February 1901.[69] With regards to his priestly studies we cannot say that Joseph was unsuccessful, but at the same time he himself was not so much satisfied. At the end of the second year of theology he sat for the baccalaureate examination. Commenting on the results of this same examination, Joseph said that they were not so much promising:

In fatto di intelligenza non risplendo. Fin ora ho tirato avanti. Quando il Signore mi chiamò allo stato ecclesiastico mi trovava al primo anno di legge all’Università di Malta. Adesso faccio il terzo di Teologia alla Gregoriana. L’esame per il baccellerato è andato maluccio, da tre voti ho avuto due col vix; perciò tra quel che è in me ed il rigore degli esami, la speranza di ulteriori gradi è molto ridotta. In Diritto Canonico forse ci riesco di più. Siccome nelle mie communioni una delle prime grazie che chiedo al Signore, è appunto di farmi conoscere la sua volontà, credo che il rifiuto motivato, mi sia stato da Lui suggerito. [70]

 

The third year theology meant for De Piro his ordinations to the diaconate and priesthood. In fact he was ordained deacon on 21 December 1901, at the Basilica of St John Lateran, in Rome, by Cardinal P. Respighi, the Vicar of Rome.[71]

This time was very important for Fr De Piro not only because he was nearing the priesthood, but also because he had been thinking seriously about what to do after being ordained priest. On the one hand he had been wishing to return to Malta and live at St Joseph’s Orphanage, Santa Venera, together with other priests, taking care of orphaned boys. This is what he wrote in his Diary:

1898-1899

In sin dal mio primo anno di Collegio, ho incominciato a vagheggiare l’idea di ritirarmi nella ‘Casa di San Guseppe’ del Hamrun ed aiutare il Canonico Bonnici, fondatore della stessa.

Tornato a Malta, per le vacanze estive fui alquando sorpreso nel sapere, che il Canonico Bonnici aveva abbandonato la Casa da lui fondata e che alla sua direzione trovavasi il Sac. D. Emmanuele Vassallo e D. Giorgo Bugeja.

Durante le stesse vacanze sono stato a visitare il Vassallo alla Casa di San Giuseppe, ho fatto la sua conoscenza, gli ho portato i saluti del Collegio essendo egli gia Capranicese, e strinsi con lui amicizia.

 

1899 - 1900

Ho continuato a tenere relazioni con D. Emmanuele e col Bugeja. (1)[72]

 

As footnote he added these words:

 

(1) Durante le vaganze estive ho esternato al Vassallo il mio desiderio di fargli compagnia nella Casa di S. Giuseppe. Egli (come pure il P. Sammut dal quale sono stato ad Acireale al Collegio Pennisi) mi consigliò di terminare gli studi prima di tutto e poi si sarebbe veduto…[73]

 

On the other hand he had been invited by the Archbishop of Malta to continue his studies at the “Accademia Ecclesiastica dei Nobili”, in order to make part of the diplomatic corps of the Church.[74] Even the President of the “Accademia” tried to persuade De Piro to continue the diplomatic studies.[75] The Servant of God wanted to do only God’s will and therefore, Nel breve ritiro spirituale che si usa a fare al Capranica in principio dell’anno scolastico, ho messo in esame le ragioni pro e contro per conoscere se dovessi o no, terminati gli studi, portarmi alla Casa di S. Giuseppe. Ho deciso, coll’ aiuto del P. Gualandi, per l’affermativa, previo però il permesso del Vescovo.[76]

The same exercise he did three months later:

Durante il ritiro spirituale in preparazione a ben ricevere l’ordine del Diaconato, incominciato l’11 Dicembre, 1901, ho messo in esame tutte le ragioni pro o contro tanto per l’entrata all’Accademia, come pure l’entrata alla Casa di S. Giuseppe; ed il risultato fu negativo per l’Accademia ed affermattivo per la Casa di S. Giuseppe.[77]

 

Here are the exact words of Deacon Joseph:

ACCADEMIA

 

RAGIONI PRO

 

1.             Alcuni di famiglia desiderano che io andassi, e si son offerti perfino di pagarmi la rata.

2.             Lo stesso Presidente dell’Accademia si è portato dal Rettore, e gli ha espresso il desiderio che io andassi.

 

RAGIONI CONTRA

 

1.             Perchè all’Accademia, finchè io sappia, non ci vanno che quelli, i quali possono vantare una buonanascita.

2.             Perchè all’Accademia, mi si mette, come a dire, in mostra, per aver qualche posto; mentre è dottrina certissima che Gesù predilige coloro, qui ament nesciri. E siccome Egli allorchè determinò di eleggermi per suo ministro seppe trovarmi tra il numero dei peccatori: così adesso se Egli ha deliberato di me qualche altra cosa, a fortiori saprà trovarmi nel numero dei suoi eletti, e non è necessario che io mi metta avanti e cercar di farmi conoscere coll’andar all’Accademia.

3.             Si recogito peccata mea, non mi trovo degno che di bastonate; altro che prelature e posti diplomatici!!! È già infinitamente troppo se arrivo ad essere sacerdote.

4.             In fatto di intelligenza non risplendo. Fin ora ho tirato avanti. Quando il Signore mi chiamò allo stato ecclesiastico mi trovavo al primo anno di legge all’Università di Malta. Adesso faccio il terzo di Teologia alla Gregoriana. L’esame per il baccellerato è andato maluccio, da tre voti ho avuto due col vix; perciò tra quel che è in me ed il rigore degli esami, la speranza di ulteriori gradi è molto ridotta. In Diritto Canonico forse ci riesco di più. Siccome nelle mie communioni una delle prime grazie che chiedo al Signore, è appunto di farmi conoscere la sua volontà, credo che il rifiuto motivato, mi sia stato da Lui suggerito.

5.             Perchè mi metto in pericolo di desiderare posti, cariche ed onori; et qui vult periculum peribit in illo.

6.             Mentre all’ incontro, col rifiutare di andare all’Accademia mi son messo al sicuro dal desiderare e molto più dal domandare posti e cariche onorifici in diocesi.

7.             Perchè, secondo me, il Signore ha permesso che io fossi tentato di andare all’Accademia, per formare la mia fermezza della risoluzione che avea preso, perchè giorni addietro, quale è quella di portarmi e stabilirmi nella Casa di San Giuseppe previo il permesso del Vescovo.

8.             Infatti allorchè per mezzo del mio Rettore, mandaì al Presidente dell’Accademia la negativa, sperimentaì grande consolazione nel pensare di aver scelto la corona di spine con Gesù anzichè quella delle rose.

9.             Casa di San Giuseppe.

 

CASA DI SAN GIUSEPPE.

 

RAGIONI PRO

 

1.             Perchè un sentimento interno mi dice, che Iddio da questo Istituto voglia formare a Malta una Congregazione di Sacerdoti sotto il Patrocinio di San Paolo; e così nel rendere stabile l’Opera a Malta si diffonda anche all’estero.

2.             N.B. Questa ragione mi è stata consigliata di sospederla, e lo faccio ben volentieri.

3.             L’amore di vivere in communità di persone ecclesiastiche e perciò sento dover essere contento in compagnia dei due sacerdoti, che già stanno in direzione della Casa di San Giuseppe.

4.             Il desiderio di far penitenza pei miei peccati particolarmente per quelli che sono stati di danno al prossimo.

5.             Perchè stando in famiglia mi metto in pericolo di attacarmi alle richezze; o che è certo occuperanno gran parte dei miei pensieri e del mio tempo.

6.             Perchè potrò imitare Gesù più da vicino.

7.             Perchè troverò pronto il campo di esercitare il mio ministero.

8.             Perchè mi sarà facile esercitare la virtù della povertà; quantunque senza voto, ed in qualche modo anche quello dell’ubbidienza.

9.             Perchè alla morte posso trovare qualche conforto nel pensiero di aver sofferto un poco per Gesù avendo Egli tanto sofferto pei miei peccati.[78]

 

Fr. Joseph was ordained priest on 15 March 1902, again in the Basilica of St John Lateran. In Malta Fr Joseph celebrated his first solemn Mass on Easter Sunday, 30 March 1902, at the Cathedral in Mdina. Soon afterwards he returned to Rome to continue his third year theology.

          - The “Accademia Ecclesiastica” issue put aside

Right from the beginning of the offer of the “Accademia”, the Servant of God had showed quite clearly that having been ordained priest his wish was to return to Malta and do pastoral work there. In fact this is what he told the rector of the Capranica when the latter told him that the president of the “Accademia Ecclesiastica” went to the College inviting young Joseph to go there for the diplomatic studies, “Io ho risposto che terminati gli studi intendevo tornare in Diocesi ed esercitare costì il mio ministero, e che perciò non trovavo ragione di abbandonare il Capranica per recarmi all’Accademia; e così per il momento la cosa terminò.”[79]

Later on the Servant of God expressed this opinion to the President of the “Accademia” directly:

Il vescovo Mgr Pace, sempre coll’idea di mandarmi all’Accademia mi aveva dato un biglietto per il Presidente dell’Accademia.

Arrivato a Roma sono stato dal presidente dell’Accademia col biglietto del Vescovo e gli ho dichiarato che dovendo tornare in Diocesi terminati gli studi, non intendevo perciò portarmi all’Accademia, e baciandogli la mano mi sono concedato dicendogli che avrei scritto al mio Vescovo.[80]

 

In fact Fr Joseph wrote to the Archbishop: “… dandogli le mie ragioni per non andare all’Accademia, dichiarandomi peraltro pronto ad ubbidirlo. Egli però mi rispose dicendomi che non intendeva forzare la mia volontà.”[81]

Since the Archbishop did not want to force the “Accademia” on De Piro the issue was put aside for ever.[82]

          - Poor health

Reference has already been made to the problems of De Piro’s poor health during his studies.[83] When back in Rome to finish his third year theology, he fell sick again:

Il 10 Luglio (1902) mi sono sentito male e per la seconda volta (la prima era il 19 luglio 1900) ho veduto andare in aria tutte le mie buone intenzioni. Fiat! Il Signore guarda alla buona volontà.

Dichiarato dal medico affetto di tubercolosi polmonare ...[84]

 

It was therefore providential that Archbishop Pace had asked that De Piro should be ordained priest before the proper date.

Officially De Piro terminated his course at the Capranica on 23 July 1902.[85] Of the few comments about him in the College archives we find these words: “… d’indole mitissima, molto pio, lasciò cara memoria di se.” [86]

          - At Davos, Switzerland

In the letter written on 24 August 1898, that is before his starting his studies in Rome, the Servant of God shared with his mother his plans for his future studies:

Secondo i calcoli incalcolabili che ho fatto; se non morrò probabilmente canterò messa da qui ad altri quattro anni; poichè più di due anni di filosofia non credo che mi faranno fare, e poi dopo due anni di teologia credo che mi lasceranno cantarla. Pregate a S. Tommaso d’Aquino che mi intercede la grazia di aprirmi un poco la mente, ed allora forse un anno di filosofia sarà sufficiente, ed allora potremo fare più presto; ho detto S. Tom: poichè questo è il nostro protettore assegnatoci in particolar modo da Leone XIII (che non abbiam ancora potuto vedere) in una delle sue prime encicliche. Il corso di teologia è di quattro anni e poi quello di diritto canonico è di tre cosichè se ancor ben faccio l’addizione mi pare che fino a 30 anni trovo da studiare.[87]

 

This plan was made up of ten years of study. In fact he did not succeed in finishing even half of them; he had to miss completely even the fourth year theology at the Gregorian University. Returning to Malta at the end of July, 1902, he prepared to go to Switzerland to recover his health there, “… ho abbandonato gli studi, mi son portato a Malta, da dove dopo pochi giorni sono partito per la Svizzera per la cura d’aria …”[88]

From a letter sent to him by his brother Gwido, who was in Louvain, Belgium, studying medicine, one can conclude that Fr. Joseph was getting better after a short while.[89]

Fr Joseph seemed to have been in continuous contact with Gwido; the latter seemed to have been well informed about Joseph’s health improvement, “… perciò prima di tutto ti auguro un anno felice e sano e un subito ritorno a Malta ed in seguito mi gratulo con te della tua completa guarigione.”[90]

In fact the Servant of God planned to return to Malta in January 1904.[91] Yet he left Davos some time after that and was back in Malta on 2 March of that same year.[92]

 

Section ii

The public phase of his life (1904 -1933):

From the first years of priesthood up to his death

 

While the first twenty seven years of De Piro’s life were indeed private, the twenty years that followed were completely different. In them he was more than a full time priest, involved in the various ministries of the local Church. He was the citizen who gave a big share for his country’s development and well being. He was more than a benefactor to the many poor children and wretched grown ups of Malta and Gozo. And God chose him to be the Founder of the Missionary Society of St Paul.

 

(i) A priest dedicated to the local Church

          - Assistant parishpriest at the Qrendi Parish, Malta

Although at Davos, the Servant of God was almost completely cured from his illness he had to spend some time in convalescence even when back in Malta. In fact he went to Qrendi, a village where the De Piro family had one of its summer residences.[93] There Fr. Joseph went for rest, but things turned out to be different: he was attentive on his health, but at the same time he was also quite involved in pastoral work. Louis Galea, Joseph Brincat and Angelo Falzon, three witnesses who were asked to give their testimony in the Diocesan Process of the Cause of Canonisation of the Servant of God, said that each day, early in the morning, De Piro went to the Parish Church for the six o’clock mass.[94]

De Piro had his own confessional in the aisle of the Church and he used to sit in it hearing confessions both before and after mass.[95] Not to mention the many other moments when he did the same thing. He was so much sought for this ministry that even after leaving the Parish, he went regularly to Qrendi to offer his service.[96]

Fr De Piro realised that it was not only the laity who needed help in their growth. Priests had to continue strengthening that formation which they would have received in the seminary. A certain Mgr John Baptist Ghigo referred to the fact that when in Qrendi De Piro had planned an initiative in favour of the ongoing formation of the priests of the nearby parishes:

After he was ordained priest and came from abroad, he chose to go and stay in Qrendi, because he was not feeling well. There he showed his priestly zeal; he was very active and also was responsible for the Church’s proxy. He started first by gathering together the priests of the area: Luqa, Mqabba, Zurrieq, Qrendi and Kirkop, in the Church dedicated to St John the Evangelist, at Hal Millieri, for sermons given by some priest.[97]

 

It was only because Fr Joseph had to leave the Qrendi Parish that this project was stopped.

The pastoral contribution of De Piro at Qrendi was strengthened all the more by his exemplary life. Witnesses say that De Piro was often seen saying the Breviary in the garden of the house where he was staying.[98] When going from some part of the Village to the other he used to carry a big rosary beads in his hands in order to say this Marian prayer.[99]

At Qrendi the parishioners are to this day divided in two parties, one supporting the feast of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and the other that of Our Lady of Lourdes. Even at the time of the Servant of God these two parties were very strong, and especially at the time of the respective feasts their members used to cause a lot of trouble to each other. Each party even tried to involve both the parishpriest and the other clergy of the parish. Louis Galea testified that De Piro always kept away from these parties, “De Piro never got involved in the parties there are in Qrendi and which existed even in my time. Nor did they ever involve him. Even the supporters used to say that they would not approach him for he was a good man and would not be involved in the parties.”[100]

The witnesses from Qrendi all agreed about De Piro’s charity. Louis Galea said this,“He was a charitable priest. Charity was the hallmark of both the Monsignor and his family. The people in need often asked each other: ‘Have you been to the De Piros?’[101]

Joseph Brincat referred to the charity De Piro lived in Qrendi and even elsewhere, “Mgr De Piro was a person of great charity. Besides Qrendi, he was involved in many projects of beneficence and charitable institutions. I hear the people of Qrendi mention the Monsignor for this charity.[102]

Angelo Falzon confirmed the above and said that De Piro was very discreet in his charity,“Monsignor was very charitable. At that time there were many beggars, none the less at Qrendi. These used to go a lot to De Piro and he used to help them. Many a time he helped secretly.”[103]

          - Procurator of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Consolation, Qrendi

On 20 September 1909 Fr Alphonse Tabone, parishpriest of Qrendi, wrote to the Archbishop of Malta, Mgr Peter Pace, telling him that on 18 April 1909 Fr Joseph De Piro was nominated and elected procurator of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Consolation.[104] Tabone also asked the Archbishop to confirm the Servant of God in this responsibility.[105] His Excellency sent his approval on 23 November 1909.[106]

          - Sindaco Apostolico of the Franciscan Minors Convent, Rabat, Malta

Wherever they were and since the beginning of their existence until a few years ago the Franciscan Minor Friars were not allowed to administer their own mobile or immobile property. Instead, they nominated what they called the Sindaco Apostolico. This person, who did not make part of the Franciscan community , province or Order, was always a well off person, and at the same time was a trustworthy individual. He had the duty to administer all types of property and was also expected to keep in order all the documents related to the same. Every month he had to give any money needed by the entity he represented, and he had to give a monthly report of his administration to the sostituto sindaco apostolico.[107]

Mgr Joseph De Piro was one of the sindaci apostolici of the Franciscan Minors community in Rabat, Malta. It was not possible for me to find out exactly when he started and when he ended up this minsitry. All I can say is that in the De Piro Archives  there were found three letters related to this service; the first one is dated 21 August 1906 and the last one 22 February 1907.[108]

          - Canon of the Metropolitan Chapter [109] 

If one were to make reference to the above mentioned ‘Reasons in favour and against’ which De Piro put in writing in relation to his going to the “Accademia Ecclesiastica” or St Joseph’s Institute, one finds amongst others these words against his going to the “Accademia”:

1.             Perchè all’Accademia, finchè io sappia, non ci vanno che quelli, i quali possono vantare una buona nascita.

2.             Perchè all’Accademia, mi si mette, come a dire, in mostra, per aver qualche posto; mentre è dottrina certissima che Gesù predilige coloro, qui ament nesciri. E siccome Egli allorchè determinò di eleggermi per suo ministro seppe trovarmi tra il numero dei peccatori: cosi` adesso se Egli ha deliberato di me qualche altra cosa, a fortiori saprà trovarmi nel numero dei suoi eletti, e non è necessario che io mi metta avanti e cercar di farmi conoscere coll’andar all’Accademia.[110]

 

This reference can be considered as a clear sign of De Piro’s humility. He was only twentyfour years when he wrote these words, but he kept to this frame of mind all his life. In fact he showed this very attitude when he found out that he was going to be made canon of the Mdina Cathedral.

As every other mother, Ursola De Piro wished her children to achieve success in life. In October 1910 she approached Fr Michaelangelo Pace, secretary to the Archbishop of Malta, and asked his help on her behalf, so that her son Joseph might be appointed canon of the Cathedral.[111] At that time the Servant of God was barely 33 years old, and only a few years had passed since his priestly ordination. Fr Michaelangelo knew only too well how zealous and exemplary Joseph De Piro was, and courteously promised Ursola De Piro to do all he could to help her realise her desire.[112]

Fr Michaelangelo kept his promise. At that time the Dean of the Cathedral, Mgr Vincent Vassallo, who was 73 years old, had been unwell for months. The Archbishop’s secretary thought it was opportune to advise His Excellency to persuade the Dean to ask for a Coadjutor in the person of Fr Joseph De Piro.[113] The latter was unaware of these designs when the Archbishop made the proposal to the Dean on 6 November, 1910. The appointment would be an important choice, for the dean was subject only to the archdeacon of the Chapter.[114]

On 7 November Fr Michaelangelo gave De Piro the news, and he was the first to congratulate him, adding that his new assignment was still strictly confidential, as the appointment was not yet official:

C. Balzan

7 Nov 1910

Molto Revdo Signore,

 

Ho l’alto onore in piacere di dirle sotto sigillo di confessione che Sua Eccza Revma Mgr Vescovo è stato ieri da Mgr Canco Decano della Cattedrale a proporre V.S. Molto Revda per suo Coadiutore ed è già tutto combinato ciò servirà per di lei norma. Tanti sinceri auguri.

Intanto con sensi di perfetta stima rinnovo i miei auguri qual sono.

 

Di Lei

Devmo Servo ed Amico

Sac: Angelo Pace, Cappellano.[115]

Meanwhile Fr Joseph discovered that his mother had been behind the whole plot, and frankly and humbly told her he did not approve of it:

Mother, you know I have always obeyed you, but I beg you not to speak to the Archbishop about me, asking him to grant me these high Church dignities. I wish to remain a priest without any honours; for me the priesthood is the highest honour. If you wish me to be a Monsignor at the Cathedral, I am sorry I cannot obey you.[116]

On 11 November, De Piro wrote to Fr Michaelangelo the following words,

I beg you to present my thanks to the Archbishop for wanting to promote me to these high honours. Please do me the favour of informing the Archbishop that the honours offered are not suitable for me due to the work I have started, and I do not have to mention any other reason. It is impossible for me to accept.[117]

 

Despite the secrecy entailed, the plan had by now developed in a more concrete way. The Dean of the Cathedral surprised De Piro with a visit on January 1911, and De Piro was informed that all had been definitely concluded. The one formality still required was the approval of the Governor of Malta, Sir Leslie Rundle. This last step had already been made privately, and although the official letter had not been written, De Piro knew that the Governor had approved his appointment.[118]

De Piro was firm in the resolutions made ten years before. He courteously thanked Monsignor Dean for having thought of him, but his conscience forbade him to accept this appointment. He explained in detail to the Archbishop adding that he felt unworthy and not capable of undertaking the duties of the office offered him. De Piro feared the precedent he might be creating for the members of his Society. He explained to the Archbishop he did not wish his spiritual sons to aspire to worldly honours. Should he accept to be Dean of the Cathedral, how would he have the courage to present himself to his young members, and persuade them to shun worldly honours?

Eccellenza Reverendissima,

 

Giorni sono è stato da me Monsignor Decano per informarmi che riguardo l’affare della Coadiutoria tutto era sistemato, che la mia nomina era stata già raccomandata da V.E. e che il Governatore era già pronto a mandare fuori il ‘Warrant’. Tutto ciò mi ha confuso non poco, però nel ringraziare Monsignor Decano non ho esitato a dichiarargli che in conscienza non potevo accettare e che qualora V.E. avesse insistito avrei solo ceduto di fronte ad un ordine preciso di obbidienza.

Ora oltre la mia indegnità ed incapacità umilmente sottopongo alla prudente ed illuminata considerazione di V.E. che l’occupare simili posti onorifici, come appunto sono i canonicati della Cattedrale è contro lo spirito del Nouvo Piccolo Istituto per le missioni Estere, e che io dovessi accettare la nomina propostami mi sarebbe difficile l’insinuare ai membri dell’Istituto il distacco da simili onori.

Pertanto spero che V.E., veduta la ragionevolezza del mio riferito, non insisterò. In ogni modo lascio alla coscienza di V.E. tutta la responsabilita` della mia.

Da ultimo al bacio del Sacro Anello umilmente Le chiedo la Benedizione ed ho l’onore di dichiararmi.

 

Dell’E V Revma

Umilmo ed Ubbmo Servo

Sac Giuseppe De Piro

 

17 gennaio 1911

Notabile.[119]

De Piro confided in his Archbishop, but in his authentic spirituality he was fully aware that obedience to his Superiors was more important than the practice of humility. He still hoped to evade the assignment and he wrote to his Archbishop. Thus he made the last effort to decline, but placed himself in the hands of his Archbishop, ready to obey his orders. Two days later, on l9 January 1911, the Archbishop replied on the same letter De Piro had written:

Valletta       

19 gennaio 1911

 

D. Giuseppe,

 

V.S. non ha mai cercato ne posti , ne promozioni. Prenda quindi dalle mani di Dio la proposta, e l’accetti per mia obbedienza. Al resto penserà il Signore, il quale come ha cominciato l’opera non la … perfezionarla.

Intanto … La benedico, mentre …di …benevolenza ne raffirmo

 

Di Lei D.Giuseppe …

P.Archiv. Vescovo.[120]

 

At this time De Piro’s mother developed a guilt complex about it, and she told the Archbishop that her son was not ready to accept the dignity of Monsignor. But the Archbishop was firm in his decision, knowing that the Servant of God was most suited to the position he would occupy.[121]

De Piro bowed his head to the wishes of the Archbishop, knowing these manifested the will of God, and waited for the necessary formalities to be concluded. The Governor, Sir Leslie Rundle, on 25 February 1911, officially informed the Archbishop that due to the age and ill-health of the Dean, Mgr Vincenzo Vassallo, it was necessary for him to be aided by a Coadjutor. He also added that he, the Governor, was presenting the Servant of God as Coadjutor to the Dean with right of succession.[122] On 11 March 1911 Rundle wrote to De Piro and told him more or less what he had told the Archbishop.[123] The application to the Archbishop by De Piro followed.[124] On the same day Mgr Vassallo was informed of the acceptance of De Piro and the warrant was granted. Mgr Vassallo received the information from the Office of the Crown Advocate, Dr. V. Frendo Azzopardi.[125] Before the issue of the relative decree from Rome, Mgr Paul Gauci, General Secretary at the Archbishop’s Curia, informed De Piro that he had been accepted by the Concistorial Congregation as Coadjutor to the Dean.[126] By decree of Pope Pius X, Fr Joseph was to enjoy by right whatever concerned the Dean’s office, to represent him and fulfil his relative duties.[127] From then on, much against his inmost desire, De Piro was addressed as Monsignor Joseph De Piro.

For many the title of Monsignor meant prestige and honour. For De Piro it signified much more than that. First of all the canons of the Cathedral had their liturgical duties at the Cathedral: the Conventual Mass, the singing of the Lauds, Hours and Vespers and the celebration of feasts, which at that time were not that infrequent.[128] Also, De Piro’s times were those when the Cathedral Chapter was for the Archbishop what is nowadays the Presbyterial Council, His Excellency’s consultative body, his senate and council.[129] Although in 1911 the Servant of God was not yet loaded with the many responsibilities he had to carry in the coming years, the liturgical duties and the Chapter meetings were still a big burden for him.

          - Effective  Member of the General Committee of the XXIV International Eucharistic Congress (1913)

A dar principio ai lavori Mgr Arcivescovo nominò un Comitato Generale, in cui oltre l’intero Capitolo della Diocesi, figuravano distinte persone, scelte dalle classi diverse della popolazione. Un altro Comitato era composto di Signori, oltre varie sotto comitati ai quali vennero deferiti speciali incarichi … [130]

 

The words above refer to the nominations of the members of the committees which organised the International Eucharistic Congress held in Malta in 1913. The main committee had the President, the Effective Vice Presidents and the Effetive

Members.[131] De Piro was among the last group. The Servant of God was chosen because he made part of the Capitular Chapter of the Cathedral. He was also chosen because he was the Director of Fra Diegu Institute, Hamrun. [132]

Without doubt the Servant of God participated in the celebrations which were held during this International Eucharistic Congress,[133] but I was not able to find out what was the paticular contribution of De Piro during these days. From a letter written to De Piro by Mgr Alphonse Carinci, Rector of the Capranica and assistant of the Cardinal Legate of the Pope, Dominic Ferrata, we know that De Piro was involved in the arrangements for the Legate to celebrate a pontifical mass at the Cathedral in Mdina.[134] From this same letter we know that the Servant of God had invited the Cardinal Legate to the De Piro family Palace in Mdina, [135] an invitation we know that the Cardinal accepted.[136]

          - Co-rector of the Manresa Retreat House, Floriana, Malta

This House, in Floriana, Malta, had also a church and both of them were dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary of Manresa. It was also known as St Calcedonius House. It was mainly used for the retreats of the secular and regular clergy. De Piro was chosen, on 5 May 1913, by the Archbishop, together with Canon Aloisius Attard as co - rector of this House.[137] The two priests seemed to be responsible for all the aspects of this House. Besides the day to day running they seem to have been the administrators even of the property related to it.[138]

          - Director of the Associazione Sacerdoti Adoratori

This Association seems to have been founded in Turin, Italy. In Malta there was one of its branches. When Fr Joseph Borg, the director of the Malta branch, died, Archbishop Peter Pace, on 16 August 1913, nominated Mgr Joseph De Piro for the post[139] and “…pro bono regimine et augmento eiusdem Piae Associationis inter Prebyteros huius Meliten Diocesis…”[140] According to the programme of the Parrochial Eucharistic Congress held in Rabat, Malta, between 11 and 18 June 1933, the Servant of God was still the director of this Sodality until that year.[141]

          - Secretary of Archbishop Mauro Caruana

If one were to go to the Archives of the Archbishop’s Curia and get the section where there is preserved the correspondence to and from Archbishop Mauro Caruana one would notice that the very first letter of His Excellency, dated 3 March 1915, was addressed to the Governor General, Field Marshal Lord Methuen. But for those who study De Piro it is all the more interesting because after mentioning the choice of Bishop Angelo Portelli as his Vicar General, Caruana also informed the Governor that he had chosen Mgr Joseph De Piro as his Secretary. The decree of nomination was written on 2 March 1915.[142]

This three year (1915-1918) contribution of De Piro to the Archdiocese may be considered by many as rather insignificant. There was no room for Monsignor to practice his creativity and energy. It may be so, but it is as much true that this was an occasion where the Servant of God could show his precision at work: he was very quick in answering all correspondence which came to his desk.[143] During these three years he also showed his dedication to the Archbishop. But this period was particularly important for De Piro’s contact with the Maltese who had migrated to other countries and with the priests who were working among them.[144] It was before the 1915-1918 years that Monsignor first thought about the Maltese emigrants,[145] but the letters he received as His Excellency’s Secretary made De Piro more conscious of the urgent situation of his conationals living abroad. The Servant of God did his best to find some other diocesan or religious priest to go with the migrants.[146]

          - Member of the Commission for the formation of young priests

It has already been said that at the time spent in Qrendi, Fr Joseph had planned a project for the formation of priests in the nearby parishes.[147] During the time as secretary to the Archbishop, De Piro was involved in another initiative in favour of the formation of the clergy. His Excellency Mauro Caruana was noticing that, being the years after the First World War, Malta was in a state of unsettlement and therefore the newly ordained priests were meeting difficulties when from the Seminary they were finding themselves in the pastoral activities. To help these young priests, the Archbishop set up a Commission made up of several more experienced presbyters:

D. MAURO CARUANA

DELL’ORDINE DI S. BENEDETTO

PER GRAZIA DI DIO E DELLA S. SEDE APOSTOLICA

ARCIVESCOVO DI RODI VESCOVO DI MALTA

ALLA MEDESIMA S. SEDE IMMEDIATAMENTE SOGGETTO

 

Impensieriti in sull’inizio del nostro pastorale ministero intorno all’obbligo grave, che ci incombe, di santificare questo gregge, della Divina Provvidenza affidato alle nostre cure e di mantenere saldo nella mente e nel cuore dello stesso il regno di Gesu` Cristo, fondato dall’Apostolo San Paolo, crediamo proprio di rivolgere l’opera nostra a favore del Clero.

 

Niente infatti, come leggiamo nel S. Concilio di Trento, è tanto necessario alla santità dei Fedeli quanto la santità del Clero “Nihil est quod alios magis ad pietatem et Dei cultum assidue instruat quam eorum vita et exemplum, qui se divino ministerio dedicaverunt: quum enim a rebus saeculi in altiorem sublati locum conspiciantur, in eos tamquam in speculum reliqui oculus coniiciant, ex iisque sumunt quod imitentur. Sess. XXII Cap. I De Reform.

Ci gode l’animo rilevare che per la sollecitudine dei nostri Predecessori la Diocesi è ben provvista di due seminari, per i grandi l’uno e l’altro per i piccoli. Ed entro le sacre mura di questi due istituti i chiamati nella sorte del Signore, sotto una vigilante osservanza ed un’accurata disciplina, vengono insin dai primi anni educati nella scienza e nella pietà, e così imparano a praticare quella santità di vita che li rende sale della terra e luce del mondo.

In verità ciò che maggiormente ci preoccupa ed accresce le nostre ansie, non è già il giovane ecclesiastico, finchè perdura la sua dimora in seminario, ma egli è il novello Levita, il quale per aver compito gli anni di Seminario, trovasi costretto, ancor fresco dell’ordinazione, di lanciarsi in mezzo ai pericoli del mondo. Ed è perciò che noi ci determiniamo di nominare una Commissione composta da sacerdoti esperti ed esemplari, la quale vada studiando i mezzi per venire in aiuto, difendere ed indirizzare nella vita pubblica i giovani sacerdoti particolarmente alla loro prima uscita di Seminario.

Nel ritenere a Noi la Presidenza, ci è grato affermare che molte sono le persone appartenenti al Nostro Clero e che potrebbero aver parte in questa Commissione; però pel presente abbiamo creduto di formarla come segue…

Noi intanto sostenuti dall’aiuto di Dio e fiduciosi nella protezione della Beata Vergine e dell’ Apostolo San Paolo ci sentiamo pieni di speranza, che l’opera di una tale Commissione abbia un esito felice e sia coronata da un buon successo, di retta com’è tutta quanta al bene di questa Nostra cara Diocesi.

 

+ Mauro Arciv. Vesc. di Malta

 

Dato dal nostro Palazzo di Notabile nel giorno dei SS. Apostoli Pietro e Paolo, 1915.[148]

 

Mgr Joseph De Piro was first in the list of the members of the Commission.[149]

- Deputy of the Commission for the temporary administration of the Major Seminary, Mdina, Malta

On 5 July 1916 Archbishop Mauro Caruana nominated Mgr Joseph De Piro deputy in the Commission for the temporal administration of the Seminary.[150] As its own name indicates this Commission was responsible for the temporal aspect of the life of the Seminary.

          - Rector of the Major Seminary, Mdina, Malta

It was because he was going to be entrusted with another responsibility that De Piro’s services as secretary to the Archbishop came to an end. On 30 September 1918 Archbishop Mauro Caruana nominated De Piro, Rector of the Major Seminary, at Mdina:

D.MAURUS CARUANA

ORDINIS S.BENEDICTI

Dei et Apostolicae Sedis gratia

Archiepiscopus Rhodiensis Episcopus Melitensis

EIDEM SANCTAE SEDI IMMEDIATE SUBJECTUS

 

Nos perfecte noscentes doctrinam qua polles, probitatem morum, plurimaque merita in hanc Nostram Dioecesim praesertim illud muneris et officii Nostri a Secretis Generalis, quod usque nunc gessisti non tantum cum Nostra satisfactione ac probationem, sed etiam omnium qui opera tua hos in munere usi sunt, Te, Illum. et Revmum. Dnum. Josephum e Marchionibus De Piro Navarra Can. Decanum Coadiutorem Nostrae S. Cathedralis Ecclesiae eligimus et nominamus in Rectorem Nostri Ven. Magni Seminarii a S.Paulo Apostolo Civitatis Notabilis, cum omnibus juribus, honoribus et facultatibus huic muneri et officio adnexis.

 

Datum ex Pal. Archiep. Civ. Vallettae dic 30 Septembris 1918

 

+Maurus O.S.B.

Archiep. Epies Melit.

 

Aloisius Can Theol Attard

Vicisgerens a. Sec.Gen. [151]

 

Among the persons interviewed by Aloisius Aloisio there was Fr George Cassar, a priest who had been a seminarian during De Piro’s rectorship. This Cassar emphasised the humanity with which Monsignor behaved when relating with the seminarians:

He was never angry at us, but he always admonished us with kindness. Before correcting us he always laughed. When you asked him for something he always gave it to you immediately…When the examinations were near we preferred to go to John Mary’s field, under Saqqajja Hill, instead of going for walks. We enjoyed staying under the shade of the trees to study and at the same time to enjoy the fresh air. Once there was John Mary, the farmer, who had wicker baskets full of fruits which he had just picked up. Gently he encouraged us to take as much as we wanted. In a split of a second we dismantled him of all the fruit. All we left him with was one wicker basket. You can imagine how angry was the poor farmer. As soon as we returned to the Seminary we found John Mary talking to the Rector. We were shocked. As soon as the Rector saw us he told us, ‘Can you come here, you gentlemen! John Mary has just told me what you have done after he has been so kind to you. What are we going to do now?’ One of us stood up and said, ‘We will all offer some money to make up for the fruit taken.’ ‘No, no. go away. I will try to fix everything myself,’ said the Rector. When later I went to the Rector’s room, he asked me, ‘Can you tell me what had happened to John Mary?’ When I explained to him what had happened he really laughed heartily and could not stop. I curiously asked him, ‘How did it end up with him?’ ‘We have fixed everything. I know him well,’ answered the Rector. The day after they all agreed to go back there and there was John Mary as well. ‘May we take fruit?’ we asked him. ‘Take as much as you want, because I made a very good deal with the Rector,’ answered John Mary. ‘Why?’ we asked him. ‘He gave me double the price of the fruit,’ answered John Mary.[152]

 

Also:

The seminarians, especially the acolytes, when at the altar service, used to drip the candles at the stairs of the altar before going out. One of the senior Monsignori, Louis Camilleri by name, noticed this and grumbled a lot about it. Once, while he visited the Seminary, he found the Rector admonishing us about something we had done. ‘Well,’ said Mgr Camilleri, ‘Once we are here I need to tell you what I observed them doing.’ The Rector answered him in a laughing manner, ‘I side with them in this matter.’ ‘Why?’ asked Camilleri. ‘Because they are wise in caring for their cassock,’ answered the Rector. ‘It is quite expensive and the seminarian of course should not spend a lot of money. They have to wear the cassock especially when they go to St John’s Co Cathedral. And you know that a cassock costs a lot of money.’[153]

 

Again:

Mgr Antonio Galea, ex provost of St Philip at Senglea, was the Vice Rector of the seminary at the time of De Piro. After the story of the fjakkoli we met De Piro and told him what happened. He really laughed at it. “He is rich,” he told us, “He has a lot.”

He was never angry at us. He used to be sad but he never expressed what he felt in any way or other. He used to admonish us but he was never angry at us; he always corrected us in a loving way.” [154]

 

Cassar referred also to the spirituality of the Rector:

I was the sacristan at the Seminary, and as sacristan I went often to the Rector. Often, when I went to the Rector’s room I frequently found him saying the Rosary or meditating. Sometimes he used to signal me not to speak to him and disturb him. He used to ask me to be there later. He always carried the rosary in his hand. He loved using the white Rosary.[155]

 

And there was mention of the special devotion of the Servant of God to St Joseph:

Once I entered the Rector’s room and noticed that St Joseph’s picture was put in the opposite position, facing the wall. Everytime I went there I found it in the same position and I wanted to know why the picture was facing the wall. In fact I asked the Rector, ‘Why is the picture facing the wall?’ ‘It is like that as a punishment,’ answered De Piro. ‘St Joseph, punished?’ asked I. ‘What did he do?’ ‘He will remain like that until he grants me the grace I have been praying for,’ replied the Rector. And when the grace would be granted, St Joseph would have his punishment ended and would be facing the outside as usual.[156]

 

But special reference must be made to an eleven page report which the Servant of God prepared before terminating his office of rector and which he sent to the Archbishop on 27 August 1920. Apart from the fact that he had to spend much time in preparing it, it shows quite clearly that Monsignor was very much informed about the many aspects of the Seminary.[157] And this at a time when he was already busy with other duties.

          - Member of the Camera Pontificia Maltese

On 23 May 1920, the secretary of this Camera wrote to Mgr De Piro telling him that the day before its members met and unanimously agreed to choose him as an effective member.[158]

          - Dean of the Metropolitan Chapter, Malta

At the Cathedral there was a fixed number of Canons[159] and it was only when there was a vacancy that one was nominated for that post.[160] In the case of De Piro it was Mgr Vincent Vassallo who was to be replaced. But the latter was also the Dean of the Metropolitan Chapter. This meant that the Servant of God was to take sooner or later Vassallo’s place even in this latter responsibility.[161] In fact the ceremony of the conferment of the deanery was celebrated at the Cathedral, Mdina, Malta, on 24 November 1920.[162]

Again, the deanery might have been considered as an honour to look for. But it was not in fact only this. As regards the liturgical celebrations the Dean had all the duties as the other canons.[163] Besides these, he had to preside over all Chapter meetings. Here one must remember that the Chapter was in those days what the Presbyterial Council is nowadays for the Archbishop.[164] Therefore the canons had to meet frequently to discuss many matters of importance. Besides the Chapter sessions themselves the members were expected to do even their homework! As dean, Mgr De Piro had to lead delegations to the Archbishop. Since the Chapter was the consultative body to the Archbishop, these delegations were quite frequent. Furthermore, because the relations between Church and State were wider in De Piro’s times there were more occasions when there was need of some delegation from the side of the Church to go to the government. And Mgr De Piro was supposed to head these delegations.[165]

          - Acting parishpriest of the Gudia Parish, Malta

The Servant of God was not destined to spend his life working in a parish. After his stay at Qrendi, Archbishop Pace entrusted him with another completely different duty in the Archdiocese, for which he had to leave the Parish. At the same time in 1922 De Piro was asked to give, for a short while, a helping hand in another parish, this time the Gudia one.[166]

It happened that in this village the parishioners were divided in two, one group supporting the main feast while the other favoured the secondary one.[167] These two parties had been in trouble for a rather long time, but in the year 1922 the conflict reached its climax, so much so that the parish priest abandoned the place and the church was closed on weekdays.[168] The Archbishop did his best to find someone to take over, but knowing the situation no one dared to do it.[169] After one month, the Archbishop thought of De Piro as a temporary solution; on 11 July 1922 His Excellency chose De Piro as his special delegate for the administration of the Gudja Parish.[170] Monsignor was again ready to obey. In spite of the adverse situation in the parish and the many other duties already at his back, De Piro went immediately and succeeded in getting peace among the parishoners. So much so that those parishioners who had been so angry for the members of the other party, for the Archbishop’s Curia and for the Archbishop himself, wrote to the latter a very reconciliatory letter:

18 Sda Sta Maria

Gudia

19 Luglio 1922

 

Eccza. Revma.,

Noi qui sotto firmati a nome di tutti i nostri compaesani, ma in specie di quelli che furono citati dinanzi alla Corte per causa dell’ incidente occorso nell’ ultima festa e che sfortunamente fu causa di tanti dispiaceri. La ringraziamo di tutto cuore, per la Tua grande bontà nell’ aver interceduto presso il Governo per la sospensione della causa già in corso, e così liberato i nostri fratelli da ulteriori incomodi e dispiaceri; per la qualcosa ci sentiamo spinti non solo a ripetere i nostri ringraziamenti ma più ancora a protestarci assai dolenti per l’ accaduto e promettiamo di fare tutto il nostro possibile ad evitare in avvenire qualunque occasione che possa condurci a tali eccessi non solo ma ancora cercheremo di distogliere gli altri nel caso vi saranno, e tener sempre la pace, e così con l’ aiuto del Buon Dio e della Sua amatissima Madre Assunta in Cielo possiamo in avvenire vivere in pace come veri fratelli aiutandosi e amandosi vicendevolmente.

 

Protestandoci come veri suoi figli in Gesù Cristo ringraziandolo nuovamente e chiedendo la Sua paterna benedizione ci dichiariamo sempre pronti ad obbedire.

 

Firmati:-

Giuseppe Cutajar

Giuseppe Spiteri

Angelo Pace.[171]

 

After a few weeks in Gudia De Piro could leave the Parish and let the newly appointed parishpriest take over.

          - Cooperator in the foundation and growth of Maltese religious congregations

                   - The Daughters of the Sacred Heart

On 31 December 1919 the Daughters of the Sacred Heart, founded in Malta by Maria Teresa Nuzzo in 1903, invited Mgr De Piro to help them with his reflections about the last day of the year.[172] Although for its days of reflection a religious community generally invited preachers who knew its members well, in itself this invitation did not necessarily mean that the Servant of God had been in any way close to these Sisters. Another sermon shows the closeness of De Piro to these Sisters all the more; on 11 June 1920, the Daughters of the Sacred Heart invited Monsignor for their renewal of vows.[173] Again, the celebrant invited for such an occasion was usually a one who was close to the community! But the document that proves that De Piro was a real help to these Sisters is a letter written by a certain Mother Nazzarena Gouder, a Franciscan Sister who had been chosen by the Archbishop of Malta as superior of the Daughters of the Sacred Heart:[174]

Istituto Nuzzo

Hamrun

5 Agosto 1918

 

Revmo Padre,

 

Veniamo or’ ora dal manicomio dove ci siam recate a mettere Suor Matilde. La Madre Rosalia che mi accompagnò in questa facenda, Le faccia sapere tutte le particolarità; io solamento mi limito a ringraziare prima il Buon Dio che diede a V.Illma e Revma. S. un cuore dotato di tutte le virtù e doni richiesti per aiutare il poverello e trarlo dai suoi impicci, cosa che raramente si trova nelle persone del suo rango; poi ringrazio lo stesso misericordioso Signore che mi fece la grazia di farmi incontrare V.S. Rma. e godere delle sue beneficenze; indi, piena di alta riconoscenza, mi rivolgo a Lei Padre Dilettmo e Le dico che io mi serberò grata in eterno, per tutto quello che Ella ha fatto per guidarmi nella retta via della santità e della società. Il Signore la ricompensi in questa e nell’altra vita, ed io nella mia miseria mi offro a qualunque Suo servizio.

Raccomando tutto l’Istituto al favore della Sua preghiera mentre che con distinta Stima Le bacio la sacra destra, e mi pregio di poter segnarmi,

 

Di V.S. Illma e Revma,

Umlma figlia in Cristo                                                                Sr. M. Nazarena.[175]

 

These words of Mother Nazzarena were not to be said to someone who had not already helped a lot these Sisters!

                   - The Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus

Further on in this chapter I shall be saying that in 1907 the Servant of God was nominated by the Archbishop of Malta, Mgr Peter Pace, as Director of Fra Diegu Institute, Hamrun. When he started his ministry there, De Piro found the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus as those responsible for the day to day running of the Orphanage. Because of the relationship that grew up between the Director and these nuns, and because these religious had only been founded in Gozo in 1880,[176] De Piro involved himself even in the development of the Sisters’ Congregation. So much so that some Franciscan Sisters wrote several letters to the Servant of God.

On 23 December 1916, Madre Nazzarena Gouder, Superior General from 1911 to 1917,[177] wrote to Monsignor:

Quest anno piu che mai, mi incombe il dovere di prevalermi della presente circostanza della festa Natalizia per ringraziarla di tanti favori e benefici che continuamente sparge su di noi, povere figlie di San Francesco, colla Sua solerte cura spirituale e temporale.

Padre, l’interesse che, contro ogni nostro merito, V.S. Rma nutre per il progresso della nostra Congregazione oggimai si sente, si conosce e si dichiara da ogniuno dei suoi membri. La medesima, per quanto misera e povera essa sia, per la grazia di Dio, ha sempre trovato chi la benefica, chi la protegge; ma oggi tra tante calamità e tristezze, il Signore, nella Sua infinita misericordia, ci ha mandato l’aiuto di V.S. Illma e Revma a poter scivare i pericoli e progredire nella virtù e nel lavoro; e perciò, caro Padre, nel magnificare e ringraziare il Signore per tanta Sua bontà e providenza, ringraziamo pure V.C. per tutto quel bene che a favor nostro abbia operato.

Però, per quanto viva sentiamone la riconoscenza, pur non di meno non possiamo mai compensare V.S.Rma, e qualunque cosa noi facciamo non ci sarà maì possibile di sdebitarci…[178]

 

Three months later the same Mother Nazzarena wrote to De Piro again, and again referred to the support he offered to her Congregation, “Nel presentarle pure i nostri ringraziamenti, per tutto quello che Ella opera a vantaggio della nostra Congregazione… Gradisca, caro Padre, i nostri sinceri affetti e distinti ossequi e ci benedica.”[179]

It is interesting to note that in the above two letters Madre Nazzarena called the Servant of God “Padre”. The same did Sister Epifania, first councellor and secretary general.[180] She wrote in the name of the Foundress, Margherita Debrincat. She called De Piro, “…un vero Padre…”[181]

Sister Epifania’s words are as strong as those of Madre Nazzarena:

… la Sua preziosa vita di quarant’anni fu spesa tutta quanta nel cercare la gloria di Dio e nel beneficare il prossimo. Fortunatamente fra i molti da V.C. beneficati sono i membri della nostra Congregazione che trovano in Lei un vero Padre il quale cerca e desidera il loro avvanzamento spirituale e temporale. Alle sue indefesse cure si attribuisce il cambiamento notevole dell’ Istituto Fra Diegu, il vantaggio ricavato da quelle Suore a cui tocco la sorte di avvicinarsi a V.R.P. e tanti altri favori che per brevità taccio.[182]

 

Mother Margherita Debrincat, the Foundress, seemed to consider Mgr De Piro more than close to her Congregation, “Insomma, rinnovando i più sentiti ringraziamenti non solo per il passato ma per tutto quello che farà (come spero nella S. Bonta) a vantaggio della nostra cara Comunità la quale La riconosce quale Padre Generale, ecc.”[183]

Exactly because she considered the Servant of God as their superior general, the Foundress wrote again to De Piro on 6 April 1920 and asked him something quite intimate to her and her companions:

Abuso della Sua bontà e colgo l’occasione della sua andata a Roma per pregarla a voler farci la carità di procurarci delle informazioni, per ciò che si richiede per la nostra approvazione. Mi dirigo a V.S. Illma di comune intesa con Mgr Vescovo di Gozo ove risiede la nostra Casa Madre, e Le rimetto anche copia manoscritta delle nostre Costituzioni.[184]

 

Eight years later De Piro showed how much he wished to support these Franciscan Sisters and the work they did. In October 1927 five of these nuns went to Ethiopia to start their missionary work there. In his “Saint Paul: Almanac of the Institute of the Missions”, the Servant of God published an article in which he gave details about the departure of these five nuns to the missions.[185] In the same publication De Piro presented to the readers a letter written by His Excellency Andrea Jarosseau, a Bishop in Abyssinia, in appreciation for the arrival of the Sisters in his diocese.[186] When Mother Rosa, the superior of the Franciscan group in Ethiopia, died, Monsignor presented his readers with a short biographical note about this pioneer missionary of the Franciscan Sisters in Ethiopia.[187] De Piro dedicated another considerable space of his 1932 Almanac to describe the departure of another group of Franciscan Sisters to Abyssinia. [188]

                   - The Missionary Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth

In this chapter[189] and in the second one[190] I shall be presenting Mgr Joseph De Piro as the Director of the Jesus of Nazareth Orphanage. But the Servant of God had contact with the Missionary Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth not only because they were in charge of the day to day running of the Institute; he also helped them a lot in their being set up as a religious missionary institute. And he continued helping them until his death. It is this contribution of De Piro that I shall be presenting here.

Although the Jesus of Nazareth Orphanage and the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth are not the same thing, but they can be said to have started and progressed concurrently. Therefore one can say that even the Congregation had its beginning in 1913.[191] Although since this date the Servant of God had been only the spiritual director of Guzeppina Curmi, the Foundress, he must have undoubtedly discussed with her both the foundation of the Institute and that of her Congregation. Then there was a period where it was a certain Fr Paul Zammit, a priest from Gudja, Malta, who directed the Institute. During these years the contact between Curmi and De Piro were suspended. In 1922 Fr Zammit died and Curmi sought again the help of Monsignor. From the letter De Piro wrote to Archbishop Caruana on 21 May 1933, we know that it was His Excellency who invited th Servant of God to help Guzeppina.[192] De Piro accepted the request.[193]

From a letter the Foundress wrote to Archbishop Caruana on 28 December 1924 one concludes that His Excellency had told De Piro something which discouraged the latter and made him stop helping, as much as he was before, the advancement of the Sisters’ Congregation.[194] At the same time on 11 February 1932 Archbishop Caruana wrote to the Prefect of the Congregation for Religious and told him that he had been asked for a long time by De Piro to approve as a sodality the group of ladies who were taking care of various homes of beneficence.[195] His Excellency wanted to approve this group of ladies but he wished to go step by step.

To help the acquisition of the diocesan approval for the ladies, the Servant of God suggested that (1) for the moment they were supposed to consider the Constitutions of the Society of St Paul as their own rule; (2) in Malta and abroad, the ladies were expected to cooperate in their work with the members of the Society of St Paul, founded by De Piro in 1910; (3) their name becomes Missionaries of Jesus of Nazareth in order to indicate that the scope of the Pia Unione was missionary; and (4) they were expected to have a particular type of dress.[196]  Not all proposals were accepted by the Congregation for Religious and therefore the Servant of God had to face more difficulites.[197] De Piro was not alive when the nulla osta from the Congregation for Religious reached Malta’s Archbishop for the diocesan approval of the Missionary Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth; it was written to Archbishop Caruana on 31 October 1933, more than a month after the death of the Servant of God.[198]

- President of the Special Consultative Committee for the restoration of St Paul’s Church, Rabat, Malta

On 4 January 1925 there was set up a General Committee for the restoration of the Church of St Paul, Rabat, Malta. This same Committee, then, created a Commission which prepared a Project that was presented to the Archbishop of Malta, re: the same restoration. On his part His Excellency nominated a Special Committee to study the feasibility or not of the same Project and present its conclusions.[199] De Piro was made President of this Special Committee.[200]

In all there were four meetings of the Special Committee: 27 May, 2 , 12 and 19 June of the year 1925.[201] On the 22 of the same month the members signed the corrected minutes of their last meeting.[202]

          - Minister of the Word

During his seminary years in Rome, Joseph did not show very good qualities as a prospective preacher. He suffered from an inflammation in his throat which, apart from being painful, often created difficulties when speaking.[203] Though when still in Rome he got rid of this, he continued suffering from tuberculosis.[204] In fact during his first years as a priest in Malta he was afraid to accept the offer of the director of the Opera della Missione, Mgr E. Debono, to begin preaching in Maltese parishes.[205] However as time went on he overcame this fear and though on his own and not with Mgr Debono, embarked on this apostolate with fresh zeal.

We can deal with this aspect of De Piro’s life because luckily, as in other areas of his life, the Servant of God took pains to be precise. In fact in the De Piro Archives one can still find sermons which the Servant of God used to write, some of them in complete form, before delivering them. There are two hundred and thirteen of these sermons. This is already a good number, but these same sermons indicate that De Piro had made more than these. Some of them are not complete; they imply that there was more material. Others refer to sermons which do not seem to exist anymore.[206]

De Piro did not only write the sermons. He even put them in files according to the themes. At the top of the sermon he often noted where, when, and to whom he was making the sermon. Through the several Maltese words and phrases De Piro put in brackets, and which he included in the text, one can conclude that he used Maltese when preaching. At the same time the written preparation as a whole was in Italian.[207]

De Piro’s preaching was quite pastorally oriented; with his word he wanted to help those hearing him to come closer to God. Thus his homelies tended to be simple. At the same time an analysis of the texts reveals sound biblical[208] and theological foundations.

 

(ii) A citizen who always contributed towards his country

          - Archbishop’s Delegate in the Committee for the Peace Feasts

When the First World War was over the Maltese Government organised some festivities to celebrate the acquisition of peace.[209] The Archbishop was asked by the Governor to choose his deputy for the Committee that was to take care of the organisation of the celebrations.[210] Archbishop Mauro Caruana chose De Piro as his representative.[211]

          - Member of the National Assembly (1919-1921)

On 23 November 1918 Dr. Filippo Sceberras offered to help the preparation of a draft of a Constitution for the Maltese Islands.[212] First there was an appeal to all Maltese associations to send their delegates to form a National Assembly.[213] Amongst those present there were four canons representing the Metropolitan Chapter of the Cathedral of Malta and the clergy.[214] De Piro was the first of these.[215] The members met for the first time on 25 February 1919.[216] On 7 June of that same year there was held the second meeting of the Assembly.[217] Here it was decided that there be formed a Central Commission made up of a representative from each important Maltese association, already present in that Assembly.[218] Monsignor De Piro, being the Dean of the Cathedral Chapter, was chosen again.[219] In this meeting the members agreed to start work on the draft of the Constitution.[220] But outside the "Giovine Malta", the place where the members were gathered, there arose an upheaval and the session was suspended.[221] It was on 23 June that the Central Commission held its first meeting.[222] In all there were five sessions of the National Assembly and fourteen of the Central Commission.[223] Although these meetings meant hours and hours of discussions, De Piro, with the exception of the first and thirteenth meetings of the Central Commission, was always present.[224] This was already a proof of his real love for his country. But it was not only a question of attendance: his was always an active involvement. Together with the other Monsignori he had to be present at ordinary and extraordinary Chapter sessions in order to discuss and prepare material which was to be treated in the Assembly or in the Commission. Not infrequently he had even to do research work on his own in order to support the Chapter’s convictions.[225] During the meetings he always behaved with the other members with an open mind: he was always and only after the good of the nation and never wanting to impose his own ideas. After each session he had to inform the other Canons, and this again meant much work for him.[226]

De Piro’s efforts to be always present in all these meetings and his active participation in them are already a proof of his dedication to his country. But this love of his for whatever was Maltese was expressed more directly when the Central Commission discussed the language problem; he was among the members who were in favour of the use of the Maltese language in the future Parliament by those who wanted to do so.[227]

          - The ‘Sette Giugno’ Riots (1919)

A few lines above mention has already been made of the upheavals which arose during the second session of the National Assembly held on 7 June 1919.[228] Since Monsignor De Piro was a member of the National Assembly and this was the body set up with the explicit scope of seeking the interests of the Maltese, he, together with a few other members, considered it his duty to intervene even in this hard moment.[229]

It is a known fact that in the Sette Giugno riots there were several criminals who mixed with the other Maltese and acted in a most condemnable way.[230] But these must be considered as the exception. In general those who participated in the three day event were people who wanted to fight for their legitimate rights. This was the only reason why De Piro intervened in such a delicate situation. In spite of the fact that he even risked his own life, the Servant of God spent three days going here and there, at one time meeting some British officer, at another time the Commissioner of Police, at another time members of the Assembly, and at other times, even the mob.[231] It seems befitting to stress all this by a statement published eight years later:

Fr Joseph De Piro, a priest whom nobody can accuse of any fault, is an example of integrity, devoted dedication and holiness. He is also a patriot, who was involved in heartbreaking events - the disorders and deaths on 7 June 1919. On that occasion he was in the midst of firing and close to the injured. De Piro is, for the Church and his native country, an exemplary priest and an ideal patriot. Everyone should love and admire him.[232]

 

And on our part we can add that Monsignor was a real proof of the power of non violence.

          - Cashier of the Committee Pro Maltesi Morti e Feriti per la Causa Nazionale il 7 Giugno del 1919 [233]

The shooting of four men by the British soldiers on 7 June 1919, made all Maltese join forces and forget their different opinions about various aspects of their lives.[234] In fact on 8 June 1919 there met at the “Giovine Malta”, a central building in Valletta, a group of volunteers[235] who created a Committee which would gather money for the families of the victims who died or were wounded the day before.[236] In the fourth meeting of this Committee, Sir Filippo Sceberras was chosen as honorary president and Dr Enrico Mizzi as secretary.[237] De Piro was one of the clerics to join them.[238] He was made the cashier of this Committee.[239] 

In the beginning, the Committee met twice a week. In all, the members met 52 times, the last time in January 1926.[240] In the minutes of the Committee there are the details of the information gathered by the members about the persons who were helped and the amount of money each person was given.[241]

Member of the Committee for the visit, of H.R.H., the Prince of Wales (1921)

On 10 August 1920 there was the last meeting of the Central Commission of the National Assembly which was entrusted with the writing of the draft Constitution for Malta.[242] On 30 April 1921 there followed the promulgation of the Letters Patent of 14 April 1921 from the side of Britain.[243] On 5 and 6 October 1921 there were the elections for the members of the Senate of the first bicamerale Maltese parliament, while those for the members of the Legislative Assembly were held on18 and 19 October of the same year.[244] On 1 November 1921 there came to Malta, the Prince of Wales to open this first Maltese Parliament.[245] For the organisation of this visit there was set up a special committee. Mgr Joseph De Piro must have been invited to make part of this Committee. In fact after the celebrations were over the Servant of God received two letters of appreciation: one was a personal thank you note from the Superintendent of Public Works,[246] while the other one was written by the Lieutenant Governor himself and it was addressed to all those who helped in the organisation of the visit of His Royal Highness.[247]

          - Member of the Unione Leoniana

In this thesis there will soon be presented the socio economic situation of Malta during the nineteenth and early years of the twentieth centuries.[248] Some reference will also be made to the employments issue and the conditions of work of the employees during these same years.[249] But here it is important to say that after 1920 De Piro was implied in a movement which was after these same issues. At least to some extent.

It happened that, Fr Charles Plater, the Jesuit considered by the English Catholics as an authority in the social studies,[250] was feeling so much ill that he was ordered to have some rest. First it was thought that he would go to Australia, but his doctor was afraid of the length of the journey.[251] Plater had already some contact with a certain Canon Carm Bugelli of Malta, about the labour issue.[252] He also had some contact with a certain Paolo Francesco Bellanti about the same thing.[253]  He therefore chose Malta where he thought that his apostolate would find fertile ground.[254]

Fr Plater arrived in Malta on 15 December 1920.[255] When in Malta he seemed to forget about his rest. He met Governor Lord Plumer, twice the Archbishop, several politicians, various priests who were involved in the social life, and several socio economic entities.[256] He even made talks to several organisations.[257]

One point which Fr Plater repeatedly emphasised during his stay in Malta was the need for social education. He noticed that the local situation, which was at the moment facing great social problems, lacked social knowledge.  To promote this indispensable knowledge and to stimulate it with vital interest, he organised and set going the Unione Leoniana, which was, according to his own draft statutes, “an association for spreading in Malta among all classes of the population, the social teachings of the Catholic Church and thus paving the way for a sound christian democracy”.[258] On 28 January 1921 he also wrote that he wished, “… to see a dozen study clubs at work…”[259] In these clubs Plater wished that the clergy would become conscious of their paramount duty to know and instruct, and the laity to learn and know, what the Catholic Church taught about the social question.[260]

In Mdina there seemed to be the wish to establish one of the Plater clubs. In fact Albert Magri, secretary of the Unione Leoniana, [261] wrote toMgr De Piro telling him that in the meeting of the Unione, held on 1 February (probably 1921) the Servant of God was nominated as member of the sub committee of Mdina.[262] In the same letter Magri encouraged De Piro to accept becoming member.[263]

It does not seem that the project of Fr Plater grew up. Emmanuel Agius referred to it as “… a seed which did not find fertile soil.”[264] His presence however, enhanced a healthy discussion on the social question.[265]

          - Member of the Governing Board of the Malta War Memorial Hospital for Children

In a letter written to him on 25 July 1922 by Dr Augustus Bartolo, the Servant of God was told that in a general meeting of the Malta War Memorial Hospital for Children he was unanimously chosen as a member of the Governing Board of this Institution.[266]

          - Member of the Special Committee of the British Empire Exhibition

A letter was written by the Prime Minister of Malta, Mr Joseph Howard, on 27 September 1922 to Mgr De Piro telling him “… that His Excellency the Governor has been pleased to approve of your appointment as a member of the Special Committee to consider the question of the official participation of Malta in the British Empire Exhibition of 1924.”[267] It was the duty of the Committee: “(1) to report what class of exhibit should be sent to the Exhibition so that Malta may be worthily represented; (2) to submit a list of intended exhibitors and indicate the approximate space required by each exhibitor; and (3) to ascertain under what conditions intending exhibitors would come forward.”[268]

In 1925, when the Exhibition was over, the Servant of God was awarded a silver medal and diploma for his contribution in the Committee.[269]

          - Archbishop’s Representative on the Committee of the Zammit Clapp Hospital

According to a letter sent by the General Secretary of the Archdiocese of Malta, Mgr E. Vassallo, to Mgr De Piro, Dean of the Metropolitan Chapter of the Cathedral, the said Chapter was supposed to choose a canon who could represent the Archbishop on the Committee of the Zammit Clapp Hospital, St Julian’s, Malta.[270] From the several reminders Vassallo sent to the Cathedral Chapter one can rightly conclude that this choice of a representative had to be done each year.[271] On 28 January 1925 Canon Philip Muscat, Chancellor of the Cathedral Chapter wrote to the General Secretary Vassallo and informed him that De Piro had been confirmed representative of the Chapter on the Zammit Clapp Committee even for that year.[272] Which meant that the Servant of God had already been representative at least during the previous year. The last note we have in relation to this representation is of 13 December 1930. This says that Monsignor was confirmed as representative even for the following year, that is for the year 1931.[273]

Archbishop’s representative on the organising committee for the visit of the Duke and Duckess of York (1927)

On 17 June 1927 Prince Albert, Duke of York , the future King George VI, and his wife, the Duchess, began an official visit to Malta. They had an intensive programme to follow. This was prepared by a Committee chosen specifically to organise this visit.[274] From a letter written by the Servant of God on 22 May 1927 to the Secretary General of the Archdiocese, one can conclude that the former was chosen by the Archbishop to represent him on this organising Committee.[275]

Member of the Tourism Committee

According to a letter written to De Piro on 8 November 1927 by the secretary to the Minister for Public Instruction, Monsignor was also chosen as member of the Tourism Committee.[276] From the correspondence still preserved in the De Piro Archives we know that this Committee mainly dealt with the establishment of a group of tourist guides who could take care of visitors to the many churches of Malta, epecially the Cathedral at Mdina and St John’s CoCathedral in Valletta.[277] The members of the Committee were expected to draw a draft of the regulations that were to be observed by these guides.[278]

          - Mediator between the Church and Lord Gerard Strickland

When one comes to know that the Servant of God was so much involved in the social life of our country, one may conclude that he was also active in its political dimension. One may arrive all the more at the same conclusion when one knows that the De Piros were quite involved in politics in some one party or other. Monsignor might have had his own personal convictions but he never expressed these same opinions in public. It was because of this that he could serve as a mediator between the Church and one of the primeministers of Malta, Lord Gerald Strickland, during the years 1930-1932. It was to this intervention that the Daily Malta Chronicle referred in an appreciation published on 19 September, 1933:

Monsignor De Piro - A Tribute to his Memory

 

... For a little more than a year ... since the opening of the present Parliament ... he (Monsignor De Piro) had, in addition to his manifold roles, yet another ... he was one of the Archbishop’s representatives in the Senate ... a task we are inclined to believe, he must have undertaken out of that sense of duty and utter selflessness which were uppermost in his character; for he fought shy of politics and kept away from the political strife. Yet there has been a notable and quite recent occasion, when he played a remarkable and beneficent part in the political field, though he hardly figured in it at all. It was he, in fact, who was mainly responsible, through his initiative, his tact and particularly his sincerity and earnestness of purpose, for putting an end to the unfortunate politico-religious dispute which caused so much harm to the Island; it was he who restored the relations between Church and State to their normal and traditional state of peace and cordial cooperation. No one was better fitted for the task ... no one enjoyed to a greater degree the confidence of both sides, nor possessed the qualities that were necessary to undertake the delicate mission and carry it to a happy conclusion. Not for that alone, however, are we all in the Church and State alike profoundly moved by his sudden and untimely death: we mourn in him the loss of one who was indeed a pillar of both Church and State.[279]

 

From the various persons interviewed by Aloisius Aloisio we know that after many interventions, Monsignor was once again an instrument of peace, this time between Strickland and the Church.[280]

Senator in the Third Maltese Parliament

One of the issues which caused most of the trouble between Lord Strickland and the Church was the participation of the clergy in Parliament. As had been just said peace was acquired between Strcikland and the Church. But the Archbishop held the right to have representatives in Parliament. In fact when the Third Legislature was formed, on 17 October, 1932, His Excellency nominated two Monsignori as members of the Senate; Mgr De Piro was again one of the two.[281]

After his death, the Daily Malta Chronicle commented about this other duty of De Piro:

A little more than one year ago, Mgr De Piro was entrusted with another duty besides the others he had. He was chosen as one of the Archbishop’s representatives in the Senate. We feel we can say that he accepted only because he considered it his duty and on his part he never sought his own interests. For him duty and dedication to others came first... [282]

 

We know what were “the other duties” of De Piro! As has already been said he was Canon and Dean of the Cathedral Chapter. He was also Director of six ecclesiastical charitable Institutes. Besides, the Servant of God had, in 1910, founded the Missionary Society of St Paul which by 1932, had already four communities in Malta and a mission in Abyssinia. Not to mention the hundred and one other responsibilities and ministries.[283] Monsignor did not intervene too often in the Senate, only some three times. “The dedication” mentioned above could be seen more in his regular attendence, although his interventions, especially one, were a very positive contribution to the social life of Malta and the Maltese.[284]

 

(iii) A father to the orphans and the poor

(iiia)  Institutionalised charity

          - Director of Fra Diegu Institute, Hamrun, Malta

The connection of De Piro with St. Joseph’s Institute, Santa Venera, from early on in De Piro’s life has already been referred to.[285] Before he was ordained priest he had already made his wishes clear to Archbishop Peter Pace; he wished to go and live there together with the other two priests.[286] When still a seminarian he had sent donations to the Institute.[287] And once he spent one whole month at the Institute substituting Fr. George Bugeja in the running of the Institute.[288] However it transpired that though working with six different Institutes, this ministry of his was not to start at St Joseph’s, Malta.

In 1860 Fra Diegu Bonanno, a Franciscan Minor, began providing shelter for those young women who for one reason or another ended up on the Maltese streets, often to the detriment of their reputation. This initiative had a small beginning. In time however, this work began to grow. Fra Diegu died on 4 May 1902.[289] His fellow Franciscans spent some time running the Institute, but then had to leave, consigning it to the Diocese on 2 August 1907.[290] Archbishop Pace accepted the advice of Fr. George Bugeja, of St Joseph’s Institute, about whom to place in charge of Fra Diegu Institute. Bugeja had no hesitation in suggesting De Piro,[291] and the Archbishop took the cue, nominating him as Director of Fra Diegu.[292]

The Archbishop did not choose the Servant of God only because of what Fr. George had told him but as his Excellency declared in the nomination, also because he had realised that Fr. Joseph was a good, diligent wise, and active priest.[293]

          - Secretary of the Committee of the Bishop’s Foundation for Bread to the Poor during the War

On 1 December 1916 the Archbishop of Malta, Mgr Mauro Caruana:

Desiderosi di recare qualche aiuto ai poveri che formano la parte eletta del nostro gregge e che pei tempi calamitosi che corrono, difficilmente possono procacciarsi il necessario alla vita; abbiamo creduto di costituire un Comitato … allo scopo di raccogliere fondi per poter coll’aiuto della divina Providenza, allargare la distribuzione del pane dove se ne sente il bisogno.[294]

 

Mgr Joseph De Piro was nominated secretary of this Committee.[295] In the same decree of foundation the Archbishop appealed to the archpriets, parishpriests, curates, religious superiors and rectors of churches to help the Committee with the collections of money.[296] In fact His Excellency ordered that in every church there would be a collection specifically for this aim.[297] He even appealed to the rich individuals to help.[298]

The Committee published in the La Diocesi: Bullettino Ufficiale Ecclesiastico di Malta, almost each month, for 15 times, the lists of benefactors who contributed towards the Fund.[299]

          - Director of the Jesus of Nazareth Institute, Zejtun, Malta

In 1922, Mgr De Piro was assigned the responsibility of the second ecclesiastical charitable Institute, Jesus of Nazareth Institute, in Zejtun, Malta. The contacts with Guzeppina Curmi, the Foundress of this Orphanage, had already been established much earlier. In fact; even before 1913, Guzeppina sought spiritual direction from Monsignor, and she continued to do so even after opening the first and second houses in Zejtun. For a time this contact was not maintained. It was then in 1922 that Madre Curmi sought the Servant of God; she came with the proposal that he become the director of the Institute which she and some of her companions had at the house of Marquis Testaferrata Bonnici in Zejtun. De Piro wrote these words to the Archbishop, “… la mia direzione per l’Istituto Gesù Nazzareno, che io non accettaì, questa volta, se non pel tramite di Vra Eccza …”[300]

As the number of children was increasing steadily Madre Curmi felt the need to build a better Institute. After borrowing some money she bought a piece of land near “San Girgor”, Zejtun, and in 1925 started the construction works.[301] With the laying of the foundation stone De Piro, though already laden with a lot of other things, had to cater also for the many demands arising from such an enterprise as building a new institute.[302] The many letters we have show how he had to deal with Government departments, benefactors, and agents so as to propel the work. He did this for no less than five years, when on 16 July 1930 the first part of the building was inaugurated.[303]

          - Director of St Joseph’s Institute, Santa Venera, Malta

After being for two years Rector of the Major Seminary in Mdina, De Piro requested that he be relieved of the post. He wished to dedicate himself more fully to the religious missionary Society which he had founded a few years earlier.[304] In spite of the fact that Archbishop Mauro Caruana had acceded to this request,[305] two years later his Excellency nominated the Servant of God to yet another post, that of Director of St. Joseph Institute, Santa Venera.[306] This time De Piro did not even mention the Society. He accepted the Archbishop’s request immediately.  This meant that De Piro became Director of St Joseph’s no less than 15 years after being first nominated Director of Fra Diegu.

We have already noted how intimately De Piro’s option for the poor was linked with St. Joseph’s, Malta.[307] Also, we have to keep in mind that this was not simply a personal option, but even one for his prospective missionary Society. After returning from Switzerland, he immediately tried to find priests who could join him in the setting up of his society. To Fr Emmanuel Vassallo, director of St Joseph’s, he even presented his project in writing.[308] When writing about the scope of the Society, De Piro mentioned St Joseph’s Home as one of the “Campi prossimi d’azione” for the members of his Society.[309]  This was to occur in reality a short time after De Piro’s nomination to St. Joseph’s, since the Freres De La Salle who were running St Joseph’s, were finding it difficult to continue doing so because of lack of vocations.[310] When they left, De Piro called in the members of his Society to replace them.[311]

          - Director of St Joseph’s Institute, Ghajnsielem, Gozo

Soon after the setting up of St. Joseph’s Home, in Santa Venera, by Mgr Francesco Bonnici, Bishop Pietro Pace, a Gozitan and a former Bishop of Gozo, expressed his wish that a branch be opened in Malta’s Sister Island to cater for its orphans and needy boys. Because of certain difficulties that arose, this project never materialised.[312] Three years later, three Maltese men, most probably encouraged by Archbishop Pace, tried to start a house where they could shelter abandoned boys. Again, this other initiative never saw the light of day.[313] Another effort was done by Fr John Camilleri, one of the parishpriests of Gozo. Knowing that the Freres De La Salle were taking care of St Joseph’s, Malta, he invited them to start something similar in Gozo. He seemed to have persuaded the Malta Delegate of the Congregation. In fact the latter asked the Bishop of Gozo, Mgr Giovanni Camilleri, to open a College for boys where the Freres intended to impart a religious and civil education as well as a solid and theoretical and practical instruction in arts and trades. Bishop Camilleri who had been wishing to start something similar blessed and approved the venture. Yet the problems seemed too big to overcome and the project never materialised. [314]

However the need for a home for the Gozitan abandoned boys continued to be felt and on 17 November 1923 the parish priests of Gozo drew up a notarial contract whereby such an orphanage could be founded. For this end they were to ask for a LM1000 subsidy from the government in return for an undertaking to keep twenty orphans in the home which they proposed to call the Diocesan-Parochial Orphanage and which was to be sited at Ghajnsielem, Gozo.[315] This proposal was accepted by Mgr Michael Gonzi who in the meantime had succeeded Peter Pace as Bishop of Gozo. The relevant foundation decree was issued on 6 November 1924. [316]

According to this decree the home was to be known as Orfanatrofio Diocesano and the civil government was not to interfere in any way in its running. The officials responsible for its administration were to be chosen by the parishpriests themselves subject to diocesan approval. The bishop reserved the right to preside over the council of administration and to vet all applications. In case the orphanage should be forced to close down, all property was to pass to the Bishop of Gozo.[317]

As regards the actual administration of the Home, the parishpriests were unanimously of the opinion that it should be affiliated to St. Joseph’s Home, Malta, which at that time had Mgr De Piro as its Director.[318] Always meticulous in all he did, De Piro kept asking for more information before he would commit himself.[319] He eventually gave his consent on 3 February 1925. That same day, in his dual capacity as Director of St. Joseph’s Home and Superior of the Society of St. Paul, he wrote to the Archbishop of Malta, asking for permission to let the Society take over the running of the Orphanage in Gozo.[320] Official approval was granted on 9 February.[321]

When Mgr Michael Gonzi chose De Piro to initiate and direct the new Institute of St. Joseph at Ghajnsielem, he issued a decree[322] which included a beautiful certificate about the Servant of God. In this document De Piro is presented as a person who had, “… mani esperte.”[323]

Apart from this document there are others which shed more light on De Piro. Since in the case of this Institute, De Piro was not only the first Director but also the one who moulded it into being, it stands to reason that it implied a lot of work in order to organise the whole thing. Material in the De Piro Archives indicates that he had to resort to Governmental aid more than once.[324] Thus this man, who came from a wealthy family was now begging for land, subsidies, and other things.

- Director of the Home for babies and young children, Santa Venera, Malta

As if four institutes were not enough, De Piro’s dedication and interest for working with needy children and youths led him to think of something new. His work especially at St. Joseph’s, Sta. Venera, led him to realise the existent void in the care of babies and very young children below the entry age at St Joseph’s, Malta.[325] To make up for this he sought the Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth and with their help, in 1925, opened a house for these little ones at Sta. Venera.[326] In this house children “… up to the age of seven, and exceptionally up to the age of ten” were accepted.[327]

          - Director of the Institute, St Francis de Paul, Birkirkara, Malta

In 1927 the Servant of God was chosen as Director for the sixth Institute of charity, that of St Francis de Paul, in Birkirkara, Malta.[328] There are very few documents about this Institute, but it seemed that the biggest problem in relation to this Institute was for the acquisition of an adequate house. Despite the increasing demands on De Piro, he accepted this Institute and worked as hard as he could during his lifetime in order to acquire a new building.[329]

          - His testamentary will and the Institutes

What has already been said well brings out the link between De Piro and the ecclesiastical charitable nstitutes. This is further confirmed in his will: in the orphanages he did everything gratis. [330] Also, after declaring what he wanted to bequeath to the Society of St. Paul, his mother, Archbishop Caruana, the Jesus of Nazareth Sisters and “Dar Sant’Ursola” at Qrendi, in articles 8 and 9 of his will the Servant of God bequeathed some things to the Institutes of Fra Diegu, Jesus of Nazareth and St Francis de Paul.[331]

          - Director of the Workshop or Laboratory for unemployed young women, Valletta

It seems that a certain Maria Assunta Borg had originated the “Laboratorio delle

Pericolanti”[332] in order to provide a healthy environment for those girls who did not have a family to care for them and who wanted to learn a trade and get a living from it.[333] According to Borg, it was the Archbishop of Malta, Mgr Mauro Caruana, who assigned the Servant of God to the direction of this place.[334] On his part Mgr De Piro never stopped thinking what could be done for the Institutes entrusted to him. For this reason he would change, arrange or build where needed. He also worked on bettering the administrative systems of these Institutes. However his contact with reality led him to see how some young ladies emerging from these same Institutes, were finding no one to receive them and thus ended up roaming about with some of them even seeking employment in the pubs.[335] De Piro did not remain idle when faced with this reality; he did his best to help these poor women. He thus accepted the Archbishop’s assignment and embarked on this important project, the Laboratory.[336]

The Workshop had a very difficult beginning. Mgr De Piro had to work very hard to find a place for it. The government was not very forthcoming.[337] However the main difficulties arose after the Laboratory was opened. In fact we can say that this was a continual source of tension for De Piro. He had to see from where to get the funds. At one point he even went as far as organising a musical concert at the Royal University, in Valletta.[338] Then he had to take care of the administration of the Project, something which was even more difficult. To complicate matters the person who was helping him was being given advice which went diametrically opposite to his plans.[339] In the end the Laboratory had to be closed down![340]

          - Director of the Birkirkara Oratory

Birkirkara is one of the oldest and most populous towns in Malta. There, early in the twentieth century, an Oratory was built in its eastern part, to cater for the christian formation of the sons of the people.[341]

In 1910, Canon Michael Sammut, a priest from Birkirkara, and Notary Michael L. Casolani, obtained a plot of land for the building of a chapel.[342] It was Casolani who paid for its construction,[343] which was completed in four months and solemnly inaugurated on 31 July 1910.[344] Casolani had hoped that the Salesian Brothers would look after the chapel and provide a religious and civil education for the people’s children according to the methods of St John Bosco. In fact the chapel was dedicated to Our Lady, Help of the Christians, patroness of the Salesians.[345]

A short time after, an Oratory was built adjacent to the chapel. Again Casolani paid for the building and, in accordance with his wishes, it was entrusted to the Salesians who named it “Domenico Savio Oratory”.[346]

When the Salesians gave up the Oratory in 1912 due to a shortage of priests in their congregation, the Freres De La Salle took over and renamed it after St. John Baptist De La Salle.[347] But the Freres too had to give up responsibility of the Oratory since they were finding it hard to get enough vocations.[348]

For a number of years the Oratory continued in its mission under the general direction of its two founders.[349] On 15 December 1925 Casolani wrote to the Servant of God asking him to take over the Oratory.[350] Although at that time De Piro had his hand full with his Society and the various charitable institutions, and his physical condition was giving him reason for concern,[351] he seriously considered taking over the Oratory for the Society of St. Paul, asking Casolani for detailed information regarding all the conditions he wanted to impose.[352]

Since the Society was still a diocesan one the Archbishop’s approval was necessary before the Oratory could be accepted.[353] The Archbishop gave his consent on 21 January 1927[354] and the relevant contract was signed on 4 April.[355] De Piro made it quite clear that the Oratory was only being accepted on behalf of the Missionary Society of St. Paul,[356] and that there should be no interference in its running by any other congregation.[357] On its part the Society undertook to continue that spiritual welfare that was already being performed and to accept responsibility for all future expenses.[358]

The ceding of the Oratory to the Society came at a most opportune time because its co-founder and director, Canon Michael Sammut died soon afterwards on 11 November 1927.[359]

The primary concern of the Oratory was to educate the young poor children of the area,[360] spiritually.[361] The children had mass daily and were encouraged to go to confession every Saturday. The main feasts observed by the Oratory were Christmas and Our Lady, Help of Christians.[362] The Servant of God, however, did not neglect the physical and intellectual development of the children. The catechists supervised them as they played in the playground and produced modest theatrical representations to bring out their hidden talents.[363]

For the first few years of the Society’s administration, De Piro was formally considered the Superior of the Oratory. It was he who signed all corrispondence and other documents.[364]

Monsignor had also struck a very close friendship with Notary Casolani with whom he shared a deep desire for charitable deeds.[365] Casolani was eventually drawn towards the Society and he considered it more than a coincidence that both the Society and the Oratory had been inaugurated in the same year, 1910.[366]

Mgr De Piro also had in mind the utilising of the Oratory as a sort of aspirandate for those who wished to join the Society as either priests or brother - catechists. This possibility was discussed during a council meeting on 4 August 1928.[367] As the Founder said in the following meeting of 11 August, the Birkirkara Oratory would serve as a kind of Training School, while the novitiate proper would remain at Mdina or Hamrun (Santa Venera), or at St. Agatha’s when this bui1ding would be completed.[368] It was planned that the Training School, which was dedicated to the Assumption of Our Lady, would open towards the end of the at same year.[369]

The Training School was placed under the directorship of Fr Michael Callus. It remained open for only six years, that is a few months after De Piro’s death. But it  has always been considered as intimately connected with the early years of the Society in Birkirkara.[370]

 

(iiib)  A non-institutionalised charity

Not all charitable activities of Mgr De Piro were so organised as presented above. It was not the first time that the Servant of God helped families of members of his Society.[371] Also, a glance at the Petty Cash Books of St. Joseph’s, Sta. Venera, would prove illuminating. One would find entries such as “To.... ’s mother,” “To …’s father,” “To an unfortunate poor lady”, “To a poor family”, or Elemosina donated at the door”. This latter entry is quite frequent and at times involved relatively substantial amounts of money.[372]

 

(iiic)  Working for justice

nother virtue which accompanied De Piro’s virtue of charity was justice. De Piro sometimes increased the wages of the employees. This is borne out with a look at the registers Casa di San Giuseppe - Ist. Bonnici, Piccola Cassa. At a time when government pensions were still inexistent he gave a pension to those who finished working at St. Joseph’s Institute. Also pensions were given to widows of such workers. The same treatment was meted out to the teachers at the Cathedral School, at Mdina.[373]

 

(iv) De Piro’s missionary spirit

          - “The idea”

When writing about De Piro’s period of the diaconate it was said that this was the time when he had to decide whether to go to the “Accademia Ecclesiastica” or to St Joseph’s Institute, Malta.[374] It was also said that he wanted to settle in the Institute in order to be with other priests taking care of orphans.[375] But this was not the only reason. He himself also said that, “Una delle ragioni che mi inducevano di stabilirmi nella Casa di S. Giuseppe è stata la seguente: ‘Perchè un sentimento interno mi dice, che Iddio da questo istituto voglia formare a Malta, una Congregazione di Sacerdoti sotto il Patrocinio di San Paolo, e così nel rendere stabile l’opera a Malta, si diffonda anche all’estero’. [376]

This was the time when De Piro was still at his studies, but had it not been for his spiritual director, Padre Gualandi, who told him to stop thinking about this, Joseph would have developed furthermore his “idea”.[377]

Referring to De Piro’s Diary one finds out that the Servant of God obeyed the advice of his spiritual director.[378] During the remaining months of his stay in Rome he dedicated himself to his studies. Then, when he went for eighteen months in Davos, Switzerland, to recuperate his health, he could do nothing because he was too far away from Malta, where he intended to start his project.[379]

The first person to whom De Piro said something about his “idea” was Fr Emmanuel Vassallo, the then director of St Joseph’s Institute, Malta. It was on 16 January 1905.[380] Vassallo did not discourage De Piro but at the same time the former did not seem so enthusiastic about the project.[381] Yet the contacts between De Piro and Vassallo continued.[382] On 11 February 1905 Vassallo suggested to the Servant of God to put down his “idea” in writing.[383] On 22 February 1905 De Piro wrote this in his Diary:

Trovandomi in Valletta invece di mandare la lettera mi portaì dal Vassalli e gli dissi che non intendevo scrivere ciò che mi aveva domandato, lo esortaì alla preghiera e gli dissi che non l’avrei cercato più. Però circa due giorni dopo aprendo lo ‘Chainion’ Comp. di Meditazione, mi ha fatto cambiare l’idea, la meditazione sul vangelo della prossima domenica Sexagesima. ‘Il buon pensiero è un seme che il Salvatore getta nell’ anima nostra’.[384]

 

De Piro tried twice to write down his “idea”, but was unsuccessful. The third time he succedded in doing so.[385] At the same time he kept contact with Vassallo.[386] On 7 August 1905 Fr Joseph met the latter and gave him the project in writing:

1.             Una società di Missionari - pel presente non è facile il dire se debba essere regolare o secolare, però se coll’aiuto di Dio e della Vergine si arriverà all’erezione di corpo regolare, questo deve essere perfettamente tale e deve cercare il modo ed i mezzi di tenere a se aggregati il Clero Secolare.

2.             Lo scopo principale, come indica il nome della Società, consiste nelle Missioni estere.

3.             Campi prossimi d’azione possono essere:

a)      La Casa di S. Giuseppe

b)      Le colonnie di Maltesi all’estero ed

c)      a bordo le corazzate etc.

4.             Affidare la società al valido patrocinio di S. Paolo, dal quale prenderà il nome.

5.             Pel presente non fare voti ne giuramenti, però dobbiamo essere disposti a secondare la Volontà Divina con somma generosità. La nostra parola d’ordine deve essere, ‘Sequar te quocumque ieris’

6.             Fare ogni anno gli Ezercizi Spirituali di San Ignazio di Layola.

7.             Incontrarci almeno una volta al mese.

8.             Incominciare la formazione di un capitale per contribuzioni mensili.[387]

 

In this meeting Vassallo made some suggestions to De Piro amongst which that the latter should meet Canon Francesco Bonnici, the Founder of St Joseph’s Institute, Sta Venera.[388] The Servant of God tried to do this that same day but was unsuccessful. It was on the 17 of that month that De Piro and Bonnici met.[389] As regards this meeting, Fr Joseph wrote this in his Diary:

Sono stato dal Canonico Bonnici e gli ho raccontato la facenda. Egli mi ha detto che data l’indole del prete Maltese troppo attacato al paese natio; se ben mi ricordo, qualificò la mia idea impossibile, qualora non accadesse un fatto soprannaturale. Mi raccontò anche come aveva lavorato ad una cosa simile e che non gli era riuscito soggiungendo, ‘forse non ero la persona destinata dalla Divina Provvidenza.’ Mi consigliò di coltivare l’idea, che il Signore forse mi farà incontrare con qualcheduno. Intanto mi esortò alla preghiera e di non fare ulteriori passi, ripetendomi il detto del Padre Gualandi, ‘se son rose fioriranno.’[390]

 

For De Piro it seemed that for most of the year 1906 there was nothing worth remembering; he did not write anything before the 18 November. On that day he put down these words:

Trovandomi a Roma ed occorrendo oggi la dedicazione delle Basiliche dei S.S. Apostoli Pietro e Paolo, ho celebrato in San Pietro in Vaticano e proprio sull’altare di S. Pietro. Ho applicato la messa in onore dei S.S. Apostoli Pietro e Paolo pregando loro di farmi conoscere chiaramente la volontà di Dio, ed aiutarmi a metterla in effetto.”[391]

 

Returning to Malta the Servant of God met again Vassallo who told him that he had met a certain Mgr E. Debono, the director of the Pia Opera della Santa Missione. The latter showed himself interested in De Piro’s society, but from what Vassallo said, De Piro could see that Debono did not understand the scope of the “idea”: Debono wished that the Servant of God would join him in the Opera,[392] the aim of which was preaching in the Maltese parishes. This activity of Debono had nothing to do with De Piro’s missions ad gentes. Also, while Fr Jospeh appreciated Debono’s offer, he could not accept it because, “…essendo per malattia inabile a predicare non ho avuto mai il coraggio di offrire l’opera mia[393]

On 10 December of that year De Piro communicated for the first time his “idea” with Fr George Bugeja of St Joseph’s, Malta.[394]

The year 1907 was a bit better. Fr Joseph met Fr George Bugeja, the assistant director of St Joseph’s Institute, Malta, and the latter promised his help. They talked of a community of secular priests.[395] No vows were to be mentioned.[396] They even mentioned some names of possible companions and agreed to invite them to join in.[397]

The year after deacon John Mamo showed interest in De Piro’s Congregation.[398] Yet, it was quite clear from the beginning that Mamo’s plans were different from those of the Servant of God.[399]

The year 1908 offered another hope for Fr Joseph. Archbishop Peter Pace had been wishing to start preparing priests to go to the missions. He therefore wrote to the Superior General of the MillHill Fathers and asked him his advise about the setting up of a missionary seminary. The Superior General answered His Excellency on 30 May 1908 and offered him several advices.[400] Archbishop Pace passed on this letter to De Piro. The latter thought this matched with his “idea”. He in fact asked the Archbishop whether he wanted to start that seminary.[401] His Excellency’s answer was negative.[402] The Servant of God asked the Archbishop whether he wanted him to abandon his original project.[403] Pace told De Piro that he was not to do so. Rather he had to try to find priests to join him in the founding of the missionary Society.[404]

On 26 January 1909 Fr Joseph tried to persuade a certain Rev Prof. Barbara to join him, Bugeja and Mamo. In the meeting there was mention of life in community.[405] Barbara agreed but could not leave his mother sick at home.[406]  Therefore De Piro, Bugeja and Mamo remained alone even during 1909. More than this, even Mamo and Bugeja seemed to have different ideas from that of the Servant of God: while the three agreed on the opening of a house for the teaching of catechism, De Piro on his own formulated the scope and nature of his project in a draft copy of a profession that was to be made by the members of the future institute. After mentioning Our Lady and St Paul as the patron saints of the Society he said that the members must be ready to go wherever necessary. He also presented the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius as the basis of the rules and constitutions of the future Congregation:

In Nome del Padre, del Figliuolo e dello Spirito Santo, Così sia.

Promettiamo innanzi a Dio, alla Beata Vergine Assunta in Cielo ed a San Paolo Apostolo di formar parte della Piccola Compagnia di San Paolo appena ottenuta l’opportuna autorizzazione dalla Santa Sede.

Scopo della Compagnia è quello di formare dei Missionarii ed inviarli ove occorrono.

La Compagnia considererà come proprio il libro degli Esercizi Spirituali di S. Ignazio di Loyola dal quale estrae le proprie regole e constituzioni.[407]

 

On 2 November 1909 De Piro met Mgr Peter La Fontaine at Fra Diegu Institute, Hamrun. La Fontaine had gone there while he was on an Apostolic Visit to Malta.[408] Since this very first meeting La Fontaine encouraged the Servant of God a lot. He invited Fr Joseph to write his petition to the Pope.[409] In the petition De Piro, Bugeja and Mamo presented a religious institute. Its members were to be missionaries, first and foremost for the Maltese migrants.[410] This petition was recommended by Archbishop Peter Pace himself.[411]

The work among the Maltese migrants was first referred to by De Piro in his Diary in order to explain his “idea” mentioned on 7 August 1905.[412] In the Supplica just mentioned above the Maltese living abroad were referred to again. The Servant of God believed that the Society was going to be mainly ad gentes,[413] but he could not forget the many Maltese who were going abroad. La Fontaine got the impression that this other aim was the main scope of the Society.[414]

De Piro, Bugeja and Mamo wanted to have a house for the Congregation. In the petition sent to the Archbishop, the Society was again presented as religious, its members were to be missionaries, but first and foremost for the Maltese migrants.[415] The house was found. It was opened and blessed on 12 June 1910.[416] The first two members joined the Society on 30 June of the same year. [417]

The Servant of God did not have much support except from Bugeja and Mamo. In 1910, after the beginning of the Society, even these left him.[418] Also, La Fontaine so much seemed to have given Pope Pius X a wrong impression about the main scope of the Society that in the blessing sent to De Piro, His Holiness blessed the Founder and the catechist priests who were working in the Maltese colonies of Corfù and Tripoli.[419] In spite of this misunderstanding, Fr Joseph continuously emphasised the ad gentes characteristic of the Society.[420] It was so much so that when the first member was nearing his priestly ordination the Founder asked the Congregation of the Sacraments for the titulo missionis.[421]

The Society continued but not without difficulties. What disheartened the Servant of God most was the defection of some members who seemed promising, “Da allora in poi ogni giorno ha avuto le sue fatiche e le sue sofferenze, e se non mancarono dei disappunti e delle umiliazioni, come la defezione di tre bravi studenti, che formavano una vera speranza per l’Istituto…”[422]

To balance this for a moment, John Vella, one of the first two members of the Society, was ordained presbyter on 20 September 1919.[423]

The next step for De Piro was the approval of the Society by the Maltese Hierarchy. He wrote the petition on 10 March 1919.[424] This was accompanied by an information about the origin, development and constitutions of the Society.[425] But Bishop Angelo Portelli, the Delegate Vicar General of Malta, wanted the nulla osta from the Vatican in order to give the diocesan approval to De Piro’s Society. Since the Servant of God was presenting his Congregation as missionary, Portelli passed on the material given him by De Piro and asked the consent of Propaganda Fide.[426] Cardinal William Van Rossum, the Prefect of the Congregation for the missions, could not see clearly (1) whether De Piro’s Congregation was in fact religious, and (2) whether the main aim of the Society was work in ad gentes countries or among the Maltese migrants.[427] After some attemps at clarifications from the side of the Servant of God [428] the Society was passed on to the Congregation for Religious.[429] This latter Congregation sent to Mgr Mauro Caruana, the Archbishop of Malta, the nulla osta regarding the diocesan approval of De Piro’s Society.[430] The canonical erection was dated 14 November 1921:

Decretum

 

Viso supplici libello Nobis porrecto ab Ill.mo et Rev.mo Dno’ Can.co’ Decano Josepho De Piro pro erectione canonica Societatis ab ipso fundata sub titulo S. Pauli Apostoli et pro adprobatione constitutionem, quibus ipsa Societas regenda est;

Viso fine ad quem tendit institutio praedictae Societatis; Auctoritate Nostra ordinaria erigimus et tamquam canonice erectam declaramus Piam Societatem de qua in precibus, sub titulo S. Pauli Apostoli; sub statutis quae ipsis precibus adjicuintur, quaeque in modum experimenti adprobamus, injungentes oratori ut infra sex menses Nobis exhibeat per extensum et modo exhaurienti et completo statuto seu constitutiones, quibus supradicta Societas regenda est.

 

Datum in N. Palatio Archiepali

Civ. Vallettae                                                                       die 14 Novembris 1921

 

+ Maurus O.S.B. Arch. Epus. Melit.

Sac. P. Vella Mangion Cancell.

Concordat cum originale

Sac. P. Vella Mangion

Cancellarius.[431]

          - A lot of work in Malta and for the Maltese migrants, but priority to the missions ad gentes

The missionary activity was continuously the greatest ambition of De Piro for his Society. In spite of the fact that the Congregation was already doing much work in Malta and Gozo, especially in the Church’s charitable institutes, and at the Oratory in Birkirkara,[432] the Founder was still looking forward for the moment when he would be able to send the first members to the missions. It was in 1927 that Br Joseph Caruana, one of the first two members of De Piro’s Society, left Malta and went to Addis Abeba in Abbyssinia, or the present Ethiopia.[433]

This was not enough for Mgr De Piro; he himself wished to go to the missions.  In fact he had planned that he, together with another priest and two catechist brothers of the Society, would go to Br Caruana to see what were the possibilities for the Society to work more in that African country.[434] From a letter sent by Br Caruana himself, it can be concluded that the Founder, together with the others, intended to reach Abbysinia in September, 1933.[435]

          - The “Saint Paul: Almanac of the Institute of the Missions”

De Piro’s Society was the main contribution he offered in favour of the Church’s missionary activity. But it was not the only one! In 1922 he started publishing a yearly pamphlet called “Saint Paul: Almanac of the Institute of the Missions”. In it the Servant of God published extracts from Papal missionary encyclicals;[436] information about missionary activities of the universal church and social and geographical information about the missionary world;[437] profiles of missionary models, both Maltese and

foreign;[438] and original articles about some missionary aspect or other.[439] He continued publishing this Almanac until 1933. Although no one article of the Almanac is signed we know that most of them were written by the Servant of God himself.[440]

 

(v) His sudden death

Mgr De Piro’s desire to go to Abbysinia and plan for the Society’s future there, had to give way to another completely different event. It was 17 September, 1933.  After the Servant of God had led the procession of Our Lady of Sorrows in one of Malta’s parishes, Hamrun, he felt sick while giving the Blessed Sacrament benediction. He died that same day, late in the evening, at the Central Hospital in Floriana, aged only fifty five.[441]


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART TWO

De Piro’s love for the underprivileged and for evangelisation


If one were to analyse Appendix 4[442] one would find out that, during his lifetime, De Piro, gave to society in general and the Church, universal and local, at least fifty two contributions. Some of these were minor services, which committed the Servant of God only for a short while and consumed very little of his mental and physical energies. As regards other services De Piro dedicated a lot more time and energy. In the latter group of ministries there were then two which dominated all the others: (1) his love towards the underprivileged of any sort, and (2) for evangelisation, starting with “the evangelisation to the faithful” in Malta, continuing with the “reevangelisation” or “second evangelisation” or “new evangelisation” of the Maltese abroad, and then his efforts at “first evangelisation” or the ad gentes missions.[443]

These two services of De Piro are to be considered as having been so important in his life because:

(a) They occupied most of his time. Many of his other activities implied only short periods of time: eg., his being secretary to Archbishop Mauro Caruana, his rectorship of the Major Seminary, his membership in many committees, etc. On the contrary, the Servant of God dedicated most of his time and all his energy for the underprivileged, especially in the Church’s institutions, and in favour of evangelisation, especially through the foundation and strengthening of his Missionary Society.

(b) While he carried on other duties he continued with the charitable activities and his evangelisation.

(c) Whatever the contribution, there were always reflected in it his love for the underprivileged and/or evangelisation. Here are some examples:

·        In Qrendi, Malta, he went to continue his convalescence and do a little of pastoral work. According to a priest-witness, he evangelised to the priests of the nearby parishes by organising ongoing formation meetings for them.[444]

·        Especially because he was canon of the Metropolitan Cathedral, De Piro was frequently invited for liturgical and paraliturgical celebrations in the various Maltese parishes. On these occasions he gave a lot of importance to preaching: he prepared thoroughly the sermons or meditations - he even wrote the whole sermon; he made it a point that he really communicated with the listeners - in the written text which was generally in Italian, he chose from before the right Maltese words and put them in brackets in the written sermon so that when preaching he would use the right Malese word.[445]

·        De Piro was very close to the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus. In fact their foundress, Madre Margerita De Brincat called him “superior general and father.”[446] The assistance he gave these nuns was not so much because they were religious, but rather because they were at Fra Diegu Institute, an ecclesiastical charitable institute. Also in theSaint Paul; Almanac of the Institute of the Missions” the Servant of God used to write some short information about the missionary activity of these nuns especially as regards their activity in Ethiopia.[447]

·        The Servant of God objected to his being made a canon of the Metropolitan Cathedral. His main reason was that he did not want to scandalise the members of the Society that was just starting. In the Constitutions of the Society he ordered the members not to accept honours outside the Society;[448] he wanted them to be really near the poor.[449]

·        De Piro helped a lot Guzeppina Curmi and her companions to found the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth, but he did this in view of their main aim: the Jesus of Nazareth charitable Institute. Also he “helped them” introduce the missionary activity as part of their charism in their constitutions.[450]

·        The Servant of God was made co-rector of the Manresa House, Floriana, Malta. The only aim of the House was the evangelisation of those who attended some retreat, etc., there.[451]

·        During the years of the First World War, Monsignor was asked to give his share by being the secretary of the Committee Fondo Vescovile per pane ai poveri durante la Guerra (1914-1918).[452] This was obviously a charitable organisation!

·        In between 1915-1918 De Piro very faithfully carried out all his responsibilities as secretary to Archbishop Mauro Caruana.[453] At this same time he gave special attention to the demands of the Maltese migrants and their chaplains.[454]

·        He was nominated Rector of the Major Seminary at Mdina, Malta. During these two years the Servant of God practiced a lot of charity towards the seminarians who could not pay their fees. He meliorated the material aspect of the life at the Seminary. He lived justice with teachers. He also improved the ars dicendi or praedicandi.[455]

·        De Piro made part of the National Assembly (1919-1921). Through this he lived his love for his fellow Maltese by the formulation of the draft constitution for Malta, a one which enabled the Maltese to have self government, something lacking until 1921.[456]

·        He intervened in the 7, 8, and 9 June 1919 riots. He did not enter in the long history of conflics between the British and the Maltese, but rather at the moment when injustice was being inflicted on the poor people.[457]

·        He helped the Daughters of the Sacred Heart to set up and strengthen their religious congregation.[458] The help he gave them was already a charity in itself. Then they were founded to help in the education of the children of the poor.

·        The Servant of God was deputy of the Archbishop in the Committee of the Peace Feasts at the end of the First World War.[459] Obviously this was a charitable organisation.

·        Monsignor cooperated with the Dame di Carità whose aim was “… di venire in aiuto a soccorrere quei casi di indigenza rapportati alla stessa pel tramite unico della Conferenza di San Vincenzo de Paoli di Notabile- Rabat”.[460] Therefore a charitable initiative again.

·        De Piro was the originator, author and publisher of the “Saint Paul: Almanacc of the Insititue of the Missions”.[461] This was quite obviously nothing but a missionary publication.

·        He was a member of the Governing Board of the Malta War Memorial Hospital for Children.[462] Quite obviously charitable!

·        Mgr De Piro was director of St Joseph’s Intitute, Malta.,[463] St Joseph Institute, Gozo,[464]  the Home for babies, Santa Venera and St Francis de Paul Institute, B’Kara.[465] All these were charitable entities.

·        De Piro was given St Dominic Savio Oratory, B’Kara, and became its director. He accepted this building on condition that it continued catering for the children of the common people.[466]

·        In 1927 he started the Society’s mission in Abyssinia. Quite missionary, of course![467]

·        He became director of the missionary Museum and Laboratory.[468] Two initiatives with which to support the Ethiopia mission.

·        The Servant of God was nominated director of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Laboratory. Another charitable initiative.[469]

·        He founded the St Joseph’s Band at St Joseph’s Institute, Ghajnsielem, Gozo.[470] Obviously another charitable activity.

·        Monsignor was made Senator in the Third Maltese Parliament. Here he did not intervene a lot, only twice. The first one was when he was asked to express his opinion when one of the senators, Notary Saviour Borg Olivier, showed his conviction about inheritances left for charitable institutes.[471] His other intervention regarded the young girls who had just left some one of the ecclesiastical charitable insititutes or who had no family to care for them.[472]

·        He was first superior, St Agatha’s Motherhouse, Rabat, Malta. If one were to make reference to the speech of De Piro on the occasion of the foundation stone of the Motherhouse, one would find out that the scope of this House was to serve as a home for the formation of missionaries.[473]

(d) When De Piro thought of the poor he thought at that same time of evangelisation, and vice versa:

 

·        When he thought of going to St Joseph’s Orphanage, Malta, he thought also that from that Home there would come out a  missionary society.[474]

·        In several of the drafts of the original constitutions of his missioanry Society he mentioned the case di beneficenza as one of its main works.[475]

·        In two of the charitable institutes, St Joseph’s, Malta, and St Joseph’s, Gozo, he did in fact introduce the members of his missionary Society to take care of the children.

·        He continuously respected the main aim of the Oratory at B’Kara: the care of poor children. At the same time he started there the aspirandate for the prospective members of his missionary Society.[476]

·        While dedicating himself for St Joseph’s Institute, Malta, he initiated there the novitiate for the Brothers of his Society.[477]


 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two

De Piro’s love for the underprivileged:

His institutionalised charity, his non-institutionalised charity and his work for justice

Introduction - Malta in the 19 and early years of the 20 centuries

The Maltese Archipelago consists of the Islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino, and two other uninhabited islands, Comminotto and Filfla. Since Joseph De Piro gave his share both in Malta and Gozo this thesis includes a background regarding both these Islands: in the immediate pages the information is about the first of the Islands, Malta., while a background about Gozo precides the presentation of De Piro’s ministry in this Sister Island.

                   - The population

The table down here gives a clear picture of the population in Malta from 1842, the year of the first census up to 1931:

Year

Population

1842

98,170

1851

106,640

1861

118,596

1871

124,384

1881

132,129

1891

146,484

1901

164,952

1911

188,869

1917

223,741

1921

189,697

1927

228,574

1931

217,784

Table 1[478]

                   - The Socio - Economic Conditions

Up to the end of the rule of the Order of the Knights of St John (1530 – 1798), Malta depended on Sicily for its supply of grain. But the King of Sicily, Ferdinand II, had prohibited the exportation of grain to Malta at a time when Sicily enjoyed an abundant harvest. At the time of Napoleon’s rule (1798 – 1880) Malta enjoyed a temporary prosperity as a result of Napoleon’s Continental System.[479] From 1813 onwards Malta began experiencing enormous economic difficulties. We can say that Malta in the early part of the nineteenth century had been reduced to indegence. This is best shown by the subdivisions of Maltese society in the late 1840s. Two thousand families belonged to the professional and land-owning classes, a substantial number of whom experienced difficulties in maintaining a decent standard of living. The wealthiest persons included a few large landowners, some merchants’ families, and a number of newcomers who shared trade with several British firms.[480] About 150 merchants, together with a few major industrialists and retailers, were to represent the apex of Malta’s trading community. In 1842 this community numbered about 5,000 and included numerous shopkeepers, dairymen, bakers and the like. These probably earned a little more than their friends and relatives in other occupations.[481] One can observe precious little difference between the conditions and customs of unskilled labourers and those of the numerous artisans on the Island. It was a current complaint, for example, that numerous young tradesmen could never rise beyond the level of unskilled labourers as they sat up on their own far too soon, and with little training. Likewise, one could hardly distinguish between small farmers and agricultural labourers.[482] Taken as a whole the profit of the unskilled labourer and the less able aristans in town and country areas is given as 3c for a full day’s work in the 1830s. Women could add to this by weaving or spinning.[483] Industrial activity was low. The main form of employment was in the agricultural, cotton, fishing and lace industries. In fact a study of the history of the period shows that in the early part of the nineteenth century, many rural women worked as spinners and weavers in their homes, or as beaters and dyers of cotton at home or in small manufacturing factories. Often they even gave a helping hand in fields and on the farm.[484]

The economic history of Malta in most of the nineteenth and during the early years of the twentieth centuries is a case study in economic backwardness. The general atmosphere during these years deteriorated; social conditions were poor, often verging on starvation.

Going a little deeper into the socio-economic conditions of the days, we find that the economic and social plight of Malta was very unstable. The needs of Malta’s population were only satisfied in times of war and crises in the Mediterranean. The considerable economic fluctuation of the Island was determined mainly by Britain’s decision to avail itself of Malta’s strategic position as a fortress from which the British navy could continue to have control over the whole Mediterranean.[485]

As a military base, Malta was thus vulnerable to variations in defense spending. This problem was enhanced by the fact that the Island lacked diversity in its economic structure.[486] The Royal Commission of 1912 defined Malta’s economy as follows:

For centuries the Maltese have never been a self-supporting community. Their own agriculture, industries and commerce have never supported them. They have always been able to rely on a large expenditure in the Island revenues drawn from outside sources. This has by no means produced a pauperized and parasitic population, but it has diverted industry from production for internal consumption and external trade to work for the Government and the foreign governing class. A sudden withdrawal of the British fleet and garrison would reduce a large section of the population to illness and starvation.[487]

 

The considerable source of gains from commercial vessels calling at the Grand Harbour was also cyclical and subject to variations. This was caused not only as a result of alternations in world trade, but also because of the changing patterns of trade in the Mediterranean itself.[488] In 1880 Malta’s shipping activity was poor. It improved bit by bit during the following ten years. Again, by 1891 fewer and fewer men were getting employed at the port.[489] Unfortunately, Malta entered the twentieth century with a decline in trade, a fall in government revenue and a rise in unemployment. This led to widespread poverty. On 18 February 1893, “Malta Taghna”, a local newspaper, synthesised the situation in this way, “The social plight of our island is terrible, particularly that of tradesmen, who besides not being regularly employed, are treated with the extremest cruelty and harshness, particularly by the Government, who is paying them much less than they deserve.”[490]

By 1836, the misery of the Maltese was also generally attributed to their lack of Initiative and reckless birth rate.[491] Governor Hastings and his secretary blamed the Maltese for their lack of enterprise.[492] George Percy P. Badger, an early nineteenth century historian, refers to “… their entire want of spirit of enterprise.”[493] The French consul in Malta in 1840 concurred that the Maltese were more inclined to imitate others than to start things by themselves.[494] However, the official report of the Royal Commission blamed the government for the poor state of affairs. The islanders were in a most miserable condition, the educated among them were a mere handful, the nobles were starving, the rest of the population fared worse.[495]

Another reason for the bad situation in which many Maltese lived was created by the expensive works many of which were carried out under pressure from the British authorities, works that the income of the Island could not afford. It was the taxation of the people that was to make good for these projects! And the taxes came from the bread consumers; the meat had a nominal taxation on it! And the majority of the Maltese consumed mostly bread and not meat! This implied that there was great misery among the poor for they were to pay most of the taxes. The Daily Malta Chronicle had this to say:

Most of us before coming to Malta were under the impression that it is thanks to the expenditure of the rich, that the poor manage to battle with the stern realities of an advanced state of civilization… The poor are the real supporters of Malta, because they are the bread consumers living as they do mostly on the bread obtained from the imported wheat subjected to that tax of 10s (50c) a quarter from which is derived the largest part of the revenue of Malta … The rich are the consumers of meat, on which there is but a nominal duty.[496]

 

The British Empire materialised some projects that rendered some labour activity and therefore some prosperity in Malta. A case in point was the building of two other docks which were to be added to the one built in 1872.[497] Also, the British Government, on 5 July 1901, announced that the navy needed the building of a break water at the entrance of the Grand Harbour. These and similar activities involved a huge number of workmen; there were 9,000 Maltese employed in naval establishments. With this increase in labour one must mention also the increase of wages.[498]

Seeing all this prosperity many Maltese young men married at a young age. This brought with it such consequences as the investment in houses and an increase in the population. The standard of living as a whole went up. But the projects mentioned above were finished and many employees were discharged. While the years 1901-1905 brought prosperity, the years 1906-1913 spelled poverty. By 1911 the number of Maltese employed with the Admiralty dropped from 9,000 to 5,000. Also, because of the German naval programme, Britain strengthened the Home fleet at the expense of Malta and the departures of units from the Grand Harbour added to the Island’s difficulties. The table here expains the situation better:

 

Year

Vessels in

mediterranean fleet

Employed

with fleet

Employed at

dockyard

1904

59 (including 12 large vessels)

11,995

5,005

1914

39 (including only 3 large vessels)

8,325

4,508

Table 2[499]

Malta could be said to have passed from prosperity to misery.[500]  According to the Royal Commission of 1912: “…the wages of the working classes in Malta are low, there is much unemployment, and it is with great difficulty that they support life…”[501]  When the construction work and the employment with the Admiralty experienced the rundown, since the local industry had never been developed, the Maltese turned to agriculture. While in 1910 there were c.7,000 farmers, in the following years there were 15,200.[502]

Facing such economic crises and the negative influences on most of the Maltese, the people of the Island reacted to poverty by begging. During this time, begging was the common place; both grown ups and children appear to grow in the streets. But not only; some considered stealing as a solution. Others relied on borrowing money or emigration.[503]  

                   - Nutrition

In many ways the standard of living of the 1870s and 1880s remained quite similar to that of the previous forty years.[504]  The low standard of living of the Maltese was reflected in their food. The staple food of a male labourer consisted of some vegetables, a little cheese, few olives, pasta, and occasionally fish or fruit. Women and children had less than half this quantity.[505]  The main item in the diet of the Maltese was bread.  The 1836 Royal Commissioners had reported that a field labourer ate 2 pounds of bread a day. Francis Roswell, a British Commissioner investigating the matter forty years later, concluded that in 1877 the same person ate from 4 to 5 pounds a day.[506]  In the more recent days bread was made from a good quality wheat, but the prices were double those of the 1830s.[507]  Meat was a rare luxury. In 1842, John Davy remarked that in Gozo, “… only one bullock was killed for the market, and that was sufficient for the whole population, including a detachment of British troops who used a considerable proportion of it.”[508] Even visitors to Malta from 1840 onwards agreed that both breakfast and dinner were very poor. At the time, only the rich used to eat meat while as already said the poor were the real supporters of Malta, because they were the bread consumers living as they did mostly on bread which was more highly taxed than meat. One commentator points out that, in spite of such a poor diet, the Maltese were a strong and healthy people.[509]

                   - The housing conditions 

The general slump in the standard of living of the nineteenth century was registered by the Maltese not only in their poor diet, but also in all other aspects of everyday life. Coming to deal with habitation Thomas MacGill, writing in 1839, attested that the dwelling of the peasants seemed “comfortable”.[510] Other visitors gave different accounts of these conditions.[511] The lower classes, which in the nineteenth century amounted to over 90% of the total population, had very bad housing conditions. A typical rural habitation usually had two floors, the first consisting of one or two rooms where the family frequently slept on straw covering themselves with rags and sacks.[512] The ground floor was usually meant for the animals with a dung room receiving all human and animal excreta, which was removed twice a year to be spread as manure in the fields by the farmers.[513] 

Sewers were non-existent and there was no running water supply. In the towns, the situation was not much better. Some sort of water drainage was only available in middle class houses which had troughs of porous stones. Poor homes had open sinks. In 1885, a system of drains was installed throughout the harbour area. This was carried out just in time. Two years later, an outbreak of cholera killed 435 persons and would have probably caused the death of thousands more in the overcrowded parts of the Island had these sewers not been installed.[514]  Only after the beginning of the twentieth century was the drainage system extended to most of the villages; the remotest of them got it not before 1945.[515]

An attempt was made to conduct the main water supply to all parts of Malta. During Bouvarie’s governorship (1836-1843) an aquaduct was built to bring water from Fawwara to several parts of the Island. In 1856 the first borehole was dug. A domestic water supply was introduced in 1890. Until then many people had to make use of public water pumps and private wells.[516]  

Both in town and country, ventilation was poor and ordinary houses possessed few windows.[517]  The 1851 census gives a fair impression of Maltese household. It was in fact reported that only 17% of dwellings were found to be filthy.[518]  It appeared that the population of both town and country did their best to keep their places of habitation clean.

George Percy Badger mentioned six reasons for the bad state of the Maltese, the first one being overpopulation.[519]  The worst cases of overcrowding were found in Valletta, the capital city of Malta, and in Floriana, its suburb. In 1891 in Floriana there were 1,249 persons living in 241 rooms, an average of 5.18 persons in one room. In Valletta the situation was not much better: there were 4,571 persons in 885 rooms, an average of 5.17 persons in a room.[520]

                   - Clothing

Poverty was reflected also in clothing. The family dressed in cheap, coarse local cotton – the man in a dark blue shirt and trousers of fustian, supported by a cotton sash, doubled and wound several times around the waist and on Sundays, a sort of coat. Women dressed in a petticoat of black cotton with the traditional headdress over all. The latter, made of black silk, was often shared by all the women in the household, sometimes even by neighbours.[521]

Visitors were shocked meeting people so ill dressed or in rags. Shoes were hardly ever used. In fact, up to the late 1930s, it was still common to see town and country people walking bare footed. Badger says that:

Country people had the habit of putting on shoes before entering Valletta and taking them off leaving. Nineteenth century visitors often mention the popular story of one country woman who asked her companion who was going to Valletta how long she had been using her pair of shoes. The answer was that she had worn them since the time of the plague, 1813. ‘Oh! replied the other, ‘mine are much older, for I have had them since the blockade of the French, 1798.[522]

                   - Hygiene

The Maltese themselves were dirty in habit, displaying a marked reluctance to wash.[523] As had been said already, the domestic water supply was only introduced in 1890.[524]  Because of this, personal cleanliness was still generally rare until the introduction of bathrooms. It was only in the second and third decades of the twentieth century that newly built houses began to include bathrooms.[525]  Before these years the houses with a bathroom were a rarity.  In such conditions, it was no wonder that many deseases spread and frequently claimed numerous victims.[526]  This had other repercussions on Maltese society, such as the death of nearly 50% of the infants born every year.[527]

                   - Education

In early twentieth century Malta illiteracy was widespread and education of the general population was non-existent. The snail’s pace in education was not only due to the government’s miserliness in the education vote, but also to the little interest shown initially by the Church and most important of all, to the language problem.[528] The Maltese language, originally Semitic with overtones of Romance, and an exception to the group with a Latin alphabet, had no official literary form at that time.[529] Italian had been the official language from the time of the Knights, and so Maltese had not developed and next to nothing was published in this language.[530] It was in the 1920s and 1930s, however, that the knowledge of English started to spread so consistently that eventually it even supplanted Italian.[531]

The first elementary schools for the people were opened in 1819. In 1831, apart from the University of Valletta, to which the Lyceum or Secondary School was annexed, there were two normal schools, one for boys and one for girls, supported by voluntary contributions and by the local government.[532]  At the nursery school children were taught folktales, nursery rhymes, and prayers, but hardly anything else. The Government Dipartment for primary Schools was set up in 1840, but the progress was so slow that by 1861, out of a population of 134,055, less than 8,000 males could read Italian and less than 4,000 could read English.[533]

The low standard of living discouraged parents from sending their boys to school. Boys were made to work at a very early age in order to earn some money. The higher the cost of living, the more this was liable to happen.[534]  Girls fared even worse.[535] The 1891 census reported that while 80% of males between the age of 40 and 50 could not read, 85% of females in the same age group were illiterate. During this period there were also four main secondary schools and a few small private ones. The Lyceum, which had 415 students in 1900, was by far the largest, while the girls’ grammar school had a population of only 120. The University, which catered almost exclusively for the well to do, had only 86 male students.[536]  This was then the situation of the school attendance according to the1903 Census of the Maltese Islands:

Children 5 to 9 years inclusively:

 

 

Malta

Total number

In schools

%

Not in schools

%

Males

9,738

4,486

46.1

5,252

53.9

Females

9,445

4,856

51.4

4,589

48.6

Total

19,183

9,342

 

9,841

 

Gozo

 

 

 

 

 

Males

1,144

689

60.2

455

39.8

Females

1,168

665

56.9

503

43.1

Total

2,312

1,354

 

958

 

Both Islands

 

 

 

 

 

Males

10,882

5,175

47.5

5,707

52.5

Females

10,613

5,521

52.0

5,092

48.0

Grand total

21,495*

10,696

49.7

10,799

50.3

Table 3[537]

 

Children 10 to 14 years inclusively:

 

 

Malta

Total

Number

In

schools

%

Not

in schools

%

Males

8,810

2,890

32.8

5,920

67.2

Females

8,519

2,102

24.6

6,417

75.4

Total

17,329

4,992

 

12,337

 

Gozo

 

 

 

 

 

Males

1,145

461

40.2

684

59.8

Females

1,043

170

16.3

873

83.7

Total

2,188

631

 

1,557

 

Both Islands

Total

Number

In schools

%

Not in schools

%

Males

9,955

3,351

33.6

6,604

66.4

Females

9,562

2,272

23.8

7,290

76.2

Grand total

19,517*

5,623

28.8

13,894

71.2

Table 4[538]

Between 1908 and 1916 only 3,000 children followed a complete course of elementary education up to grade VII.[539]

To make matters in the field of education worse, teachers were insufficiently trained and badly paid, making the teaching profession unattractive to those who were more qualified; many of these resorted to it only when no alternative existed.[540]   Primary education began to spread after the Second World War.

Since the middle of the nineteenth century, the Church authorities showed a great interest in education, firstly, with the reform of studies in the Seminary of Malta, and secondly, with the establishment of ecclesiastical schools and colleges run by male and female religious orders.[541]

                   - Begging

The spread of poverty was best reflected in the hordes of beggars, male and female, roaming the streets of towns, particularly Valletta. Beggars were an unpopular sight with the British authorities and there were various attempts to control them.[542]   Sir Penrose Julyan, a British commissioner, in 1880, noted that there was too much charity in Malta.[543] In the 1850s,Valletta was described as a nest of beggars.[544]  In the 1851 census, 1,452 persons were classed as aged and infirm while 12,483 families, or 49 % of the population, were classified as poor.[545] The situation remained pretty much the same in the early twentieth century.[546]

­                   - The government’s share in charity

Through the Committee for Charitable institutions set up in 1825, the government of that time gave monthly alms and donations amounting to almost 10% of the total annual vote for both Islands by 1836.[547] By 1854, 2,018 persons received relief from public funds, while 1,524 were kept in charitable institutions at public expenses.[548] Commissioner Penrose argued that anyone who lived by daily labour in 1880 was considered to have a claim to grauitous medical assistance and medicines.[549]  The situation remained pretty much the same in the early twentieth century.

                   - The local Church’s share in charity

Faced with these very hard and poor situations in many aspects of Maltese life during the nineteenth and early years of the twentieth centuries, the local Church authorities, were concerned to teach social principles and to draw the rich and the working classes together by reminding everyone of one’s duties towards the other, and especially of the obigations of justice.[550]  The Church even encouraged the faithful towards almsgiving. Mgr Peter Pace, the Archbishop of Malta, in 1909, said this in one of his Pastoral Letters:

  Let us accept it as true Christians and let us seek to compensate the dispensations given by the Holy Fathers. This could be done by paying a visit to the Blessed Sacrament at least once every week and by giving alms according to our means to the poor of Jesus Christ, especially in these times when we are witnessing nothing except misery due to the general crisis in all the branches of commerce.[551]

 

In another Letter published in 1910 Pace exhorted the Maltese by these words:

We recommend the usual visit to the Blessed Sacrament in gratitude for the many graces showered upon us; and also almsgiving according to one’s capacity to the poor in our times. Let us remember that almsgiving is the living expression of fraternal charity.[552]

 

The Church itself helped even materially towards the improvement of the economic situation of Malta and Gozo. At the worst times, the Church increased her contributions by donating half the proceeds from masses for the repose of souls.[553]

Besides the above mentioned means the Church felt the duty to contribute to the betterment of the poor classes through her charitable organizations such as hospitals, homes for the aged and the poor, orphanages, crèches and industrial schools.[554] This was done with the aim that the poor would rise above poverty and wretchedness, and better their condition of life.[555]

Since the nineteenth century, the local Church had multiplied her efforts to open new homes where a not inconsiderable number of less fortunate children could receive a sound spiritual formation, coupled with a good primary and technical education. According to the Blue Book of 1937 the Church had these institutions for children:

 

Institution

Founder/Foundress

Opened

Locality

Boys/girls

Children

Saint Joseph

Andrea Agius sj and Laurica Agius

1725

Cospicua

Girls

87

St Peter and Paul

Bishop Vincenzo Labini

1789

Victoria, Gozo

Girls

19

Good Shepherd

Good Shepherd Sisters

1858

Balzan

Girls

90

Cini

Adelaide Cini

1870

Hamrun

Girls

102

Vincenzo Bugeja

Vincenzo Bugeja

1876

Sta Venera

Girls

38

Fra Diegu

Fra Diegu Bonanno Ofm

1885

Hamrun

Girls

138

Piccola Casa di S. Giuseppe

Mgr Isidor Formosa

1887

Valletta

Mixed

80

Saint Joseph’s

Canon Francesco Bonnici

1893

Sta Venera

Boys

155

Ursoline Creche

Mgr Isidor Formosa

1902

Sliema

Mixed

80

St Patrick’s

Alphonse Maria Galea

1905

Sliema

Boys

52

St Joseph’s

Daughters of the Sacred Heart

1920

Zejtun

Girls

24

Home for infants

Mgr G. De Piro

1925

Sta Venera

Boys

40

St Joseph’s

Gozo parish priests

1925

Gh’Sielem, Gozo

Boys

23

St Francis de Paul

Guzeppina Psaila

1926

B’Kara

Girls

80(?)

Jesus of Nazareth

Guzeppina Curmi

1930

Zejtun

Girls

98

St Theresa

Daughters of the Sacred Heart

1934

Zurrieq

Girls

13

St Joseph’s

Fr F. Grech op

1937

Zabbar

Girls

32

Table 5[556]

 

Therefore:

·   Only 1 institute in the eighteenth century; 6 in the nineteenth (all in the second half of the century); and 8 in the first years of the twentieth.

·   Up to 1888 there were only the institutes for girls. It was Mgr A. M. Buhagiar, the Apostolic Administrator of Malta, who encouraged Mgr F. Bonnici to start an institute for orphaned boys.

·   In 1937, 3 institutes were for boys, 10 were for girls and 2 were for babes.

·   In all the institutes, with the exception of those for babes, the children got all the aspects of their formation, including the learning of a trade, within the building of the institution.

·   The founders were: 4 diocesan priests, 6 religious, and 6 lay persons.

·   No one of these institutes were to be found in the north of Malta.

·   In all institutes, in 1937, there were 1064 between babes, and boys and girls up to the age of 18.

In sharp contrast with this social involvement which was mainly based on charity, in 1902, local Church authorities took a bold stand vis-à-vis the colonial Government on the problem of taxation which was touching the pockets of the people , especially the poorest members of society.[557]  In fact Archbishop Pace, on behalf of the Maltese people, sent a petition to King Edward VII, on the occasion of his visit to Malta in January 1902, wherein he asked His Majesty “to reduce taxation …[558]  In a letter dated January 3, 1902, the special representatives of the Archbishop and the Chapter of the Cathedral presented the following petition to the newly arrived Governor, Thomas Wallace:

The Archbishop of Malta and the Chapter of this Cathedral Church find it necessary under the present political emergency to present themselves in all humility at the August Throne of your Majesty in the present political events, to protest against … the imposition of the new taxes, which directly or indirectly will impoverish the lower class of the population which already was very poor in the country.[559]

 

This type of social action from the side of the Church was directly intended to bring about social order among the Islanders and the lifting up of the dignity of the poor. A few years after, Mgr Joseph De Piro greatly supported this movement of the Church both in Malta and in Gozo.

                   - De Piro’s share in charity

De Piro gave a big share in the Church’s contribution towards the poor and the needy. He carried on this ministry (1) in an institutionalised way in varoius organisations of the Church, (2) in a non-institutionalised way through personal and at times spontanious initiatives and (3) by working for justice.

 

Section I

De Piro’s love for the underprivileged through an institutionalised charity

 

De Piro’s charity was not limited to any particluar place, but he practised it first and foremost in the ecclesiastical charitable institutes under his care. Michael Louis Casolani, the originator and great benefactor of St Dominic Savio Oratory, in Birkirkara, once wished to have a meeting with the Servant of God. On 15 December 1925 the former wrote to the latter inviting him for such a meeting. In this letter Casolani considered De Piro as synonymous with the institutes of beneficence,“Sebbene non abbia avuto ancora il piacere di vederla, mi si dice che Ella sia, da qualche tempo, ritornato dal Suo viaggio, che spero esser stato proficero alla Sua salute tanto preziosa per quanti hanno a cuore le opere di beneficenza in queste nostre isole.”[560]

 

(i)  Director of Fra Diegu Institute, Hamrun, Malta[561]

Since the time he was a seminarian in Rome, Joseph De Piro had contacts with Fr Emmanuel Vassallo, the director, and Fr George Bugeja, his assistant at St Joseph’s Orphanage in Santa Venera, Malta. De Piro used to send them donations for the boys living in that Institute.[562] There was once when De Piro even substituted Bugeja at the Institute because Fr. George was abroad for some one month ... and the Servant of God was most successful.[563] This same contact with the Institute’s Assistant Director solved the problem of the Archbishop of Malta about whom to choose for the leadership of another orphanage, Fra Diegu Institute, at a time when the Franciscans Minor could not continue administering it. When Archbishop Peter Pace found himself faced with this difficulty he talked to Fr George Bugeja of St Joseph’s, Malta, about it and the latter immediately mentioned De Piro. His Excellency accepted this proposal, and on 2 August 1907 nominated the Servant of God Director of Fra Diegu Institute for girls:

“Rev. Signore,

Avendo i RR. PP. Minori, per ordine del ‘Fra Diegu’ da essi con tanto zelo diretto, e trasferito per atti pubblici a noi e nostri successori tutti i diritti, azioni e pertinenze di detto Istituto; dovendo ora provvedere il medesimo di un Direttore pio e solente, noi, a cui è nota la prudenza di V. S., lo zelo e l’ attività, di buon cuore vi nominiamo a tale ufficio con tutte le facoltà necessarie ed opportune e siamo persuasi che diretto da Lei l’ Istituto ed appoggiato dalla generosità dei fedeli, continuerà a fiorire coll’ assistenza delle benemerite Terziarie Francescane, le quali, animate dallo spirito del loro Serafico Patriarca non risparmieranno fatica di sorta, come fin ora han fatto per educare ed istruire le ragazze in esso ricoverate, onde poter nella loro condizione guadagnare un giorno l’onesto loro sostentamento.”[564]

 

On that same day the Servant of God was deputed and nominated administrator of the same Institute:

Magna Curia Epale Melitem

 

Die 2 Augusti 1907

 

Attente deputatione Adm. Rev. Dni. Sac. Josephi De Piro in Directorem Pii Instituti San. Francesci Assisiensis, vulgo ‘Fra Diegu’ a quondam Fra Leidaco ex Ordine Minorum fundati odie ab Eccellmo ac Revmo Dno Archipiecopo Episcopo Petro Pace facta per Litteras in Secreteria Asservatas … Sua Revma diputavit atque nominavit prout deputat atque nominat in Administratorum praefati Instituti eundem Adm, Rev. Dnum. Sac. Josephum De Piro ... eidem tribuent omnes et singulas facultates necessarias et opportunas.

 

Ita est

Can Al Camillleri

Cancellarius.[565]

          - De Piro’s dedication to Fra Diegu Institute

De Piro involved himself wholeheartedly in the running of the Institute. At that time he had no other official appointment. He visited the Orphanage regularly and spent hours talking to the Sisters and the girls. Sisters Consiglia Vassallo and Felicia Vella, two nuns who were at Fra Diegu Institue at the time of De Piro said this about the Director, “He used to visit the Institute three times a week, Monday, Thursday and Saturday… Whenever he visited the Insitute, he used to go around all the children on the place of work in order to encourage them.”[566]

Mother Pauline Cilia who was the superior at the time of the death of the Servant of God, and Mother Cleophas Bondin, a teacher at Fra Diegu, said almost the same things.[567]

The Director kept this regular contact even in later years when he was burdened with many other responsabilities.[568]

          - A very humble Director

The Servant of God was thirty years old when entrusted with the direction of Fra Diegu Instititute. At first the Sisters of the Tertiary Franciscan Order, who did the day to day work of the Institute, imagined that De Piro, belonging to a distinguished Maltese family, would be aloof and difficult to approach. This notion was rapidly removed as soon as De Piro encountered them for the first time. Indeed they were surprised at his ability to mix with the young orphan girls, in spite of the fact that this was his first such experience.[569]

          - A balanced formator - loving but firm

Srs Giakkina Vella and Eletta Sant emphasised the fact that the Director became even popular with the girls who saw in him a loving father.[570]  However he was also a firm administrator and his first concern was that the girls should get a proper education. Rather than punishing the girls, De Pir

o always made it a point to explain what they had done wrong. He was strongly against corporal punishment and he discouraged the Sisters from shouting at the girls. Sr Pacifika Xuereb said that the Servant of God used to tell the Sisters, “Never shout at the children and always be kind and gentle with the kids. You will win them over. Keep them always happy. Be patient with them…” [571] Sr Pacifika continued saying that:

Children in those days were a bit naughty and whenever there used to be a girl who was up to some mischief, mother superior used to bring her in front of Monsignor and tell him, ‘Monsignor, I brought her in front of you so that you correct her.’ ‘Yes, bring her in,’ he answered. Do not think that he shouted at her! Not at all. He used to tell her some words in a gentle way. He would warn her not to do it again and never punish her for whatever she would have done. Even whenever he spoke to the girls together about their behaviour, he never used harsh words. Rather he used to tell them these sort of words, ‘Consider yourselves lucky for being at the Insititue.’ Moreover he used to give them something or else invite them for lunch.[572]

 

Sr Xuereb also said that at the same time De Piro insisted that the girls should be closely watched over at all times and that they should not be left idle.[573]

          - Financial guarantor for the Institute

Few people were actually aware of the extent of De Piro’s regular financial help to the Institute. Srs Consiglia Vassallo and Felice Vella said this, “He loved the children a lot. He made huge sacrifices for them. He used to go round collecting money for Fra Diegu Institute.”[574] 

Carmena Mallia, an old girl of Fra Diegu Institute, confirmed this:

… because he was at the same time kindness itself and was much devoted to us children. In his capacity of Director the Sisters of the Institute came to him for all their needs and he was always ready to provide all they required. He never ever mentioned where or how he obtained the things which were asked of him and sometimes it was evident that it was he himself who was the donor.[575]

 

Mallia continued saying that once, during the hard days of the First World War, when the general social condition severely affected the contributions of the population, De Piro personally paid the bill for the bread consumed at Fra Diegu’s Institute.[576]

          - Grateful towards the benefactors

If De Piro personally helped the Institute a lot, it was also quite obvious that Fra Diegu depended a lot on benefactors. On his part the Director invited these kind hearted people regularly to all activities in the various institutes under his care. This was attested to by Mother Cleophas Bondin who was a teacher at Fra Diegu Institute at the time of De Piro, “He gave a lot of importance to the benefactors of the Insititute. He used to organise fairs for the Institute, and also recreative activities, and he used to invite noble persons for them.”[577]

De Piro did not distinguish between donors; for him it was not the value of the donation that mattered. Mother Pacifika Xuereb witnessed this:

Whenever Providence knocked at the door or I spoke to him of any donation given, he would promptly write a note of thanks to the donor. When the donation was not a big sum and still he would want to write a ticket of thanks, I used to tell him, ‘Why are you sending him a note for such a small sum?’ ‘No,’ he used to say, ‘Small things and big things are the same in God’s eyes. One can give so much and another can give more, but they have both the same merit. Always be grateful for whatever comes as a Providence.[578]

          - A holistic formation

- The learning of crafts

In addition to learning academic subjects, the girls were taught cooking, sewing, embroidery and other practical subjects. De Piro personally used to bring prizes for those who distinguished themselves in these subjects. These prozes were often presented by some personality who was invited for the occasion:

He also gave much importance to the teaching of trades and crafts. Before he came to Fra Diegu certain trades were already taught at the Institute, but Mgr De Piro added other subjects to the list and brought about a great improvement in their teaching.

It was not only Monsignor who was interested himself in the trades. Even members of his family used to make orders for work to be done for them at the Institute. There was a first class dressmaker who taught the girls this craft. The Franciscan Sisters who looked after the Institute, and especially those among them who hailed from Gozo, taught us lacemaking. At the end of the day Mgr De Piro would go round the workshops and inspect carefully the work done during the day. He also enjoyed taking visitors round the workshops to see the girls at work. One particular visitor I remember was Lord Gerard Strickland with whom Mgr De Piro was very friendly. The Director used to tell us that Lord Strickland was a benefactor of our Institute.[579]

                   - Care of the spiritual aspect of the girls’ life

One of Monsignor’s beliefs was that the girls should wear better dresses on Sundays as these would make them realise that that day should be a special one.[580]  

 The Servant of God himself used to examine the young girls before their First Holy Communion, to which he attached particular importance.[581] So much so that he personally saw to it that the girls were suitably prepared to receive the First holy Communion.[582]

According to Carmena Mallia, the Servant of God had a deep eucharistic spirituality:

I also remember how careful Mgr De Piro was to attend regularly at the weekly adoration. Before the Eucharistic Congress we used to have this weekly adoration every Friday, but after the Congress we started holding it on Thursdays and Mgr De Piro never failed to be with us. Moreover, when on special feast days he would say Mass at Fra Diegu Institute we were much impressed by the devotion with which he officiated. He not only lived this devotion in his own life, but he also managed to instill it in us, children.[583]

 

Mgr De Piro had moreover a genuine and deep Marian spirituality which was evident even in his administration of Fra Diegu Institute.[584] His love for the Virgin Mary made him place his complete trust in her. He had a special affection for Our Lady of Pompei. Its feastday is celebrated on 8 May, the day on which he had finally decided on his priestly vocation.[585]  For some years he  celebrated the feast in the chapel of Fra Diegu Institute.[586] 

De Piro’s devotion to Our Lady could be noticed all the year round. Whenever he came to the Institute he never failed to kneel in front of the statue of Our Lady and say three Hail Mary.[587]  He was always praying whenever he found some free time. Indeed he was always saying the rosary.[588]

The Director also insisted that there should be a number of priests who visited the Institute regularly in order to cater for the spiritual needs of the young orphans.[589]

                   - Recreation, an important element in the girls’ upbringing

The Director strongly believed in the importance of recreation as a means with which to make the girls happy. He organised plays and outings and games to gladden the young orphans’ lives. He wanted to make the orphans’ existence in the Institute a merrier one than they had experienced before.[590] He had the girls of Fra Diegu so much at heart and he so much believed in the importance of recreation that he remembered this even while writing his will:

Articolo Ottavo

 

  Lascio ancora a titulo di prelegato all’Istituto Fra Diegu del Hamrun un titulo di fondi pubblici, del valore di lire cento nominali, che attualmente fruttifichi non meno di lire sterline quattro l’anno; il quale interesse servirà per la ricreazione dell’Albero di Natale, alle ragazze di detto Istituto ...”[591]

          - The Director’s love for the families of the girls of Fra Diegu

Carmena Mallia also said that more than once Monsignor visited the families of the girls, “On many occasions he was called to the deathbed of one or other of the parents of a girl, and he would go to assist them in the last moments of their life. He also gave financial aid to those families who needed it.”[592]

          - De Piro’s love even for the old girls

The Servant of God did not care for the girls only while they were at Fra Diegu. The documents which are still in the De Piro Archives give proof of this: the Director recommended several petitions written to the Archbishop of Malta asking him some benefice either for their entry into religious life or to be married:

A Sua Eccza Revma

Mgr Dom mauro Caruana O.S.B.

Arcivescovo Vescovo di Malta

etc   etc     etc

 

Umile ricorso di Emmanuela Sant ricoverata all’Istituto Fra Diego.

 

Eccellenza Reverendissima,

 

La ricorrente prostrata al bacio del Sacro Anello umilmente espone:-

Che sentendosi vocata allo stato Religioso ha fatto domanda alla Superiora Generale delle Terziarie Franescane e venne accettata ed ammessa come postulante.

Che non avendo una sufficiente dote, essendo molto povera, ha avanzato domanda alla Confraternita è desiderosa di venire in suo soccorso coll’offerta di £5 dal Cumulo Pietro Barbieri" qualora V. E. lo permettesse.

Pertanto la ricorrente fiduciosa sul buon Cuore di Vostra Eccellenza, sempre pronto a soccorrere i poveri, umilmente Le domanda a voler autorizzare detta Insigne Confraternita al surreferito prelevamento e cosi sollecitare la Sua Vestizione.

 

E della grazia etc.

 

Presentato il di’ 4 Luglio 1919

Sac. P. Vella Mangion

Cancelliere

 

1 Luglio 1919

 

Certifico che Emmanuela Sant di quest’Istituto, è una giovane che da segni non dubbi di vocazione allo Stato religioso. Essendo però molto povera, è meritevole di essere aiutata per esser ammessa al Noviziato.

 

Canco. G. De Piro

Direttore dell’Ist., Fra Diegu [593]

 

Another one says this:

Eccellenza Reverendissima,

 

Mgr G. De Piro nella sua qualità di Direttore dell’Istituto San Fco. d’Assisi - Fra Diegu - prostrato al bacio del Sacro Anello umilmente espone, che il fu Sigr. Nicola Mamo, per Atti del Notaro Amabile Bezzina dell’11 Maggio 1907, lasciò trenta doti di maritaggio dell’ammonto di lire sterline quindici (£15) l’una, da percepire una in ciascun anno dalle ragazze ricorrente nell’Istituto Fra Diegu.

Che, salvo concorrenza, l’unica condizione apporta nulla tavole di fondazione è che la ragazza "fosse stata ivi (nell’Istituto Fra Diegu) ricoverata per almeno tre anni."

 

Che la ragazza Caterina Calleia già ricoverata nel detto Istituto dal 1907 al 1919 è sul punto di collocarsi in oneste nozze, ed essendo priva di mezzi di fortuna ricorre alla direzione di detto Istituto, domandando un soccorso;

 

Che l’Esecutore Testamentario, il Signor Notaro Michael L. Casolani ritiene essere volontà del testatore che la ragazza a cui fosse assequata tale dote doverse essere "actu" ricoverate in detto Istituto; e perciò trova difficolta di accedere alla richiesta del ricorrente in favore di detta ragazza;

 

Che a parte, che questa volontà del testatore non appare dalla tavola suddetta, il fidanzare una ragazza, mentre ancora ricoverata, non è considerato prudente dal ricorrente. Molto facilmente infatti può darsi il caso che la ragazza dica di si, soltanto per liberarsi dalla vita dell’Istituto, che ordinariamente incominciare a pesare a tutte quelle che crescono in età;

 

Che per tranquillità di ascienza tanto del Signor Esecutore Testamentario, quanto del ricorrente, umilmente, lo stesso, domanda a Vra Eccza Revma, onde ottemperando allo spirito della fondazione (la quale provvide pei casi di conoscenza ed … "da deciderci dalla direzione dell’Istituto coll’approvazione dell’Ordinario ossia del Vescovo pro tempore di Malta") a voler asseguare alla ragazza povera a quà alcuna dell’Istituto suddetto, Caterina, di questa dote dovuta nel 1915.

 

Che della grazia etc.

 

Mgr G. De Piro

 

Presentato dal ricorrente

il di 1 Luglio 1927

Can. P. Buttigieg

Cancelliere[594]

 

Besides the payment of these and other dowries, it was testified before the Ecclesiastical Tribunal set up to hear the witnesses in the Diocesan Porcess of the Cause of Canonisation of the Servant of God, Joseph De Piro, that the Director helped even in other ways the girls who had been at Fra Diegu at his time. Carmena Mallia said that:

His care for us was not limited to our stay at the Institute but followed us even when we came to leave. It pleased him to buy bales of cloth for making into clothes, and when we reached the age of fifteen he would tell the Mother Superior to prepare a parcel with the clothes we needed when we left the Institute, and to start putting aside a little money regularly to be given to the girls at the time of their departure.[595]

 

Helen Muscat, another old girl of Fra Diegu, said that:

When he celebrated his 25 anniversary as director of Fra Diegu, he invited the old girls of the Institute. In the speech he delivered on this occasion he showed them that he was still their father, ‘If you would be in need of anything come to me, do not hesitate.  The fact that you have left the Institute must not hinder you from coming’.[596]

          - De Piro, the orderly Director … and a one who trusted God’s Providence

It has already been said that Fra Diegu had become a Diocesan Institute.[597] Therefore, periodically the Archbishop’s Curia sent a trusted person to examine the ledgers of the Institute. Alphonse Maria Galea, himself a great Maltese philantropist,[598] was one of those who had been sent to verify the Institute’s books. In one of his reports he put down these words:

A Sua Ecc. Illma & Revma.

Mgr Dom Mauro Caruana O.S.B., G.C.O.M.

Arciv. Vescovo di Malta

 

Eccellenza Revma,

 

In obbedienza al mandato dell’E.V. Revma, ho esaminato io i libri degli otto anni di amministrazione dell’Istituto "Fra Diegu" chiusi al 31 Dicembre 1915, ed i documenti relativi, e sono in grado di asserire di averli trovati in perfetta regola. Ho pure esaminato i diversi Titoli di Debito Pubblico nei quali furono impiegati il Lascito Hardman ed altri Legati a favore del suddetto Istituto come pure i capitali risultanti dalle due precedenti amministrazioni non che quello formato per le economie del presente Direttore ed Amministratore dell’Istituto, Monsignor Can. Don Giuseppe di Marchesi De Piro d’Amico, durante i suddetti otto anni di sua gestione; e mentre l’E.V. Revma m’ha offerta un’altra occasione di ammirare la Providenza Divina, mi è grato di rilevare che coll’aiuto di Dio con insistente affetto filiale implorato dall’Amministratore e con ferma fiducia di esserne esaudito, non si potrebbe desiderare più ordinata e diligente amministrazione. Posso inoltro asserire che i suddetti Titoli di Debito Pubblico e il denaro in contante per le spese giornaliere o altro bilancio fruttuante sono conservati in luogo tuto.

In ossequio al mio mandato devo però notare che dalla copia d’un ricevo di lucri pel capitale del Lascito Baynes presso l’Amministratore dei Beni Creditari del Marchese Giuseppe Scicluna che mi fu mostrata potrebbe, come è formulata, risultare qualche ambigiutà quanto all’impiego del capitale se cioè il detto capitale si trovi a interesse presso l’Amministratore dei Beni Creditari suddetti ovvero se l’interesse provenga dall’impiego del capitale in Titoli di Debito Pubblico ivi menzionati. Di fatto, all’Istituto Fra Diegu siamo pagando i lucri del capitale alla ragione del 3% l’anno. chieste le opportune informazioni a Monsignor De Piro e viste le circostanze del fatto, sembra evidente che non si fosse potuto agire altrimenti, ne’ vi ha ragione di dubitare del risultato finale a favore dell’Istituto stesso già tanto benficato dal Inste Scicluna…

Interrogato Monsignor Can. De Piro intorno al diritto di amministrazione che gli potrebbe spettare, sono stato dal medesimo informato che egli ha sempre prestato l’opera sua gratuitamente (gratis et amore Dei) e che non ha intenzione alcuna di chiedere compensi per l’avvenire.

Con tutta riverenza, mi prostro al bacio del Sacro Anello dell’E.V.R. e La prego di benedire il

 

Suo Devmo Figlio in G.C.

Alf. Galea

 

"Betharram"

Sliema 10 Febbraio 1916

 

Presentata il 10 Giugno 1916

Sac. P. Vella Mangion

Cancelliere”[599]

 

In another report Alphonse Maria Galea had this to say:

Eccellenza Revma,

 

Per mandato dell’E.V. Revmo del 17 Gennaio 1920 ed in ossequio allo stesso, ho riveduto i Libri di Amministrazione dell’ "Istituto Fra Diegu" (Hamrun) chiusi al 31 Dicembre 1919, tenuti dallo Illmo & Revmo Mgr Can. G. De Piro Navarra, Direttore dello stesso, nei quattro anni, successivi alla sua antecedente ammininstrazione, cioè dal 1916 al 1919, e li ho trovati in piena regola e corredati dei documenti giustificativi, e ben tenuti, come a buon Amministratore si addice ...Registri dimostrano un attivo in cassa al 31 dicembre 1919 di stg.701.6.0 (Alf M.Galea]

L’apposito registro per capitali impiegati in Titoli di Fondi Pubblici o a lucro presso le Banche, suggerito nella Relazione del 10 Febbraio 1916 e ordinato con venerato decreto dell’E.V. Revma, è stato debitamente aperto dal Revmo Direttore. Esso dimostra il regolare incasso di dividendi e di lucri dovuti come poi si trovano accreditati nel LiBr di Amministrazione alle date ivi indicate, meno certamente quei dividendi che per ragioni di guerra si trovano momentaneamente sospesi. In ciascun conto aperto in questo registro si trova indicata la provenienza del relativo capitale e il suo impiego, ed a ciascuno di essi vi ho adesso apposta la mia firma in qualità di Revisore.

Mgr Can. De Piro Navarra molto generosamente rinunzia al proprio diritto di economia a favore dell’"Istituto Fra Diegu" che egli amministra con tanta carità ed esattezza.

I conti di Introito ed Esito dimostrano il favore del pubblico verso l’Istituto e verso che degnamente l’amministra, poichè quantunque ci troviamo in piena crisi finanziaria, i due conti … a bilanciarsi senza alterare le assi di proprietà dell’Isituto medesimo; ed è dir molto.

Prostrato al bacio del Sacro Anello dell’E.V. Revma Devmo figlio in G.C.

 

A. M. Galea

 

Presentato dal ricorente

il di’ 8 Marzo 1920.

Sac. P. Vella Mangion

Cancelliere[600]

 

(ii)  Director of the Jesus of Nazareth Institute, Zejtun, Malta

Maria Guzeppina Curmi, a spinster, was born in Valletta on 15 October 1864. At about the age of five she was taken by her family to Zejtun, a town to the south of Malta, where her father was nominated mayor by the British authorities.[601] In 1895, moved by the miserable situation of many poor and orphaned children, Curmi started helping them by the teaching of catechism.[602] In 1913 she also invited a group of young women to join her, and with them initiated a religious congregation in order to take care of those same poor children.[603] After passing from one house to another[604] Guzeppina Curmi borrowed some money and in 1925 started the building of a new home, the Jesus of Nazareth Institute.[605]  This was officially opened and blessed by the Archbishop of Malta, Mgr Mauro Caruana, on 16 July 1930.[606]

Mgr De Piro helped a lot Maria Guzeppina Curmi . First of all, since 1913 and for some years after, he was her spiritual director.[607] Then, Curmi herself asked the Servant of God his help for the foundation of her religious congregation the “Missionary Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth”.[608] But according to the letter written by the Servant of God to Archbishop Caruana, on 21 May 1933, it was His Excellency who had nominated De Piro Director of the Orphange known as Jesus of Nazareth.[609] It is this third contribution of De Piro to Guzeppina Curmi that is going to be dealt with here.

          - De Piro, the Director of the Orphanage

In 1922, following the death of Fr Paul Zammit, the Institute’s first director, Curmi wrote to the Servant of God asking him to take over its running.[610] De Piro did accept, not because of Curmi’s petition, but because of the Archbishop’s request.[611]

Curmi let herself be guided completely by De Piro in all matters pertaining to the Institute.[612] In 1925 Guzeppina had obtained the Archbishop’s permission to borrow money to buy land on which to build a bigger Institute, one that was to accommodate 150 orphaned and homeless girls.[613] De Piro assumed responsibility of the project, the first stone of which was laid that same year.[614] He kept a careful record detailing all expenses. These were so great that all building activity soon came to a temporary halt. The basic section of the new Institute was only finished in1930. On the inauguration day De Piro delivered this speech:

Eccellenza Reverendissima

Quanto più dura è stata la fatica al raggiungimento di un obiettivo, tanto più è grato il possesso dello stesso. Ed è perciò che oggi, con una naturale grande sodisfazione, tanto propria come anche della Signa Giuseppina Curmi e delle sue coadiutrici; nonchè di tutte le buone fanciulle, quà radunate, e protette dal manto di N.S. Gesù Nazzareno; mi è concesso di dirigermi, per la prima volta, a Vra Eccza entro queste nuove pareti, per invitarla ad invocare sopra le stesse le più elette celesti benedizioni secondo il rito della nostra santa ed amata madre la Chiesa.

 

E.R.

 

Dal giorno, infatti, in cui la benedizione del cielo è scesa, per ministero di V.eEE #EeeejdojhgoejijgEE., sulla prima pietra, sono trascorsi ben oltre cinque anni - cinque anni colmi di ansie e di consolazioni, non disgiunte dai sensi di lode e di fede verso la Divina Provvidenza - Venne infatti dato inizio a questa quantunque incompleta, ma vasta fabbrica coi fogli del registro, insin dal primo ancora in bianco - niente vi era scritto! e quantunque non era da recar meraviglia, purtuttavia fu con una forte stretta al cuore, se fummo costretti a veder fermato ciò che era cominciato con tanta vitalità - ma il sacrificio doveva dare il suo frutto ed il niente del registro accompagnato da un fisso sguardo in alto divenne qualcosa, e dopo una sosta, lunga e breve allo stesso tempo, il campanio degli atrezzi risuonò di nuovo attorno alle basi gia quasi tutte delineate. A questa ripresa ci sembrava essere stati meno temerari perchè la prima pagina del nostro liBr segnava un attiva di settanta sterline, ma subito ci accorgemmo che non eravamo piu savi di prima, - il Signore infatti ci moveva ad un termine che doveva eccedere il valore di lire sterline quattromila - Ma ora che il passato venne superato, godiamo! perchè non ci resta che di lodare l’azione divina, che prevenne ed accompagnò l’umile, se non inutile, opera nostra

 

E.R.

 

A questo punto mi permetterà di presentare ai nostri benefattori, strumenti docili nelle mani di Dio, i sensi più profondi ed intensi della nostra gratitudine per l’aiuto direi spontaneo ed inspirato, col quale vennero a nostro soccorso per questo primo compimento di un opera da tutti e sempre ammessa come eminentemente sociale e cristiana. Tante erano le industrie del soccorso, da farci spesso sentire la verità, che molte e molte sono le vie della Provvidenza, ma ciò che più rifulse e maggiormente glorificò Iddio, e sarà al certo di conforto a V.E. è la modestia, tutta quanta evangelica, colla quale, al par di messi celesti, ci avvicinavano; non mancarono infatti dei casi in cui appena noi potevamo venire a conoscenza della mano benefica. Da parte nostra corrispondemmo coll’alzare la nostra debole ed umile voce all’Altissimo per ripagarli del centuplo promesso, ed oggi a soddisfare meglio questo dovere, osiamo sempre a nome di tutto l’Istituto, umiliare a V.E. la supplica di ricordare questi nostri buoni benefattori e benefattrici; mentre per le Sue sacre mani, Gesù Ostia verrà immolato al Padre Celeste, per la prima volta, entro questo sacro recinto.

 

E.R.

 

L’odierna sacra e cara ceremonia forma una prima tappa del cammino che ancora ci rimane, essa è una dolce e soave oasi che ci rinnova la lena per riprendere il viaggio, essa è il primo pianerottolo di una scala ben più alta; ma il cuore ... maggiormente disposto dei nostri cari benefattori e benfattrici, ma la graziosa presenza di Vra Eccza, che nel preconizzarci nuovi favori ci unisce al vicario di Cristo in terra, ma la comunicazione colla magione celeste, che Vra Eccza sta per darci e lasciarci; sono tutte .... che danno certezza in fondo al nostro cuore di arrivare al termine del nostro viaggio, e di sa lire in cima alla vetta assegnataci dal Divin Volere.

 

E.R.

 

A nome proprio, a nome della Signa Giuseppina Curmi e sue codiutrici compio il dolce ed onorifico dovere di invitarla all’adempimento di un’azione che la rende, ognior più simile al santo di cui degnamente porta il nome - Eccellenza; La invito a benedire questi nuovi locali intesi a ricevere l’Opera di Gesu Nazareno per ragazze povere ed orfane.

 

Mgr G De Piro

Direttore [615]

 

In a report to the Archbishop, the De Piro explained what his work had been in association with the Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth. He noted in detail the charitable work the Sisters were accomplishing with generosity and self-denial, and mentioned what were his future projects for them:

Eccellenza Reverendissima,

 

Il Canco Decano Giuseppe De Piro, prostrato all’bacio del Sacro Anello, umilmente espone : che egli trovasi alla direzione degli Istituti Gesu Nazzareno di Zeitun e San Francesco di Paula di Birchircara, del Laboratorio Sacro Cuore di Gesu di Valletta, e della Sezione Infantile della Casa di San Giuseppe a Hamrun; tutte Case indipendenti l’una dall’altra, ma che tutte mirano a porgere una mano paterna ora all’infanzia di ambo i sessi, ora a ragazze povere ed orfane, ed ora a ragazze disoccupate; e si prevede che in futuro potrà essere estesa l’opera a favore di povere vedove e di poveri vecchi, in modo pero ausiliare per quanto possibile dell’opera principale surriferita;

Che in detta Casa di Beneficenza al presente l’Ore è coadiuvato da Signore e Signorine che si danno al bene di queste opere con tutta generosita ed abnegazione;

Che pero estendosi in dimensione tali opere e dovendo provvedere alla loro stabilita si sente impellente il bisogno di aver le stesse provedute e corredate da un personale costituito in un corpo ben organizzato;

Che all’Istituto Gesu Nazzareno di Zeitun, aperto dalla generosita della Signa Giuseppina Curmi, l’Oratore a gia da tempo ravvisato nelle Signe coadiutrici con a capo la Curmi il nucleo della divina provvidenza destinato a dar principio alla detta istituzione, tanto che insin dal 30 luglio 1925 ha considerato opportuno in Domino a far loro firmare l’accompagnante dichiarazione, e che ripristinata la sezzione infantile della Casa di San Giuseppe, assunse due delle firmatarie pel maneggio interno della stessa;

Che l’Oratore quantunque ravvisa insin da ora la forza e l’importanza che verrà ad acquistare questa Istituzione, pure pel presente, non osa domandare l’erezione a cui accenna il Can. 492 del Codice di D.C.; ma umilmente domanda a Vra Eccza a voler benignarsi di erigere le Signorine firmatarie di detta dichiarazione in “sodalizio” a norma del Can. 707;

Che detto sodalizio verrà conosciuto dal nome di “Missionarie di Gesu Nazzareno”; che per statuto proprio in quanto e per quanto sono loro adattabili avranno le Regole della Compagnia di San Paolo già da Vra Eccza. Revma. approvate con Vento. Decreto del 18 marzo 1924; che per abito le consodali porteranno una tunica di lana cremesi oscura con fascia della stessa stoffa e colore alla quale verrà raccomandata la corona del Rosario della B.V. uno scapolare e velo di lana bianca per dentro casa e velo e cappa di lana di colore ozzurre oscuro per fuori di casa; una medaglia d’argento coll’effigie di Gesu Nazzareno da un lato e con quella della Vergina Assunta dall’altro, raccomandata al collo da un cordoncino del colore della tunica per le coriste e del colore del velo per le converse;

Che le difficolta che potranno in principio insorgere nell’applicazione di dette regole al Sodalizio e nella conseguente formazione di uno Statuto proprio verranno sciolte e decise in Domino, dall’Oratore, coll’approvazione dell’Ordinario.

 

Che della grazia ecc.

 

Canco Dec. G. De Piro.[616]

 

In his 1932 will, De Piro felt urged to leave the following recommendations to the future directors of the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth, “Raccomando intanto ai miei successori, nelle varie direzioni di usare ogni premura per conservare la missione sociale di dette pie opere quale intesa nei primordi delle varie fondazioni cioè a favore di ragazze povere, orfane e pericolanti ed in alcuni casi in riparo all’onore del prossimo.”[617]

          - His charity, the virtue that showed most

Sister Maria Pia Caruana was one of the ladies who joined Guzeppina Curmi when she started gathering girls in Zejtun, Malta. She then joined also the Missionary Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth. On 3 February 1987 she gave testimony before the Ecclesiastical Tribunal about De Piro’s charity, “… I remember that he was a man whose pleasure was to help others.”[618]

The Ecclesiastical Tribunal interrogated again Caruana in 1989. On 12 June of that year she referred again to De Piro’s charity and presented an example related to it:

The Servant of God, came from a family of barons. How­ever he was not proud of this. On the contrary he work­ed hard for the poor. When he went to visit his mother, she used to say, “My poor man is coming.” This, is what we had been told. He had opened a branch for us near St. Joseph’s Institute so that we might be able to have in our care baby boys until they were of the required age to be admitted to St. Joseph’s.[619]

          - His visits to the Jesus of Nazareth Institute

In her testimony of 5 June 1989 Sister Maria Pia Caruana said that the Director visited them once a month.[620] This was confirmed on 3 February 1987, 17 February 1992 and 2 March 1992 by Sr Scolastica Pace who had joined the Orphanage as a girl of nine, in 1921, and then became a member of Curmi’s religious Congregation.[621]

          - Did not talk frequently to the girls

In her testimony of 17 February 1992 Sr Scolastica said more than once that the Director did not talk to them.[622] The same she said in her 1992 witnessing.[623] But on the same testifying occasions, Pace added that it was the nuns who did not allow the girls to talk to the Director:

Those who were in charge of us kept us back.[624]

In the new home there was Madre Teresa who, among other things, used to tell me to fry hazel nuts for him. I wished to give them to him myself, but she would not let me. In fact they did not let us approach him.[625]

We children were not allowed to approach Mgr De Piro. I do not think that this was Monsignor’s will. Miss Vincenza Degabriele was very strict with us; she would not allow us approach him or talk to him. This produced in us, girls, a fear of Mgr De Piro, or better, of Miss Vincenza, which, however, psychologically, became a fear of Mgr De Piro himself. Therefore when I say that Mgr De Piro was “a very serious person”, I do not mean that he was proud, or nervous, or that he never smiled, but I am only giving my impression of him, caused in me primarily by Miss Vincenza’s attitude. For my part, I wished very much to be able to talk to him, and felt a spiritual attraction towards him.[626]

          - But he was gentle and kind with the girls … and enjoyed their company

This was confirmed by Pace herself, “… he spoke to me gently and kindly. He allowed me to talk freely”:[627]        

We attended Mass at St. Joseph’s Institute every year on the 19 March. This was in the morning. Then, on some date near the 19 March, in the evening, he came to our Institute at Zejtun, where our Congregation prepared a concert for the occasion. We did this because he was our Director, and it was a way of expressing our gratitude ... Mgr De Piro was seen to be happy on the occ­asion.[628]

          - Non-talkative but sociable

During the visits De Piro made to the Jesus of Nazareth Institute, Sr Maria Pia Caruana noticed that the Servant of God did not talk too much.[629] At the same time Caruana elaborated on this:

… when he was at Valletta one did not expect to be greeted by him because he had always his eyes bent to the ground. I think that he did this more as mortification than be­cause he feared people, for he was very friendly. Once my mother told me that he boarded the bus and went to sit near her and tried to encourage her to come as usual for the bazaar held in aid of our Institute.[630]

          - The poor and humble Director

Sr Caruana presented at some length another virtue of the Servant of God, humility:

The Servant of God came from a family of barons. How­ever he was not proud of this. On the contrary he work­ed hard for the poor. When he went to visit his mother, she used to say, ‘My poor man is coming.’ This, is what we had been told. I know that his cloth­es were smart but with no difference from other priests. When he visited us he did not wear Monsignor’s clothes. He traveled by cab or by route bus with others. When we put up a bazaar to build the Institute he himself gave a helping hand, spoke to everyone, and at times bought things from there. Once I remember there was his mother selling articles at the bazaar and he bought a dress for the children from her. She wanted to give it to him free of charge, but he insisted on paying as he in fact did. He was a humble person. He was not particular about food and ate what we prepared for him. As regards money, I think he was careful how to use it; I do not think that he used it carelessly although he was always ready to give generously. I remember we used to go to beg alms at St. Paul’s Bay and Mellieha. To lessen the pro­blem of daily transport, the Marchioness Marija of the ‘Bon Kunsill’, Zejtun, used to let us stay for a whole week at her house in St. Paul’s Bay. One summer she could not let us use it and M. Teresa told the Servant of God, about this. He made arrangements for us with his Brother Fr Santin who received us in his house and we did not lack anything.[631]

          - Holistic care of the girls

The words of Sister Maria Pia Caruana are quite clear about this, “Mgr De Piro took great care of the children’s health both physically and spiritually.”[632]

                   - The physical health

Caruana referred to De Piro’s attention to the physical health of the inmates of the Jesus of Nazareth Institute, “… he asked the Madre to send a Sister to train as a nurse. The Madre sent me… I also remember that we had a girl who always had fever and he took care to take her to another place for a change of air. In fact she was healed.”[633]

- Food

Sr Scolastica Pace was not happy at all with the food at the Institute, “When I entered the Institute, the food was very poor, and it was not hygienic. Things remained the same.”[634]

                   - Hygiene

As regards the hygiene Sr Pace said that “… cleanliness was fairly good”.[635]

                   - Clothing

Sr Pace was satisfied with the clothes they had, “Our clothes, especially what we wore out of doors, were not bad.” [636] Clothing was sufficient, though in winter we suffered cold. The clothes used in the Institute were not comfortable, especially our shoes. The clothes we used outside the Institute were very neat.”[637]

                   - Schooling

Again Sr Scolastica Pace was not happy with the schooling that was given at the Institute, “Teaching was of a low standard. Also, when De Piro took over there was no change.”[638]

Five years after the above testimony, Pace corrected a bit her previous witnessing, “At the Institute we received just rudimentary education. Sisters Pia and Maura taught us some simple arithmetic, a little Maltese and Italian. Later, when I was about twelve, three sisters, Asphar by surname, took over our education and there was great progress.”[639] And Asphar went to the Institute at the time of De Piro![640]

                   - Crafts

Sr Pace referred to a particular craft which was encouraged by the Servant of God at the Institute, “… he was very interested in gold embroidery on sacred vestments. It was he who told us how to appreciate it.”[641] Pace also said that, “… three sisters, Asphar by surname, took over … and there was great progress. They taught us …handicrafts …”[642]

                   - Recreation

Sr Scolastica made two declarations about the Director’s attitude towards stage acting and dancing:

We had our recreation and also some activities. Once the Madre wrote to De Piro asking for the construction of a stage on which the children could recite. He did not agree and told her that, if they had a stage, the children would go for it when they grew up. Also, once a six year old girl began to dance. De Piro was not at all pleased.[643]

 

Mgr De Piro was against dancing and the use of the stage. This was, according to what Madre Tereza Degabriele said, lest these children would, when they grow up, take to a life in cabarets.[644]

                   - He did encourage feasting

Sr Scolastica herself confirmed this, “On the 19 March, feast of St. Joseph, we liked to celebrate the day as he was named Guzeppi. On this occassion we also made some brief recitation. He appreciated this very much and appeared to enjoy it very much.”[645]

Sr Maria Pia Caruana emphasised Monsignor’s making the girls happy:

He was kind-hearted; he loved to make people happy. Once returning from abroad, he brought the children large silk handkerchiefs. On the feast of St. Catherine he used to bring nougat for us and for the children. On Maundy Thursday he brought us the ring-loaf that was given to the Monsignors. The children were much pleas­ed with the handkerchiefs. They were shouting: ‘See how much the Padre loves us. See what he has brought us!’ The Servant of God hated to see people sad. This was his nature.[646]

                   - The spiritual aspect

Neither Sr Maria Pia Caruana, nor Sr Scolastica Pace, nor Sr Cecilia Abdilla mentioned the care of the girls’ spiritual aspect by De Piro.

                   - Preparation for their future

Sr Scolastica’s testimony is negative in this regard, “We were not prepared for life outside the Institute.”[647]

                   - Discipline and corrections

In 1987 Sr Pace testified that at the Institute the girls were treated in a harsh manner, “Discipline in the Institute was very rough.” [648] On 16 March 1992 the same Sr Scolastica said that as time passed by there was a great improvement, “I note, however, that as time passed only one of the sisters continued to beat children.” [649]  Sr Maria Pia Caruana confirmed that the Servant of God did correct when it was necessary, “When it was necessary he also corrected us.” [650] But Sr Caruana also referred to De Piro’s own way of correcting, “Once he saw me, Sr Pia, shouting at a girl. He immediately told me, ‘Oh, be gentle with the girls.’ ‘It is useless to tell them anything,’ I answered him. ‘And we tell them continuously! Imagine we do not tell them,’ he replied.” [651]  Sr Pia continued saying that:

Even in his corrections he was calm, though he would always correct anyone if there was need to do it. For example, I remember that on one occassion he drew my attention to something, from which I tried to excuse myself; but he replied: ‘Tiskuzax ruhek’ (Don’t excuse yourself). All the sisters thought highly of him because of this.[652]

 

In her testimony of 12 June 1989 Sr Caruana confirmed what she had said before, “I never saw him scolding or getting angry with the children. On the other hand once he showed disapproval when I beat one of them.”[653]

The same Caruana mentioned another time the Director’s way of correcting, “What I remember is that he let the girl depart and then he said to me: ‘Not like that, not like that! Children are to be treated gently!’ He did not say this angrily but gently.”[654]

Sr Scolastica Pace had another impression of De Piro’s way of correcting:

Once the Padre gave a reception for Cassar Torreggiani as he had given the Sisters the land for the Institute. I had to read to him an address in Italian. Before the reception De Piro wanted to hear me. While I was trying to read it I made a mistake and he corrected me. I feel that the way he did this was wrong; he seemed to mimic me. So much so that I was humiliated and even cried. Nor did I want to read the speech. At the reception I read it only out of obedience. Again when I finished he didn’t even congratulate me. I think he did this to try me.[655]

 

On another occasion Sr Pace herself seemed to want to balance a bit what she had said before, “It was Madre Tereza Degabriele who told me to prepare the address for the occasion. I was left alone to prepare the address, which was in Italian. It was only Mgr De Piro who helped me, but I do not know the reason for this.”[656]

 

(iii)  Director of St. Joseph’s Home, Sta. Venera, Malta

          - Introduction

It has already been said that in Malta, up to 1888, there were only ecclesiastical charitable institutes for girls. It was Mgr A.M. Buhagiar, the Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese, who asked Mgr Francesco Bonnici to start an institute for orphaned boys.[657] In fact St. Joseph’s Home, Malta, was founded in 1888 by Mgr Bonnici to accept orphaned boys. From its origins in a rented house near Tas-Samra Chapel, Hamrun, Malta, it moved in 1893 to larger premises, which up to 1919 lay in the limits of Hamrun before it became part of the Parish of St. Venera, Malta. In order to give the proper care to the boys, Mgr Bonnici soon involved other priests in his work. In 1898, due to health reasons, Bonnici had to leave the leadership of the Orphanage.[658] Mgr Bonnici’s departure almost caused the Orphanage to close down until a new priest-director, Fr Emmanuel Vassallo, was found to take charge of it. Vassallo was assisted by another priest, Fr George Bugeja.[659]

          - De Piro’s initial involvement at St Joseph’s, Malta

As De Piro himself wrote in his Diary, he had felt the desire to join Mgr Bonnici since his very first year at the Capranica College, in Rome (1898-1899).[660] In 1899, during his first summer holidays in Malta, De Piro went to St Joseph’s to give some message to Fr Emmanuel Vassallo from the Capranica. There he met Vassallo for the first time and a bond of friendship was forged between them.[661]

The Servant of God did his best to help the Home even while he was studying in Rome. From there he kept a regular correspondence with the priests in charge of the Institute.[662] The Home depended almost entirely on voluntary charity for its running. Joseph, although still a seminarian, more than once sent donations to the Institute.[663] There was such a bond between St Joseph’s and De Piro that when all the Brothers of Charity, whose Congregation had been founded to provide help in looking after the boys,[664] had left the Institute,[665] Vassallo placed high hopes in the young Joseph who would one day return as a priest to assist him at St Joseph’s.[666]

It has already been said that De Piro’s desire to involve himself in the running of the Home was so strong that he even refused the opportunity of furthuring his studies at the “Accademia Ecclesiastica” in Rome.[667] Still, he was for a long time afraid that he would be forced to accept the diplomatic career.[668] Also, at that time De Piro was quite worried about his state of health which could even stop him from realising his dream.[669] Then when Fr Joseph eventually returned from Switzerland to Malta in 1904, he failed to get the invitation to go and live in the Institute as he had hoped so fervently. At that time Fr George Bugeja had taken over as Director,[670] following the resignation of Fr Emmanuel Vassallo. Bugeja was to dedicate himself fully to St. Joseph’s Home and the House experienced a number of positive reforms during his time.[671]

Until 1907, when he was appointed Director of Fra Diegu Institute,[672] De Piro carried out his pastoral ministry in Qrendi.[673] During this time he did not forget his project of setting up some congregation of priests who wou1d, amongst other tasks, have the responsibility of running St Joseph’s Orphanage, in Santa Venera.[674] Events were however to prove that De Piro’s noble mission was not destined to see light of day within that Institute! Though Fr George Bugeja was to help him in the setting up of the Society of St. Paul, Bugeja never formally asked the Congregation to use St Joseph’s premises.[675] De Piro and Bugeja remained close friends and the Servant of God must have made it quite clear to the other priest that he would give all the assistance he could. Indeed one of the new Society’s aims was to 1ook after St Joseph’s Institute.[676]

Between 1905 and 1922 the Brothers of the Christian Schools, known as the Freres De La Salle were asked to provide a helping hand in the education of the boys at St Joseph’s.[677] Eventually the members of the Society of St. Paul started replacing the Freres whenever these left the Institute for a few days to attend some spiritual retreat. This activity helped to draw the Society and St. Joseph’s Home even nearer to each other, while Fr George Bugeja never failed to show his deep and sincere gratitude for the part played by the Society’s members:

Carissimo Monsignore,

 

Sia ringraziato il Singore. La Santa Missione dei figli di S. Paolo è terminata e speriamo che abbia dato buon esito tanto ai nostri piccoli come agli stessi missionari; il certo è che la S. Congregazione di S. Paolo abbia usato un vero atto di carità, permettendo ai Fratelli addetti alla Casa su menzionata di ritirarsi per otto giorni in S. Esercizi Spirituali e cosi’ potranno servir con più perfezione il Signore. I tre membri della Congregazione si son diportati molto bene e spero gran bene da essi. Si son diportati molto bene e spero mostrate tutti e tre di buona volontà di servir Iddio e il prossimo e di più son pieni di zelo e di ottime intenzioni di sacrificarsi intieramente pel bene altrui. Perciò, caro Monsignore, preghiamo il Signore e facciamo pregare che questi santi disposizioni non vengano mai meno anzi che siano maggiori e da parte mia auguro a tutta la S. Congregazione e di più al suo fondatore il Paradiso, ma prima tribolazioni, sofferenze e sacrifici poichè tale e stata la vita di nostro Signore e di tutti i Santi. Come tenue retribuzione accludo due sterline in favore della sua S. Casa con tutto amore e stima mi firmo.

 

Umilissimo Confratello

          D. Giorgio[678]

          - De Piro, the fourth Director of the Institute

Fr George Bugeja died suddenly on 23 November 1922 while saying Mass at St Joseph’s Institute. That same day, De Piro was nominated by Archbishop Mauro Caruana to take over the administration of the Home.[679] On 27 August 1920 the Servant of God had written to the Archbishop of Malta asking to be exhonerated from the rectorship of the Major Seminary. This he did “…per poter consecrarsi allo sviluppo dell’opera suddetta (the Istituto per le Misioni Estere)”[680] When De Piro received the nomination for the direction of St Joseph’s Institute he did not mention his involvement in his Society’s development; he accepted the nomination and became the director of the third ecclesiastical charitable Institute.

          - At St Joseph’s with the members of his Society

It has been said that De Piro since his seminary days in Rome, had helped St Joseph’s Institute.[681] When the Freres De La Salle were helping in the Institute and they wanted to go for their annual retreat, Mgr De Piro sent the members of his Society to substitute the Brothers.[682] This was only the beginning of the long service which the members of De Piro’s Society were to give at St Joseph’s; when the Freres, in 1922, could not help at the Insitute anymore, the Director introduced the members of his Society at St Joseph’s.[683]

          - What had been the situation at St Joseph’s before De Piro took over

Alexander Cachia Zammit, a Maltese medical doctor, a member of parliament, a cabinet minister and also one of Malta’s ambassadors to the Holy See, knew the Servant of God quite well because his father was a close friend of De Piro. As regards St Joseph’s Home before De Piro went there, Cachia Zammit was told this by his father:

… Mgr De Piro took over from Fr. George Bugeja. During the time Fr. Bugeja was Director, who otherwise was a very holy priest, at the Institute there was a great lack of discipline. It was his idea that the important thing was to take a boy into the Institute, there offer him food and a place where to sleep and offer him spiritual help also. The result of this was that children there did what they liked. Besides, there was a lack of cleanliness.[684]

          - Who were the boys at the Institute

On 6 June 1923 Mgr Mauro Caruana, the Archbishop of Malta, wrote to the Superior of the Freres De La Salle about the retirement of these Brothers from St Joseph’s Home, where they had been since 1905. In this letter His Excellency referred to the Institute as, “… istituto per ragazzi poveri ed abbandonati …”[685]

The above mentioned Cachia Zammit said this about the boys of the Institute:

The children at St. Joseph’s Institute were boys. They were from the worst strata of society. They were diff­icult cases. When boys were accepted there were the problems of cleanliness, moral problems, social problems, back­ground of broken families, and other problems. At that time there was only another Institute for boys run by the Salesians, where there were many formalities for acceptance. After all this Institute depended on the govern­ment. Mgr De Piro accepted all, even those not accepted by the Institute run by the Salesians.[686]

 

The same Cachia Zammit said also this about the boys, “… these children, besides being poor, were, in many cases, dirty and infested with insects…”[687]

          - How many boys at the Institute

Dr Cachia Zammit also testified that, “There were many children, at least about 80 (my family took care to buy 80 presents), but I cannot say how many.”[688] Nazzareno Attard, who was at the Institute from 1928 up to 1933, was more sure than Cachia Zammit about the number of inmates at St Joseph’s Home, “…the 150 children of the Instit­ute…”[689] Br Venanz Galea, an oldboy of the Institute and afterwards even a member of De Piro’s Society, mentioned 140.[690] De Piro himself once wrote that in 1928 there were 134 boys at St Joseph’s, Malta.[691]

          - De Piro was already quite busy when he took over St Joseph’s

George Wilson lived in Mdina since early childhood and his family house was quite near to the De Piro Family Palace. When grown up George was also employed as a bookbinding instructor and a teacher at St Joseph’s Home. Because of all this George knew quite well that the Servant of God was already very busy when in 1922 he was nominated by Archbishop Caruana for the direction of St Joseph’s Institute:

Later, when I was employed at St. Joseph’s Institute, I came to know that after he had spent some time abroad, and after some time at Qrendi, he was made Director of various institutes. During this time his family lived in Mdina and I remember people saying that he used to come up to Mdina only to discharge his canonical duties at the Cathedral. But later, when he had founded his own Society he would come up regularly every day.[692]

 

Nazzareno Attard was accepted as an inmate at St Joseph’s by De Piro himself. The former mentioned some of the institutes directed by the Servant of God:

Besides St. Joseph’s Institute, Mgr De Piro had also under his care the Institute of Fra Diegu for girls and the Institute of the Nazzarene of Zejtun. Besides these, I believe he had others in Malta, but I cannot give de­tails. He also had St. Joseph’s Institute in Gozo.[693]

 

The above information was corroborated by several other witnesses.[694]

          - Because of the above, the direction of St Joseph’s was not an easy job at all

Because St Joseph’s was not in a very encouraging situation and De Piro was already more than burdened by work when he took over the Institute, it was not easy at all for him to direct it the way he wished. Cachia Zammit referred again to what his father used to say, “My father referred principally to the troubles Mgr De Piro had to run the institutes, especially St. Joseph’s. The number of children and their problems, the lack of funds, etc.[695]

          - In fact all this and many other duties made De Piro very busy and often tired

Obviously such a hectic life made De Piro tired and unable to give his best for St Joseph’s. Attard, as other boys at the Institute, noticed that the Director very often did not have the necessary rest he needed, “… We would meet him every morning. He liked to say Mass at 5.50 a.m,[696] before the boys came in, at the side altar on the right hand side of the chapel of St. Joseph… Here I would say that even at that hour Mgr De Piro showed from his bearing that he was a tired man...[697]

Some time after, Attard explained what he meant when he said that the Director was often tired:

When I say ‘tired’ I mean that nearly everyday we used to see Mgr De Piro tired. Lack of concentra­tion in the Mass was not frequent, but often enough for us to notice it. His tiredness was not that of a person still half asleep, nor was it the tiredness of a sick man. We children had reached the conclusion that Mgr De Piro would have gone to bed late at night because of the amount of work he used to have, and therefore in the morning he was already tired because he had not enough rest.[698]

          - De Piro could not be all the time present at the Institute

Nazzareno Attard did not say only that De Piro was frequently tired because of his many duties. He also emphasised the fact that his many other responsibilities kept him back from being a lot at the Institute, “The Director was not often present at the Institute, except at certain times of the day.”[699]

Some time after, the same Nazzareno Attard clarified a bit what he had said some two years before:

Mgr De Piro was at the Institute every day, but not all the time. I saw him say Mass when we went down at 5.40 am, which meant that he would have slept at the Institute. We did not know at what time in the morning he went out. I remember that Mgr De Piro came down for the meals with the members … and they used to have meals in a refectory apart. In the evening he used to come late…In the afternoon he used to go round the Institute.[700]

          - Yet, De Piro was synonymous with St Joseph’s

Dr Cachia Zammit was not at St Joseph’s as much as Nazzareno Attard but his father’s relationship with De Piro made it possible for Cachia Zammit to know a lot about the Servant of God. In spite of the Institute’s poor situation at the beginning of De Piro’s administration and the Director’s difficlty to be continuously present there, Cachia Zammit said that, “In my opinion, at St. Joseph’s Institute, Mgr De Piro was everything. He was not just an administrator, or supervisor. He was the heart of the place. He lived there and looked after everything. One cannot separate Mgr De Piro from St. Joseph’s Institute.”[701]

         

 

 

          - De Piro’s relationship with the boys

Nazzareno Attard continuously gave the impression that the Servant of God did not talk or joke too much with the boys, “… he was always very grave and seldom joked…” [702] … he did not encourage too much familiarity.”[703] ‘We used to meet…’ in the sense that we used to see him and not in the sense that Mgr De Piro used to talk to us. I do not remember that he assembled us except on New Year’s Day and, perhaps, on the feast of St. Joseph.”[704] “He would not talk to us, but he used to pass by with a certain seriousness that would not allow any familiarities.”[705]

Br Felix Muscat was one of the first members of De Piro’s Society, but before he entered the Society he was also at St Joseph’s. He corroborated what was said by Attard

“I kept my contact with Mgr De Piro only through St. Joseph’s. I entered this home when I was about eleven years old. My first impressions here were that he was a very serious person; he never encouraged familiarity…”[706]

Another oldboy of St Joseph’s and one of the first members of the Piccola Società San Paolo, Br Venanz Galea, had the same impression about De Piro, “All the children were rather shy of the Director; he was very serious and rarely did he smile.”[707]

          - But he was never a one to be afraid of

But Attard clarifies what he meant by the above, “…yet he was a very kind hearted man. We were never afraid of him. We would watch out for his coming, but this was only because he was a disciplinarian.”[708]  Attard continued saying:

When I entered the Institute, I found myself in a com­pletely new situation and it was natural that I was scared. However, the way I heard him speak to Fra Santi, the fact that he spoke to me and showed interest in me, made me on that very first meeting drop the fear I had. Fear changed into reverence and respect. All the children felt this towards the “Padre”, as we used to call Mgr De Piro.[709]

 

By the word ‘… slowly …’ I mean that Mgr De Piro passed along with some other priest without any hurry. We were not afraid of him. We respected him as the Superior of the Home.[710]

 

Mgr De Piro was not serious in the sense that he was unfriendly, but in the sense that he wanted punctuality and exactness.[711]

 

Even in this regard Br Felix agreed with Attard, “… but at the same time he showed great kindness to us children.”[712]

Br Venanz Galea agreed with Attard and Muscat; he did not want to let one get the impression that the Director was a person to be afraid of, “At the same time we were not afraid of him.” [713]Cachia Zammit confirmed Attard’s, Muscat’s and Galea’s impressions:

I never saw Mgr De Piro angry, nor even heard others say that he was angry with the children. But I refer also to what I said at the beginning of this session; children obeyed him and loved him. On his part, Mgr De Piro took personal care of the children and their needs. I know from my father that Mgr De Piro passed a lot of time talking to the children at St. Joseph’s Institute about their difficulties and problems.[714]

          - Because he was very humble

De Piro never wanted any preferential treatment. George Wilson said that the Servant of God insisted on sharing the common food available, “He was humble and used to eat the same food as that of the children of the institutes.” [715]

          - When correcting the boys De Piro still showed them his love and kindness

Br Felix Muscat noticed the Director’s kindness when the latter corrected some boy:

He showed this kindness when, for example, someone of us did something wrong. He never shouted and whenever he warned us he never did this with anger. I remember he asked us to recite an “Ave Marija”, whilst trying to explain to us what we had done wrong … I remember that I realized how kind he was when I became a member of the Society and had children in my care. Often I went to him to let him know how upset I was about some boy. Straightaway he pointed out that it was patience that helped us with children.[716]

 

Br Venanz Galea referred to a particular moment when the Servant of God corrected the boys at St Joseph’s:

When the children were in the chapel, the Director liked to speak to them, especially about some corrections. He had another habit; several times, before going to sleep, he went to visit all the boarders (and at that time there were about 140 children at St. Joseph’s) and see the children. Probably this would be the occasion for the prefect to inform the Director about some misbehaviour of a child. De Piro, whilst heeding what was said, always showed kindness to the child who had misbehaved. All the children were rather shy of the Director; he was very serious and rarely did he smile. At the same time we were not afraid of him. At times some child was naughty and the Brother prefect reported him to the Monsignor. De Piro would send for the child in his room, made him kneel, told him not to repeat and to say the “Hail Mary.” That was all. He never caned the children. Nor did he allow the prefects to do so. He loved the children a lot.[717]

 

Nazzareno Attard confirmed what the others said, “When he talked to us he exhorted us to be good. He talked calmly and serious­ly and it was easy for us to follow what he was saying. He talked to us only on these occasions.”[718] Attard narrated a particular incident which happened to him:

Once, accidentally, I was late and did not return to the Institute for the night because the one who was to pick me up did not take me back. On that occasion the Monsignor was really angry and said again and again that the re­gulations were there to be obeyed. He added that it was a case when he could send me away from the Institute. However, his anger did not last, he did not loose control of himself and afterwards the incident was not mentioned again. I never saw the Monsignor in this state before, neither with me nor with anyone else.[719]

          - In this environment De Piro helped the holistic growth of the boys

In 1928, St Joseph’s Home, Malta, reprinted a book that had been already published in 1890. It was called “The Greatness of the Glorious Patriarch, St Joseph”. In the introduction to the 1928 edition, the Servant of God put these words:

… in Hamrun there is an Institute founded by Canon Bonnici the name of which is St Joseph’s Home. The aim of this Institute is to gather the orphaned and poor boys in order to form them in the fear of God and teach them a trade so that they can get a living for themselves when they grow up.[720]

                   - The spiritual care

When testifying in front of the Ecclesiastical Tribunal in the Cause of Canonisation of De Piro, Dr Cachia Zammit gave an overview of the spirituality imparted by the Servant of God at St Joseph’s, “Mgr De Piro was a very spiritual person himself, and because of this, he worked hard to give a spiritual basis to all his work. There were times of prayer at St. Joseph’s Institute. But more than that, there was a spiritual change for the better.”[721]

In his testimony given to the Ecclesiastical Tribunal Br Felix Muscat presented the acts of piety the boys practiced at St Joseph’s Insitute at the time of the Servant of God, “Mgr De Piro saw to it that we children had a good formation. He did not often say Mass for us but obviously we heard Mass everyday. At about 11.30 am we went to chapel to pray for the ‘buona morte’.[722] In the evening we again met in the chapel for Rosary and Sacramental Benediction.”[723]

While Br Felix said that the Director did not hear their confessions,[724] Nazzareno Attard said the opposite, “When his Mass was over, and until the children’s Mass began, the Director would sit hearing our confessions and many of us used to go to confession to him. He always heard our confessions quietly, calmly and with gentleness and understanding, and he invariably gave the same penance, three Hail Mary.”[725]

Attard also stressed the fact that they had the continuous service of other confessors:

Mgr De Piro was always available whenever we wanted to confess. I said, ‘he liked’, because I noticed that he was always ready to hear our confession. He treat­ed us gently and spoke to us calmly. He used to be very attentive while hearing confession. He would say a word of good advice and explain to us how to live a better life. He did not resort to fear. All this I can say from my personal experience becau­se I used to confess to him. We were about a dozen who used to go to him for confession. No one of us would complain. We had the opportunity to choose another confessor; confessors regularly attended on Satur­days (among them Mgr George Preca)[726]. I felt more at ease to confess to Mgr De Piro.”[727]

 

Besides confessions, Nazzareno Attard mentioned also other spiritual activities to the Ecclesiastical Tribunal, “The prayer of the ‘Buona morte’ was said everyday. It was a prayer for the benefactors who were dying at the moment. I found it there and it had existed before Mgr De Piro became Director. Besides, Rosary was always recited before the statue of St. Joseph. I do not know how this custom originated or how it ceased.” [728] Attard also said that:

I do not remember that we used to have spiritual exercis­es during Lent or the other celebrations mentioned in the question.[729] I repeat, I could not go out[730] and therefore I do not know if my mates attended somewhere else. However, I remember that we used to have the Altar of Repose at the Institute and we did ‘the seven visits’ there. I used to participate in these.[731]

                   - Food

Nazzareno Attard did not present a nice picture of the situation of food at the Institute:

Food and clothing were somewhat on the short side and this told on us. In the evening we usually had only tea and a piece of bread. On Thursdays and Sundays we had some meat in gravy, and some potatoes. This meat would be goat’s meat, as likely as not, which was collected free of charge from the abattoir. On these two days we also had a sweet as dessert, but on the other days of the week food was less plentiful. I remember how Brother Jerome loved going into the boy’s refectory with a big basket full of bread and how he would tell us that we might take two pieces but woe to the boy who threw away any piece. It therefore became usual for us to take two pieces and when we could not manage to eat all of it, to smuggle out the piece left over which we would hide on a window sill or in some odd corner. It sometimes happened that during playtime we would feel hungry and we would then help each other to climb up to the windowsills to look for odd pieces of bread. Even though any such pieces of bread may have been lying there for some time and possibly covered with dust we collected them just the same. We rinsed the bread under the tap and ate it soaked with water. This happened often during the evening because we had nothing at all to eat between lunch and dinner. It was more or less the same in the morning, the only difference being that the youngest boys received a piece of bread. Sometimes these pieces of bread we salvaged from their hiding places we would somehow toast by placing them on a part or other of certain machines which parts became redhot while the machine was running.[732]

 

However, Attard himself admitted that notwithstanding this poor situation, at the Institute it was far better than at home, “I must admit however that in spite of all this, things were much better at the Institute than they were at home.”[733]

Even three years after depositing the above testimony, Attard said the same thing, and he added that this was the opinion of other boys:

I should add however, that food and life at the Instit­ute, in my case, were much better than what I had received at home. The way the other children spoke, from the very first moment I entered the Institute, showed that this was their opinion as well. I cannot say if, in normal families, food was better and more abundant or not.[734]

 

Br Felix Muscat agreed with Attard as regards the poor situation of food at St Joseph’s, but added that the Director did his best to keep the boys healthy:

As regards food, I cannot say that we suffered hunger, but at the same time we did not have more than the necessary. De Piro did not like innovations, not even in food. I should think that he was so cautious about food and clothing because he was afraid of a shortage of money. That is why he was reluctant to introduce new things. It is to be remembered that at that time his intention was to enlarge the Institute. It is to be noted that he was careful not only about the boys but also about himself; he lived a poor man. His clothes were made of the same material as that of the children’s clothes. Again, he wished that the children were better. When he went abroad he did his best to bring them, for example, some crate of the best olive oil. He used to say that oil shows in the face. In a few words when he was careful with money he did not do this out of stinginess but because he was aware that money was limited or to avoid wastage, or to train the boys to live frugally and disciplined.[735]

 

Br Venanz Galea was more positive than Muscat and added that De Piro improved the situation he found when he took over in 1922:

De Piro made arrangements with the cook regarding the food for the priests and Brothers whilst Br Jerome was in charge of the food for the children. However, this does not mean that the Director did not care about the food of the children. On the contrary he was very careful to see that they had enough good food. Once he said that olive oil was very nutritious for children and he ordered to have it in stock. Food was abundant. Before De Piro went to St. Joseph’s it was said that there had been little food.[736]

 

George Wilson, the bookbinding instructor at St Joseph’s, confirmed Galea’s interpretation:

Before he came to St. Joseph’s, the general sitituation there left much to be desired. The boys’ evening meal, for instance, was very meagre indeed. This was because Fr George Bugeja, De Piro’s predecessor, was of the opinion that as the boys there came from poor families, they would not have any fine foods when leaving the Institute. Therefore Bugeja was against having good food served to the boys so that they would not miss it (and suffer more) when they left. I can say that Mgr De Piro changed all this. He improved the quality of the food and conditions in the dining room.[737]

 

Unlike Attard, Muscat, and Galea, Dr Cachia Zammit was never an inmate of St Joseph’s. On the opposite he came from a well to do family and therefore he undoubtedly enjoyed good food at home. Yet he said this about the food at the Institute:

I take the opportunity to say that the food at St. Joseph’s Institute, which was prepared by a Lay Brother, compared well with food at home. Whenever I had occasion to eat there, I remember that I made positive comments to my father, telling him ‘The food at the Institute was good’, meaning that it compared well with food at home. I liked it.[738]

 

Attard referred also to those who provided their food:

Food varied in quantity as well as in quality ... I do not know if Mgr De Piro knew about the situation. The food did not vary wheth­er Mgr De Piro was present or not. The food was given to us by benefactors, either as food (meat, fruit etc.) or in money; the greater the number of benefactors the better was the food, both in quality and in quantity. Food and other donations from the benefactors used to be consumed by us children.[739]

                   - Clothing

As regards clothing Nazzareno Attard said almost the same thing as for food:

The boys’ clothing was poor and of a coarse material, both underwear and outerwear, being made of Malta weave. On this subject of clothing I would add something else. I remember that when I first came to St. Joseph’s, those boys who did not have any footwear at all when they were admitted to the Institute, had a pair of sandals given to them. After Mass these boys had to take off their sandals and put them away in their compartment in the dormitory. Those boys who brought their own sandals with them from their home were allowed to keep them on.[740]

 

Barefootedness at St Joseph’s, Malta, was confirmed by Br Felix Muscat, “At times there were boys who were barefooted.” [741]

But Nazzareno Attard wanted to be just in his presentation, “I must say however that this was the case at the time when I first went to St. Joseph’s. Things began changing for the better after two years or so.” [742]

                   - In sickness

Br Felix Muscat referred to De Piro’s kindness in sickness:

He showed his kindness with us not only in correction or food. When someone fell ill Monsignor did his best to give one all the attention needed. He was a very busy man and yet he always found the time to come to see us when sick. He would ask us if we had all the things we needed and if he could be of any service to us.[743]

                   - The academic aspect

Nazareno Attard gave a detailed picture of the academic aspect at St Joseph’s:

We boys received our schooling at the Institute, where a total of four classes catered for our needs. The first two classes were for boys who had not yet started learning a trade while the other two classes were for the boys who had already started the trade classes. In the first two classes the boys attended school both in the morning and in the afternoon. When they came to the third class the boys had to choose the trade they wanted to learn and they applied themselves to this in the morning in the workshops, while in the afternoon or evening they received their schooling. When they came to the fourth stage the boys worked morning and afternoon in the workshops, and attended evening class from five to six o’clock. We were taught arithmetic, English, Italian and Maltese. Our teachers did not belong to the staff of the Institute but came there only to give us lessons.[744]

 

On 18 June 1990 Attard added some other details to what he had said on 16 May 1987:

When I entered the Institute, the school was already there; I do not know if it was started by the Monsignor or not. There were four classes; three of the teachers were laymen. They were paid but I do not know how much. We used to learn Religion, Italian, English and Arith­metic. Prizes were given not only for progress but also for conduct of all the children of the Institute. On the prize day the children took part in various activities. There were various guests, sometimes including the Bishop or the Governor. There used to be even Mr. Alphonse Maria Galea, a friend of Monsignor and a benefactor.[745]

 

Br Felix Muscat said almost the same things as Attard:

At St. Joseph’s we had lessons. Our teachers did not belong to the Institute. At times when these did not turn up, the Brothers would replace them. To stimulate our interest in the school, De Piro organized a prize day once a year. Even outsiders were invited for this occasion.[746]

 

Attard continued by emphasising the facts that school was compulsory, when outside it was not yet so, and that the boys remained on the premises for their schooling:

School was compulsory, although at that time from the side of the state it was not compulsory. Also, we did not go to other places for our schooling. I do not know why we didn’t go for lessons to other schools, but at the Institute we had the neces­sary schooling. We did not mix with other children…[747]

 

On 15 July 1991 Cachia Zammit did not say anything different from the others,[748] but on 5 August 1991 he emphasised the fact that the Director improved the education system, “He ameliorated those things that were good. He gave a great incentive to education. I myself could notice, in general terms, that great progress was made.”[749]

George Wilson said why all this interest in schooling from the side of De Piro:

He insisted on the boys getting good schooling and he engaged qualified teachers for them. This was not necessary before Mgr De Piro became Director at St. Joseph’s because the De La Salle Brothers were present then, and they taught the boys themselves. But after Mgr De Piro took over, the Brothers left for some reason unknown to me and he then took responsability for the boys’ schooling. He also held a prize giving cermony every year.[750]

 

Br Venanz Galea’s testimony resembles almost word by word that of Attard only that the former was more specific about who the teachers were:

As regards the school timetable, there were two sessions, one in the morning and another one in the afternoon. The younger children attended the morning session. As these were still young they did not do any work and were therefore free to attend lessons. The older ones, on the other hand, took a trade, and as they had to work in the mornings, they could not attend the morning classes. Instead, they went for the evening session. In the morning the teachers were Brs. Santi, Karmenu and Glormu together, with Mr. George Wilson. For the evening classes the Director brought an outsider to teach.[751]

 

On 28 May 1990 Nazzareno Attard added something else to what he had already said in 1987, “I do not know if it was possible for one to continue his school­ing, but I know of some who went on with their studies.”[752]

                   - The trades

George Wilson presented himself as having been a bookbinding instructor at St Joseph’s, Malta.[753] This already indicated that at the Institute there was at least the teaching of this trade. Nazzareno Attard indicated that there were more than one trade taught at the Institute, “There were workshops where trades were taught…”[754] In the Tribunal session of 28 May 1990 Nazzareno was still more elaborate about the trades:

When I was admitted to St. Joseph’s Institute, the fol­lowing trades were taught: carpentry, tailoring, shoe­making, printing, book-binding, typography and other items connected with the printing press.

I do not know if these trades were introduced by Mgr De Piro or if they had been already there before his coming. At the time of the Monsignor no other trades, besides these, were introduced. Before we started to learn a trade, we had two years of schooling. In the third year we started learning a trade together with the school. If it happened that too large a number chose the same trade, then the Brother in charge would suggest to us other trades so that there would be a certain balance. In the fourth year, schooling was almost put aside completely; we used to have only one hour of school daily, just not to forget what we had learnt.

To be more exact I would like to add that in the last years of his life Mgr De Piro might have introduced also the trade of electrician. I am certain that im­mediately after the death of the Monsignor I was con­sidering to start learning this trade, and I did not do so because I was soon to leave; I left on 12 May 1934.

To teach these trades there were some laymen who were employed as instructors ... I believe that the Institu­te paid these instructors £1 a week. I cannot assess the ability of these instructors nor can I say if Mgr De Piro organized things in a better way.

All those who so desired could learn a trade... These trades were of benefit to us because they prepar­ed us for life. Besides, they also provided an income for the Institute, especially the printing press and the ancillary trades. Also the shoemakers did work for out­siders. The tailors did work for the children of the In­stitute. Also the carpenters did work ‘on order’.[755]

 

Dr Cachia Zammit mentioned the same scope referred to by Attard, the learning of trades guaranteed a future living for the boys.[756] George Wilson emphasised the fact that the Director was a lot interested in the boys and their learning of trades, “During working hours he would go round to see the boys working, showing appreciation of their work and encouraging them in what they did. I frequently accompanied the Director in these visits of inspection.”[757]

                   - The music band

In his testimony of 16 May 1987 Nazzareno Attard provided a lot of information about the St Joseph’s Music Band.  From what he said in his witnessing it is quite clear that he was himself a member of the Music Band:

The Monsignor gave every consideration and every encouragement to the Band of the Institute. Every boy was free to join the Band, but the Director saw to it that those who opted to join had certain incentives. For one thing we who belonged to the Band received more pocket money than the other boys and we also had more money to spend on the Patron Saint’s feastday. Moreover, belonging to the Band also gave us the opportunity to visit many villages and towns.[758]

 

Attad’s words indicate that the Music Band was not limited only to the Institute but performed in various parts of Malta! In the testimony he gave on 4 June 1990 Attard even mentioned some specific places which the Band visited, “I remember various Brothers among them Br. Venanz, who took care of the Oratory. At times we went with the Band to play there. I also remember the laying of the foundation stone of the Motherhouse of Saint Agatha in Rabat …”[759] In fact on 28 May 1990 Attard said that, “We often went to perform programmes for the parish feasts and other occasions.”[760] Attard also said, “I also know that Mgr De Piro had under his care an Institute in Gozo. Once we went to play there…” [761]

In his 28 May 1990 testimony Attard gave more information about the band:

When I entered, the St. Joseph Institute Band had the best bandmasters. First there was Anton Muscat Azzopardi to be followed later by Joseph Abela Scolaro. It was not open for all, but only for those who showed that they wanted to take music seriously. Teaching was done with great assi­duity and seriousness. We were at least 34 members from the Institute only. Besides these, there used to be also some old boys of the Institute. We also used to teach each other. We had an additional distinctive mark on the uniform of the Institute. The Band of the Institute was one of the best.

When I entered the Institute the band was already there, and therefore I do not know whether it was the Monsignor who introduced it.[762]

                   - Money saving

It was only Nazareno Attard who referred to this other aspect in the boys’ upbringing, “We did not receive direct remuneration, but money was sa­ved for us and this was given to us, together with a suit, when we left the Institute.”[763]

                   - Recreation

Attard’s words are quite clear and exhaustive about De Piro’s attention for this aspect in the boys’ life:

The Director also gave due importance to recreation, games and the proper use of free time, and he saw to it that this was given practical recognition. In fact we often had theatricals at the Institute where we also had a hall for indoor games.

Once I find myself talking about this subject of recreation I would like to give details of our annual programme in this regard. We boys always looked forward to the next holiday on the calendar. The first feast of the year was obviously New Year’s Day when, after the recitation of the prayer for the subscribers in the ‘Buona Morte’ Mgr De Piro would lead us to the hall on the upper floor where he would first talk to us for ten minutes or so on the significance of the feast we were celebrating. After that he always gave us gifts. After New Year’s Day we would begin waiting for Carnival. There was a reason after this. During Carnival each one of us received a bag of sweets almonds and sugar almonds. The next event after Carnival was Easter when every boy would have a figolla (typical Maltese cake with almond paste filling). After Easter there came summer, the season for swimming. While during the winter months we were taken to the Stadium Ground to watch football matches, during the summer months we were often taken to the beach for a swim at Ta’ Xbiex or Sa Maison. But the season was inaugurated by an event known among us as ‘the outing of is-Sur Alphonse Maria Galea’. For this outing all the boys packed some thirty or so ‘karrozzini’ or cabs and went to Birzebbugia. We took our band instruments with us which we played along the way. As soon as we arrived at Birzebbugia we would deposit our instruments and other possesions at the house of is-Sur Alphonse and make haste to the beach where we would spend the next four hours or so swimming and enjoying ourselves on the beach. We would then go back to the house where we ate our lunch in the shade of a big tree. The outing ended up with the distribution of toys to all of us.

The next holiday on the list was the feast of St. Joseph which was celebrated at the Institute. This was one of the greatest feasts for us, not only because the refectory was decorated and made to look at its best by Brother Venanz Galea, or because we had good and tasty meals, but for various other reasons. In the morning we attended the High Mass at which Mgr De Piro generally presided. In the afternoon we had Solemn Vespers and a procession with the Saint’s statue escorted by the Band of the Institute. After the Eucharistic Blessing all of us would make our way to the courtyard to enjoy ourselves at a grand fair which was an annual event. On this occasion every boy received one shilling. We Band members had an extra shilling. Along with the money we were also given six fireworks to let off at the appropriate moment. The feast would come to an end with a display of ‘catherine wheels’ and other fireworks.

When summer was over we would begin counting the days till St. Martin’s Day, when every boy would be presented with a bag of almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts, dates, figs and St. Martin’s loaves.

After St. Martin we would start preparing for Christmas. This was the last feast of the year for us. On Christmas Eve we were allowed to play until ll.00 pm. After the games we would don our uniform and proceed to the chapel for midnight Mass. As soon as Mass was over we would all hasten to the refectory where we were given hot cocoa, honey rings, sponge cakes and date-cakes. On this occasion old boys would be present to share with us the joys of Christmas.

I felt I had to mention these feasts because in spite of the fact that those years (1928-1934) were a lean period for Malta because there was a shortage of many things, including foodstuffs, clothing and other items, the holidays and festivities I mentioned were always faithfully observed. This was precisely the period when the Director of the Institute was Mgr G. De Piro.[764]

 

On 18 June 1990 Attard explained more what he had said on 16 May 1987, “The Stadium I mentioned was the one at Gzira, Malta. The owner used to invite the children of the Institute every Sun­day for the football matches. Even at the Institute we used to play football between us, workshop vs. workshop. Mgr De Piro could see us and at times watched us from near his room, which was on the first floor. We also held races.”[765]

Even on 25 June 1990 Nazzareno added some other information:

Usually we used to go to the beach once a week, on Sundays. We, the members of the Band used to go on a weekday. We used to go at about 3.00 and return to the Institute at about 7.00 in the evening. The beach we went to was suitable and not crowded. Mgr De Piro did not use to come with us. It was the Brothers who used to look after us. We used to be only children from St. Joseph’s Instit­ute. The boys used to walk to the beach, but I, owing to a defect in my legs, used to ride.

We used to go to “Ta’ Xbiex” or “Sa Maison”, apart from the occasion that I shall mention later on.

The ‘outing of is-Sur Fons’ was held when the weather changed and hot days began, ie., in May. We used to be children of St. Joseph’s Institute only. However, the trade instruct­ors used to come with us. Mr. Alphonse Maria Galea defray­ed all the expenses (including the food) of this out­ing. Besides swimming, we used to have other activit­ies including band playing. Prizes were given. For this outing Mgr De Piro was present at times.[766]

 

In his testimony Br Felix Muscat was much shorter than Attard but emphasised again the importance Monsignor put on this aspect. He mentioned the daily recreation, swimming in summer, carnival merry making at the Institute, and film shows.[767]

On 10 June 1991 Dr Alexander Cachia Zammit referred to the feast that was celebrated on Ascension Day by Mr Alphonse Maria Galea at Birzebbugia for the boys.[768] Then, on 15 July 1991 Cachia Zammit made the all inclusive affirmation about De Piro’s attitude towards recreation, “I noticed that Mgr De Piro knew how to take care of, make happy, recreate, etc., the children.[769]

                   - The boys’ relationship with their families

Brs Felix Muscat and Venanz Galea said nothing about the boys’ relationship with their families. Nazzareno Attard was the only oldboy to testify about it:

In fact we were allowed to go home once a year, not ne­cessarily on the occasion of the feast of the Parish. It was a rule. I do not know the reason behind it, but it applied to all the children without any exception. It never occurr­ed to us children to ask for a change in the organiza­tion of the Institute. Our families were allowed to come to see us whenever they liked, provided they were prudent as regards the time of their visit.[770]

                   - Reinsertion of the boys in the normal life after leaving the Institute

It was Dr Cachia Zammit who gave details about this essential phase in the boys’ life:

Mgr De Piro ascertained himself, as far as possible, that the families of the young men who left St. Joseph’s Institute were capable to accept them back. (The girls, who were not otherwise settled, remained in their institute). Otherwise, Mgr De Piro himself saw to it that these young men found a good family. He also helped them find a job and settle in life. He did this either himself personally, or through others. I also know from personal experience …that Mgr De Piro followed up those who left the Institute.

I cannot say what percentage had their own good family ready to accept them back.

As for jobs, Mgr De Piro tried first to find a job according to the trade the lad had learnt. If he failed, he tried to find some other job compatible with the character, capabilities, etc., of the boy concerned. Those who employed these young men were glad to employ them since they already knew the trade and had a sound formation. By the way, the children who left St. Joseph’s Institute, not only did not suffer from any stigma because of their social condition, but they were easily and happily accepted in society; they did not find it difficult to be accepted for work, or to marry.

When I said that Mgr De Piro followed up those who left the Institute, I meant that he did this in order to see that things were going on well. I cannot say whether he himself sought them out intentionally, or took the opportunity when­ever it presented itself. But surely, in the case I mentioned above, Mgr De Piro himself asked for the Tabone Brothers.

These families were morally good families, who could help these young men, and they were families in which these young people could find their place. Mgr De Piro himself saw to these things. I never heard that it resulted that the choice made by Mgr De Piro misfired, and I feel that I was in such a position that, if anything like that had happened, I would have heard about it, at least from my father.

In finding jobs, I must think that considering Mgr De Piro’s character … the Servant of God tried to find those conditions of work that were good, according to the standards of those times.[771]

                   - The end result

Nazzareno Attard had this to say about the boys who cooperated with the formation system as St Joseph’s, Malta, “Those who were willing had every oppor­tunity at the Institute to leave as mature, respon­sible persons, capable of facing life.”[772] These are the words of a one who had been at the Institute and who had benefitted from the years spent there!

          - De Piro was not alone

Those who testified at the Ecclesiastical Tribunal confirmed that the Director was not alone in his taking care of the boys at St Joseph’s Institute, Malta. There was mentioning of the Brothers or the members of his Society,[773] the instructors,[774] and old boys who after leaving the Institute went there to give a helping hand.[775]

                   - To these De Piro delegated responsibilities

During the years he spent at St Joseph’s, Malta, Nazzareno Attard could notice that the Director delegated the various responsibilities related to the administration of the Institute, “I know that work at St. Joseph’s Institute was well organized and everyone knew who was responsible for what.”[776]

                   - But demanded accountability

Fr Joseph Spiteri was De Piro’s assistant at St Joseph’s Insitute.[777] The Director seems to have trusted this member of his Society a lot,[778] but at the same time the Servant of God wanted Spiteri to be accountable. He presented him a three page instruction list, amongst which there was a clause to the effect that the Assistant Director should give the Director a weekly report.[779]

                   - And dignity

In the instructions given to Fr Spiteri, De Piro included a note about his relationship with the boys, “… coi ragazzi mantenga la sua dignità.”[780]

Together with an organised good staff, De Piro had also other sources of support

                   - His own family

Dr Alexander Cachia Zammit who was rather close to the De Piros considered the Director’s family itself as a main source for Monsignor’s goodness and kindheartedness:

I cannot say for sure why Mgr De Piro’s behaviour with the children of the Institutes was as I described above. But I can say that he treated children from the Institutes as he treated me, and as he treated the child I mentioned above whom my father employed. In my opinion, his family background was such that he grew up as a good and kindhearted person.[781]

                   - Especially his own mother

The process of entry of Nazzareno Attard at St Joseph’s shows quite clearly that there was at least once when the mother of the Servant of God helped him in the running of the Institute:

Mrs. Ursula was the mother of the Servant of God, Mgr De Piro. My mother had not talked to the Servant of God, although at times he was in Qrendi. I do not know why. Perhaps because my mother thought that Mgr De Piro left certain things in his mother’s hand. I am certain that Mgr De Piro (and his mother as well) observed the Institute’s regulations regarding the admissions of the boys. Preferences were not made. And when I was at the Institute I never heard any complaints about this.

My family never had contacts with De Piro’s family. Mgr De Piro was not dominated or led by his mother, but, in my opinion, he respected her word. Also, in my case, it is clear that Mrs Ursula had talked to her son about my case, but Mgr De Piro still followed the regulations. I never noticed or heard that Mgr De Piro was led by his mother or that she tried to dominate him. I do not know other details.[782]

                   - The benefactors

Nazzareno Attard also mentioned the benefactors as a sustenance source for the Orphanage, “I do not know if Mgr De Piro used to beg alms or not for our needs, but I am sure that he kept certain contacts, e.g. with Mr. Alphonse Maria Galea…, through whom we children of the Institutes benefited a lot.”[783]

Even Cachia Zammit referred to this great help to St Joseph’s:

Besides, there was a man who toured the whole of Malta, collecting alms for St. Joseph’s Institute. People helped St. Joseph’s Institute quite willingly, since all knew that the children there were very poor, and they had no income. Besides, there were various other benefactors, like Mr. Alphonse Maria Galea. For example, there were those who aided this Institute and others, by giving a chance to these children to take a holiday at the seaside in summer. The Bishop, Mgr Caruana, was one of the benefactors.[784]

                   - Himself a benefactor of the Institute

Dr Cachia Zammit was quite clear about this, “He gave all his wealth to the Institute ... It is true that Mr Alphonse helped St. Joseph’s Institute, but the same Mr. Alphonse said that De Piro made most of the contributions.”[785]

                   - But more than anything else he believed in Providence

Nazzareno Attard mentioned several activities which helped the Director get the money needed for the Institute. At the same time he referred also to De Piro’s faith in Providence:

The Brothers warned us not to waste the food, which, they reminded us, was given us by benefactors. When I was young I never noticed if Mgr De Piro trusted in Divine Providence or not, but today that I am older I can better appreciate the goodness, the calmness, etc., of Mgr De Piro in spite of the great responsibility he had, of the 150 children of the Instit­ute, besides the Brothers, the instructors, etc. I learn­t from the collectors of the ‘Buona Morte’, of De Piro’s time, that he insisted that they should collect the month­ly fee. I also mentioned the fun fair.[786]

 

Dr Alexander Cachia Zammit shared a personal experience which showed De Piro’s faith in Providence:

 On one of these occasions, probably that of 1930, my mother had invited Mr. Alphonse, De Piro and Mother Curmi to our house for dinner (the children were outside enjoying themselves). On that occasion my mother was worried because she saw that there was not enough food. She told Mr. Alphonse about this since he was our neighbor. The Monsignor soon realised what was the problem and the common preoccupation. He intervened there and then and told mum: “God’s providence is very great.” He said this because he truly believed in God’s providence, especially in the Institutes. In fact there was enough food to go round.[787]

 

The same Cachia Zammit mentioned another time the faith of the Servant of God in divine providence, “It was natural for Mgr De Piro to trust in God’s providence. And he had to, since he had to take care of institutes, which depended totally on providence. His friend and great collaborator, Mr. Alphonse Maria Galea, himself had a great trust in providence, and this surely influenced also Mgr De Piro.”[788]

          - With all these De Piro worked miracles

Dr Cachia Zammit tried to be objective and balanced in his judgement as regards De Piro’s administration:

One of the institutes he directed was St. Joseph’s Institute in Hamrun. Although his way of running this Institute was not perfect, he worked miracles in running it. As the government helped the Inst­itute, it had the right to admit children. These were not always the best and they therefore sometimes caused many problems. However, he could manage, and in fact succeeded in running the Institute.[789]

                   - De Piro planned to send the St Joseph’s boys to the USA

Fr George Bugeja was the director of St Joseph’s, Malta, from 1905 until his death on 23 November 1922. The Maltese who lived in the USA did not know immediately about his death and for this reason one of them, Costantino Gatt, wrote to him on 4 December 1922. In this letter Gatt sent Fr Bugeja the details about a money collection that was done in San Francisco, California, for the Institute. But Gatt made also a proposal to Fr Bugeja: the Maltese of California were ready to welcome the eldest boys of St Joseph’s if these wanted to go to the USA to work there.[790] Obviously this letter arrived when Bugeja was already dead. Therefore it was Mgr De Piro, the new Director, who handled this offer. In fact, besides the care of the daily life of the Institute, one of the first projects of the Servant of God was the attempt to send the eldest boys of St Joseph’s to the USA.

De Piro gathered together the eldest boys of the Institute and discussed with them the project. These agreed and accepted the offer.[791] But for these boys of St Joseph’s there was the problem of money, because to go to the USA the fare was rather expensive.[792] Therefore the Director wrote to Malta’s Prime Minister and asked him about the possibility of having some governmental financial aid for the boys.[793] We do not know whether the Prime Minister answered De Piro’s letter or not. What we know is that the project did not materialise.[794]

                   - He enlarged the building of the Institute

Another big enterprise was undoubtedly the building of the new extensions of the Institute. Br Felix Muscat referred to this initiative of the Director when dealing with the spending of money, “That is why he was reluctant to introduce new things. It is to be remembered that at that time his intention was to enlarge the Institute.”[795]

Nazzareno Attard entered the Institute in 1928. He said that others told him what De Piro had done before he himself was admitted to St Joseph’s, Malta, “I learnt from other people who worked at St. Joseph’s Institute that at the time of Mgr De Piro there was also improvement in the build­ing.”[796]

                   - He provided a house for babies

By 1930 Mgr De Piro was more than busy with the ecclesiastical charitable institutes, but the charity of the Servant of God did not have limits. In 1930 he wrote to the Archbishop of Malta showing his concern about the fact that time was passing quickly and he had done nothing about the building of a new extension of St Joseph’s where he could shelter the babes.[797] Nazzareno Attard referred to another house, very near to St Joseph’s, which the Director had opened in 1925 with the same aim:

Younger children were kept in another In­stitute, a short distance from the Institute of St Joseph. It was in the care of nuns helped by some laywomen, but I do not remember to which Congregation they belonged. It seemed that there was a connection between this Home and that of St. Joseph’s Institute, because child­ren were automatically transferred from this Home to St. Joseph’s.[798]

          - No limits for his generosity

Dr Cachia Zammit mentioned a case where De Piro showed that there were no limits for his charity:

As regards the case of the children I insist that he did his utmost, so much so that my father said that he knew about four unfortunate boys who lived like animals; they had no food or clothes and much less care of their souls. This was so because their mother had died and their father was busy with his work at St. Lucian’s Tower. My father informed Mr. Alphonse about them. The latter approached Mgr De Piro and asked him to keep them at St. Joseph’s. In fact Mgr De Piro without hesitation accepted three of them in the Institute and took care of them; the fourth one was in the care of my father.[799]

 

The same Cachia Zammit added that, “Through his work in the Institutes, Mgr De Piro came in contact with the families of these children. Reference can be made to the case of the Tabone family I mentioned above. Besides, Mgr De Piro was a person who never shirked the chances of helping families in their material and social needs.”[800]

                   - De Piro was always in solidarity with the boys

George Wilson could go into detail as regards De Piro’s behaviour because he did several jobs at St Joseph’s, Every now and again I used to do the cooking at the Institute, and I can say that Mgr De Piro took the same food the boys had without any difference whatsoevor, because he wanted to have absolutely the same treatment they had in all respects.” [801]

                   - The Director was in contact even with the families of the boys

Alexander Cachia Zammit said that through the boys of the Institute the Director had contact even with their families, Through his work in the institutes Mgr De Piro came into contact with the families of these children. As an example one can refer to the case of the Tabone family I mentioned above. Besides, Mgr De Piro was a person who never shirked the chances of helping families in their material and social needs.”[802]

                   - De Piro helped the employees of the Institute

As an employee at St Joseph’s, Malta, George Wilson could analyse even Monsignor’s relationship with the employees of the Institute. But not only; he noticed that De Piro was in touch with the situation of the employees’ families and he often gave them a helping hand in their needs:

… and he helped in various ways whole families who were in need of financial aid. To mention one particular case, I know that he paid out of his own pocket, to the wife of a certain Karmenu Abela, her husband’s wages because he (the husband) was out of work and a patient at the Connaught Hospital. This I heard from Mrs. Abela herself who also told me that he actually used to give her something more than her husband’s usual pay. Fr. Joseph Spiteri, who was Mgr De Piro’s assistant, told us that the Monsignor would hand the employees at the Institute their wages. Spiteri also said that the Director did this so that if any of them needed any extra money he would provide what was needed himself without anybody knowing how much and what he gave in charity.

He thought nothing of visiting any of the employees who happened to be ill, and I myself have heard him say that he was on his way to visit one or another. Not only this, but according to the members of the families of these employees, he would find out if they were in need of help which he then did his best to provide. If circumstances so reqiuired he would see that they had the services of the doctor. The lay Brother used to say that the Monsignor never had a pair of shoes repaired, because he would always give his shoes to some poor man before any repairs were needed.[803]

                   - De Piro prepared the boys for life

Nazzareno Attard, an old boy of St Joseph’s could confirm from experience that, “Those who were willing had every oppor­tunity at the Institute to leave as mature, respon­sible persons, capable of facing life.”[804]

          - “An internal feeling tells me that God, from this Institute, wants to form in Malta a Congregation of priests under the patronage of Saint Paul…”

Although Nazzareno Attard lived at St Joseph’s for some five years he did not seem to be close to the Piccola Società San Paolo which had its main House not at the Institute but in Mdina, Malta. Because of this he did not know from where the Founder was recruiting vocations for his Society. What he was sure of was that the Director never pestered the boys of St Joseph’s to join his Congregation, “I do not know the number of the members. Nor do I know where the vocations came from. I do not remember that Mgr De Piro ever tried to persuade us to choose the religious life; his contacts with us were few.”[805]

Br Felix Muscat, who after being an inmate at St Joseph’s, joined the Society of De Piro, was more informed about this:

The Padre, this is how the members of the Society referred to him, greatly desired that some of the boys of St. Joseph would join him. At the same time it was not often that he brought the subject with us. Even less was his insistence that we should become members. At the same time he often asked the Brothers of the Society whether there was any one who wished to join. He encouraged these to help those boys who had the vocation (The Brothers were entrusted with the youths who seemed to be promising. In fact, I remember that, when I made the profession, I took care of those youths for a considerable time). As regards myself I always had the missions at heart. I remember that I had spoken about this to Br. Guzepp who at that time was at St. Joseph’s. Br. Guzepp informed the Padre. I still remember when I met him, and he asked me what was my vocation. I told him that I wished to become a lay brother and added that my mother wished me to become a priest. He was so much interested in this that he sent for my mother to speak to her. I remember that he told her these words: “I am a priest and he helps me. We are together in this, we do the same work. Our Rule says this: ‘The priest and the brother work together.’ He will be of great help to the priest.”

I did not join the Society straightaway. I kept contact with Br. Guzepp who took care of the boys who wished to join the Society. This Brother helped me to meet the Padre by sending me to clean his room. Monsignor, seeing me so interested and keen on my work, was encouraged to accept me. At such times he would start talking to me about the vocation.[806]

 

Br Venanz Galea was another boy who passed from St Joseph’s to De Piro’s Society. He said that:

However, he paid special attention to those children who were inclined to join the Society that he founded; he took great care of them. He liked to call these to his room, either alone or together, and spent some time talking to them. At times he took them together to the house at Mdina, where there were already the first members, for some feast, like, for example, the feast of St. Paul. Besides the service, the Founder liked to give them something to make them happy. He had even founded what was known as the Congregation of St. Aloysius. Several boys belonged to it, but it was mostly intended for those children who were interested in his Society.. For these he had a medallion made, and they had frequent meetings. Br. Guzepp Caruana was in charge of them. In these meetings the Brother spoke to them about various matters, including the Society. Sometimes also the Founder went to talk to them. The Congregation was a kind of society in which Br. Guzepp could spot children who later on would become members of the Society. Whenever he found a boy who was inclined to join, the Brother soon presented him to the Founder so that he might get to know him better.

I was one who had the wish to join the Society. In 1925 De Piro suggested that Br Guzepp should send me with Father Michael Callus to Gozo, where he was in charge of the Institute of St Joseph. At that time I was about 14 years old. I wasn’t even an aspirant. Although I was still very young I went to Gozo.I was sent there just before the opening of this Institute and specifically to help with the preparations for the opening.[807]

 

(iv)  Director of St Joseph’s Home, Ghajnsielem, Gozo

          - Gozo : an introduction

The Island of Gozo makes part of the Maltese Archipelago. Because of this it may be thought that what has already been said about the socio- economic situation of the Island of Malta can automatically be applied to Gozo. The reality is not completely so; the two Islands, with some 8 kilometers of sea between them, experienced a bit of a different fate in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. If the socio-economic situation during these years was generally not good in the case of Malta, for many of those years and in many aspects it was still worse as regards Gozo. Because of this it is important here to have at least a look at the Gozitan reality in these years in order to understand better De Piro’ s contribution to this Island and Diocese when he accepted to start, and then direct, St Joseph’s Orphanage there.

                   - The population

Year

Population

1807

12,830

1811

12,766

1814 (plague)

1814-1826 (diminishing agricultural prosperity)

 

13,000

1826

13,136

Just before 1837

14,566

In late 1837 (346 Gozitans perish in epidemic)

14,220

1842 (year of first census)

14,342

1851

14,663

1861 (slow economic recovery)

15,459

1864

16,038

1871

17,391

1881

17,653

1891

18,553

1901

19,790

1911

22,695

1921

22,561

1931

23,837

Table 6 [808]

 

Frederick M. Lacroix, writing at about the year 1835, also noted that “… the population has sensibly increased in spite of misery and emigration”.[809]

                   - Standard of living

It is impossible to say how many lived below and how many above the normal standard of living. The table below gives an idea of the reality according to the 1861 Census:

 

Occupations in Gozo

Standard of living

% of the population

Artificers and labourers

Reduced to begging in times of want, probably subsisted just below. Lived frugally during most of the year; next to starving during remaining months.

39.59

In agriculture, and

At sea

Had a large measure of self sufficiency and must have led a normal living.

17.55

4.20

Government emplyees, and

some of the priests

Fared equally well.

0.53

0.86

Majority of land owners, and

many belonging to professional, and commercial classes

Enjoyed a better life.

0.19

 

0.39

 

2.27

Table 7 [810]

In the middle of the nineteenth century the British Government sent to Malta, one of the British colonies, a Royal Commission to study the situation on the Island and present a report. Some of its words revealed the extreme state of impoverishment of the people living at that time: “In Gozo, when there is a want of field-work, about one sixth of the population is reduced to begging”.[811]

                   - The public health system

Here it is enough to quote what has been written on 19 September 1903 by “A voice from Gozo” in one of the Maltese daily newspapers:

A correspondent writes that there is urgent necessity for more esxtensive medical assistance in the Island of Gozo which is at present insufficiently furnished with Civilian Medical Officers, more especially during the summer months where there is a great deal of fever, enteric, etc., prevalent. Casal Nadur (which includes Casal Kala and Ghainsielem) is mentioned as an instanace in which district there is no medical assistance available in cases of urgent necessity. When a doctor is required, a telephone message has to be sent to Citta` Vittoria, and great delay, which is unavoidable, is the result, as there is long distance to cover and the doctor may possibly be engaged elsewhere, and even when obtained it is always at great expense, behond the means of poor people. At present the arrangements are that the doctor of Casal Caccia arrives late in the evening on Tuesdays and Fridays, and leaves early on Wednesdays and Saturdays, which means a very short stay for such large villages, the population of which is very scattered. This causes an  extra expense and personal inconvenience which might be remedied by the government establishing a resident medical officer in these villages, which should be compelled to actually reside there and provide a substitute in case of unavoidable absence, that the district would never be left without an available medical attendant.

Several visitors from the Sister Island who have been residing here during the summer months, have complained of their inability to procure medical assistance when required. A resident medical officer is claimed for Nadur, Kala, and Ghainsielem in preference to other districts, because of their having the largest population according to the last census.[812]     

          - The Institute at Ghajnsielem, Gozo

It has been said that the economic situation in Malta and Gozo had been bad in most of the nineteenth century. During many of the first years of the twentieth century, things, sometimes, though very slowly, changed a bit for the better.[813] Still, there was a good number of children who needed immediate help. Michael Ciangura who was the 17th boy to enter St Joseph’s Institute, Gozo[814] was asked to testify in the 1987 Tribunal sessions. Though in a very few words, he indicated that in his childhood the situation was very poor.[815] Peter Camilleri was the 23rd boy to enter St Joseph’s, Gozo. He presented his childhood days as a time of scarsity.[816] Loreto Rapa, the 3rd boy to enter the Institute was more explicit, “When I was still a small boy there were many poor and orphan children…”[817]

                   - The attempts by the bishops of Gozo

The Gozo parishpriests felt the responsibility to open some house or institute in order to gather the boys in it.[818] There had already been one; it was the Sts Peter and Paul Conservatory. It had been built by Bishop Vincenzo Labini in 1789.[819]  But this was for girls; there was no one such home for boys, yet. A hundred years after the opening of the Conservatory, the Bishop of Gozo, Mgr Peter Paul Pace tried to open an institute for boys. He therefore asked the help of Mgr Francesco Bonnici, the founder of St Joseph’s Institute, Malta. But the plan failed because Bonnici could not handle two institutes at the same time.[820]

There were several attempts after the one of Mgr Pace, but again they all failed.[821] The reasons for this lack of success were various: it was not easy to find a place where to gather together the boys. There had to be a lot of money to run it. But the main problem was the direction of the institute. The Church in Gozo asked the Freres De La Salle to run the projected institute. The offer was made to them in 1908. At first the Brothers accepted, but in fact they never went to Gozo.[822]

                   - The Gozo parishpriests sought the help of De Piro

In 1920 the Gozo parishpriests took over from the Bishop.[823] They found an adequate house and succeeded in getting some money from the government.[824] On 17 November 1923 the parishpriests signed a notary contract with which they bound themselves to set up a boys’ institute.[825] Since they were convinced that the failure of the previous attemps was because of the lack of an adequate director they decided to invite Mgr Joseph De Piro to be the first director,[826] who at that time was the director of another three institutes in Malta: Fra Diegu, Jesus of Nazareth and St Joseph, Malta. On 25 December 1924, Fr Joseph Hili, the parishpriest of Fontana, Gozo, wrote to the Servant of God in the name of all the other parishpriests and offered him the direction of the Gozo Institute.[827] For some reason or other De Piro did not answer that letter. Therefore Hili wrote to Monsignor again on 7 January 1925.[828] This time De Piro answered the letter on the 31 of the same month: he wanted to know things more clearly.[829]  Hili wrote to Monsignor on 3 February 1925, giving him more information.[830]

                   - A branch of St Joseph’s, Malta, to be led by the Society of De Piro

De Piro decided to accept. He wrote to the Archbishop of Malta, Mauro Caruana, and told him about the request made to him by the Gozo parishpriests:

Eccellenza Reverendissima,

 

Il Canco. Decano Giuseppe De Piro nella sua duplice qualità di Superiore della Casa di San Giuseppe - ist. Bonnici - e della Compangnia di San Paolo, prostrato al bacio del Sacro Anello, umilmente espone a Vra. Eccza. che per tra del Secretario del Parrocato Gozitano, gli veniva ultimamente significato che tanto Monsignor Vescovo, quanto tutti i Parroci di Gozo, consci della necessità desideravano istituire in diocesi un orfanatrofio e che accoglie vero con piacere l’idea di aver diramata a Gozo, una sezione della Casa di San Giuseppe di Hamrun.

 

Che la diramazione di una sezione al Gozo della Casa di San Giuseppe ere già un desiderato di Mgr Arciv. Vescovo P.Pace di f.m.; e se allora per una ragione o l’altra non si era riuscito ad effettuarla, le circostanze odierne persuadono diversamente. La prosperità infatti della Casa di San Giuseppe a lato dello sviluppo della Compagnia di San Paolo che la maneggia, la premura del nuovo Vescovo Mgr Gonzi la disposizione dei Parroci a spallegiare l’opera, l’azione già dagli stessi spiegata in favore, il concorso del Governo Civile coll’assegno di mille lire sterline, tutto contribuisce ad infondere coraggio di por mano all’impresa.

 

Che l’Or… e pertanto, fidandosi sempre nell’aiuto della Divina Provvidenza, osa umiliare a Vra. Eccza. Revma. la domanda di autorizzarlo ad iniziare l’istituzione di questa … diramazione sotto il nome di "Casa di San Giuseppe" - Sezione Gozo-

 

Che della grazia etc.

 

Presentato dal ricorrente il di 3 Febbraio 1925

(f) Sac. Ant. Galea

Cancelliere. [831]

 

One can notice that in the just mentioned letter the Servant of God insisted that the future Institute had to be a branch of St Joseph’s, Malta, and not a separate one. Also, De Piro mentioned his Society. Without doubt the Founder was anticipating the introduction of its members in the Gozo Home. De Piro’s petition was accepted by the Archbishop on 3 February 1925. Mgr Caruana approved the affiliation of the Gozo Institute with that of Malta, but he also told the Servant of God to deal the matter with the Bishop of Gozo, “Approviamo purchè l’Ore si metta in relazione all’Eccza Vescovo di Gozo”