Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree
of Licentiate in Theology
Mgr Joseph Depiro d’Amico, founder of the Missionary Society of St Paul: his life and works. 1
Mdina: the abode of noble families. 1
His childhood and youth. 1
His call to be a priest. 3
His studies for the priesthood and his ordination. 6
First orders. 7
Subdeacon, deacon, and presbyter. 7
The sickness problem. 8
Looking forward with hope. 9
At Davos, in Switzerland. 10
His first activity among the orphans. 11
Founder of a religious Congregation: the Missionary Society of’ St Paul.14
La Fontaine, a great benefactor of Depiro. 24
The “Piccola Casa di San Paolo”. 29
The first Vocations. 31
Depiro was left alone. 32
A blessing from Pius X. 32
Several honourable activities. 33
More work among the orphans. 35
St Joseph’s Institute. 36
Depiro Society grows up amid great difficulties. 37
The Missionary charism over and above everything. 41
His sudden death. 42
A Life of Chastity. 43
As a diocesan priest Depiro vowed chastity. 43
The means used by Depiro in favour of celibacy: 45
1. Prayer: a spiritual help.
ii. Material precautions.
Chastity and Depiro’s human affectivity. 49
i. Joseph Depiro and his family. 51
ii. Mgr Depiro and the members of his Society. 56
iii.Mgr Depiro and the children of the Institutes. 59
A Life of Poverty. 61
What did Depiro’s poverty consist of? 61
(A) i. Detachment from property. 61
ii.Detachment from honours. 63
iii. Detached from progress in his own duties. 66
(a) In his studies. 67
(b) In his pastoral work. 69
(c) In the founding of his Society. 70
iv. Detached even from what was necessary. 72
(B) Sharing. 73
i. Sharing of his ideas. 74
ii. Sharing of help. 79
iii. Sharing of money. 80
(C) Good use of: 82
i. His property. 82
ii. His time, 83
(D) The obligation to work. 85
...but not to get money. 86
What had motivated him to live such a life? 89
i. Absolute trust in God’s providence. 89
ii. All property pertains to God. 91
iii. Lack of preoccupations with worldly affairs. 92
iv. Poverty helped him to suffer for Jesus. 92
v. ...And remain humble. 93
In this way it was more possible for Depiro: 94
i. To imitate Christ. 94
ii. To be always near the poor in a complete way. 97
A complete dedication for the Institutes. 100
The Society he founded ought to take care of the houses
of beneficence. 103
The Founder introduces the members of his Society into
the houses of beneficence: 106
(a) Into the orphanages 106
(b) Into the Oratory at B’Kara. 107
iii. To live the community life. 111
Depiro lived poverty in a balanced way. 112
A Life of Obedience. 116
(A) Depiro was obedient to the will of the Father. 119
The signs of the times: a most efficient means towards
knowing the will of the God for him. 123
i. The superiors (Depiro, a subject, in relation to his superiors). 124
a. A real dialogue. 124
b. Absolute unity with his superiors 126
c. Prompt to obey, and obeyed in an active way. 130
But Depiro expressed his objections, where necessary. 134
What had motivated Depiro towards this obedience? 138
ii. His spiritual directors. 141
iii. His companions. 145
iv. The circumstances around him. 147
Humility, the basis for obedience. 149
In this way the obedient man would be a sign for the others. 151
(B) Depiro, the superior, in relation to his subjects. 152
i. Depiro in relation to the children and Sisters of the Institutes. 153
(a) The Director and the children. 153
(b) The Director and the Sisters. 157
ii. Depiro in relation to the members of his Society. 158
Depiro’s determination in his leadership. 165
All this with the help of God. 167
The Superiors must hear the voice of God. 168
Referring to the Decree ‘Perfectae Caritatis’ of Vatican I one can find out very easily what makes up the basis of religious life. This Decree divides this same basis in two, the second of which is made up of, “The original inspiration behind a given community (P.C. 2a). This is nothing but a clear reference to the founders of the Orders, Societies, and Congregations of all religious. Because there has been this insistence from the side of the Council Fathers as regards these charismatic men and women, it is expected that all religious should study them deeply and prayerfully. It is exactly for this reason that my present work has been done ; it is necessary that we, members of the Missionary Society of St. Paul (M.S.S.P.) should know the spirituality of our Founder, especially with regards to his chastity, poverty and obedience. It is he who must give us our Individuality, identity and vital energy.
The material presented in this work has been put in such a way that the introduction would say in brief who actually has Mgr. Joseph Depiro been and what his activities were all along his life. The following three chapters, put in the same order as that chosen by Vatican II for the presentation of the religious vows, help the reader know what was the spirituality of the Founder as regards the three vows traditionally related to religious life.
In order to arrive at this I had to make reference to the archives of the Society. Here I cannot but praise the great work done by Fr. Alexander Bonnici,
O.F.M. Conv., who has classified all the material in the Archives, just before I began this same work. The files used by me have been so named:
(a) Family Depiro : This file includes information about the family of the founder.
(b) Depiro — Documents Here one finds documents related to Mgr. Depiross own life. Many a times they are original documents.
(c) Depiro — Diary Depiro does not seem to have begun writing this Diary on the first date mentioned in this same Diary. It seems that he had begun putting notes on it on the 5th. March 1902 and the information related to the years be fore this very date (1898—1902) had been put together in brief. This can be proved because while for the information beginning on the 5th March 1902 it is headed each time by a particular day, the material before that date is not divided by days, but only by years.
(d) Familiar letters : These are the letters which young Joseph had received from his brothers Carmelo, Gino, Gwido, and sister Maria.
(e) Letters from J. Depiro to his mother Ursola These include the letters written by Joseph Depiro to his mother and vice versa, and they are those sent between 1898—1902.
(F) Letters to young Depiro This time the letters are those written to and from Joseph and persons not pertaining to his family, especially Frs. E. Vassallo and Vincent Sammut S.J.
(g) M.S.S.P. at the time of the Founder This section includes all the correspondence between Depiro and the Holy See, Cardinal La Fontaine, the Archbishops and Bishops of Malta, Propaganda Fidei, and some other persons, about the Missionary Society of St. Paul. There are included also other important documents, as the Rules of the first years, etc. Besides all this material, one can find also the copies of the letters which Depiro wrote to his Superiors about the approval of his Society (Depiro had the custom of keeping a copy of the letters sent by him, especially to his Superiors, by writing first a rough copy and then write a neater one the first he held himself while he sent the second).
(h) Institutes There are four files in all. Each holds information about each Institute directed by Depiro. There are included, the nominations of the Director to these Institutes, contracts, letters, etc., etc.
(i) Oratory, B’Kara Here one finds similar information as that for the Institutes, but related to the Oratory at B’Kara.
(j) The Abyssinia Mission at the time of the Founder It consists mainly of correspondence between Mgr. Depiro and Bro J. Caruana, the first missionary of the Society. Other letters came or were sent to the Superiors in this same Mission.
(k) Council Minutes This is a register where there are recorded the Council sessions held at the time of the Founder (1927—1933).
(1) Sermons One cannot say that there is a copy of all the sermons Depiro had delivered during his life, but the great number that is preserved and the methodical character of the Founder are a positive indication in favour of such an opinion.
(m) Bro J. Gatt’s notes These are the notes written by Bro Jerome Gatt, of all the conferences delivered by the Founder, to him and his companion in the same novitiate (1929—1930).
n) Interviews about Mgr. Depiro These are the Interviews made and written down by some members of the Missionary Society, to people who knew Mgr. Depiro. The ones made to Fr. John 1 may have some relevance, but at times they lack precision.
Davos. Qrendi. Gudja. These include those Interviews which shed light on the times when Depiro was in one of these places.
(o) Personal files of members Each member of the Society has his own dossier. Those of the first members are preserved in the Society’s Archives. They include such documents as certificates for entry, copies of professions, school certificates and results, ordinations’ certificates, etc., etc.
Acts. Acts of the Apostles.
C.I.C. Codex luris Canonici.
G.S. Gaudium et Spes.
O.T. Optatam Totius.
P.C. Perfectae Caritatis.
P.O. Presbyterorum Ordinis•
S.S.P. “Societas Sancti Pauli” : the name of Depiro’s Society until 1973.
M.S.S.P. “Missionalis Societas Sancti Pauli new name which the Society chose for itself during the Special General Chapter for the renewal of the Rules in 1973 and some time after the reception of the “Decretum Laudis”.
2nd November 1981 : A. Sciberras M.S.S.P.
104 years after the birth of the Founder.
Mgr. Joseph Depiro d’Amico, founder of the Missionary
Society of St. Paul : his life and works.
Imdina : the abode of noble families
If one were to take the road which from Valletta, Malta’s capital city, leads to Rabat, one would immediately notice a rather wide bill just in front of one self. There are several interesting scenes in this same area, but the one which would surely interest the viewer, especially if he has a bit of a historical liking, would be the eastern part. At this end of’ the hill stands the small old city of Mdina, all surrounded by bastions. Now adays this city can be said to be inhabited by people of all walks of life, but until some years ago there were almost only the members of the most noble families of Malta. One of these same families was exactly that of the Depiro d’Amico. Joseph Depiro d’Amico was born in this family.
His childhood and youth
Joseph Depiro was born on the 2nd November 1877 at Mdina. His father was the noble Alexander dei Marchesi
Depiro d’Amico Inguanez and his mother Ursola Agius, also of noble blood. He was the seventh child of a family of nine. According to the baptismal certificate signed by the parish priest of the Metropolitan Cathedral, Mgr. V. Magri, Joseph was baptised in that church the day after his birth, the 3rd November 1877.1.
He was brought up in a really Catholic family and gradually grew up to be a noble child not only because of his ancestry but also because of his character.
At almost eleven years of age Joseph began his secondary education at the Malta Lyceum, Valletta. Fortunately we still have the many exercise books on which he used to put down the notes of the lessons he had. From these same records one can say that Joseph Depiro was very diligent in his work at school.
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.2 From this course he passed on to that of Laws he remained up to 1898, that is for one year.
1. In the footnotes: r = retro ; v = verso. Depiro — Documents, p. 7r.
2. Depiro studied Latin Literature, English Literature,
Italian Literature, Intellectual Philosophy, Moral
Philosophy, Mathematics, Physics and Political Economy.
(cf. Ibid., p.2 r).
This was not the only activity that Joseph carried on during these early years of his life. It is worth saying that the Maltese were never in favour of’ having their sons enrolled as soldiers. It was very hard to persuade the Maltese Youths to serve their country by doing this type of work. To encourage them, the noble families on the island had decided to send their own sons for some time as members of the military corps. Joseph was one of the noble youths who did this. In fact from the registers of the 1 Malta Militia one can know that he began this work on the 11th October 1892 and remained there up to the 23rd February 1896. Studying the attendance sheets one finds cut that Joseph was very assiduous in his attendance.
His call to be a priest
Providence however, was planning otherwise ; he was going to continue neither the Law studies nor his military activity. Joseph was still very young when he felt himself being called for the priesthood. Referring to his own ‘Ragioni Pro’ which he wrote before deciding to begin his studies for the priesthood one finds that he said that he had felt his vocation since he was fourteen.3
3. Ibid., p. 25 r — v — “Ragioni pro”.
This same desire remained in him until he was at the secondary school, but then it diminished a lot during the last years at the Lyceum and when he was at the University. It was only when he was eighteen that he began thinking seriously about his future. The environment around him and in his own family was helping him quite a lot in order to think about “the void” of earthly satisfactions. He himself put down into writing what had made him think about his vocation
“4. La meditazione della morte. Sento che questo e’ il vero stato a cui sono vocato.
5. Il desiderio di darmi. tutto a Dio, avendo egli tanto sofferto per i miei peccati.
6. I desiderio di camminare sulla via della perfezione e cosi’ non temere la morte, anzi considerarla come il mezzo che ci reca alla vera felicita’.
7. L’Aver letto in San Alfonso de Liguori che egli era uscito dal mondo a 26 rini, ma che Sara’ beato colui che ne uscisse prima.
8. L’aver dopo riflessioni trovato essere questo lo stato piu’ 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 alle quali piu’ora mi incontrai in questa vita.” 4.
And in fact
“12. Il giorno 8 maggio ‘98 dopo una novena alla V. di Pompei in cui le chiesi di farmi conoscere la vera volonta’ di Dio, sentii la forza di deciders pel bene, cioe’ in favore dello stato sacerdotale.”5
This was also the time when Joseph could have taken another way ; his noble blood made several people offer him various positions.6 But he was determined to leave everything in order to follow Jesus who was calling him.
Be immediately exposed his ideas to his spiritual director7 and to his mother8. 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 hesitation his studies of philosophy and theology. Coming from a noble family, money was not
4. Ibid., nos. 4 — 11
5. Ibid, no. 12
cf. also Correspondence : Joseph — Ursola Depiro 15. 5, 99, p. 69 r.
6. cf. Student S.S.P., Mons. Can. Dec. Gius. dei Msi. De Piro, p. 10.
7. Documents — Depiro, p.25 r. — “Ragioni pro”.
8. cf. Student S.S.P., op. cit., p.11.
a problem at all. Therefore it was thought that Joseph would be sent to Rome for his studies. His uncle consulted the Archbishop of Malta, Mgr. P. Pace, who agreed fully with the idea. Joseph Depiro was going to stay at the Capranica College and study at the Gregorian University.
His studies for the priesthood and his ordination
Joseph entered the Capranica on the 5th September 1898 after leaving Malta on the 10th July of the same year. Here Depiro dedicated himself wholeheartedly for his studies and did not lose any time 9. But Joseph had to experience the serious problem of ill health. He had first felt this in a rather grave way when he was supposed to sit for the Matriculation examination.10
During the first year at the Capranica it seemed that he fell sick again, because while being in Malta for the holidays the Rector of the same College, Mgr. Coselli wrote to him wishing him good health:
“Faccio voti. affinche’ il Signore si degni di rendervela piu’ che mai gagliarda e salustra, affinche’ possiate un giorno lavorare in defessamente nella...vigna del Signore...” 11.
9. cf. Correspondence : Joseph — Ursola Depiro 13.11.98,
p. 47 r.
10. Ibid., 28.8.98, p. 44 v.
11. Letters to young Depiro — letters from Capranica Rector, p.1
It was during this same first summer in Malta that Joseph received the minor orders after having received the tonsure in Rome. 12.
Subdeaconate, deaconate and presbyter
Joseph Depiro received the subdeaconate on the 14th February 1901. With regards to his studies we cannot say that Joseph was unsuccessful, but he him self was not so much satisfied. At the end of the second year of theology he sat for the bachaloreate examinations. Commenting on the results of this same examination, Joseph said that they were not so much promising.13
The third year theology meant for Depiro his ordination for the deaconate. In fact he received the ordination on the 21st December 1901 at St John Lateran from the Vicar of Rome, Cardinal Respighi. 14.
This time was very important for Fr Depiro not
12. cf. Ibid., p. r.
13. cf. Depiro —Documents, (Notes by Depiro himself), p. 24 r.
14. cf. Depiro — Diary, 3 v.
cf. also Depiro — Documents, Notes about Depiro at the Capranica, ff. 4,6.
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 in an orphanage together with other priests,15, and on the other hand he had been invited by the Archbishop of Malta to continue his studies at the Accademia.16.
Fr Joseph was ordained priest on the 15th March 1902, again at the Basilica of St John Lateran, this time by Bishop Capitelli.17
The sickness problem
There has already been a reference to the sickness problem. This was not an easy hurdle for Fr Depiro to overcome) In fact one cannot know whether he had sat for the final examinations of his third year theology. Although the tuberculosis had begun on the 10th July 1902, Fr Joseph did not leave Rome immediately. But these were surely his last days at the Capranica and the Gregorian University. Therefore it can be said that he had to stop
15. cf. Depiro — Documents, p.24
16. cf. Ibid.,
cf. also Depiro - Diary, p. 4 r.
17. cf. Depiro — Documents, p. 4, 6.
18. cf. Depiro — Diary, p.4 v
his studies abruptly. It can be said that it was really providential that Archbishop Pace had asked that Depiro should be ordained priest before the proper date. 19
If the ordination had been left for July, who knows what would have happened?
Looking forward with hope
In spite of this serious difficulty, Fr Joseph was not disheartened at all; he was looking at the future with great hope. It was exactly during this time that he was thinking of a great project. Depiro wished that he would find some way out to help the Maltese diocesan priests go out of the Island and work in other countries where they were needed. Notwithstanding the fact that he did not intend at first to set up a society, his primary objective could only be achieved through such a thing. Referring to Depiro’s own Diary we find his thoughts written down quite clearly:
“Una delle ragioni che mi riducevano di stabilirmi nella Casa di San Giuseppe e’ stata la seguente. Perche’ un sentimento interno mi dice, che Iddio da questo istituto voglia formare a Malta una congregazione di Sacerdoti sotto ii patrocinio di S. Paolo e cosi’ nel rendere stabile l’opera a Malta si diffonda anche all’ estero”.20
19. cf. Depiro — Documents, p. 25 i.
20. cf. Depiro — Diary, p. 2 r - V.
This was the time when Depiro was still in his studies, but were it not for his spiritual director, P.Gualandi, who had told him to stop thinking about this Depiro would have developed more and more his “ideas”. But the “Documents” show that Joseph had accepted this advice.22
At Davos, in Switzerland
His ill health forced him to abandon his ambitions for further studies.23. He had planned a ten year course of studies, but in fact he did not succeed in doing even half of them ; he had to leave even the fourth year theology at the Gregorian. Returning to Malta at the end of July 1902 he prepared to go to Switzerland to recover his health there.24. From a letter sent to him by his brother Gwido, who was in Louvain, in Belgium, studying medicine, one can conclude that Fr Joseph was getting better and better after a short time. 25. While in Davos, Depiro did not remain idle about his “p1ans” ; he himself said that there he prayed, and prayed, and prayed.26
21. cf. Ibid, 2 v.
22. cf. Depiro — Documents, p. 24
23. cf. Correspondence Joseph — Ursola Depiro 24.8.98, p. 42 v — 43 r.
24. cf. Depiro — Diary, p. 5 r.
25. cf. Gwido Depiro to G. Depiro, 7.11.02, p. 24 V.
26. cf. Depiro – Diary, p.5 v
As time went on, he got better and better. In fact he had thought of returning to Malta in January 1904; 27. yet he left Davos some time after and was back in Malta on the 2nd March of that same year.28
His first activity among the orphans
The idea of going to St Joseph’s Institute remained in his mind. He had exposed his project to his spiritual director and although the latter had told him to stop thinking about that, it kept coming back to his mind. Coming to Malta from Davos, Fr Depiro thought that the opportunate time had arrived for him to go to St Joseph’s Institute, but things turned to be otherwise. Although before leaving Davos he had been cured and regained his strength fu11y. 29 Depiro had to spend some time in con valescence on returning to Malta. He settled down in one of the villages on the island, Qrendi,30, and remained there for three years, from 1904 up to 1907.
But Depiro was destined by providence itself to help the poorest of the poor. Meanwhile he had to begin
27. cf. Gwido Depiro to G. Depiro, 29.12.03, p. 26 v.
28. cf. Depiro — Diary, p. 5 v.
29. cf. Fr E. Vassallo to G. Depiro, 30. 1. O4 p. 22 r.
30. cf. Depiro - Diary, p. 5 V.
this same work not at St Joseph Institute, as he himself had thought, but at Fra Diegu, another Institute on the Island.
Fra Diegu Bonanno was a Minor Franciscan Brother,31, who had been noticing that many young Maltese girls were falling victims of the poverty that reigned in Malta in the beginning of the twentieth century. Urged by his great love for these poor and innocent girls, he tried to gather them together in a house he provided for them. Bit by bit he succeeded in finding some Sisters who could help him in this same work. After a short while he began the big Institute that has taken its own name from the Friar, and it is still flourishing today. But this Friar died on the 14th May 1902 and although the Franciscan Minors did their best to continue that same work begun by one of them, they were ordered by their superiors to pass that Institute on to the diocese. In fact they did this on the 19th September 1907 in the presence of notary Francis Schembri Zarb.32
At first the Archbishop was in a difficulty about whom he had to appoint as director of that Institute. He
31. 1831 - 1902.
32. cf. Fra Diegu Institute.
shared this problem with Fr G. Bugeja who was helping at St Joseph’s Institute. This priest had already ex perienced the ability and worthiness of Depiro. He knew how much zeal he had for St Joseph’s. This, Depiro had shown especially when he had done supply work for Bugeja at the Institute when Fr George was abroad for some one month and was most successful.33. For this same reason Fr Bugeja suggested to the Archbishop that he might choose Fr Joseph Depiro as director of Fra Diegu Institute. 34. The Archbishop accepted the suggestion.
At this same time Fr Depiro was still working at Qrendi and he had been most successful in his pastoral work there. 35
33. It is also worth referring to a letter sent to Depiro by Fr E. Vassallo to thank him for the contribution the former had sent to help the Institute (Cf. Fr E Vassallo to Depiro, 21.7.00, p. 11 r). Another letter, also by Vassallo, was sent to Depiro to thank him for another contribution (cf.Ibid., 18.12.00, p. 13 r).
34. cf. Interviews about Depiro, p.8.
Here it is worth saying that some eighty seven persons had been interviewed in order to get some information about Mgr. Depiro. These were people who had known Depiro personally or through some other person (cf.List of persons interviewed).
35. cf. Ibid., Davos, Qrendi, Gudja, p.1.
In spite of all this the Archbishop showed him his wish and Fr Joseph obeyed and accepted immediately. The formal nomination was sent to Depiro by the Arch bishop on the 2nd August 1907.36. Depiro continued this same work until, he died, that is for twenty six years uninterruptedly.
Founder of the religious Missionary Society of St Paul
No one doubts of the fact that although there has already been a mentioning of the many activities of Fr Depiro, the most important one was the founding of the religious Missionary Society of St Paul. There has already been made a reference to it in the previous pages, but it is worth stopping for some moment and expand on this most important activity of Fr Joseph Depiro..
Although P. Gualandi, Depiro’s spiritual director, had told him to stop thinking about ‘ project”, when he was still a student, and Depiro obeyed this advice, from Depiro’s own Diary one finds out that he exposed his idea again on the 7th August 1905, that is three years after he had been ordained priest.37.
36. cf. Fra Diegu Institute, p.1.
37. cf. Depiro — Diary, p. 8 r – 9v
Here one is told that Fr Joseph visited Fr E. Vassallo, the then director of St Joseph’s and presented to him, his ideas in writing. In these same pages of his Diary, one sees that Depiro did not specify what was exactly his project, but then he put an asterisk near the words “la mia idea scritta” and at the end of page 9 r he added:
“Una societa’ di Missionarii”.38.
Fr Vassallo did not tell Depiro that he would not succeed, but the former did not seem to be very
38. These are not the only words of the ‘Addendae’. There are another seven points, besides another part for n.l:
1. ‘Pel presente non e’ facile i1 dire se debba essere regolare o secolare, pero’ se cole’ aiuto di Dio a de Vergine si arrivera’ all’ erezione di corpo regolare questo deve essere perfettamente tale e deve cercare il modo ed i mezzi di tenere a se aggregato i1 Clero secolare.
2. La scopo principale, come indica i1 nome della Societa’, consiste nelle missioni estere.
3. Camp prossimi d’azione possono essere (a) la Casa di S. Giuseppe (b) le colonie di Maltesi all’estero ed (c) a bordo le corazzate, etc.
4. Affidare la societa’ al vulido patrocinio di S. Paolo, dal quale prendera’ il nome.
5. Pel presente non fare voti ne giuramenti, pero’ dobbiamo essere disposti a secondare la volonta’ divina con somina generosita’. La nostra parola d’ordine deve essere “Sequar Te quocumque ieris.”
6. Fare ogni anno gli Esercizi Spirituali di S. Ignazio di Loyola.
7. Incontrarci almeno una volta al mese.
8. Incominciare la forinazione di un Capitale per contribuzioni mensili.”
(cf. Depiro — Diary, p. 9 V — 10 r.)
enthusiastic about the idea:
“Mi promise il suo aiuto, ma mi fece anche sapere che l’idea sua finale era di farsi sublacense, appena sarebbe stato libero.”39.
And going to Mgr. F. Bonnici, as suggested by Vassallo, Depiro said that:
“Egli mi ha detto cite data l’indole del prete maltese troppo attaccato al apese natio ; se ben ml ricordo, qualifico’ la mia idea impossibile qualora non accadesse un fatto sopranaturale. M racconto’ anche come aveva lavorato ad una cosa simile e che non gli era riuscito sog— giungendo ‘ forge non era la persone destinata dalla Divina Provvidenza”.4O.
The same Bonnici adviced Depiro not to do anything and:
“Mi esorto’ alla preghiera e di non far ulteriori passi ripetendomi il detto del Padre Gualandi ‘se son fiori fioriranno.” 41
“The idea” was still very vague in Depiro’s mind. He was only convinced of the fact that he intended to begin a missionary society and in order to succeed in reaching this he had to set up a congregation. But he was still quite unsure of whether to set up a religious congregation whose members would profess the vows or whether to gather together those diocesan priests who would like Depiro’s “idea” but who would not profess any vows.42.
39. Depiro — Diary, p. 8 v.
40. Ibid., p. 8 v — 9 r.
41. Ibid., p. 9 r.
42. cf. Ibid., p. 9 V.
At the same time in the ‘addendae’ mentioned above one can notice that Depiro was quite determined that:
“Se coll’ aiuto di Dio e del Vergine si arrivera’ a di corpo regolare questo deve essere perfettamente tale.” 43.
But he adds that;
“Deve cercare ii modo ed i mezzi di tenere a se aggregati il Clero secolare.” 44
Quite obviously therefore “the ideas” in Depiro’s mind were still a bit vague. Notwithstanding the fact that “the idea” of a religious institute was not yet clear in Depiro’s mind, the thought about providing missionaries was fundamental for him from the beginning. Whatever the form of the Society, the need was felt that the missionary ideal be clearly seen even in the name it self of the new institute. The first activities of the Society were to be (a) work among the orphans at St Joseph’s Institute; (b) apostolate among the Maltese who live abroad; (c) a dedication towards those who work on ships. 45.
As has already been said, Fr Joseph was finding no support from those around him. The year 1906 passed away without providing for him anyone to make him hope
43. cf. note 38 of this Introduction n. 1.
45. Ibid., n. 2, 3.
anything positive. Depiro himself seemed to be a bit disheartened. At the same time he was resolute to do whatever providence had planned for him to do. He him self said that being the feast of the dedication of the basilicas of 8th Peter and Paul, he asked the help of the Lord through the intercession of these two saints:
“...ho celebrato in S. Pietro in Vaticano e proprio all’altare di S. Pietro. Ho applicato la messa in onore dei 55. Apostoli Pietro e Paolo pregando loro di farmi conoscere chiara— mente la volonta’ di. Dio ed aiutarrni a metterla in effetto.” 46.
It has already been made clear that Fr Depiro was quite open about the special characteristic of his future Society; he wished to set up a missionary society. It happened that in Malta there was a group of priests whose work was to go around the parishes on the Island, and help in the Christian renewal, especially by their preaching and the administration of the sacraments. This Organisation was called “L’Opera della Santa Missione” and had Mgr. E. Debono as director. The latter knowing “the plans” of Fr Depiro, invited him to join his Organisation, hoping to satisfy the zeal and “ideal” of Fr Joseph. The latter accepted the invitation. But in spite of all this great fervour to help was in fact not able to contribute much to Mgr. Debono’s Association; he was
46. Depiro — Diary, p. 10 V.
sick of TB and therefore he did not have enough breath to preach for a long time. 47. Here one has to say also that Depiro’s “wish” and “missionary ideal” was not the same as that of the ‘Opera’ of Mgr. Debono; he did not want the priests of his future Society to work in the Maltese parishes.
The year 1907 can be said to have been,much disappointing for Depiro as the years before; he had still to work very hard to find other priests in order to begin living with him as a community at St Joseph Institute. Fr Joseph’s wish was that those who would join would be ready to go to the missions. This did not seem so much easy, but on the 19th February 1907 he and Fr G. Bugeja, agreed to share their thoughts with Fr Paul Galea and Fr Robert Caruana Gatto. Depiro and Bugeja were working hand in hand and agreed to think of nothing else except of a community; for the time being they were not in favour of mentioning any vows.48
The time passed by without offering anything favourable for Depiro. The diocesan priests were not cooperating at all with him. It was only Fr G. Bugeja
47. cf. Ibid., p. 11 r — v.
48. cf. Ibid., p. 13 r.
who was supporting him.
The year 1907 was unsuccessful as was more than the first half of 1908. But then on the 8th August 1908, Depiro met a seminarian who was already a deacon and who was interested in Depiro’s project.49. His name was John Mamo. He wished to set up an Institute. There fore, Depiro invited him to meet Bugeja. In fact the three met on the 25th September and they agreed to help each other. Depiro and Bugeja encouraged Mamo to begin his Institute at Vittoriosa, one of the parishes in Malta.50. Mamo agreed with them and talked immediately to the parish priest. The latter accepted the idea of having an Institute for religious instruction in his parish.
Here one has to say that Mamo’s plans did not coincide in fact with those of Depiro. Referring to Depiro’s Diary one finds it clearly hinted that Mamo’s project was independent from Depiro’s own “p1ans”.51. On the other hand Mamo wanted to present his ideas as coming from him and the other two.52.
49. cf. Ibid., p. 13 V.
50. cf. Ibid., p. 13 V — 14 r.
52. M.S.S.P. at the time of the Founder, p. 10 V — 11 r.
This seminarian promised KDepiro that there were other seminarians who were interested and ready to join if the three of them, that is Depiro, Bugeja and Mamo, would succeed in beginning a Congregation.53a
To continue proving the independence of the one project from the other one can make reference to the fact that Depiro and Mamo presented their plans separately, to Archbishop Pace. Mamo did this through one of his professors, Fr Anton Vella 53b, while Depiro thought that he could do this directly. In fact he communicated “his ideas” for the first time to the Archbishop on the 29th September l9O8. 54. Being asked by Depiro to bless the project, Archbishop Pace did not only accept to do this, but also promised his help.55.
If Mgr. Debono’s and Mamo’s projects did not conform at all with Depiro’s, there was someone else who had understood him more than the other two and in fact offered him an idea which could be said to coincide with that of Depiro. Mgr. Peter Pace, as Archbishop of Malta, had been thinking about sending diocesan priests to work abroad. What was still difficult for him was how to form these priests for the missionary ideal. It seemed
53a. Ibid., p. 10 r — v.
54. cf. Depiro — Diary, p. 14 r.
55. cf. Ibid., p. 14 r.
that Pace had written to the Superior General of the Mill Hill Fathers, through a certain Fr Innocent, asking him to suggest some way how to begin a missionary seminary. This Superior General answered Fr Innocent on the 30th May 1908. 56. The Archbishop, knowing Depiro’s “wish” to begin a Missionary Society and having promised his help, passed on this same letter to Depiro for the latter to express his opinion. Analysing this letter one finds out that there the missionary ideal as escogitated by Depiro was undenially present. But there was no reference at all to any of the religious vows. The Mill Hill Superior General did not speak of any Religious Institute. On the contrary, he suggested that the College should be set up by the Archbishop himself and it was he who had to choose its superiors and staff. 57.
Notwithstanding all this difference between Depiro’s “plans” and the suggestions made in this letter, Depiro thought that it was better to get in his hands that same opportunity and try to develop it. Therefore he asked the Archbishop whether it was possible for hit to begin such a seminary. But it was exactly here that Depiro had to experience another setback. It happened, that the Archbishop
56. cf. M.S.S.P. at the time of the Founder, p. 7—9.
57. cf. Ibid.
himself, was not in favour of establishing such a seminary, at least at that particular moment. The reason was that the Salesians had begun one of their Oratories in Malta and therefore the Archbishop thought that it was not proper to begin a similar project at the same time. Depiro knew that the two activities were in fact not similar, but he was determined to do what the Archbishop had suggested. In fact Fr Joseph asked the Archbishop whether he had to abandon his own “project” or not. The Archbishop answered by telling him that he had not only to persevere in his “ideas”, but also to find other priests to join him when the proper time would come. 58.
Thus the year 1908 came to an end. Depiro had some meetings with Mamo. The latter informed Bepiro that he had made contact with one of his professors, Fr Barbara, who was interested in their “plans”. At the same time Depiro was told that when Barbara heard of the community life that was supposed to be lived by the members of the new Congregation, he thought it was impossible for him to join them. At the same time he promised them his help. 59.
The first hope for Depiro came in 1909. Depiro, Bugeja and Mamo were still thinking of opening a house.
58. cf. Depiro — Diary, p. 18 r.
59. cf. Ibid., p. 18 r — v.
All three met together on the 29th July 1909 and decided that for the time being they had to refrain from telling the Archbishop about their plans. They also decided to open a house to teach catechism in it. 60.
In spite of this agreement it was still very clear in Depiro’s mind that his original “project” was something else. In fact on the 1st August 1909, while on his own, he
formulated a promise that was intended for those who were going to make part of his future Congregation. This manifests what Depiro’s “plan and ideal” were:
“In nome del Padre, del Figliolo, e dello Spirito Santo. Cosi’ sia.
Promettiamo innanzi a Dio, alla Beata Vergine Assunta in cielo ed a San Paolo Agostolo, appena ottenuta l’opportuna autorizzazione dalla Santo Sede.
Scopo della Compagnia e’ quello di formare dei Missionaril ed inviarli ove occorrono.
La Compagnia considerera’ come proprio ii libro degli Hsercizi Spirituali di S. Ignazio di Loyola, dal quale estrarra’ le proprie regole e costituzioni.”61.
La Fontaine a great benefactor of Depiro
Archbishop Pace can be considered to have been of great encouragement to Depiro because he seemed to
60. cf. Ibid., p. 19 r.
61. M.S.S.P. at the time of the Founder, p. 14.
have understood his wishes and aims and he had passed on to him the letter about missionary formation. But there was someone else who must be considered as another very great friend. This was the Apostolic Visitor, Mgr. Peter La Fontaine. Many of the people whose help Depiro sought remained passive or gave very little help, but La Fontaine gave Depiro his constant support up to his very death.
On the 2nd November 1909 Depiro wrote these words in his Diary:
“Il giorno dei morti e primo martedi del mese.
I Visitatore Apostolico Mons La Fontaine e’ stato all’ Istituto Fra Diego; durante il colloquio avuto con lui cadde il discorso sulla facenda delle Missioni estere. Gli comunicai’ la mia idea. M’incoraggi’ a presentare la domanda. ...“ 62.
La Fontaine had gone to Fra Diegu Institute as:
Apostolic Delegate. Undoubtedly this was a providential visit for Depiro and his future Society. As the above words indicate Depiro and La Fontaine talked together about the Missions. Being asked by the Apostolic Visitor to express his wishes in writing Depiro met Bugeja to share the suggestion made to him by La Fontaine. In fact, Depiro wrote the petition on the 3rd November and passed
62. Depiro - Diary, p. 19 r.
it on to Bugeja to sign it. 63. Mamo put down his name on the 8th of the same month. 64. These were the exact words of Depiro’s ‘Supplica’:
Noi sottoscritti umilmente prostrati ai piedi di Vostra Santita’, domandiamo il permesso di iniziare l’istituzione di una Societa’ religiosa, allo scopo di formare dei Missionarii particolarmente ed in primo luogo per le colonie di Maltesi all’ estero.
(fermati) Sac Giuseppe Depiro
D. Giorgio Bugeja
Diac. Mamo Giovanni.” 65
On the 11th November, Depiro took this same petition to La Fontaine. 66. The latter, knowing how much the Holy See appreciated such a ‘supplica’ when recommended by the local ordinary, told Depiro to have the signature of Archbishop Pace on it. Depiro, who trusted La Fontaine, did as he was told and on the lath November of the same year talked to Archbishop Pace about the petition. From the same ‘supplica’ we know that the Archbishop wrote his recommendation on the left hand
63. cf. Ibid.
64. of. Ibid., p. 19 v.
65. M.S.S.P. at the time of the Founder, p. 12 r.
66. cf. Depiro — Diary, p. 19 v.
67. cf. Ibid.
side of the ‘supplica’, and signed it on the 15th November 1909, 68. by saying:
“Commendo pro gratia.
Datum Vallettae die 15 Nov. 1909.
P. Arch. Episc. Melitae.” 69.
This ‘supplica’ was most important for the beginning of the Society but at the same time the words “particolarmente ed in primo luogo per 1e Colonie di Maltesi all’ estero” were to cause Depiro much misunderstanding from the side of the Holy See. Depiro never meant that his Society should ever exclude the work among those who had never heard the Good News. 70 However he could not
68. cf. M.S.S.P. at the time of the Founder, p. 12 r.
70. writing to La Fontaine on the 30.6.16, Depiro was quite clear about his project:
“Anzitutto come Ella potra’ vedere dal foglio ......, nel dire in primo luogo non si intende fare l’esclusione supposta dalla Sacra Congregazione; ed utinam ii Piccolo Istituto maltese possa in futuro aver quest’ onore di inviare missionarli presso gli infedeli e per tutto 11 mondo! Ma come ben comprendera’ l’Eccza Vra, da parte nostra sarebbe troppo ardire il solo accarezzare una simile idea — Inoltre ho desiderato che il titolo per l’ordinazione fosse quello di Missione, per imprimere sempre piu’ nella mente e nel cuore dei giovani l’idea missionara : Ella che conosce qualche cosa di Malta, sa molto bone quanto il maltese sia attaccato al suo suolo natio; e comprendera anche che l’idea delle Missioni Estere non trovando terreno fertile se lo deve formare per se” (M.S.S.P. at the time of the Founder, p. 4l v).
eliminate the fact that his times were such that many Maltese were going abroad to find work there and many a times they had no priest to cater for their spiritual needs. For the time being Depiro thought it was wise to launch his Congregation by beginning the work of evangelisation among the Maltese migrants. 71.
Depiro and La Fontaine contacted each other continuously. The first letter from the side of the Apostolic Visitor was written on the 27th January 1910. La Fontaine told Depiro that:
“Il Santo Padre, a cui esposi la sua domanda, informato da me in proposito, si rallegro’ del santo divisamento e mi affido’ l’onorevole incarico di dirle che egli conforta lei e i compagni con la Benedizione Apostolica.” 72.
This same letter spoke of an ‘indirect’ benediction from the side of Pope Pius X which did not mean in any way the approval of Depiro’s project. There were still many things to be done in order that Depiro’s “plane” might get this same approval. Depiro began to realise that even his great benefactor, La Fontaine, had not understood him completely; he had compared Depiro’s “project” to that of Mgr. Coccolo who had founded a
71. cf. Interviews: Fr John Vella, p. 52 — 53.
72. M.S.S.P. at the time of the Founder, p. 15.
Society of diocesan priests who worked among the Italian migrants.
La Fontaine also suggested to Depiro to talk to a certain Fr Vella S.J. who had worked among the Maltese in Greece. The “particolarmente ed in primo luogo” of the petition seemed to have been interpreted as “unicamente” by La Fontaine!
Another illness was to trouble Depiro after La Fontaine’s departure from Malta. In fact one can find out that the above mentioned letter from the Apostolic Visitor found Depiro sick of typhoid fever. 74. Answering La Fontaine’s letter on the 21st February 1920, Depiro told him these words:
“Appena mi sono un po’ rimesso ho conferito cogli altri compagni e coll’aiuto di Dio speriamo in breve di dar principio all’ opera, e cosi renderci’ in qualche modo degni della benigna Benedizione del Santo Padre della quale sentiamo tutta la responsabilita’...” 75.
The “Piccola Casa di San Paolo”
This was the time when Depiro, Bugeja and Mamo began their search for the first house of the Society.
74. cf. Ibid., p. 16
Having been asked to give permission for this, 76, the Archbishop approved, “...di cuore 1’Opera e le auguriamo ogni prosperita’ 77.
This was on the 6th June 1910.
The petition made by Depiro and his two companions gave details about the use of the house and repeated the aim of the Society:
“...una casa pia: la quale serirra’ di residenza ai componenti una societa’ religiosa allo scopo di formare dei Missionarii, particolarmente ed in prima luogo per 10 colonie di Maltesi all’ estero. La detta casa portera’ il nome di “Piccola Casa di San Paolo.” 78.
The Archbishop on his part, having blessed the project, asked the three priests to present the Society’s statutes. 79
The above mentioned house was opened on the 12th June 1910 and Archbishop Pace blessed it. Depiro delivered a speech for the occasion and having made an appeal to the Maltese clergy, reminding those present that Mgr. F. Bonnici and Mgr. E. Debono had thought before of founding
76. Ibid., p. 18 r.
79. cf. Ibid.
such a Society. He also compared the small house to the grotto at Bethlehem. 80.
The first vocations
Now that Depiro and the other two companions had succeeded in finding a small house for their project, they all did their best to make fit a decent place where the future members could live. Depiro did not forget his benefactor La Fontaine. On such an occasion he thought it was opportune to write to him about the small house:
“In quanto all’ Opera nostra abbiamo gia’ preso in affitto una piccola casa alla Notabile (Imdina) e poveramente per quanto possibile cerchiamo di ammobilirla. Essa supera gia’ di molto il nostro esemplare: la Grotta di Bethlem.” 81.
Depiro continued telling La Fontaine about the benediction of the house by Archbishop Caruana. But then he added something else which is of the utmost importance:
...e mercoledi’ prossimo vigilia della festa del Nostro Padre e giorno onomastico tanto di V.E., che le auguriamo colmo di beni celesti, come anche’ di Mons Pace; la “Piccola Casa” incominciera’ per accogliere uno studente ed un catechista.” 82.
Thus the first two members of the new Society went to the
80. cf. Ibid., p. 22.
81. Ibid., p. 24.
‘ Casa” to begin their life of dedication to God and their neighbour.
Depiro was left alone
After Bugeja and Mamo had worked with Depiro in order to begin their project, both of them left Depiro alone, yet he was determined to continue. At the same time although he tried to remain always humble, Depiro himself admitted that he had never imagined that the work was so much difficult. He had never imagined that it would be so hard to cultivate a vocation and help the members of his Society to persevere. 83.
A blessing from Pius X
Pius X did not bless Depiro and his Society only in words and through an intermediary. On the 11th June 1911 the Pope sent a written blessing carrying his own autograph. This blessing is still kept by the Society with great respect. At the same time it cannot be considered as a valid document historically. By means of it the Pope blessed Depiro and the Catechist priests who made part of his Society. He blessed them for the spiritual work they were doing in the Maltese colonies of Corfu’
83. cf. Ibid., p. 59 v.
and Tripoli. The historical mistake here was that not only had Depiro not yet sent any member abroad, but that several other years still had to pass for the Society to have any priests at all.
Severa1 honourable activities
If one were to make reference to the “Ragioni pro e contro” which Depiro put to ‘writing in relation to his going or not to study at the Accademia, one finds these words on the “Contro” side:
“Perche’ all’ Accademia, finche’ io sappia, non ci vanno che quelli, i quili possono vantare una buona nascita - 2. Perche’ all’ Accademia mi si metto, come a dire in nostra, per aver qualche posto, mentre e’ dottrina certissima che Gesu’ predilige coloro, ‘qui amant nesciri’: E siccome egli afiorche’ determino’ di eleggermi per suo ministro, seppe trovarmi fra il numero dei peccatori; cosi’ Se Egli ha deleberato di me qualche altra cosa, a fortiori sapra’ trovarmi nel numero dei suol eletti, e non e’ necessario che io mi metto avanti, e cercar di farmi conoscere cole’ audar all’ Accademia — 3. Se ‘recogito peccata mea’ non mi trovo degno che di bastonate altro che prelature e posti diplomatici!...e gia infinitamente troppo se arrivo ad essere sacerdote.” 84.
This same reference can be considered as a clear sign that Depiro had always sought to live a humble life. He had only twenty four years when he wrote these words, but he kept to this frame of mind through all his life.
84 Depiro — Documents, p. 24.
Archbishop Pace thought it most opportune and reasonable to make Depiro Monsignor of the Metropolitan Cathedral. In fact one can see that Fr Joseph Depiro received his nomination as Monsignor, from the Pope, on the 7th June 1911. 85. To be exact, this nomination arrived at the Curia and Depiro received a copy of it on the 21st June 1911. 86. On the 27th of the same month Fr Depiro was made member of the Metropolitan Chapter in a Ceremony at the Cathedral. 87
This was not the only honourable work that Fr Depiro was given. His choice as Monsignor of the Metropolitan Cathedral introduced him to another activity, that of dean of the same Chapter. 88.
Immediately after his nomination as Archbishop of Malta in 1915, the Benedictine Maurus Caruana chose Mgr Depiro as his private secretary. Even if one were only to have a look at the letters -written to him from abroad, one would see quite easily that Mgr Depiro was very active in this office and he did his job with great attention and meticulosity. 89.
85. cf. Pope Pius X to Fr Joseph Depiro, 7.6.11 ( Depiro Canon of the Metropolitan Church of Malta, p. 15 r — 18 v).
86. cf. Ibid.
87. cf. Ibid., p. 20 r.
88. cf. Ibid., p. 5.
89. cf. Depiro — Documents, p. 25 K.
Mgr Depiro remained secretary to Archbishop Caruana for almost three years, up to 1918, when he was then appointed Rector of the Major Seminary of Malta. 90. Two years later because of his ‘molteplici occupazioni ha rinunciato a questo ufficio” and the acceptance of this same renounciation, from the side of the Archbishop, came to Mgr Depiro on the 19th October
One cannot forget to mention another responsibility in Mgr Depiro’s life. In Malta the Clergy had the right to be represented at the House of Representatives and Mgr Depiro was chosen by Archbishop Caruana to do this job in 1932. This was for him a bit too much because there were times when he had to remain in the House until late at night. In spite of all this he obeyed his superior again and did his best to help in finding a solution for the politico-religious question that existed in those years. 92
More work among the orphans
The above mentioned activities of Mgr Joseph Depiro can never be forgotten but one would not be at the same
91. cf. Depiro — Documents, p. 25 1.
92. cf. Student S.S.P. Mons. Can. Dec. Gius. del Msi. De Piro, p. 22.
time wrong if one were t say that most of Mgr Depiro’s life was spent among the poor children gathered together in the orphanages in Malta and Gozo. And one must say also that whereas he had carried out most of the above mentioned duties only temporarily, he had continued to be responsible of all the institutes under his care until his death.
He was already director of Fra Diegu Institute when in 1922 Archbishop Caruana entrusted to his care another two Institutes, St Joseph’s for boys, and that of Jesus of Nazareth for girls. Besides these Institutes in Malta Mgr Depiro had to take care also of another Institute, St Joseph’s, this time at Ghajnsielem — Gozo; the parish priests of this diocese thought that Mgr Depiro was the ideal man to run the new Institute they had begun in 1925. In 1927 there came another house for Mgr Depiro, St Francis de Paul, for the girls.
St Joseph’s Institute
When presenting the life of Mgr Depiro, one cannot be simply satisfied by stating only that for a number of years he was the director of St Joseph’s Institute in Malta. This Institute had a special significance in the life of Mgr Depiro and the biographer has to ponder at
least briefly on it.
It has already been said that Joseph Depiro has had contact with Mgr F.X. Bonnici, the founder and first director of St Joseph’s, since he was very young. He continued this same contact even with Fr E. Vassallo and Fr G. Bugeja, who came after Bonnici. Depiro was quite clear, especially in his Diary, about the fact that his wish to go and live in this same Institute had dominated all his thoughts. There were many reasons why he wanted to do this; in his “flagioni pro” of his going to St Joseph’s he listed eight in all. The very first one mentioned the setting up of a Congregation for priests while the second expressed his wish to live a community life, together with another two priests. The others expressed his great wish for perfection in his spiritual life.
In spite of the fact that Joseph Depiro was so much determined to settle at St Joseph’s he had two difficulties. One was the Archbishop’s wish to send him to the Accademia; and against this Joseph had several objections. The other was the question of his strength - he was not sure of his physical health.
Depiro’s Society grows up amid great difficulties
By the year 1916 one of the first 2 members who
93. Depiro – Documents, p. 24.
had arrived at the “Piccola Casa di San Paolo”, and who was supposed to continue his studies for the priest hood, began nearing his ordination. Mgr Depiro, as founder of the Society of St Paul, wished to stress the missionary charism of his Society by asking the Sacred Congregation of the Sacraments, the permission for the student mentioned above to be ordained “Titolo Missionis”. Accompanying this petition, written on the 22nd August 1916, Mgr Depiro sent a brief history of the Society up to that date. This information is most interesting. Having mentioned the origin, Apostolic Benediction of Pius X, and the opening of the residence for the first members, (94- footnote) Mgr Depiro continued with the historical development of his
“Sviluppo - 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 formarono una vera speranza per 1’Istituto, pure d’altra parte la Divina Provvidenza non manco’ di lenire i guai, interpolando le contrarieta’ con delle soave consolazioni tra le quali Va ricordato ii decreto di S. E. Mgr Portelli, allora Amministratore del Diocesi, pel quale ai giovani residenti nella Piccola Casa venne concesso il premesso di poter indossare l’abito talare.” 95.
One can therefore see that the beginning of Mgr Depiro’s Society was not very easy in that the Founder
94. cf. M.S.S.P. at the time of the Founder, p. 59 r - V.
95. Ibid., 59v - 60 r.
had to suffer, amongst other things, several losses of vocations. On the other hand Depiro was going to have his first priest, John Vella. In fact one finds Vella, being approved for the minor orders on the 10th Sept. 1917. (96). was ordained subdeacon on the 21st December l918, (97) deacon on the 4th April 1919, (98)and presbyter on the 20th September 1919. (99)
For Mgr Depiro this was also the time when he was doing his best to get the Pontifical Approval for the Society. Here it is worth remembering that in 1906 the Sacred Congregation for Bishops and Regulars had published a Decree saying that no congregation could be considered to be a religious one before it would have been approved by the Holy See. The new Congregation of Mgr Depiro did not have such an approval yet. Therefore the Founder wrote to Bishop Portelli (100) on the 10th March 1919 in order to give him Information about the origin, development, and Constitutions of the “Small Institute”. (101)
96. cf. Fr J. Vella — Documents, p. 27 r.
97. cf. Ibid., 36 r.
98. cf. Ibid., 37 r.
99. cf. Ordination Registers at the Archbishop’s Curia.
100. Bishop Portelli was the Vicar General and Apostolic Administrator of the diocese of Malta.
101. cf M.S.S.P. at the time of the Founder, p. 118 v.
This information was then passed on to Cardinal Van Possum, the Prefect of ‘Propaganda Fidei’, in order that he might see whether it was possible for the Sacred Congregation to accept in its decastery Depiro’s Missionary Society. The Congregation could not see clearly the real intentions of Mgr Depiro, whether (i) he intended to set up a Society the members of which would profess the vow and whether (ii) the members would go only to the Maltese migrants, or anywhere
All this caused many difficulties for Mgr Depiro. In order to help him overcome these hurdles Depiro had Don Archangelo Bruni, one of the secretaries at ‘Propaganda Fidei’. After a protracted correspondence between them, Bruni answered Depiro about another two rescripts for the “Pitolo Missionis” for another two students of his Society. It is very important to report some of the words of this letter of Don Bruni:
“Mi do premura di trasmetterle i due rescritti, per I quali Ella mi trasmise la domanda con preghiera di occuparmene. Vi e’ stato qua difficolta’, ma e’ stata superata. In seguito pero’ per simili istanze dovra’ rivolgersi alla S.C. dei Religiosi.” lO4’.
102. ci. Ibid., p. 122.
103. cf e.g. Ibid., p. 138.104. Ibid., p. 149.
104. Ibid., p. 149
These words of Bruni were very significant for Mgr Depiro because they were a clear proof for him that ‘Propaganda Fidei’ had not accepted his Society and instead he had to pass under the Sacred Congregation for Religious. In fact referring to the “Decretum” sent by Archbishop Caruana to Depiro on the 2nd April 1924, one can find out that it was the Sacred Congregation for Religious which had given the permission to Mgr Caruana to grant the Canonical erection to the Society of Depiro. 105
Notwithstanding all this the Founder of the new Society continued stressing the missionary characteristic of his Congregation. He wished to make the members realise that besides being religious and therefore bound to live the three vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, (106) they had to be prepared to leave their country and evangelise the Good News wherever needed.
The Missionary Charism over and above everything
The Missionary activity was the greatest ambition of Mgr Depiro. In spite of the fact that the Society was already doing much work in Malta and Gozo especially in the Institutes and at the Oratory in Birkirkara, the
105. cf. Ibid. p. 168 r.
For complete ‘Decree’ cf. Ibid., p. 168 r — 169 r. This Decree approved the first two sections of the Rules and Constitutions.
106. See the development of this at the ‘Conclusion’ of this work
Founder was still looking forward for the moment when he would be able to send the first members to the Missions. It was in 1928 that Bro Joseph Caruana, one of the first two members of Depiro’s Society, left Malta and went to Edis Abeba in Abbyssinia.
This was not enough for Mgr Depiro; he himself wished to go to the Missions. In fact he had planned that he, together with another priest and two lay brothers of the Society, would go near Bro Caruana to see what were the possibilities for the Society to work in that African country. From a letter sent by Bro Caruana himself, it can be concluded that Depiro, together with the others, was intended to reach Abbyssinia in September 1933. (107).
His sudden death
But man proposes and God disposes. Mgr Depiro’s desire to go to Abbysswinia and plan for the Society’s future there had to give way to another event. It was the 17th September, 1933. After Mgr Depiro had led the procession of Our Lady of Sorrows in one of Malta’s parishes, Hamrun, he felt sick while giving benediction with the Blessed Sacrament. He died that same day, late in the evening, at the Central Hospital in Floriana. Depiro had to end up his life when he was only fifty five years of age.
107. cf. Bro Joseph Caruana to Depiro, 2.4.33.
A Life of Chastity
As diocesan priest Depiro vowed chastity
If one were to take in hand some manual which treats the history of celibacy for diocesan priests, one would see that since the first years of the Church’s existence there had been many discussions about whether to promulgate this same vow as a law or not. (1) The final decision about this obligation for all clerics who are constituted in the sacred orders and for religious came from the Council of Trent.
Mgr Depiro, although he was not a religious and therefore not bound by the vow of chastity in the way that all religious are, was supposed to live it because he was in the clerical state.
This is not enough; it can be said quite openly and with certainty that if one were to study Depiro’s own words, one would notice that chastity was the first
1. For a good presentation of the history of ecclesiastical Celibacy in the teachings of the Popes and the Councils, cf. “Il celibato ecclesiastico nell’ insegnamento del Sommi Pontefici e dei Concili,” by Mgr F. Marchisano. In Seminarium, New Series, year Vll, n. 4 (October—December 1967), pp. 729—765.
2. cf. Denz. 1809 c. 9.
vow that came to the mind of Depiro. From the very first moment when he had decided to leave the Law studies at the Royal University of Malta and go to Rome to begin his studies for the priesthood, Joseph began thinking of a life of complete continence. At such a time Depiro had thought it was appropriate to put into writing the “Pros and Cons” in relation to his accepting the call from God. In the “Pros” section, one finds these words:
“L’aver dopo riflessioni trovato essere questo lo stato piu’ confacente alla mia natura”. 3.
“Il sentirmi dover essere felice in questo stato, in tutte le controversie alle quali per ora ne incontrai in questa vita.” 4.
When trying to get out the exact meaning of these words of young Joseph one may think that Depiro wanted to embrace the clerical state because he disliked the married life. But all this would be denied if only one continues reading the “Cons’ section. Here Joseph showed that he was not idealistic at all about the celibate life; he mentioned:
“L’istinto animalesco alla vita coniugale.” 5.
3. Depiro — Documents, p. 25 r, n. 8.
4. Ibid., p. 25 v, n 11.
5. Ibid., n. 1.
“…e percio’ il timore che durante la mia
vita celibe, nella lotta tra lo spirito e
la materia, abbia questa ultima il sopravvento” 6.
These words are indication that Depiro was quite conscious of the fact that he could not rely on his natural inclinations towards the celibate life. Otherwise there would be a time when this would disappear and nature would not support his vocational choice any more. Therefore one cannot ever, say that Depiro embraced celibacy because he was not conscious of the difficulties related to such a life. The fact that he was seeing that before hand, meant that he was making the step forward consciously and in a mature way.
The means used by Bepiro in favour of celibacy
(i) Prayer: a spiritual help
But the fact that the “Istinto animalesco” might have “Il sopravvento” did not make Joseph think it twice about whether to embrace the celibate life or not. Depiro was first and foremost conscious of the fact that the individual could live celibacy; when one would be called by God for such a state, one would also be given the help
6. Ibid., n. 2.
from above. In the Rules which Mgr Depiro wrote for the members of his Society, he showed quite clearly this same conviction. He wrote to the members about:
“uno speciale dono di Dio”.7
Therefore Depiro’s first step in favour of the preservation of this vow consisted in praying Jesus and Mary for this same “dono speciale”. While in retreat in preparation for his deaconate, and therefore before promising celibacy for all his life, Joseph wrote some notes which he called “Generale” and “Riforma Particolare”. In these same reforms he expressed his promises for the future. Among these he mentioned those related to chastity. At the end of the section named “Corpo”, Depiro put down these words:
“Nelle tentazioni invocare Gesu e Maria.” 9
The Rules support the above mentioned words:
“...cosi’ si sforzino congiungere di continuo l’orazione colla vigilanza e con gran fervore si raccomandino a Gesu’ ed a Maria, ed a loro ricorrano in ogni pericolo e tentazione.” 10.
7. Regale Della Compagnia di S. Paolo. Vol. 11, Del Voto di Castita’, n. 3 (p. 18)
8. cf. Depiro — Documents, p. 23 r — v
9. Depiro - Documents, p. 23 V.
10. Regole Della Compagnia di S. Paolo. Vol 11, Del Voto di Castita’, n. 3 (p. 18)
Here Mgr Depiro was surely referring to the temptations against chastity because these were words written while treating this same vow.
Thus Depiro clearly believed he should trust more in God’s help rather than in his own resources.
(ii) Material precautions
Having presented the essential meaning of chastity, Vatican II passed on to mention the aids which religious are supposed to use in order to live well their celibate life. The first means is prayer. The second is (a) “the practice of mortification and (b) the custody of the senses.” 11
Depiro, many years before the publication of ‘Perfectae Caritatis’ of Vatican II had stressed the importance of these same helps in order that one might be able to preserve one’s chastity. In the already mentioned “Riforma” Joseph Depiro reminded himself that in order to keep clean he had:
“Guardare e non fissare — non fare visite dove ci e’ l’altro sesso, particolarmente giovane; se non per necessita’, carita’ ed ubbidienza”. 12.
11. P.C. 12b.
12. Depiro — Documents, p. 23 v.
Preaching to a group of youths about St John Berchmans, Mgr Depiro told them that “Berchmans preserved the beauty and fragrance” of this vow:
“...per mezzo di un assidua mortificazione della gola, per mezzo di una costante custodia degli occhi, ed infine colla fuga di ogni famigliarita’ di ogni mala compagnia.” 13.
Mgr. Depiro was so much convinced of the efficiency and necessity of these aids that he encouraged the youths who were in front of him to practice these mortifications in their own lives.
There are other references to these same means in favour of life. Bro Jerome Gatt, who had entered Depiro’s Society to be a lay brother, began his novitiate on the 27th October 1929, and ended a year after, on the 28th October l93o) This brother was very methodic in his duties. In fact we find that he used to keep the notes of all the conferences which the Founder himself delivered to him and his companion in the same novitiate. In these notes of Bro Gatt one can find clear references to the practical means to be used by the two novices. On the 6th November 1929 Mgr Depiro told them that:
“When we are alone in our rooms we must not give much liberty to ourselves. We must remember that we have the Guardian Angel who is a celestial prince. We have to call our companions with their
13. Sermon B.
14. cf. Personal filesof members of M.s.s.p n. 28
title: if Don, Don; if brother, brother. Because otherwise there would grow up a certain familiarity and one would lose the religious decor.” 15.
To the same novices he said this on the 2nd October 1930:
“Since our fantasy is always active, we must always make it work on other things (other than thoughts against purity) and never be lazy.” 16.
“We must pay much attention on our eyes, because as it is from our eyes that light enters our body, so too enters sin.” 17.
Chastity and Depiro’s human affectivity
Different definitions of chastity have been given! One definition is: 1 Chastity is the renounciation of human love and its fulfilments.” But many people are dismayed when they hear such things being said. And they consider it nothing less than a tautology when they
15. Note: When the quotation is in English, it means that the original has been in Maltese and I have translated it in English for convenience’s sake. Where this occurs I would say “Personal translation”, as in this case.
16. “Personal translation”.
From the notes of Bro J. Gatt alone one can find out that the Founder mentioned the evil of laziness at least eight times and at some length during the novitiate 1929—1930.
17. Personal translation” Bro J. Gatt’s notes.
hear such words as, “Celibacy is not unnatural, but supernatural.” Chastity is in fact many a times considered as directly opposite to man’s fulfilment and creativity, elements which are so much deeply rooted in the man of today. The chaste man has come to be considered half man. On the other hand married love has become the indispensable means for psychological maturity and the fully integrated personality. According to several, human love cannot reach its fullness without sexual expression.
In reality what is the relationship between perfect chastity and human love? Christianity has al ways considered with great esteem the life of virginity and encouraged those men and women who are called by God to make this renunciation. But what is it exactly that religious renounce? Does the virgin renounce human love? What is the impact of celibacy upon psychological growth?
Without doubt evangelical chastity renounces for the pleasure related to the deliberate exercise of the sexual faculties. It involves also the affective development brought about by married love. The chaste man or woman renounces children who are the fruit of married love. And we must not forget to mention the other renunciations, the affective development brought about
by parental love. Since these are great values in man’s life, one comes to ask a very important question: can a virgin still be human, that is love humanly?
Sexual love in the strict sense is renounced by the celibate. But human love is more extensive than sexual love. Human love is in its essence not sexual but personal. Love’s transcendence of self through self— donation does not necessarily involve the physical donation of self in the sexual union. Another love is possible and in the Christian dispensation, preferable. This is virginal love. And deep as the renunciations of
evangelical chastity are, they do not involve the renunciation of masculine or feminine affectivity.
In the case of Depiro this was very true. One can prove this if only one looks at Depiro’s relationship to his mother and other relatives, if one sees how Depiro treated the members of his Society, and by referring to his deep love towards the poor young generation of the Maltese Society of his days.
(1) Joseph Depiro and his family
Going through the correspondence written between Joseph Depiro and his mother, when the former was still
in Rome, one would know that having gone to the Gregorian University young Joseph had found that he had much work to do:
“Durante la giornata non ci e’ un quarto libero, son sempre in fretta per fare a tempo colla compana. Se ci 0’ Un momento di ricreazione alamo tenuti di farlo insieme e non possiamo andare in camera senza permesso”.18.
And therefore one may suppose that Depiro had abandoned the letters to his mother because of the studies he had to do. But in fact this did not happen. Joseph preferred to write in brief but regularly:
‘Percio’ questa lettera dovra’ essere breve perche’ altrimenti non ti la mandero’ neanche’ oggi.” 19.
Joseph Depiro showed that his affections to his family were quite vivid when he wrote to his brother Gwido and told him that he was not right when not writing to their other brothers: -
“...hai quattro fratelli all’estero, e non farai punto male, anzi farai benissimo a scrivere loro ogni settimana per turno. La scusa di non trovare tempo a scrivere non la devi usar mai, perche’ non regge che in rarissimi casi nei quali tu non mi pare che ti trovi, e poi e’ unico non avere le lettere con questa scusa e’ una formula
18. Joseph Depiro to Ursola Depiro, 13.11.98, p. 48
tanto antica, che ormai e’ giunto il tempo a cambiarla’ • 20.
In these same letters we find that young Joseph showed quite clearly his affectivity for his relatives. There are many letters which show this and here a few references can be made:
— when there was need he answered immediately:
Stasera poco fa, ho ricevuto la tua lettera.” 21.
— He thought deeply of his mother
“...la quale mi mise in pensiero sul tuo conto, poiche’ dai calcoli che posso fare e gia’ da tempo che ti senti male; ma devi stare attenta a non affaticarti piu’ di quello che e’ permesso dalle tue forze.” 22.
— And he was able to feel with her:
Forse ti sarai inquietata un poco ancora vedendo approssimarsi la partenza di Gino e Teresina.” 23.
— He was happy when his relatives were in good health:
“Godo il sentire che Maria sta bene..” 24.
20. Joseph Depiro to Gwido Depiro, p. 19 r.
21. Joseph Depiro to Ursola Depiro, 24.8.98, p. 42.
— Almost the same sentiments are expressed by Joseph in this other letter:
“Ho avuto questa sera una tua, senza esagerare letterina… ma parliamo d’altro; per quanto piccola pure mi ha recato piacere e dispiacere; ho sentito con piacere l’ultima notizia di Gino cioe’ che stave bene fino al 9, e mi dispiacque sapere che tu stavi male non solo ma che ti senti ancora debole; cara mamma stai un po attenta e guardati bene; quando senti bisogno di riposarti, riposati senz’altro senza scrupoli...” 25.
— Having told his mother that he had been waiting very anxiously for a letter from her, Joseph shared with Ursola the simplest things; people who are intimate with each other share even small details:
“Ancora non ti ho detto che il Rettore mi ha dato l’incarico d sagrestano, e l’ufficio principale m e’ di preparare le lampade al Sacramento ed altre.. Questo lavoro lo facelo durante ricreazione e credi pure che lo faccio con sommo piacere.” 26.
It was for this that although far away from Malta, his mother had always hoped that her son Joseph would remain helping her continuously.
— In the Introduction we mentioned the fact that when Joseph had decided to leave the course of Law and begin that of the priesthood, he informed his mother about this immediately. We also said that
25. Ibid., 2k.3.00, p. 105 r.
26. Ibid., 11.11.00, p. 139 v.
when Ursola heard this she was most satisfied. So much so that she talked to Joseph’s uncle, Baron Depiro, and asked him to seek the permission from the Archbishop for Joseph to go and study in Rome.27. Joseph was sure that his mother was very satisfied about him becoming a priest. When he became priest he immediately thought of his mother. Although he was ordained on the 15th March at St John Lateran, and therefore with some months more of study before him he did not wait till the end of the scholastic year to return to Malta but went immediately there and celebrated his first solemn high Mass at the Metropolitan Cathedral.
— All this love for his family did not end with his being ordained priest. In l907 there was an occasion where Fr Joseph showed again his great affection for one member of his family:
On the 2nd March 1907, his sister Mary, who had been suffering of some heart trouble, died. 28.
27. One can get this information from a letter Joseph Depiro sent to his mother telling her about his first meeting with the Rector of the Capranica. cf. J. Depiro to Ursola Depiro, 18.12.98, pp. 48 r — 49 v.
28. cf. Depiro — Diary, pp. 16 — 17.
In a letter sent by her mother to all her sons and daughters, Ursola mentioned all the sufferings that Mary had experienced. She also mentioned the part played by her son Fr Joseph at the death of his sister Mary:
“A venerdi, di notte, ella senti’ l’orologio suonando la mezza notte, e ci disse: ‘E’ mezza notte, ed e gia’ il sabato; oggi io muoio. E’ la giornata de Madonna. Ed era cosi’. file undid e an quarto, not tutti eravamo vicino ad essa; Alfredo teneva i polso; Giuseppe, cite con coraggio eccezionale rimaneva vicino ad essa fino alla fine, teneva l’altra mano. ....“ 29.
(ii) Mgr Depiro and the members of his Society
If Depiro had expressed his affection to his relatives in the letters he used to send them and in the way he behaved with them, we can say without any hesitation that Mgr Depiro’s chastity helped him develop a great affectivity towards the members of his Society.
We have shown in the Introduction that Mgr Depiro had several other duties besides the building up of his Society. These same duties made him remain away from the members of his Society even for some days. But in fact, this same absence can be considered to have been providential to some extent, because the same members had enough
29. cf. Family Depiro, pp. 16 — 17
time to realise what it meant to have the father absent from their family. In fact Mgr Depiro had been so much fatherly to the members of his Society that they themselves referred to his paternal love to them in the letters they sent him while being away. Reading these same letters one finds such expressions as:
“Carissimo nostro padre!? 30
“Reverendissimo padre” 31
“...la vostra protezione paterna” 32
“I vostri figli in Gesu Cristo” 33
“Grazie e lodi siano rese al Signore che si mostro’ con me tanto misericordioso di dare a me un padre...” 34.
Fr John Vella who wrote these letters in the name of the other companions used to end his letters by signing:
“Suo figlio” 35
Mgr Depiro had done much to create this same atmosphere between himself and the other members of his
30. Personal tiles of members of M.S.S.P. — Fr J. Vella, p. 9, 11, 14.
31. Ibid., p. 10, 11.
32. Ibid., p. 9.
34. Ibid., p. 10
35. Ibid., p. 8, 10, 11.
Society. We know with certainty that not only did not Depiro bother about these members not paying anything when they entered the Society; 36, but that he also helped their families when there was need of it. 37
One can continue confirming the Founder’s great love for the members of his Society if only one were to refer to the interest he always showed in their academic studies, both when they were at St Aloysius’s College for their Secondary education and when they were studying philosophy and theology. 38
There was another event which is quite relevant here because it proves again Mgr Depiro’s affectivity towards his Society’s members. In Malta there is an old custom, still very much alive today, that when there is a newly ordained priest, he celebrates a solemn high mass for which he invites all his relatives and friends.
All Maltese parents, being very proud of their son—priest, do their best to prepare a very beautiful celebration;
36. cf. Ibid., p. 3 r — 4 v (Maria Vella to Mgr Depiro, 8.8.10).
37. Vella to Mgr J. Depiro, 3.4.18, p. 29 r. (personal file).
38. Ibid., 7.4.18, p. 32 r — 33 r.
He insisted that he should keep all the results of the examinations and have a detailed report about the members, from the College staff or from the Augustinians where the students used to go for their philosophy and theology.
they put all their energy and money behind the success of this same feast in honour of their beloved son. The Founder of’ the “Piccola Societa’ di San Paolo” wanted to do the same for the first priest of his Society, Fr John Vella. Without doubt Mgr Depiro was most happy on that occasion. Although the new Society depended only on Mgr Depiro’s own money for its living, 39, and it had no other entries, one can find out that Vella had a feast similar to that of any other newly ordained priest. In Vella’s personal file one can still find an invitation card with the words saying:
“Il Rettore dell’Istituto Maltese per le Missioni Esteri
si onora invitare …………………………………
per la Prima Messa
del Novello Sac: Giovanni Vella, S.S.P. che avra’ luogo nella Chiesa di S. Agata
il 22 Settembre 1919 alle ore 8.30 a.m.
And Fr Vella also had holy pictures to distribute among those present at the Mass. 41
(iii) Mgr Depiro and the children of the Institutes
Finally, talking about Depiro’s affectivity, we
39. cf. M.S.S.P. at the time of the Founder, p. 66 r.
40. Personal files of M.S.S.P. — Fr J. Vella, p. 40
must also refer to his relationship with the many children he had his care in the different in stitutes where he was director. One may think that Depiro went to these homes, entered his office, saw to it that the registers be well kept and that the staff carried on its duties well. All this was in fact done by Mgr Depiro, but he did not stop there; he was con vinced that being a director in these Institutes, meant behaving like to the unfortunate young creatures.42
42. In order to have more material about this section reference can be made to chapter 3: Depiro’s Life of Obedience — Mgr Depiro — the children and the Sisters of the Institutes, pp. 153 — 157
A Life of Poverty
If celibacy was asked of Depiro from the very fact that he was a priest, one cannot say so for his poverty. It is true that the priest has to live what he preaches; he has to make people see in him the truth of Jesus’ words, who after encouraging his disciples to make the kingdom of God their main aim in their lives, assured them that, “All these things will be given you as well.” 1 . But this does not mean that Depiro was obliged to live the poverty he had in fact lived. What is even more striking is the fact that no one could imagine to find a priest, the son of one of the noblest families of Malta go begging for the fare of his travelling, as was sometimes the case with Fr Depiro.
What did Depiro’s poverty consist of?
(A) (i) Detachment from property
Most of the old manuals on poverty used to give great prominence to the aspect of deprivation of money
1. Mt. 6:33.
or other property. This may perhaps be considered as the oldest aspect stressed as regards poverty. The masters of the spirit used to emphasise almost only this point.
Depiro seems to have had this same conceptual— isation deep in his mind. Referring to the ‘Ragioni pro’ in favour of his going to St Joseph’s instead of the Accademia, one finds out that the seventh point treated the virtue of poverty.
“Perche’ ml sara facile esercitare la virtu’ della poverta’...” 2.
Going a bit backwards in these same “Ragioni”, one can find an explanation of what Joseph Depiro intended with these same words. Number four has these exact words:
“Perche’ stando in famiglia mi metto in pericolo di attaccarmi alle ricchezze; o che e’ certo occuperanno gran parte dei miei pensieri e del mio tempo.” 3.
Poverty was the detachment from riches for young Depiro. Speaking of the vows to the two novices of the years 1929-1930 the Founder told them that:
2. Depiro — Documents, p. 24, n. 7
3. Ibid., n. 4
“...poverty makes us deprive ourselves from our property.” 4.
When presenting the vow of poverty in the Rules Mgr Depiro did not limit it to the detachment from pro perty, but at the same time he stresses its primary jut— portance:
“Il voto di poverta’ esige innanzi tutto che non si disponga di cosa alcuna come propria: ma la sua perfezione richiede ancora che il cuore sia totalmente libero e distaccato dai beni terreni.” 5.
(ii) Detachment from honours
But Depiro’s poverty included much more than the above. Since his early youth Joseph had always paid much attention to live poverty under its various aspects. He had always been greatly attentive not to be ever enthusiastic about earthly honours. His eldest sister, Teresina, seems to have sent him a letter in which she had congratulated him for his futures But in one 0±’ his letters to his mother, Depiro showed her quite clearly that he was not ambitious at all about such things:
“Che certi auguri con tanta serieta’,
4. Personal translation.
Bro J. Gatt’s Notes, 25th August 1930.
5. Regole della Compagnia di S. Paolo. Vol.11, Del Voto di Poverta, p. 9 n.
sarebbe meglio che so le rispiarmasse, l’augurio che accetto con piacere e di ben conoscere la volonta’ di Dio...” 6.
Coming to the age of twenty he was becoming popular. He pertained to a noble family and therefore, as has already been said in the Introduction, 7 the higher society sought his company. This could have made young Depiro gain many successes. It is enough to say that Depiro’s mother had an easy access to the Arch bishop and he could have arranged for Depiro to get one of many important positions. 8. In spite of all this, Depiro always thought otherwise. It is enough to study again the reasons fly he had preferred to go to St Joseph’s Institute and work with the orphans rather than becoming a prelate after finishing his studies at the Accademia. 9
There has already been a reference to his becoming Monsignor of the Metropolitan Cathedral. 10. From an interview with Fr M.A. Pace, the chaplain of Archbishop Pace
6. Joseph Depiro to Ursola Depiro, 23.2.99, p. 59 r.
7. cf. Introduction, p.5.
8. It may be because of this that Archbishop Pace had invited Joseph Depiro to go to the Accademia!
9. cf. Introduction, p.33.
10. cf. Ibid. p. 34
himself who had chosen Fr Depiro for this duty, one can know all the story about the humble way in which Depiro came to be chosen for this position:
Ursola greatly desired that her son Fr Joseph would become Monsignor of the Metropolitan Cathedral. Therefore she talked to Fr M.A. Pace, the chaplain of Archbishop Pace, and asked him his help. This priest did not refuse. Knowing that the Dean of the Chapter was already old and had been seeking a coadjutor, Fr Pace talked to the Archbishop and proposed to him Fr Joseph Depiro. Archbishop Pace knew Fr Depiro quite well and admired his great dedication in his work. There fore when he was presented with this request he accepted immediately.
Fr Joseph came to know about all this and was not happy at all about it. In fact he went to his mother and told her: “Mother, I have always obeyed you. But I wish to ask you not to talk to the Archbishop in order to invest me with any dignity. I wish to remain a priest without any other additions. The Priesthood is the greatest honour for me. If you wish me to become a Canon of the Metropolitan Chapter, I am very sorry, but I cannot obey you.”
It seems that Ursola informed the Archbishop about her son’s reaction. In fact the Archbishop called Fr Joseph to him and told him, “Fr Joseph, you can not obey your mother in such a case. But you have to obey me. I do not only wish that you become Monsignor, but I order you to be co— .adjutor of Mgr Vassallo, the Canon Dean of the Metropolitan Church.”
Mgr Depiro who had always obeyed his Archbishop obeyed even this time. 11.
11. This information has been provided by Fr M.A. Pace himself when talking to another priest, Fr J. Briffa Brincati and this reported everything to Fr A. Bonnici, who is at this time writing a biography of Mgr Joseph Depiro. Here it is most interesting to refer to the letter sent by Fr Depiro to Archbishop Pace on the 17th January 1911. In this same letter Depiro told the Arch bishop that he knew that he was going to be made Dean
(iii) Detached from progress in his own duties
It is relatively easy that one accepts to be detached from money or other possessions in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And it is also accepted as a truth that honours and worldly promotions, when sought in an unbalanced way, hinder the individual from progressing in the way of perfection. But it is not as easy to admit that the vow or virtue of poverty may at times ask of the individual that he be detached even from progressing to his state of life. Many a times, man thinks that he has never to admit a failure in his duties because in such a case he would be lessening his involvement in doing God’s will for him. In spite of all this type of reasoning Jesus himself has shown humanity that part of his poverty was nothing but this: he died after living an unsuccessful mission.
Even Depiro understood this quite clearly and practiced this poverty, especially when the sickness
of the Metropolitan Cathedral, but he wished to express his own humble feelings against this decision: “Ora oltre la mia indegnita ed incapacita’ umilmente sottopongo alla prudente ed illuminata considerazione di N.E. che l’occupare simili posti onorifici, come appunto sono i canonicati del Cattedrale e’ contro lo spirito del Nuovo Piccolo Istituto per le Missioni Estere, e che se io dovessi accettare la nomina propostami mi sarebbe difficile l’insinuare ai membri dell’ Istituto il distacco da simili onori.” (Mgr Depiro Dean of the Metropolitan Cathedral : p. 12)
problem hindered him from progressing in different spheres of his life:
(a) His studies
When Joseph Depiro left Malta and went to the Capranica to begin his studies for the priesthood, he was determined to do his best and get as much as possible out of it. Just a few weeks after his arrival in Rome and before beginning his first year at the Gregorian University, he wrote a letter to his mother. Through this same letter one can discover Joseph’s great wish to progress in his academic life. In it one can see the programme Depiro had planned, a course which would have taken him ten years:
“Secondo i calcoli incalcolabili che ho fatto; se non morro’ probabilrnente cantero’ messa da qul ad altri quattro anni; poiche’ piu’ di due anni di filosofia non credo che mi faranno fare, e poi dopo due anni di teologia credo che mi lasceranno a cantarla. Pregate a S. Tommaso d’Aquina che mi intercede la grazia di aprirmi un poco la mente, ed allora forse. Un anno di filosofia sara sufficiente, ed allora potremo fare piu’ presto; ho detto S. Tom : poiche questo il nostro protettore assegnatoci in particolar modo da Leone XIII...in una delle sue prime encichliche. Il corso di teologia e’ di quattro anni e poi quello di diritto canonico e di tre, cosiche’ se ancor ben faccio l’addizione mi pare che fino a 30 anni trovo da studiare.” 12.
But some of the letters written by Joseph to his
12. Joseph Depiro to Ursola Depiro, 24.8.98, p. 42 — 43.
mother show that he had to give way to all these plans and live detached from these successes. Sickness was tormenting him a great deal and it was making him lose much time going to the doctor:
“I have already gone four times (to Prof. Egidi, a specialist in illnesses of the throat); the second time he has burnt my throat with fire; ...With the help of God, I hope that I would be healed.” 13.
Joseph did not panic, but did what was necessary without making any fuss about his lack of progress in his studies. 14
In July 1902 Fr Depiro had finished his third year Theology at the Gregorian University; there was still the fourth one. But God’s plans were otherwise because Fr Depiro fell sick of TB for the second time. His Diary is quite clear about this:
“Il 10 luglio (1902) mi son sentito male per la seconda volta (la prima era al 19 luglio 1900)” 15.
In spite of his great desire to study, Fr Joseph
13. Ibid., 1.6.99, p. 73 r.
14. cf. also Ibid., 9.8.00, p. 135 r — v.
15. Depiro — Diary, p. 4 v.
was prepared to practice his poverty again:
“...ho veduto andar in aria tutte le mie buone intenzioni. Fiat! il Signore guarda alla buona volonta’ “ 16.
(b) In his pastoral work
In the Introduction we explained in detail the great efforts Depiro had been making to set up his Society. While doing his best to find out a way out and put into practice his long imagined “project”, he met Mgr Debono who was the director of the “Opera della
Santa Missione”. This Monsignor offered the possibility to Fr Depiro to go and help the other priests in their preaching and in the administration of the sacraments. (17). Depiro wrote down that he had been happy at the proposal:
“Gli ho risposto che ben volentieri” 18.
But then he remembered that this way was closed for him:
“...pero’ essendo per malattia inabile a predicare” 19.
And therefore he had to suffer the fact that:
“...non ho avuto mai ii coraggio di offrire l’opera mia” 20.
17. cf. Introduction p. l8
18. Depiro — Diary, p. 11 r.
Here we must remember that by this time Depiro was still a very young priest and therefore full of enthusiasm and energy. It is very difficult for a man of that age to accept the possibility of his not being able to reach what he aimed at.
c) In the founding of his Society
In the Introduction we have seen how hard Depiro had worked in order to found his Society. The Apostolic Visitor, Mgr P. La Fontaine, can be considered as his real help in that ‘project”.
Fr Depiro had suffered many disappointments until he met La Fontaine. It would not have been too much if these same disappointments were to stop in order that Depiro might get a start towards progress in an uninterrupted way. In spite of all this, things did not turn to be so; Depiro was faced again with the sickness problem, exactly at a time when he had to be on his feet and work hard.
After Depiro, Bugeja and Mamo had signed their petition for the initiation of a religious missionary society, they presented it, through Depiro, to La Fontaine, who having returned to Rome, presented this same ‘Supplica’
to the Pope. La Fontaine wrote to Fr Depiro to tell him that the Pope had been happy when he saw the petition. Receiving this letter, Depiro wished to show it to Bugeja and Mamo immediately but he was hindered from doing this because of his illness. In his answer to the Apostolic Visitor, Fr Depiro did not grumble at all about his ill health. On the contrary, he continued showing his great hope in God’s help:
“...coll’aiuto di Dio speriamo in breve di dar principlo all’opera...” 22.
As time went on and he succeeded in setting up the Society, Depiro had to experience this type of poverty several other times. One may refer to the letter written by Vella, one of the first two members of the Society, to see that at least for once the Founder had to be separated for a considerable time because he fell sick again. At such a time, when the Society was only eight years old, the Founder must have thought that his presence in the “Piccola Casa” was indispensable, and should therefore have remained there. But Mgr Depiro put his trust again in the Lord and did what was necessary for his health. He was even ready to be detached from any progress that he could have made on behalf of the new Congregation.
21. cf. ‘M.S.S.P. at the time of the Founder’, p. 15.
22. Ibid., p. 16.
23. cf. John Vella to Depiro (Vella — Documents) 3.4.18 p.29 r. Ibid., 4.4.18 p. 30 r –v.
(iv) Detached even from what was necessary
Talking about detachment in relation to the vow of poverty, one may think that one has to pay attention only not to have what is superficial for his living; that which is necessary must always be provided. Depiro lived deprived even of that which pertained to him out of justice.
There were several people who while being interviewed said that Mgr Depiro had on several occasions to borrow money to get the bus or the tram because he would have given whatever he had to some poor person on the road. 24
The room in the third house of the Society, preserved for the Founder, showed quite clearly the extent of his poverty. It was Mgr Depiro himself who was paying the rents for the houses which the first members of the Society occupied. (25) In spite of all this, his room lacked all necessities:
“Depiro’s room was some five feet wide; it had only one beam. The son of a noble family,
24. cf. Interviews, p. 9, 3k.
25. The members did not have any money with which to do this.
he kept for himself a poor room with so many clothes banging here and there, with books scattered on the chairs and on the bed. His bed was made of two beams with some planks on them and a mattress on top of everything”. 26.
In the Rules, the Founder expressed his convictions quite clearly about this:
“Amino tutti. la Santa poverta’ ed accolgano quale vantaggio e guadagno prezioso tutte le occasioni nelle quali potessero risentirne gli effetti per qualche privazione di una parte del necessario” 27.
When the Codes of Canon Law speak of poverty they distinguish between the one professed in a simple way and the one which is related to the solemn protession.(28) Whereas the former impedes the one who professes the vow from making use of his property while still retaining every right to keep any capital, the latter binds the individual to give up the possibility of having any kind of property. Depiro did not profess poverty either in a solemn or in a simple way. In fact we know that he did
26. Interviews, p. 4.
27. Regole della Compagnia di S. Paolo. Vol. 11, Del Voto di Poverta’, p. 11, n. 6.
28. cf. CIC 580, 581.
not give up his money and property nor did he deny at any time his right to make use of it. But then one finds out that Depiro’s poverty had in it that which is considered by Fr. J. Wilcken S.J. as the special characteristic of religious poverty: the sharing of everything he had.(29) If the detachment of Depiro consisted of several facets, so too did his sharing.
(1) Sharing of his ideas
When it has been said that Depiro shared everything he had it was meant that he did not share only his money; Depiro’s poverty involved his whole personality.
Since he was still very young, Joseph was continually in contact with his spiritual director about his own vocation although he himself had said that he had felt his vocation since he had been a child, he wanted to share the development of this same call with his spiritual director to examine whether he had to continue about it or drop the idea.
29. cf. John Wilcken S.J. Reltgious Life Today. Bangalore, 1977. p. 46.
30. cf. Depiro — Documents, p. 25 r, n. 1.
31. Cf. Ibid., p. 25 r, n. 3.
cf. also Fr V. Sammut S.J. to Joseph Depiro, 3.1.01, p.18 r—v.
cf. also Fr E. Vassallo to Joseph Depiro, p. 11 r.
Young Joseph discussed even his perseverence in his vocation It happened that on the 19th July 1900, the doctor told him that he was suffering of tuberculosis. He did not tell his mother about this, but returning to Malta from Rome, he stopped at Acireale, in Sicily, and there met Fr Vincent Sammut S.J. One does not know exactly what had been said between them, but from a letter sent by Fr Sammut to Depiro, one can say that Joseph had mentioned some doubts about whether he would be able to continue his studies for the priesthood or not because of his sickness.
It has already been mentioned that Depiro had been thinking for a long time about going to St Joseph’s Institute. And in the “Ragioni pro” in favour of this house, he had the most saintly reasons. At the same time he did not want to decide on his own. He was quite open to his spiritual directors P. Gualandi (34) P. Vinc. Sammut (35) and P. Ferrara. (36) Since the first summer after his first
32. cf. Fr V. Sammut S.J. to Joseph Depiro, 10.9.00, p.l4v—15v.
cf. also Depiro - Diary, p. 4 V.
33. cf. Fr V. Santmut S.J. to Joseph Depiro, 10.9.00, p.l4v—l5v.
34. cf. Depiro — Diary, p. 2r, 2v.
35. cf. Ibid., p. 3 r.
36. cf. Ibid., p. 5 v, 6 r — 6 v, 7 v.
year in Rome he kept a continuous contact with Fr E. Vassallo, the second director of St Joseph’s, with whom he discussed also the setting up of a Society. 37. Fr Joseph treated this very important item even with Mgr. F. Bonnici, 38, with whom he had thought that he would live when going to St Joseph’s.
The foundation of the Society was treated also with Fr G. Bugeja, 39, and Deacon John Mamo.40.
But one cannot be satisfied to speak of Depiro’s sharing of his ideas about the setting up of his Society by putting only a note about it, such as the above. There is much more to be said about Depiro’s behaviour in this regard. From Depiro’s own Diary we know that he and Bugeja met on the 19th February 1907 and talked together for a long time about how to present the Society to the priests who would be interested. 41. Depiro wrote these exact words in relation to this meeting:
37. cf. Ibid., p. 1 r, 1 v, 3 r, 5 v, 6 vf, 8 r, 10 v— 11 r, 11 v.
38. cf. Ibid., p. 8 v — 9 r.
39. cf. Ibid., p. 12 r, 12 v, 13 r, 13 v, 19 r.
40. cf. Ibid., p. 13 v, 14 r, 18 r, 19 r.
41. cf. Ibid., p. 13 r.
“Abbiamo anche deciso di non comunicare l’idea ad altri prima che ci fossimo
intesi insieme”. 42.
Further on one can prove that Fr Depiro consulted his companions because he wanted really to share his “project” with them; it was not only a search for support. In fact when ne met Deacon Mama on the 23rd September 1908, Fr Joseph suggested to him that he would present him to Ft G. Bugeja; Depiro did not want to treat the case alone; he did not want to make a monopoly of the “project”. In fact they met on the 25th of the same month and discussed the “project” together. 43.
Another proof of Depiro’s disposition to share his ‘plans’ can be found in Depiro’s own letter to La Fontaine. Answering the Apostolic Visitor on the 21st February, Fr Joseph told him that he could not speak to Bugeja and Mamo about La Fontaine’s letter immediately after he had received it because he had been sick. But:
“Appena mi sono un po’ rimesso, ho conferito cogli altri compagni...” 44.
42. Ibid., p. 13 r.
43. cf. Ibid., p. 13 v.
44. M.S.S.P. at the time of the Founder, p. 16.
This has all taken place before the setting up of the Society and in order to set it up. But Depiro did not stop practicing this aspect of poverty after he had founded his “project”. As time passed by and the Founder began organising the Society he set up a Council made up of himself and another two members. 45. Going through the minutes of the meetings of this same Council, one can notice quite easily that Mgr Depiro had always consulted the members who were in charge of some particular place or section of the Society. It is enough to mention the many occasions where the Secretary said that the Founder used to consult with the Master of prenovices, novices or students. 46.
Another event further supports this same truth about Depiro’s ability to share. When Mgr Depiro was building the Motherhouse of the Society, known as St Agatha’s, he invited the other two counsellors to go with him and see the work in progress. 47
45. The other two members of the Council were Fr Michael Callus and Fr Joseph Spiteri. The former was the Secretary who wrote all the Minutes of all the meetings where the Founder was present.
46. cf. Council Minutes, p.3 v, 8r 13 v, 17 v, 45 v, 62 r, 68 v.
cf. also p. 12 r where one finds these words: “Udite le relazioni del Superiore (Mgr. Depiro), il quale durante l’anno di noviziato s’affiato’ periodicamente col P. Maestro dei Novizi...”
47. cf. Council Minutes, p. 67 v.
(ii) Sharing of help
Depiro did not share only his plans and projects. He was convinced that it was also part of his poverty to let other people help him in doing the will of God; he did not think it twice to refer to others for help. It is enough to mention the continuous contact he had with the Apostolic Visitor La Fontaine, from the time the latter went to Fra Diegu Institute, on the 2nd Nov ember l909, 48, until his death. 49.
After having started the Society he asked for help in the education of the students. In fact he went to the Jesuits and asked them to accept the members of his Society at St Aloysius’ College for their secondary education. 50. As these same students progressed in their studies, they had to begin their philosophy and theology. For this the Founder sought the help of the Augustinians. 51.
48. cf. Depiro — Diary, p. 19 r.
49. Reference can be made to the many letters of Depiro to La Fontaine in, M.S.S.P. at the time of the Founder.
50. cf. Depiro to La Fontaine, 15.8.10, p. 29 r (M.S.S.P. at the time of the Founder).
51. cf. ‘M.S.S.P. at the time of the Founder’, p. 100—101. cf. also Vella — Documents, p. 15—20, 38.
(iii) Sharing of money
Having set up the Society, Depiro came to live another type of sharing. When the first members came to their Founder, the Society had little to offer them in material benefits; it was still in its very first years and the benefactors were not yet existent. At the same time it s- happened that these members themselves came from poor families, with very limited income, if any. Thus it happened that all along Depiro’s life the Society depended completely on him; he had to provide for all the needs. A letter written by Fr E. Vassallo to Don A. Bruni shows this same reality quite clearly. Having said that:
“...la Congregazione, sia perche’ questa essendo nello stato di infanzia e’ priva di ogni rendita”, 52.
Vassallo continued clarifying this same point:
L’opera fondata da Mons Depiro e sostenuta tutta a sue spese...” 53.
Vassallo wrote this letter to Bruni on the 23rd November 1916, but the Founder’s sharing of his money with his companions continued all along his life. In 1921,
52.’M.S.S.P. at the time of the Founder’, p. 65 v.
53. Ibid., p. 66 r.
while Mgr Depiro was still waiting for the Pontifical approval from Propoganda Fidei, there arose the housing problem; the first house of the Society was becoming smaller and smaller for the increasing community. The Founder intervened and tried to find another home. In fact he succeeded in finding one, which formed part of a bigger house, nowadays known as the Xara Pa1ace. 54. And he did not stop there. He had long thought of beginning the building of a big Motherhouse near the Church dedicated to St Agatha. 55.
The fields which were near this Church pertained to the brother of Mgr Depiro, Fr Santino Depiro. At the same time the Founder had some other land in the area known as tal-Virtu’. Therefore he agreed with his brother and they exchanged the property. 56. The will made by Mgr Depiro on the 9th February 1932 is quite explicit about this:
“I leave all the land and the building found on it, and which is near to the Church of St Agatha, to the already mentioned Institute. This Church of St Agatha, which is situated in Rabat, limits of Itndina, at Hal-Bajada, has been entrusted to the already mentioned
54. Archbishop Caruana blessed this house on the 26th April 1921. (cf. “To Know Our Founder” n. 6. p. 8).
56. This is known from oral witnesses.
Institute for the Foreign Missions, by the Church’s Authorities. I am leaving this land together with any other part near to it, which I would have acquired until my death, in order to be built a house for those pertaining to the above mentioned Society of St Paul, and in order that there may be accepted those youths who would be in the novitiate, and during their studies of Philosophy and Theology.” 57.
(C) Good use of
(i) His Property
When one wants to know what are the convictions of someone, one generally refers to this man’s activity and the way how he develops it. But there may be another possibility; the individual may demonstrate what he believes through his words and writings.
In one of the conferences Mgr Depiro delivered to the novices of the years 1929—1930, one can easily discover how refined the Founder was with regards poverty. He was convinced that one would not be poor enough when one has something with the permission of the superior. If one possesses something and one does not make good use of it, one is still sinning against poverty:
“I am wearing the habit, I use it during my work,
57. “Personal translation”. Depiro — Testament, Art. 2.
dirty it, tear it, I do not take care of it because the Congregation, or the local house, can afford to give me another one. This lack of attention is an offence against poverty. 58.
This same point can be found also in the Rules:
‘Il voto di poverta’ ri.chiede inoltre che ognuno abbia tutta la cura degli oggetti che sono a sua disposizione sia di quelli die li sono concessi per uso personale, come vesti, libri, mobili, etc., sia di quelli appartementi a suo ufficio usando sempre le suppellettilli o gli ordegni al fine a cui sono destinate...” 59.
(ii) His time
It is very easy for a man who is trying to live the virtue of poverty to practice it in a partial way; he may easiiy pay attention not to be involved in getting property for himself, in not having riches ar ound him, and yet forget that there is something else which is as precious as money. The English say that “Time is Money”, and therefore the practice of poverty includes even the good use of this property.
Even when still young Joseph Depiro always was conscious of the responsibility he had towards the good
58. Personal translation. Bro J. Gatt’s notes, 30th August 1930.
59. Regole della Compagnia di S. Paolo. Vol. 11, Del Voto di Poverta’, p. 12, n. 11.
use of time. There has already been a reference to the letter written by Depiro to his mother telling her that at the Capranica he was always busy. 60. Another letter written by the young seminarian to his mother, shows that Joseph was very attentive to prepare well for his examinations. The words of this same letter show that he did not leave his studies for the last minute:
“Son quasi le 17 e percio’ alla Notabile stan per incoiminciare le corse. Io pero’ ci ho cose ben diverse delle corse. Sto qui tra le relazioni, processioni divine e tante altre cose che mi pesano il capo non per se stesee ma pel pensier dell’esame; che ci l’ho il 6.p.v. 61.
Having been ordained priest he had to go to Switzerland to recover his health. Returning to Malta he went to Qrendi, one the parishes on the Island, and spent three years there. Examining the time he had spent in this parish one can see that Fr Joseph continued taking much care not to lose time and use his days well. One of the interviews sheds much light on this same reality:
“Although he was always busy, he used to hear calmly anyone who went to talk to him; he seemed that he had nothing else to do...At that time, Fr Joseph used to go and talk to the farmers in their fields .....“ 62.
60. cf. Joseph Depiro to Ursola Depiro, 13.ll.98, p. 47 r.
61. Personal translation.
cf. Ibid., 29.6.00, p. 121 r — v.
62. Personal translation.
The information about Qrendi has been acquired from old people who knew personally or through their relatives, Mgr. Depiro. (Cf. Interviews about Qrendi...p. 1.)
The old people who had been interviewed showed quite clearly 1. that Fr Joseph was never idle; on the contrary he had always something to do; 2. at the same time he was ready to sacrifice all his time for anyone who asked him for his help.
As time went on and the Founder had already established his Society, he began transmitting his own convictions to the members. He had been quite clear to Bro Gatt and his companion in the same novitiate:
“Time is precious and therefore we must never use it badly....” 63.
(D) The obligation to work
Vatican II speaking of poverty in the Decree on the ‘Renewal of Religious Life’, almost at the very beginning of the section had this to say about the duty to work:
“In discharging his duty, each religious should regard himself as subject to the common law of’ labor” 64.
Mgr Depiro had understood this quite a long time
63. Personal translation.
Bro J. Gatt’s notes, 24th February 1930.
64. P.C. l3c. (Edition by W.M. Abbot).
before the coming of Vatican II; he was quite convinced that if the members were to be formed in the right direction they had to make an effort by practising their talents and by contributing towards the Society by doing their part in making something.
When the Society was still In its first house there were only one priest, four students and some lay brothers or catechists. These last members used to do the manual work of the house, such as buying what was necessary for their days, they prepared the food, and did the cleaning of the house. The Founder was so much con vinced of the necessity of work for the religious that he did not exempt the students from such work. 65.
But not to get money
Vatican II does not stop on the above words. The Council Fathers move a step forward and say that:
“While by this means they are provided with whatever they need for their sustenance or other work, they should reject all undue solicitude, putting their trust in the providence of the heavenly Father ( Mt 6:25)” 66
65. cf. Interviews (Fr J. Vella) p. 49.
66. P.C. l3c (Edition by W.M. Abbot).
Fr Depiro began his work among the orphans in Fra Diegu Institute. One can find clear proof that during his directorship of this Institute, Depiro, although not a religious and the Words of Vatican II had not yet been pronounced, lived to the full this aspect of poverty. It is worth saying that although he had all the rights to eat from the Institute, whenever he did this he used to put some money in the charity box of the Institute before going out. Mother Paul Cilia said these exact words about him:
“Before going out, he used to put his hands into his pocket and throw some money in St Anthony’s box, to recompense what he would have eaten.” 67.
The same words have been said by Emanuela Gauci who had been a girl at Fra Diegu Institute at the time of Depiro. 68.
Sister Eletta Sant spoke of another event which can confirm the above:
“On completing twenty five years as director at Fra Diegu, he was given some lace for his aib as a gift. The lace had been done by the sisters and the girls of that Institute. When they went to give it to him he told them:
“I accept this to be used on the feast day, but I do not intend to keep it for myself, because this is the work of the children of the Institute.” 69.
67. Personal translation. Interviews, p. 24.
68. Personal translation. Ibid., p. 17.
69. Personal translation Ibid., p.37
Another event may be briefly referred to in order to confirm what is being said here about Depiro. Mother Paul, the Superior of Fra Diegu at the time of the death of the Director, said how once Mgr Depiro had remained late at Fra Diegu and she wanted to send for a cab to carry him to St Joseph’s Institute. In spite of her wishing to do this, Depiro did not want:
“...because he did not want to make the Institute spend money. ‘No’, he told her, ‘there is no need of it, I’ll go with the public transport.” 70.
A very significant event where Depiro showed his great disinterest as regards money for the work he and the Society would have done, is found recorded in the minutes of the Council meeting held on the 29th August 1927:
Fr Angelo Mizzi, O.F.M. Cap., the Vice Prefect of the Somali Missions, where Bro J. Caruana was working, had written to Mgr Depiro on the 4th March 1927, asking him among other things, “pel pagamento di detti Catechisti (cioe’ dei suoi Catechisti religiosi di San Paolo)” 71.
70. Personal translation. Ibid., p. 23.
71. cf. Council Minutes, p. 5 r.
The Founder answered Mizzi on the 5th April 1927. It is worth putting down the exact words which Depiro wrote;
“In quanto al pagamento dell’individuo non esigo niente; il Signore benedira’ l’opera nostra.” 72.
And this would appear more valuable when one remembers that the Founder was at a time when he really wanted money for his Society. As we have already said it depended completely from his income. 73.
Mgr Depiro gathered together all his beliefs when writing the Rules:
“Nessuno pretenda ed esiga cosa alcuna in compenso delle fatiche che unicamente per amore del Signore dovra’ sostenere in vantaggio dei prossimi...” 74.
What had motivated him to live such a life?
(i) Absolute trust in God’s providence
It has already been said that poverty must not
73. cf. note 53 of this same Chapter.
74. Regole della Compagnia di S. Paolo. Vol. 11, Del Voto di Poverta’, p. 12, n. 9.
be restricted only to detachment, and this from money or some other type of property. Here one can add that even the death of some dear friend or relative can be an occasion where one can practice this virtue or vow. Depiro had several such circumstances. In one of these dull moments of his life he showed quite clearly what was motivating him to live poverty.
In May 1899 the family Depiro lost one of her sons, Berti. Joseph, who was in Rome by the time of his brother’s death, wrote a letter to his mother, to console her. In the same letter Depiro showed quite clearly that although he was still very young, 75, he had already got in him very mature Christian sentiments:
“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 poiche’ ci offrono spesso circostanze per manifestar sermpre piu’ la nostra fiducia in Loro.” 76.
Young Depiro could be poor in such circumstances because he trusted in God’s help.
In the same letter Joseph continued specifying what had motivated him in his life to live in this way:
75. 22 years of age.
76. Joseph Depiro to Ursola Depiro, 15.5.99, p. 68 r.
“...e gia’ (la Madonna) lo faceva partecipe del vero ed unico dono del paradiso.” 77.
The above words are a clear indication in showing that for Depiro there was nothing which could be considered as really satisfying; the beatific vision in the presence of God was the real and unique reward for him.
Here one can refer again to the words Mgr Depiro had told Fr Mizzi, O.F.M. Cap., and which have already been quoted; 78, the Lord would surely pay the one who gives with joy.
(ii) All property pertains to God
When Depiro set up his Society, he continued showing more and more what was pushing him in the living of the vow of poverty, even if he had never professed in at least publicly. Talking to the novices, Gatt and his companion, Mgr Depiro told them that they could not but live poverty because:
“Whatever is in the Church, and whatever is possessed by the religious congregations, pertains to Christ. He is the absolute dispenser of everything.” 79
77. Ibid., p. 69 r.
78. cf. p. 89 of this same Chapter.
79. Personal translation.
Bro J. Gatt’s notes, 11th September 1930.
Writing about the behaviour of the superior in the communities of his Society, the Founder, has been quite explicit about the above mentioned point:
“...dei beni dell’istituto che sono pur beni di Dio......” 80.
(iii) Lack of preoccupations with worldly affairs
Being at the Capranica College, Joseph Depiro had to attend a retreat which was held at the beginning of each scholastic year. During the one held at the beginning of the year 1901—1902 young Depiro wrote his “Pros and Cons” in relation to his going to the
Accademia or St Joseph Institute. Examining the possibilities which St Joseph’s offered him he wrote that the life of poverty that he could live there would help him avoid one of the dangers against this same vow and virtue, the attachment to riches. 81. Therefore he wanted to go to the Institute where he could practice poverty. 82.
(iv) Poverty would help him suffer for Jesus
One may present poverty in a hundred and one ways.
80. Regole della Compagnia di S. Paolo. Vol. 11. Del Voto di Poverta’, p. 15, n. 20.
81. cf. Depiro — Documents, p. 24 r, n. 4.
82. cf. Ibid., n. 7.
Nowadays theologians have discovered that in the past this same virtue has been presented in a too negative way. Therefore they are trying to put things more positively. Whatever way is chosen, one cannot eliminate the reality of sufferings as regards poverty.
Depiro did not hesitate to mention this aspect of poverty, and he had all the rights to do so. Es pecially when one remembers what has been said flout his radicalism in his living of the vow, one cannot say that Depiro’s words were only a fantasy. In the same ‘Ragioni’ mentioned above young Joseph said that having lived poverty at St Joseph’s:
“...alla morte posso trovare qualche conforto nel pensiero di aver sofferto un poco per Gesu’ avendo egli tanto sofferto pei miei peccati.” 83.
Depiro’s suffering was not sadism; he wanted to suffer for his sins.
(v) ….And remain humble
Continuing the reference to the ‘Pros and Cons’ written in the year 1901, one can see also other elements which motivated Depiro towards the poor life. Humility
83. Ibid., n. 8.
is a prerequisite to a life of poverty, but humility is also helped by poverty.
When seeing whether he had to go to the Accademia or not, Joseph said that he did not agree with the idea. The poor life of the Institute was more appealing to him. And he said why:
“1. Perche all’ Accademia, finche’ io sappia, non ci vanno che quelli, i quali possono vantare una buona nascita — 2. Perche’ all’ Accademia mi si metto, come a dire in mostra, per aver qualche posto; mentre e’ dottrina certissima che Gesu’ predilige coloro, qui amant nesciri. E siccome Egli allorche’ determino’ di eleggermi per un ministro seppe trovarmi tra il numero dei peccatori; cosi’ adesso so Egli ha deliberato di me qualche altra cosa, a fortiori sapra’ trovarmi nel numero del suoi eletti, e non e’ necessario che io mi metto avanti, o cercar di farmi conoscere coll’andar all’ Accademia. 84
St Joseph’s guaranteed for him such a humble life.
In this way it would be more possible for Depiro:
(i) To imitate Christ
In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul encourages these Christians to have in them the same mind of Jesus Christ. 85. And Paul continued to
84. Ibid., “Ragioni contro Accademia”, nos. 1 — 2.
85. cf. Phil. 2:5
show what the thoughts of Jesus Christ were: ...Emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.”86.
Depiro was quite conscious of the fact that poverty must not be lived for itself, but in order that the individual may be more one with the poor Christ. With reference again to the ‘Ragioni pro e con’ in relation to his going or not to the Accademia or St Joseph’s one can see that Joseph was convinced that he could obey Paul exhortation to the Philippians only if he would go to the Institute with the poorer sector of the young Maltese generation. Depiro himself said that in such an atmosphere:
“… potro’ imitare Gesu’ piu’ da vicino”. 87
Some twenty nine years after the writing of these “Ragioni”, the Founder of the “ Societa’ di San Paolo “ repeated the same truth to Bro J. Gatt and his companion.
On the 17th August 1930 Mgr Depiro told the two novices that:
86. Ibid., v. 7.
87. Depiro - Documents, p. 24 r, “Ragioni pro Casa di San Giuseppe,” n. 5.
“Even if the Congregation were to be rich with money freely available, we cannot use everything lavishly, but we have to observe always the poverty of Christ.” 88.
Four days after, he repeated the same thought:
“How pleased will Jesus be when he sees us poor for his sake.” 89.
On the 25th August of the same year, the Founder continued to stress the same truth:
“We must not keep money for ourselves; we have to live always poor, as our Lord Jesus Christ.” 90.
In the Rules written by Mgr Depiro this same conviction is very clear again:
“Non sia mai permesso a veruno di tenere presso di se cose di lusso o soverchie non essendo cio conforme allo stato di poveri di Gesu’ Cristo.” 91.
88. Personal translation. Bro J. Gatt’s Notes.
89. Personal translation. Ibid., 2l.8.30
90. Personal translation. Ibid., 25.8.30.
91. Regole della Compagnia di S. Paolo. Vol. 11. Del Voto di Poverta’, p. 14, n. 16.
(ii) To be always near the poor in a complete way.
Going through the pages of Depiro’s Diary one can find that he had put down these exact words:
92. In order to understand better Depiro’s own poverty one has to study the social structure of the Maltese Society at the time of Depiro.
Almost all Europe was experiencing a transition from the bad situation in which it had found itself at the beginning of the 19th century, to a better one at the end of this same century. Malta was not so. Being an island, cut off from the other parts of Europe, the Maltese continued generally tending to their traditional chores and more or less taking the old order for granted.
Poverty was reflected in the hordes of beggars, male and female, running along the streets of the towns and villages over the Island. One could see also a widespread bare footedness and several people wearing tattered clothes,
Often the crammed, unhygenic conditions accompanied by the financial difficulties which dominated several of the Maltese, could lead to tension. Bad housing conditions were to a large extent the result of overpopulation. In Valletta, the capital city, 457l persons lived in 885 rooms and in the suburb of this same city, Floriana, l249 persons lived in 211 rooms. In the villages the situation was not as terrific, but here one could meet the great problem of illiteracy.
At the same time this was not the complete situation of the : Islands. One would not be making justice to the Maltese social picture if one presents only the above. On the other side of the coin there were the noble families. These were many a times those who owned the land cultivated by the poor farmers who had to work from early morning till late at night in order to get a living for themselves and their families. Many a times the members of these same noble families were very reserved and kept away especially from the poorer society. In fact several of them lived in Imdina, and enjoyed their nobility there.
“Ho continuato intanto durante tutto I tempo della cura a carezzare le mie ormai divenute antiche idee.” 93.
Mgr E. Bonnici, in his speech about Mgr Depiro, delivered to all the children living in the Church’s Institutes, interpreted the above words of Depiro as referring directly to the fact that the late Director had wished to return to Malta and form part of St Joseph’s Institute. 94.
One would not be right if one were to forget to say why Depiro considered these “ideas” as “ormai divenute antiche”. One can find an explanation for this in the Diary itself. At its very beginning Depiro was quite clear:
“In sin dal primo anno di Collegio ho incominciato a vagheggiare l’idea di ritirarmi alla Casa di San Giuseppe del Hamrun ed aiutare il Canonico Bonnici fandatore della tessa.” 95.
The above words of young Joseph Depiro are a clear proof of the fact that he wanted to dedicate himself to help the poor children of Malta who were living in the Institutes at that time.
93. Depiro — Diary, p. 5 r.
94. cf. E. Bonnici. “Kelmtejn Fuq Mons. Depiro” Malta, 1933. p. 5.
95. Depiro - Diary, p. 1 r.
Depiro continued cultivating this idea during his years of study in Rome. One can prove this from the many letters Mgr E. Vassallo, the second directar of St Joseph used to write to Depiro.(96) In these same letters the director of St Joseph’s thanked Depiro either for some favour he would have made for the Institute,(97) or for the money he would have sent, in spite of the fact that Joseph was up to that time still a student. 98
Having been ordained priest and his strength sufficiently recovered at Davos, Fr Joseph returned to Malta on the 2nd March 1904. It was at Qrendi where he was working as an assistant parish priest that on the 2nd August 1907 he received the nomination from Archbishop Pace as director of Fra Diegu Institute. 99
With this same nomination there began for Depiro
96. One can still find not less than eleven letters which comprise the correspondence between Mgr E. Vassallo and Fr J. Depiro.
97. cf Mgr E. Vassallo to Fr J. Depiro, p. 1 r — v.
98. cf. Ibid., p. 5 r, where Vassallo thanked Depiro for two donations.
99. cf. Fra Diegu, p. 1.
cf. also Introduction p.9 — 10.
a whole range of activities in the Institutes run by the Church; Fra Diegu was the first of a series of five Institutes entrusted in the hands of Depiro. After this Institute there came another two in 1922, that of St Joseph’s and that of Jesus of Nazareth. These were then followed by the one at Gozo, St Joseph’s, at Ghajnsielem in 1925, and that of St Francis de Paul in 1927, at B’Kara.
A complete dedication for these Institutes
Depiro dedicated himself without any reserve for these same Institutes. It is enough to say that he stopped performing his duties as secretary to Archbishop Caruana and as rector of the Major Seminary, after a relatively short time. (100) But in the case of the Institutes this did not happen; he remained director of all five of them until his death.
During the many years he spent as director of these Institutes, Depiro used to visit them very frequently.
100. From the Decree sent by Archbishop M. Caruana on the 20th September 1918, nominating Mgr J. Depiro as rector of the Major Seminary, one can find out that he had done the work of a secretary until that day ( Depiro — Documents, p. 25K)
Then a letter from the Secretary General, Can. E. Vassallo, shows that Depiro was replaced by Mons. G. Apap Bologna, as rector of the Major Seminary, on the 19th October 1920 (cf. Depiro — Documents, p. 251).
This he did not only when he was rather free, or at the beginning of his pastoral life; he continued in this way even when he was entrusted with other duties in the diocese. Two Sisters who had been at Fra Diegu Institute during Depiro’s term of office, confirmed the above words; they said that:
“He used to come three times every week— Monday, Thursday and Saturday.” 101.
And not only this!
“When he used to come, he used to visit all the children who would be on their duties, and encourage them.” 102.
The same was said by Mother Paul Cilia:
“Afterwords (after talking to the Mother) he used to visit all the places, the school, the laboratory, the weaving section; he used to consider everyone and everything as important.” 103.
This was not enough for Depiro; he always wished to be in a continuous contact with the Sisters and the children. The same Mother mentioned above said how happy the Director was when the telephone was installed at Fra Diegu:
101. Personal translation. Interviews, p. 18.
102. Personal translation. Ibid.
103. Personal translation. Ibid., p. 23.
“Now we are as if we have come to be together. If I lift up my telephone and you do the same for yours, I will be able to hear the children singing the Gregorian chant, in order to see how much they are progressing.” 104.
This is not enough to show Depiro’s great dedication for the Institutes. It has already been said that Depiro came from a noble family and that he had several very important responsibilities in the diocese. 105. In spite of all this he never hesitated to beg money for the children entrusted to his care. He was not satisfied with only giving whatever he had himself to them; it was quite frequent for Depiro to go to his mother and ask her help.106. He used to go also to other people:
“When he wanted money for the Institutes, he used to walk along some road without asking anyone anything; at times he used to pass twice through the same road, with his head bowed down. The people got accustomed to him, and began giving him the money for his Institutes, because they would realise immediately that he would be in need of money for those Institutes.” 107.
What has been said by another Sister at Fra Diegu shows quite clearly how Depiro looked at his work among
104. Personal translation. Ibid.
105. cf. Introduction, p. 32 — 36.
106. cf. Interviews, p. 15.
107. Personal translation. Interviews, p. 9.
the poor children living in the Institutes. Sister Assunta reported what the Director had told the old girls living In the Institute of Fra Diegu:
“How many thanks must I say to God for the Grace he has given me to work among you; to take care of the children entrusted to us.” 108.
The Society he founded ought to take care of the houses of beneficence.
All the above is already enough to chow that Depiro was really poor because he was completely dedicated to the poor boys and girls of the Maltese Islands. But one would not be presenting a complete picture of this side of Depiro’s poverty if one were to stop here. His enthusiasm towards helping the poor was so great that he wanted that even the Society he founded would have the care of the houses of beneficence, as one of its works.
It can be seen from his Diary that since the very first meeting of Depiro with Fr E. Vassallo, the former
108. Personal translation.
Ibid., p. 34. This speech was delivered by Mgr Depiro on the occasion of his silver jubilee as director of Fra Diegu Institute.
had shown quite clearly that amongst the “Campi prossimi d’azione” for his “Societa’ di Missionari”:
“...possono essere (a) la Casa di San Giuseppe.. .“ 109.
As time passed by and Depiro founded his Society, the Founder sent a petition to Bishop Angelo Portelli op, the Apostolic Administrator, asking him permission for the members of his Society, to wear the habit. 110. Attached to this same petition there was a “Breve Prospetto delle Regole dell’Istituto per 1e Missioni Estere.” In number two of this same “Prospetto” the Founder put down these very words:
“Scopo della Piccola Compagnia sara’ quello di venire in aiuto dei popoli privi di operai Evangelici particolarmente ed in primo luogo dei Maltesi lontani dalla patria, ed a tal fine le sara’ a cuore la cura di casa di Beneficenza.” 111.
Here it is worth noticing that Depiro did not limit the care of the houses of beneficence only to Malta. According to the above words the Founder wanted that the members of his Society would go to the Missions and while being there carry on their duties in the houses of beneficence.
109. Depiro — Diary, p. 9 v, n. 3.
110. cf. M.S.S.P. at the time of the Founder, p. 57 r.
111. Ibid., p. 37 r — v.
The Founder continued to stress this same point whenever be had been asked to send some ‘Prospectus’ of the Rules of the Society. 112. In the final presentation of the Rules to the members of his Society, Depiro had a section treating the “Campi d’Azione” for the Society. 113. The first Activity that must be developed by the Society was the Missions. The second and next one treated the “0rfanatrofi”. 114
Mgr Depiro did not show his inspirations about the Society’s work among the poor only in writing. When ever there was some chance he used to familiarise the members of his Society with these same houses of beneficence. From a letter written by Fr G. Bugeja, the director of St Joseph’s, to Mgr Depiro, one can find out that three members of the Society had gone to the Institute to supply the De La Salle Brothers working at St Joseph’s, in order that these same brothers might go for an eight day retreat. 115. Another letter written by the same director to Depiro shows that two members were supposed to go to St Joseph’s for another supply. 116.
112. Ibid., p. 151 r — 152 r.
113. Regole della Compagnia di S. Paolo. Vol. 1.
114. Ibid., p. 27.
115. cf. ‘M.S.S.P. at the time of the Founder’, p. 98 r — v.
116. cf. Ibid., p. 106 r.
The Founder introduces the members of his Society into the houses of beneficence
(a) Into the orphanages.
Mgr Depiro was made director of St Joseph’s Institute first temporarily, on the 23rd November 1922, 117. and then for good. But he could not run such a big house on his own; it had 140 boys when Depiro took over its direction and at the same time the Freres could not continue their work there because of the lack of vocations. Therefore the Director thought of the members of his Society. In fact according to Bro Santi Muscat, one of the first members of the Society, the first group of members went to St Joseph’s by the end of the year 1922.
On the 18th April 1925, Depiro was entrusted with the direction of the other Institute, St Joseph’s at Ghajnsielem, Gozo. 118. Here Depiro first sent a priest of his Society, Fr Michael Callus, as vice rector, and some time after, the prenovice Vincent Galea.
117. cf. ‘St Joseph’s Institute’, p. 19 r.
118. cf. Ibid.
119. Mgr Depiro himself remained the rector, for practical reasons of administration.
The Society continued its work there for ten years. And were it not for Depiro’s successor 120, as superior of the Society, who had concluded that the Society could not sent its members anymore to run this last Institute, the members might have probably remained there.
(b) Into the Oratory at B’Kara
There is no need for anyone to embark on long searches in order to realise that Depiro had a particular place for the poor in his heart. The very fact that he himself was involved in the care of the Institutes, and wanted that the members of his Society to follow suit, is a clear proof of this very reality. But Depiro was not busy only with the orphanages; in 1927 he accepted from Notary Louis Casolani, the donation of an Oratory. Can this be considered also as a “Casa di Beneficienza”?
At first sight this cannot be said to have been accepted by Depiro to help the poor. It was not within the same ambit of the Orphanages. But at the same time
120. Mgr Albert Pantellaresco.
It was the Society’s Chapter which renounced for the running of the Institute, and this on the 2nd October 1935.
if one tries to study the history of the acceptance of this same Oratory by Mgr Depiro, one would easily see that there was nothing else which motivated him to do that.
If one makes reference to the Minutes of the Council Meeting of the Society, dated 24th March 1930, one can find a copy of the Contract made between Notary Casolani and his wife Julia on one side and Mgr Joseph Depiro on the other. From this same Contract one can see quite clearly the reason for the setting up of this
“Che il suddetto Notaro Casolani, ad oggetto di fondare un Istituto inteso all’ educazione religiosa e civile dei figli del popolo...” 121.
Canon Michael Sammut, the director of this sane Oratory at the time of Casolani, continued to expose the nature of this Organisation. Sammut wrote a letter to Field Marshal, Lord Mettuen and after telling him several things, continued by stating the reason which had made him write that same letter. He wanted to:
“...plead for the hundreds of poor boys attending the Institution. 122.
121. Council Minutes, p. 32 r.
122. ‘Oratory p. 109 r.
In the same letter one can find such words as:
‘There are hundreds of poor boys who daily flock to our Institution’. 123.
“It is heartrendering to see so many of our children clothing and to know that however we might strain our resources in order to provide for very bad (word not legible), it is absolutely impossible for us to provide for the whole crowd.” 124.
“If the military authorities could see their way, under any arrangements, which they may consider necessary to make, to let us have these waste pieces, our lady—benefactresses would soon turn the into articles of clothing for our children — especially for those who are kept away from attending the Government Elementary School simply because their parents are so poor that they cannot dress them with even the minimum degree of decency required for the purpose.” 125.
The other letter was written by the same Sammut on the 22nd February 1927 to the Head of the Ministry of Inland Revenue. In this letter Sammut asked the Ministry to exempt Mgr Depiro from the tax related to the donation of the Oratory. Describing the nature of the land and the building, Sammut said that it was:
“...an Oratory for the education of the children of the poorer classes.” 126.
123. Ibid., p. 109 V.
124. Ibid., p. 110 r.
125. Ibid., p. 110 V.
126. Ibid., p. 38 r.
Mgr Depiro accepted this same Oratory which had been therefore already working for the poor. On his side Depiro was quite clear when accepting the Oratory. When presenting the petition for the permission from the side of the Archbishop, 127. Depiro mentioned the condition made by Casolani, namely that the Oratory had to be run on the same lines as before. 128. From the very fact that Depiro had accepted the Oratory, it meant that he had accepted the above mentioned condition and therefore his working among the children of the poorer class.
There is an important point to realise about Depiro’s acceptance of the Oratory. In spite of the many factors that show otherwise, someone may say that Depiro had accepted the Orphanages because he had been ordered to do so by the Church’s authorities. If this cannot be ever thought as regards the Institutes, it was non existent more and more in the case of the Oratory. Here
127. Mg Depiro presented the petition on the 4th November 1926.
128. ‘Oratorio B’Kara: Atti e Contratti’, p. 15—17.
there were no authorities involved; Depiro had been invited only by Notary Casolani to assume responsibility for this house of beneficence. 129
(iii) To live the community life
Referring to the Rules and to the section about poverty one can easily find out that the Founder had connected the living of the vow of poverty with the community life. He has spoken of poverty as a necessary requirement for the living of the community life. There are two paragraphs which show this conviction of Depiro:
“Dovra’ stare a tutti sommamente a cuore e piu’ particolarmente al Superiore che ci mantenga l’osservanza della perfetta vita comune, al che giovera’ grandemente la vigilanza ferma e risoluta del Superiore di non permettere singolarita’ veruna che non sia voluta dal preciso bisogno.” 130.
The other reference confirms this:
“Anche il Superiore dovra’ uniformarsi in tutto alla vita comune, e non mai tollerare tanto nel vitto e nel vestito come nel mobigli
129. To continue showing Depiro’s great poverty it is worth referring to the fact that when Fr Michae1 Callus, who was then director of the Oratory, asked the Council to give him £32 to buy a film projector, his request was granted immediately (cf. Minutes, p. 53 v). And this was a time when the Society was not rich at all and needed money for the building of the Motherhouse. Besides this, £32 worth much at that time.
130. Regole della Compagnia di S. Paolo. Vol. 11, Del Voto di Poverta’, p. 15, n. 19.
ed in ogni altra cosa che si usino verso di lui riguardi e distinzioni, salvo quelli richiesti de necessita’ , come per ogni altro membro del compagnia.” 131.
He had said the same thing to the novices of the years 1929_1930.
“In the religious community poverty is most necessary because without it there would be disorder. if everyone takes whatever he likes, nothing but disorder will ensue.” 132.
Depiro lived poverty in a balanced way
Going through the history of’ the practice of poverty one can easily find out that there has been a variety of interpretations. Sometimes’ this virtue was so much idolised that man became the victim of its interpretations. It is enough to have a look at the times of the “Popular Piety” to see to what extremes one can arrive when misinterpreting poverty. Depiro can be said to have been very balanced in the way he himself had lived and presented poverty to the members of his Society.
There has already been made a reference to the event which led to Depiro’s being made Monsignor of the
131. Ibid., n. 20.
132. Personal translation
Bro J. Gatt’s notes, 25th August 1930.
Metropolitan Chapter and how much he had resisted his mother’s wish. 133. And it has already been shown that this same attitude remained in him all along his whole life. But here one must say also that when Depiro saw that the honour which was going to be conferred on him was going to introduce him to some duty where he could help, he accepted immediately. There has already been mention of’ his being secretary to Archbishop Caruana, his being chosen as rector of the Major Seminary and his one year as representative of the clergy at the House of Representatives. To these same duties one can add at least another two: in 1917 Depiro was chosen as member of the Historical and Scientific Society and a member of the committee for Tourism of the Ministry of Public Education.
Depiro continued showing this same balance even when expressing himself to the members of his own Society. In the precious notes written down by Bro J. Gatt, one can see quite easily that Depiro lived and proposed nothing but a poverty possible for human beings. Two exhortations made by the Founder to Bro Gatt and his companion prove this quite clearly:
“The same as regards the table, we cannot pretend luxurious meals, but everything poor
133. cf. p. 64—65 of this same chapter.
But we must pay attention to have nothing missing. It is part of the sacred cult, that at table we sanctify the feasts, by having something extra.” 134.
“He who would have money which pertains to the Society cannot use it according to his own whims... Even at table everyone has to take the same things, but when it is necessary, one can take more. There is no rule for charity…. The needs of the individual must regulate the expenses. 135.
The Rules confirm the above sentiments of Mg Depiro. One can find several paragraphs which speak of this same attitude of Depiro towards poverty:
“Questi sentimenti di distacco pero’ e di mortificazione, non impediscono ai membri della Compagnia di far conoscere con modestia e figliale confidenza, al Superiore, quello che puo’ essere lore necessario, sia riguardo ai bisogni della loro salute, e conservazione delle proprie forze, sia intorno a tutto cio’, che puo’ tornare utile al miglior andamento delle cose o cariche che sono loro affidate.” 136.
“....tutti riceveranno cio’ che sara’ loro necessario senz’altra distinzione che quella voluta dalla carita’ e dai bisogni di ognuno.”137
134. Personal translation. Bro J. Gatt’s notes, 30th August 1930.
135. Personal translation. Ibid., 11th September 1930.
136. Regole della Compagnia di S. Paolo. Vol. 11, Del Voto di Poverta’, p. 12, n. 8.
137. Ibid., n. 10.
“Il Superiore poi, ricordevole sempre che non per nulla viene da tutti chiamato Padre, tenga gli occhi ben aperti per conoscere ed indigare i bisogni di ciascuno, ed un cuore grande e generoso per soddisfarli entro i limiti della santa poverta’...” 138.
138. Ibid., p. 14, n. 18.
Another two references related to this same reality in Depiro have been quoted already when seeing how poverty has helped him to live the community life. (Cf. p. 111—112 of this same Chapter.)
A Life of Obedience
It would not be far fetched to say that writing about obedience is not an easy work to do. It is quite clear that the world, the Church, and religious life in general and in particular, are experiencing a crisis in obedience. One of the reasons for the existence of all this is that one striking characteristic of our age is its keen awareness of the value of human self—identity and freedom. Fortunately when Church came face to face with this reality, it has perceived that this same aware ness is far from being unchristian. Rather, one cannot but say that it is found in several verses of the Gospel, 1, and in Paul’s letters. 2. One can say in brief that meeting Jesus in His public life was a profoundly liberating experience, as was also the conversion to Christianity in the days after Pentecost, and the fact of becoming a member of the joyful, generous, spirit-filled Christian community.3.
1. cf. Mk. 7:1—13; l4:l—6; Lk. 11:38.
2. cf. Gal. 4:9, 21—31; 5:13.
3. cf. Acts 2.42—47.
In Vatican II one finds out that the document ‘Gaudium et Spes’ is quite explicit about freedom:
“Only in freedom can man direct himself towards goodness. Our contemporaries make much of this freedom and pursue it eagerly; and rightly so, to be sure...For its part, authentic freedom is an exceptional sign of the divine image within man...” 4
The Council Fathers emphasised the import of freedom when mentioning two contemporary slaveries: social and psychologica1. 5. This means that it is not so much easy for man to have this same freedom in hand and use it!
Bearing all this in mind, how can one talk of obedience? One would be contradicting what has just been said above! At first sight it may seem to be so, but Vatican II itself gives a clear answer. It is enough to make reference to ‘Presbyterorum Ordinis’ and have the solution.
“Since the priestly ministry is the ministry of the Church herself, it can be discharged only by hierarchical communion with the whole body. Therefore pastoral love demands that acting in this communion, priests dedicate their own wills through obedience to the service of God and their brothers. This love requires that they accept and carry out in spirit of faith whatever is commanded or recommended by the Sovereign Pontiff, their own Bishop, or other superiors
4. G.S. 17a—b. (Edition by W.M. Abbot).
5. cf. Ibid., 4d.
Let them very gladly spend themselves and be spent in any task assigned to them even the more lowly and poor ones. For in this way they will preserve and strengthen the necessary unity with their brothers in the ministry, most of all with those whom the Lord has appointed the visible rulers of His Church. Thus too they will work to build up Christ’s Body, which grows “through every joint of the system.” (Eph 4: 11—16) 6.
Having said this the Decree about priests continues with an explicit assertion:
“This obedience leads to the more mature freedom of God’s sons.” 7.
Obedience, therefore, when practiced for God’s sake, does not obstruct human liberty. Instead it helps man mature in the freedom of the sons of God.
Mgr Depiro was quite convinced of this. He never doubted about hindering his human freedom through his being obedient. On the opposite he predicted what Vatican II said in ‘Perfectae Caritatis’ — it is through obedience that the actions of the religious are worth anything. 8
6. P.O., l5c-d
7. Ibid., 15 e.
8. cf. P.C., l4a
Talking to the novices of the years 1929—1930 the Founder was quite clear:
“We have always to search obedience in our work. We must never get out of the sphere of obedience. If we remain in this sphere we deserve the grace of God on us; and if we go out we lose everything. The magnet attracts the lightning when this enters its sphere. Before doing anything we must see whether the superior wants us to do that same thing and if he is absent we must ask ourselves whether the superior wants that same thing and our conscience will tell us yes or no immediately.” 9.
(A) Depiro was obedient to the will of the Father
The Gospels reveal that the whole life and mission of Christ was an obedience to the will of the Father. 10. If as regards poverty it has been said that Depiro wanted to be poor in order to be more one with Jesus Christ, 11, he wanted to have the same mind which was In the Son of God, 12, even with regards to his obedience.
On the 23rd February 1899 Joseph wrote to his
9. Personal translation.
Bro J. Gatt’s notes, 25th February 1930.
10. ci. Jn. 4:34; 5:19, 30, 36; 6:38; 10:25; 17:4 cf. also LK. 22:42
11. cf. chapter 2, p. 94—95.
12. cf. Phil., 2:5.
mother from the Capranica College. Here Depiro was still twenty one years old, but he had already in him great values. As has already been said before2 in this letter Joseph referred to another sent to him by his sister Teresina. From Depiro’s own words it seems that his sister had wished him some progress, perhaps in his studies. But J9seph was quite clear to his mother and told her openly that his only wish was to do what was wanted of him by the Father:
‘Faccio osservare a Ter., che certi auguri con tanta serieta’, sarebbe meglio che se le risparmiasse l’augurio che accetto con piacere e di ben conoscere la volonta’ di Dio e di perfettamente eseguirla; e basta!” 15.
There have already been references to the ‘Ragioni pro e contro’ put down in relation to Depiro’s choice between the Accademia and St Joseph’s Institute. In this same discernment there is something very relevant as regards his great wish to do the will of God. In the list ‘Ragioni contro’ for his going to the Accademia Joseph said that:
13. cf. Chapter 2, p. 64—65.
14. The underlining has been made by Mgr Depiro himself.
15. Joseph Depiro to Ursola Depiro, p. 59 r.
“Siccome generalmente nelle mie comunioni una delle prime grazie che chiedo al Signore, e’ appunto quello di farmi conoscere la volonta’ di Dio, credo che il rifuito motivato, mi sia stato da Lui suggerito.” 16.
This was during his student years, but he did not abandon this same spirituality when he was ordained priest. It has already been said that on being ordained priest, Fr Joseph had to go to Davos, in Switzerland, to be cured of his illness.(17) This was a time when being still very young and newly ordained, Depiro had many projects and aspirations. At the same time he was not sure whether he had to implement them or not. In order to find a solution for this difficulty he did nothing but keep a contact with the Lord through prayer:
“Ho continuato intanto durante tutto ii tempo della cura a carezzare le mie ormai divenute antiche idea. Ma tra i ghiaccii delle Alpi cosi’ lontano dal paese dove intendevo metterle in effetto non mi restava altro mezzo che la preghiera — mia ottima compagna - ed ho pregato, pregato, pregato.” 18.
Young Fr Joseph was not interested about doing what he wanted or even wished; “your will be done” (19) was his only aim in life.
16. Depiro — Documents, p. 24 n. 5.
17. cf. Introduction, p.10.
18. Depiro - Diary, p. 5 r.
19. Mt. 6:10b.
Returning to Malta, he worked for three years in Qrendi. Then he began his work among the orphans at Fra Diegu Institute. In the meantime he was continuously working on his ideas, especially by sharing his project with other priests. This was a time of great discouragement for the young priest. There was only one person who was considered by Depiro as a possible aid, Mgr F.X. Bonnici, the founder and first director of St Joseph’s Institute. But Fr Joseph had to give up even this same help because Mgr Bonnici died on the night of the 24th December 1905. What Fr Depiro has written in his Diary about this day is quite relevant. Instead of using some ward of discouragement or rebellion or even lament, he said only:
“Sia pace all’anima sua!” 21
Depiro was therefore left alone. There was no one to encourage him in the execution of his plans. At the same time the days were passing by and things remained almost the same throughout the year 1906. On the 18th November of that same year, Fr Joseph happened to be in Rome and being the feast of the dedication of the Basilicas
20. cf. Introduction, p. 12—13.
cf. also Chapter 2, p. 76.
21. cf. Depiro — Diary, p. 9 r.
of Saints Peter and Paul, Depiro said Mass on the Altar of the Crypt which stands on the tomb of Saint Peter. We have already referred elsewhere to what had been written by Depiro himself with regards to his intention during this same Mass. (22) He wanted to know the will of God and be able to put it in practice.
One would not be wrong to say that Depiro was ready to abandon his “project” and ideas completely if circumstances showed that these same “ideas” did not conform to the will of God. At the same time, once convinced that he was doing what the Father had planned for him, nothing stopped him from trying to put his plans in practice.
The signs of the times: a most efficient means towards knowing the will of God for him.
If one were to make reference to Pope John XXIII’s ‘Pacem in Terris’, one would find out that this same Pope had used the phrase “the signs of the times” quite frequently as a heading for several passages. Some have shown themselves disagreeable with the phrase, but after sometime it came to make part of the Christian vocabulary, because Vatican I made frequent use of it.
22. cf Introduction, p. 18.
The signs of the times are made up of the events that make up history; the favourable and unfavoarable circumstances in which one finds oneself the people with whom one lives and meets, amongst whom there are the superiors; the social environment in which one lives; etc., etc. All these are most efficient occasions offered by God to the individual so that the latter may be able to do the will of God.
Depiro was convinced of the obligation to study and obey these signs of the times.
(i) The Superiors (a subject, in relation to his superiors)
Depiro was convinced of the fact that the first sign of the times for him was to be seen in his superiors. He was quite sure of the veracity of Jesus’ own words, “Anyone who listens to you listens to me” 23.
(a) A real dialogue
Having been ordained priest, Fr Joseph came to celebrate his first solemn high Mass in Malta. While being here the
23. LX. 10:16.
Archibishop seemed to have expressed to him again his wish that Depiro should continue his studies at the Accademia. In fact Depiro wrote that before leaving for Rome to continue his third year theology at the Gregorian University, the Archbishop gave him a note for the President of the Accademia. (24) Having returned to Rome and met the President, Fr Depiro told the latter that he did not wish to go and study there. (25) But the story did not end up there. Depiro wrote to the Archbishop:
“Dandogli le mie ragioni per non andare all Accademia...” 26.
At the same time:
“...dichiarandomi peraltro pronto ad ubbidirlo”. 27.
One must remember here what the actual reasons why he did not want to go to the Accademia (28) and what were those that made him prefer St Joseph’s Institute instead.
24. cf. Depiro - Diary, p. 4 r.
25. cf. Ibid.
26. Ibid., p. 4 V.
28. cf. Introduction, p.33.
29. cf. Ibid. p. 4—5.
All was showing a deep Christian maturity. However, Depiro was ready to abandon all his convictions and do whatever the Archbishop would order.
(b) Absolute unity with his Superiors
Almost two years after going to Switzerland for his cure, Fr Joseph returned to Malta and began his work at Qrendi. In spite of all this variety of’ activities, one after the other, Depiro did not discard the idea of setting up a Missionary Congregation. But he did not want to develop his plans independently from the Archbishop. On 29th september 1908 Depiro wrote this in his Diary:
“Ho comunicato la mia idea per la prima volta (in a clear way) a Sua Ece. Mons Pace, e gli ho chiesto se la benediceva” 30.
On the same day Fr Joseph wrote that the Archibishop held a letter, which had been sent by the Superior General of the Mill Hill Fathers, about a project ‘similar’ to that of Depiro and the Archbishop wanted to pass that same letter on to Fr Joseph. In fact Arch bishop Pace sent the letter to Fr Joseph at Fra Diegu Institute on 3rd October 1908. This letter was about the
30. Depiro — Diary, p. 14 r.
setting up of a Missionary Seminary in Malta. Its scope was the formation of the Maltese seminarians and priests for the missions. By that time Depiro did not know what would be the exact form of his Society. According to his own words he seemed to consider the sending of the letter to him, by his Archbishop, as a providential inspiration:
“Alcuni giorni dopo la lettura di questa lettera ho proposto a Mons Pace l’apertura di un simile Collegio”. 31.
He thought that the appropriate time had come for him to actuate his long developing “ideas” and “dreams”.
It was exactly at that same time that Depiro had to check again his obedience towards his superiors in another way. After having suffered many disappointments in relation to his efforts in favour of the beginning of his Society, he had to give up even the above project of the Missionary Seminary. Depiro added these words to the above:
“Egli mi disse che pel momento non era prudente, avendo i P.P. Salesiani di recente iniziato un quod simile” 32.
Depiro knew that the aim of a Salesians’ Oratory was not a missionary one, and therefore this Oratory was not “simile” to his “project”. In spite of all this he was
31. Ibid., p. 18 r.
ready to do as the Archbishop had suggested. Depiro obeyed Archbishop Pace not only as far as this. His submission was such that he had even asked his Superior about whether he had to continue thinking about his “project”:
“Allora avendogli detto di continuare a coltivare l’idea...” 33.
Fr Joseph, being a diocesan priest, wanted to be completely open to his Archbishop; he wanted to share with him even his innermost thoughts and conform his wishes with those of the hierarchy.
His nomination as Monsignor of the Metropolitan Cathedral came next. The event has already been reported in brief in these pages. ( Here it is worth noticing again that whereas he had told his mother not to interfere in such affairs and that he would not obey her in such things, at the same time he obeyed the Archbishop immediately and accepted the honour when Mgr Pace expressed his will.
Time passed by and Mgr Depiro founded his Society. The first two members entered the “Piccola Casa di San Paolo” on the 30th June 1910. Bit by bit one of these
34. cf. Chapter 2, p. 64-65.
two members was nearing the end of his studies and the Founder wanted that John Vella be ordained deacon “titolo missionis” This letter was written to Cardinal Filippo Giustino, the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of the Sacraments, on the 22nd August 1916. Here Mgr Depiro put down in brief the evolution of the Society, from its beginning until that time. If he were someone else who was asking such a favour from the Holy See, one would have presented the history of the Society in a most pompous way. Depiro did not behave in this way at all; he wanted to show his obedience to his superiors in Rome, by being sincere to them. Putting the ‘Deve1opment” in a few words one can say that Depiro confessed that his days had been full of fatigue and he had to see three prospective students leave the Society a1ready.
Fortunately the Rescript for the ordination “titolo missionis” was published by the Sacred Congregation on the 7th November l916. But this same permission, which had surely caused great joy on the side of’ the Founder, was also accompanied with a real difficulty:
“Had Depiro himself to make good for the living of the Society?” One may think that Mgr Depiro having waited for
35. cf. Introduction, p. 38.
36. cf. M.S.S.P. at the time of the Founder, p. 59 v.
37. cf. Ibid., p. 119 v.
so long a tine for such a Rescript to arrive would not have bothered about such a difficulty. But in fact it did not happen so Depiro wanted that the relation with his superiors would be completely clear. Therefore he approached his friend Fr B Vassallo, asking him to clarify that same difficulty. Vassallo wrote to Don A. Bruni on the 23rd l9l6 (38), and the latter answered on the 8th December of that same year.
(c) Prompt to obey and in an active way
Although the Holy See was taking a negative stand towards the approval of the Society of Mgr Depiro as a Missionary one and therefore even towards the Society’s affiliation with Propaganda Fidei, the Founder continued working very hard towards this same goal. But it was exactly by this time that Depiro’s attention had to be shifted on a completely different affair. His obedience was checked again this time by Archbishop Maurus Caruana, the successor of Mgr. Peter Pace.
38. cf. Ibid., p. 6 r — v.
39. In this letter Don A. Bruni told Vassallo that since the Society was not yet approved by the Holy See, it had not yet a Canonical Stability and therefore Vella had to depend from the Ordinary for his living. (cf. Ibid., p. 70).
In one of the small parishes of the diocese there had been much trouble between one group of parishioners and another about the feasts of this same parish. This conflict reached its peak exactly on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary in 1919. On this day the Vicar who was leading the parish, took an action which did not please the supporters of that feast. The trouble developed to such an extent that the Vicar left the parish and the Archbishop closed the parish church for seven weeks. Thus the parishioners remained without the administration of the sacraments.40. In spite of the many duties he had already, Mgr Depiro was chosen by the Archbishop to solve that problem. On his side Depiro did nothing but obey. He left the direct attention of the Society, which as has been said already was struggling to get its approval by the Holy See, and went to Gudja to settle down the turmoil.
But one can find more information about Depiro’s going to this parish which is in fact very relevant here. Fr J. Vella sheds much more light on the obedience practiced by the Founder on that occasion. 41. After being asked by the Archbishop to go:
40. cf. Interviews (Fr J. Vella) , p. 48.
41. cf. Ibid., p. 48—49
a. Depiro went with Fr J. Vella himself and Bro J. Caruana. One must remember here that this was a time when the Society needed more than ever to pay attention on itself because there were still very few members in its only house. In spite of all this the Founder went to the parish and left the Society deprived not only of himself but also of two members, of whom one was a priest.
b. They went at 4.00 in the morning, and on a cart. Depiro knew that the Archbishop needed his help very much. If he were someone else one might have profited from the situation and asked the Archbishop for transport. Instead, he used a cart. And he went very early.
c. While he was there he was quite active. He did not simply go to Gudja, but he saw to it that he would do whatever was necessary:
— he used to go out on a donkey, with Bro Joseph, and collect the money for the feast.
— he organised a big feast with marches and fireworks; and all this in a peaceful
Depiro behaved in this way not only in the above mentioned event. Each of the duties passed on to him by his Archbishop was considered by him as a manifestation
of God’s will:
There has already been a reference on the way he treated the children who lived in the Institutes. 42. Here he was never satisfied to be simply a director; he wanted to be a father to the orphans living there:
- During the time he had spent as secretary to the Archbishop one can find out that Depiro did his duty quite faithfully. It is enough to refer to the many letters sent to him by the priests who were working abroad and who were continuously asking him, as secretary to the Archbishop, to find for them some other priest to help them. Depiro treated these priests with great love and tried to satisfy their needs as much as possible. 43. But the most significant certificate praising Depiro’s complete dedication in this work came from Archbishop Caruana himself. Sending to him the nomination of rector “Nostri Ven. Magni Seminarii a S. Paolo Apostolo Civitatis Notabilis”, Archbishop Caruana began his letter with these words:
“Nos perfecte noscentes doctrinam qua polles, probitatem morum, plurimaque merita in hanc Nostram Diocesim praesertim illud muneris et officii Nostri a Serretis Generalis, quod usque nunc gessisti non tentum cum Nostra satisfactione ac probationem, sed etiam omnium qui opera tua hoc in munere usi sunt...” 44.
42. cf. Chapter 2, p. 100—101
43. cf. M.S.S.P. at the time of the Founder, (6la—61b), p. 62 r - 63 v; 87 r - 94 r;
cf. also Ibid., . 52 r — 53 r.
44. Depiro – Documents, p. 25 K
— Next came his work at the Major Seminary. From the Seminary Archives themselves one can get a report which the Rector Depiro himself had sent to Archbishop Caruana after his second year at the Seminary. This same eleven page report is a clear proof of how much dedicated was Mgr Depiro to his duties. He gave a report of himself, the staff and its duties, the seminarians and the studies; and this at times in a very detailed way.
Ana1ysin all these duties together, one can find out that Depiro accepted them only because of obedience. Since he carried them on scrupulously, everyone dependent on him was very happy having Depiro as Superior; whether the people at Gudja, the priests who recurred to him as the Secretary to the Archbishop, or the seminarians at the Seminary. Depiro seeing himself so much accepted and loved, could have remained in any of these same duties. But in fact he did not do this. When his term ended, he left the work and returned to the Institutes and his Society.
But Depiro expressed his objections, where necessary
When analysing Depiro’s behaviour with regards to his going to the Accademia, we have already referred
45. It was only at the Seminary that he had asked to be dishonoured from his duties (cf. Depiro — Documents, p. 251).
to the fact that he exposed his objections to Archbishop Pace. 46. This same note is a clear proof that Depiro can never be considered as a yes man. It would be nothing but wrong to say that Depiro was always in accord with his superiors because he wanted the support of the Church’s hierarchy, especially the local one, for the building up of his Society. In spite of the fact that Depiro was a diocesan priest and therefore he stood by his own Archbishop in sincere charity and obedience, 47a, he never hesitated to express his difficulties when necessary. The way how he accepted St Joseph’s Institute of Ghajnsielem Gozo is a clear proof of this same aspect of Depiro’s obedience:
St Joseph’s Institute at Hamrun (Malta) had been set up by Mgr F.X. Bonnici on the 13th May 1893. After a short while everyone saw that this Institute was a great blessing and a necessity on the Island. It was serving as a healthy refuge for those many poor children who had been running unattended in the streets without any thing to eat, wear and someone to care for them. Because of this same success, the Archbishop of Malta, Mgr. P. Pace, being himself a Gozitan, wished to begin something similar
46. cf. Chapter 3, p. 125—126.
47a. cf. P.O. 7 e.
in his home Island, Gozo. The facts show that he did not succeed in this, but at the same time he had start ed the ball rolling. In fact Bishop Michael Gonzi, being bishop of Gozo, wanted to actuate Pace’s project. On the 6th November 1984, he published the statutes on which the Institute was supposed to be led: In these same statutes Gonzi showed that he wanted that:
— the Orphanage should be under the direct direction of the local bishop;
— the government should have nothing to do with the Institute except in providing the living of 24 boys who would be admitted in the building;
— the property of the Orphanage should all pass in the hands of the diocese if the Institute were to close down;
— the staff should be chosen by the parish priests (who were organising the beginning of the Orphanage) and approved by the Bishop;
—the boys had to be accepted by the Bishop and the parish priests or their substitutes;
—the Bishop would have the right to attend all meetings held by the parish priests or representatives. 47b
47b. M.S.S.P. Archives — St. Joseph’s Home — Gozo, p.4.
But there was still a great problem. Who was going to run the Institute and take care of the boys gathered together there? Both the Bishop and the parish- priests agreed to contact Mgr Depiro, the director of St Joseph’s Institute. This was done through a letter sent to him on the 25th December 1924 and written by parish priest Hili, the secretary of the parish priests’ committee in charge of this same initiative. 48. Whereas Depiro used to answer immediately any letter he used to receive, he did not act in this way in the case of the above mentioned letter. There were several things which did not seem clear to him. In fact Depiro wrote to Hill on the 13th January 1925 and afterwards met Bishop Gonzi.
Mgr Depiro’s first objection was that St Joseph’s Institute in Gozo ought to be simply joined to that in Malta; it had to be affiliated to it and not have the rules on its own. Then there was also the fact that Depiro was not pleased with the statutes because according to him they lacked a sense of charity and a trust in God’s providence — they limited the number of boys for 24. Also, he did not want that the Institute at Gozo be independent from that in Malta because he could not take
care of it if not by means of the members of his Society. Besides these objections, he did not want to accept any statutes prepared by someone else, because this would limit his activity as superior of the Society of St Paul — a religious community ought to have an autonomy both as regards its leadership and its finances. 49. He was so much convinced of these same objections that he emphasised the same points again when writing to Arch bishop Caruana, of Malta, to ask him permission for the affiliation. 50. It was only under the conditions made by Depiro himself, or better still, after the Status had been modified by Gonzi himself, that Mgr Depiro accepted the Institute at Ghajnsielem. 51.
What had motivated Depiro towards this obedience?
If one were to study the conferences made by the Founder to Bro J. Gatt and his companion one would be able to see quite clearly what convictions had made Depiro live obedience to such an extent.
49. Ibid., p. 19 r — 20 v.
50. Ibid., p. 23.
51. Ibid., p. 25.
Mgr Depiro showed quite clearly that he knew, and perhaps he had experienced in his own life, that there might be many difficulties which might hinder the individual from obeying: sympathy—antipathy, difficult and hard obedience to execute, etc. But Depiro was convinced that the superiors transmitted God’s will for the individual. These references are a clear proof of all this:
“The Rule tells us that our superiors, whoever or whatGver they be, must be obeyed always by us and vie must consider them as the representatives of God on earth.” 52.
“The power of the superior over those subject to him is coming from God. The Pope has the power over all the faithful, and this was given to him by Jesus Christ. The bishops and the other religious superiors have their power transmitted to them from the Pope.” 53.
‘The Rule does not oblige under mortal sin, but the respect and obedience towards the superiors comes from the fourth commandament.” 54.
The Rules written by Mgr Depiro for his Society continue confirming this same conviction of the Founder, namely that the Superiors are the representatives of God on earth:
52. Personal translation. Bro J. Gatt’s notes, 10th August 1930.
54. Personal translation. Ibid., 13th August 1930.
“...bensi’ in conformita’ dei desiderii e voleri dei Superiori posti in luogo di Dio.” 55.
“Tengano inoltre i proprii Superiori, qualunque cosi siano, in luogo di Nostro Signore Gesu’ Cristo” 56.
“...non guardando la persona a cui ubbidiscono, ma Dio, per cui amore si ubbidisce...” 57.
One can also refer to a sermon Depiro had delivered to a group of youths who were not members of any religious congregation. He was so much convinced of the fact that the superiors were God’s representatives, that while talking to these youths about St John Berchmans, he commented:
“Sapeva che per riuscire con maggior perfezione in questo intento gli ero necessario ii vivere sotto la direzione dei Superiori e’ veri rappresentanti di Dio in terra.” 58.
And applying Berchman’s life to the youths, he repeated the same words:
… perche’ essi per voi sono anche i veri, i legittimi rappresentanti di Dio in terra.” 59.
55. Regole della Compagnia di S. Paolo, Vol. II. Del Voto di Ubbidienza, p. 6, n. 2.
56. Ibid., p. 6, n.4.
57. Ibid., n. 5.
58. Sermon B.
(ii) The spiritual directors
If Depiro had always considered his superiors with great respect and loyalty, one cannot but realise that he had in him the same sentiments as regards his spiritual directors. They can be said to have been for him the second sign of the times. The material which helps us most with regards to this is surely found in Depiro’s own Diary. Here one would meet several circum stances which can be a very clear demonstration of Depiro’s complete abandonment in the hands of his spiritual directors.
The first circumstance is related to Depiro’s going or not to St Joseph’s Institute. The very first line of his Diary says that he had been thinking of his going to St Joseph’s “In sin dal mio primo anno di Collegio” 60. One can find out that returning to Malta for his first summer holidays he did in fact visit the second director of this same Institute.61.
As has been said already, Depiro continued writing to Frs Vassallo and Bugeja from Rome. 62. During the retreat at the beginning of the
60. Depiro — Diary, p. 1 r. cf. also Chapter 2, p.98.
61. cf. Depiro — Diary, p. 1 r — 1 v.
62. cf. Ibid.
cf. also Chapter 2, p. 99.
scholastic year 1901—1902, Depiro put down the reasons in favour and against his going to St Joseph’s. As has already been said, these were the product of an advanced Christian maturity; (63) such reasons would make an individual more than sure of the execution of his thoughts. Notwithstanding this Depiro did not want to decide on his own. He himself said that he had decided in favour of his going to St Joseph’s;
“Coll’aiuto di P. Gua1andi” 64
From the words of Depiro himself it seems that he had expressed to Gualandi the reasons why he wished to go to St Joseph’s. One of these was his wish to begin a Congregation of priests in that same Institute. As regards this P. Gualandi suggested to Depiro, “Di sospendere questa ragione, soggiungendo, ‘Se son rose fioriranno’” 65.
Making reference to Depiro’s own words on the side of the “Pros” in relation to his going to St Joseph’s, one finds out that Depiro put down an N.B. making a reference to Gualandi’s words to him. At the end of this same reference, Joseph added these words:
“..., e lo faccio ben volentieri” 66.
63. cf. This same Chapter, p. l2
GLj. Depiro — Diary, p. 2 r.
65. Ibid., p. 2 V.
66. Depiro — Documents, p. 24 r.
The Diary continues with the information about this obedience of Depiro to his spiritual directors. Coming to Malta for his summer holidays, after the scholastic year 1901—1902 Depiro said that he went to Fr E. Vassallo and told him that he wished to join him at St Joseph’s. Depiro said that Vassallo, and Fr Vincent Sammut before Aim, “Mi consiglio’ di terminare gli studi prima di tutto e poi si sarebbe veduto” 67. Depiro himself showed the extent of his obedience:
“E cosi’ di questa cosa non se ne parlo piu’ ,,68.
Then came the setting up of the Society. Even this was an excellent occasion for the future Founder to demonstrate the extent of his obedience to his spiritual director, this time Fr Ferrara. On the 9th January 1905, while attending a retreat, Fr Joseph talked to Fr 1!errara and asked him whether he had to expose the idea of the Society to Fr E. Vassal1o. 69. It was only after the spiritual director had consented that Depiro talked to Vassal1o. 70.
67. Depiro — Diary, p. 3 r.
69. cf. Ibid., p. 5 v.
70. cf. Ibid.
Besides this, some time having passed by, Fr Joseph shared whatever had been said to Vassallo, with Ferrara. 71. Seeing very little response from Vassallo, Depiro did not want to talk to him again about the affair; he wished that Vassallo would start the conver- sation; and he was determined to do so. 72. But Ferrara did not agree; he wished that Fr Joseph would begin.73. Depiro forgot his decision again and did as was suggested by Ferrara;
“Mi portavo al Seminario per trovare Vassallo e parlargli sopra...” 74.
Vassallo told Fr Joseph to put down on paper his “project”. 75. Depiro kept on trying to do that, but “non mi e’ riuscito.” 76. What was more, on the 22nd February 1905 he met Fr Vassallo and told him that he did not intend writing what Vassallo had asked him. 77. He tried to write his “project” again but he did not succeed again. 78. On the 7th March 1905 there
71. cf. Ibid., p. 6 r.
72. cf. Ibid., p. 6 r — 6 v.
73. cf. Ibid., p. 6 v.
75. cf. Ibid.
76. cf. Ibid., p. 7 r.
77. cf. Ibid.
78. cf. Ibid., p. 7 v.
intervened Fr Ferrara who suggested to Depiro to do as Vassallo had said. And it was only here that Depiro wrote these words as regards the l4th March of the same year:
“Mi son messo la terza volta a scrivere al Vassallo la mia idea e mi pare di
essere riuscito -….. .” 79.
(iii) His companions
Reading through the Vatican II Document about priests, one would find many references which emphasise the unity between the priests. 80. Amongst these same exhortations there is one which says that, “A young priest should respect the age and experience of his seniors. He should discuss plans with them, and willingly cooperate with them in matters which pertain to the care of souls.” 81. One would easily admit, at least in theory, that the superiors help the subjects to know the will of God for them. Also it has been an old custom in the life of priests, and also of Christians in general, that they would have a spiritual director in order to help them discern their plans. But one cannot say that
79. Ibid., p. 8 r.
80. cf. e.g., . P.O., 8d; O.T., 5b.
81. P.O. 8d.
the conviction that even the companions can be a good sign of the times for the priest has been so much popular. Depiro has understood and believed this quite a lot in his life. He did not discuss his ‘plans” only with his seniors, but he used to share his “plans” even with his equals.
There had already been made a reference to Fr Depiro’s visit to Mgr F.X. Bonnici. 82. Fr Joseph him self had been quite clear about his disposition to exchange his saintly ambitions:
“Sono stato dal Canco Bonnici, gli ho raccontato la facenda” 83.
The last part of the presentation of “Depiro’s obedience to his spiritual director” may be referred to even here. There has been a continuous mentioning of the meetings between Depiro and Vassallo. In one similar meeting the latter had suggested to Depiro that he would talk to Mgr E. Debono, of the “Opera della Santa Missione” 85. Depiro himself wrote down that he obeyed the suggestion
82. cf. Introduction, p. 16.
83. Depiro — Diary, p. 8 v.
84. cf. chapter 3 (this chapter) p. l43—l45.
85. cf. Introduction p. 18—19.
of his friend Vassallo and said that:
“Sono stato la prima volta da Mons. Debono. 86.
Depiro was always open for the Spirit of God to reveal to him His on will through his companions.
(iv) The circumstances around him
Listing the possible types of the signs of the times, it has been said that among others there are the circumstances, favourable and unfavourable, in which one finds himself. 87. Depiro was attentive for this same type of sign and he seemed to have always considered the weight of such sign.
In the Introduction it has been said that he had felt his vocation since he had been fourteen. 88. He abandoned for a while this same call, but when he thought again that the priesthood was his vocation, he left his Law studies and prepared himself immediately for his studies of philosophy and theology. 89.
86. Depiro -Diary, p. 11 r.
87. cf. This same chapter, p. 123—124.
88. cf. Introduction, p. 3.
89. cf. Ibid., p. 3—6.
He was all out in favour of saying a complete yes to God. But it happened that, having begun his studies, Joseph was being faced with the continuous problem of i1l-hea1th. 90 As it continued, Depiro was becoming worried. In spite of the fact that he had been convinced that the priesthood was his vocation, he began doubting about this same con- viction. From a letter written to him by Fr Vincent Sammut S.J., one can find out that Joseph’s fear was considerable.91. It was only after Sammut had told him to be
courageous that Joseph continued his studies.
Coming to form the Society Depiro had two circumstances which seemed to have been very significant for him; he has recorded them in his Diary.
It has already been said that one of the reasons why Depiro wanted to go to St Joseph’s Institute was to set up a Congregation of priests there. 92. In the summer of 1902 young Joseph went to visit Vassallo at St Joseph’s and told him that he wished to join him there. Reporting this event in his Diary, Depiro showed that Vassallo’s words to him meant much:
90. cf. Ibid., p. 6.
91. cf. Fr V. Sammut S.J. to Joseph Depiro, 1O.9.00, p. 14 v— 15 r.
92. cf. Introduction, p. 9.
“Lungo qui nota che senza che io gli avessi. detto i miei motivi di entrare nella detta Casa egli soggiunse: “forse sarai la causa perche’ si formi a Malta, la Congregazione dei Preti” 93.
Depiro seemed to be very happy that there was a favourable sign in relation to his setting up of the Society.
Another such positive circumstance was related to the name of the future Society. This was supposed to be put under the patronage of St Pau1. Depiro himself said that on the 10th December 1906 he met Fr G. Bugeja and talked to him about the ‘project’. Depiro put down another important note as regards this same day;
“Prendo nota che mentre si parlava siam entrati In un negozio per vedere una statuetta di S. Paolo che D. Giorgio doveva regalare” 95.
If this buying of the statue of St Paul had not been interpreted by Fr Depiro as a (positive) circumstance, worth remembering, he would not have put it in his Diary.
Humility, the basis for obedience
No one doubts of the fact that humility is a
93. Depiro — Diary, p. 3 r.
94. cf Ibid p. 2 r — 2 v.
95. Ibid., p. 11 V.
‘sine qua non’ for obedience. The letter to the Hebrews is quite clear about this: “Although he was Son, he learnt to obey through suffering”(96) St Augustine has expressed this same truth: “Where there is humility, there is charity”, that virtue which includes the obedience to God and the love towards neighbour.
Depiro was convinced of this reality. In fact referring to Bro J. Gatt’s notes one can see that the link is quite evident:
“In obedience we must be humble.” 97
And he said why:
“First of all humility wants that we examine ourselves and we find that we are less than the others, and much less than the superiors. Therefore when we are commanded by the superior we obey immediately, and we do not carry on examining whether it is good or bad, because we know that the superior sees the thin better than we do” 98.
In the Rules the Founder repeated his conviction about the necessity of humility for obedience:
96. Heb. 5:8
97. Personal translation.
Bro J. Gatt’s notes, 11th August 1930.
“Saranno sempre pronti ad ubbidire con ispirito dl umilta’...” 99.
In this way the obedient man wou1d be a sign for the others.
Presenting the profession of the evangelical counsels, Vatican II said that it is, “A Sign which can and ought to attract all the members of the Church to an effective and prompt fulfilment of the duties of their Christian vocation” (100) It is true, if one were to make reference to Scheme D of 1964, one would find out quite clearly that the sign factor is not unique and primary. In spite of all this one cannot eliminate its great importance.
Mgr Depiro had stressed this reality quite a lot to the members of his Society:
“Characteristic means that obedience must be imprinted in us, it must
be something that the others see in us...” 101.
99. Regole de Compagnia di S. Paolo. Vol.11. Del Voto di Ubbidienza. p. 8 n. 6.
100. L.G. 44d
101. Personal translation.
Bro J. Gatt’s notes, 29.7.30.
(B) Depiro the superior, in relation to his subjects
When one treats of the vow or virtue of obedience, the first thing that comes to one’s mind is most probably the relationship between the subjects and their superiors. Vatican II treating of this same vow, in the Decree on the Renewal of the Religous Life, dedicated two paragraphs to this same relationship. (102) But the Council Fathers did not stop here; they have presented another two paragraphs which speak of the way how superiors aught to treat the persons entrusted to them. 103
There has already been an exposition about how Depiro had behaved with his superiors and what had been his sentiments about this.(104) But Depiro has to be studied even from the other side: he was Director of five Institutes and therefore one can see how he had behaved in relation to the children and those who helped him develop this activity; he was Founder and (therefore) Superior of the Society of St Paul and therefore one can analyse his behaviour towards the members of this same Society.
102. cf. P.C. l4a, b.
103. cf. Ibid., 14c, d.
104. cf. This same chapter, p. 124-140
(i) Depiro children in relation to the children and Sisters of the Institutes
(a) The Director and the children
In the Interviews about Depiro one can notice several aspects related to the way how the Director behaved with the children entrusted to his care.
Mgr Depiro was convinced that the children had come to the Institutes not only to find shelter where to live, some clothes to wear and food to eat. Besides these necessities, they were there to find someone to love them. When interviewed, the Sisters who were at Fra Diegu Institute stressed Depiro’s great love towards the children:
Mother Cleophas Bondin: “I do not know that he had ever shouted at the children; but he used to be always gentle to them, and gave them anything possible for him — he always did his best to satisfy them” 105.
Sister Assunta said what the Director used to say when he met some girl who had been dismissed from class for misbehaviour:
“Oh, poor girl, what has she done? Do let her in, Mother” 106.
105. Personal translation. Interviews, p. 30.
106. Personal translation.
Ibid.. p. 3l
Mother Pacifica: “The girls of those days were very energetic and when there was some one of them who would have done something wrong, the Mother used to bring her in front of the Director, “Monsignor,” she would tell him, have brought her here so that you may correct her yourself.”
“Yes, let her in, “he would answer the Mother. He never shouted at them. He used to tell them some kind of words” 107.
The same Sister confessed what Mgr Depiro used to tell the Sisters about their comportment with the girls:
“Never shout at the girls, you succeed in correcting them through tenderness. Make them always happy. Have patience with them” 108.
Sister Eletta Sant: ‘When someone of the girls got sick, he used to go even to hospital to see her — this was the extent of his paternal love” 109.
His love towards the children did not consist only in words. Rather he was always preoccupied about what to do for the children to make them happy and lack nothing, if possible. (110) In order to encourage them at school
107. Personal translation. Ibid., p. 35.
108. Personal translation. Ibid.
109. Personal translation. Ibid., p. 36.
110. cf. Ibid.
or in their trade, he used to organise for the girls a sort of prize day. (111) At least twice a year Depiro used to prepare for them two dinners and take them to his brother’s house by the sea. (112) During the Christmas days he began preparing for them the Christmas tree, which was not as common in those days as it is nowadays. This created a very lively atmosphere in the whole Institute. (113) During the summer holidays he used to take the children to the seaside, and he even hired for them a house near the sea. (114) What has been said by Maggie Buhagiar is also interesting: Whenever Mgr Depiro happened to be abroad he used to buy cosmetics and soap for the girls of the Institute. (115) Every month he used to give some money to the Mother to save it for those who were about to leave the Institute.(116) On the 25th anniversary as director of the Institute of Fra Diegu, he invited the old girls at the Institute (117). And it was not infreq—
111. cf. Ibid., p. 23, 3b.
112 cf. Ibid., p. 36, 37.
113. cf. Ibid., ;. 23, 36.
114 cf. Ibid.
cf. also Ibid., p. 35.
115. cf. Ibid., p. 34.
116. cf. Ibid., p. 37.
117. cf. Ibid. p.25
uent that he helped the husbands of the girls who had been at the Institutes before, to find a job.
The Director took care also of the spiritual side of the girls’ formation. He celebrated all the functions and feasts in the Church’s calendar; he organised the spiritual exercises for the gir1s; and made it a point that the girls would have a confessor regularly.
But all this does not mean that the Director did not correct those girls where necessary
Mother Cleophas Bondin: “When coming to see the works done, there were times
when he would find out that this was not done as expected. He would tell them in love: ‘Yesterday you had much to do, no, Sister?’” 120.
Sister Assunta “Then he would turn to the girl and tell her: Is it not true that you promised the Sister that you would not do that again?” 121.
118. cf. Ibid.
119. cf. Ibid., p. 31.
120. Personal translation. Ibid., p. 30.
121. Personal translation. Ibid., P. 34.
Mother Pacifica: “Never let them be lazy, and never leave them alone, but let them be always under your attention” 122.
(b) The Director and the Sisters
The same can be said as regards his love for the Sisters who were helping him in the running of Fra Diegu Institute. Mgr Depiro was all out in encouraging the Sisters in their complete dedication for the children. One of the old girls of the Institute already mentioned, Maggie Buhagiar, said that Marquis Scicluna, one of the richest men on the Island, used to invite Mgr Depiro and the Sisters for dinner in order to show them his appreciation for their work. On such occasions the Director used to let the Sisters go alone in order to enjoy the event all by themselves. (123) Sister Cleophas Bondin spoke of another event which shows Depiro’s great wish to encourage the Sisters. She said that once the Director had told her to prepare a short speech in English in order to read it in front of the Governor of Malta when this would visit the Institute. She was very shy and disheartened because she did not know very well the English
122. Personal translation. Ibid., p. 35.
123. cf. Ibid., p. 34.
Language. In spite of her wishing to avoid this speech, Mgr Depiro insisted while promising her his he1p. (124) Maggie Buhagiar said also that when the Sisters had some conference the Director used to send them for that meeting and he himself would stay with the children. (125) Sister Pacifica confessed that the Director had never been proud of his noble blood. When he first visited the Institute everyone was afraid of him, but as time passed by, everyone got accustomed to him. 126
At the same time Mgr Depiro was never afraid to correct those Sisters when there was need of it. Mother Paul Cilia said that the Director himself used to examine the girls before their first Holy Communion. Once he found that the girls were not prepared well. He called the Sister in charge of those girls, in his office, and told her about that lack of preparation. 127
(ii) Depiro in relation to the members of his Society
Analysing “Depiro’s sharing of his ideas” it
124. cf. Ibid., p. 31.
125. cf. Ibid., p. 34.
126. cf. Ibid., p. 36.
127. cf. Ibid., p. 23.
has been said that he was always attentive to show the other companion—priests or the members of his Society what was of interest to them to know. (128) This was said when treating Depiro’s poverty, but one can return to’ it even here. The fact that the Founder had invited Fra Michael Callus and Joseph Spiteri to go with him to St Agatha’s, “Per sollecitare ii 1avoro...” (129) proved nothing but Depiro’s wish to make the members of his Society coresponsible in the activities of their own Society.
Four months before the above mentioned event there had been another proof of Depiro’s same attitude. Referring to the Minutes of the Council, one finds that one of the first members was held from sitting for the profession, “Perche’ detto....si tenga maggiormente dipendente dal suo superiore e domandare gli opportuni permessi nelle cose non ordinarie e non appartenenti al suo ufficio”. (130) The last words of this clause are very important. According to this reference the individual talked of here was not supposed to ask permission to act, “Nelle cose ordinarie e appartenenti al suo ufficio.” This means nothing but an
128. cf. Chapter 2, p. 74-78.
129. cf. Council Minutes, p. 67 v.
130. Ibid., p. 65 r.
autonomy for that member within the limits of his particular duty! All this came from the Founder who wanted things to be like this in the Society! Besides this, it was he who was responsible for the decisions made in the Council meeting-room!
If one wants to know more about the behaviour of the Founder in relation to the members of his own Society, one can do nothing better than refer to what these same members themselves have said:
Fr John Vella, one of the very first two members who had entered the “Piccola Casa di San Paolo at Irndina, stressed very much Depiro’s patience. Vella said that the Founder did not want them to smoke. On the other hand Vella himself disobeyed, but Mgr Depiro was a1ways patient with him. (131) When still at St Aloysius’ Co1lege for his secondary education, Vella failed some examination and told the Founder about it. Instead of shouting at him, he told him, “Benedictus Deus, quia humiliavit nos.” 132
This same member said that Depiro had an veascible character, so much so that when someone did something wrong, the Founder used to correct that member immediately.
131. cf. Interviews, Fr .1. Vella, p. 19.
132. cf. Ibid., p. 20.
But he had such strength in his character that he never shouted at anyone of them. When something happened to him he never got much worried; he was always patient. Vella confessed that he caused the Founder much trouble because he never controlled his tongue. Notwithstanding this Depiro was always patient at him. 133
Vella continued saying that:
“When correcting he used to begin, ‘Figlio mio’, Whatever one would have done, even after a grave thing’ 134
“Depiro’s brother was a bit nervous, and even the Founder. It is through virtue that he kept calm. I never saw him angry, or shouting.” 135
“I have never seen him angry. And there were several occasions where he could have been angered! There were many times when we went outside without telling him. The people would see us and inform him. And he used to tell us. But how? He used to come near me, and tell me that the people had gone to him and told him that they had seen us here or there, and he would say neither yes nor no! As if he knew about it” 136 ________________________________________________________________________
133. ef. Ibid.
13k. Ibid., p. 21.
135. Ibid., p. 22.
136. Ibid., p. 53—54
“Bro Joseph used to go shopping. But he did not know how to do this. Once he came to me and being afraid he told me, ‘I have to give £35 to a person. I am afraid to go to the Monsignor. ‘ I went myself and told him he story. He smiled at me and asked me, ‘How much, £10?’ ‘No.’ ‘Twenty?’ ‘More,’ I answered him; thirty five.’ ‘Allora, vatene.’ And I went to tell Bro Joseph to come to the Founder. And he gave him the money. 137
What had motivated Depiro to behave in such a way with the members of his Society? He himself expressed his convictions in a sermon he delivered to the Superiors of the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart. This same meditation treated the behaviour of’ the Superiors towards their subjects and was based on St James’ words. “Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” 138. Analysing each part of this same sentence, Depiro came to the last part, “slow to anger”, and said what these same words ought to mean for any superior:
“Esco un altra virtu’ tanto richiesta’ in chi e’ superiore.
“Discite a me quia rnitis sum.”
1°. mezzo di San Gregorio col ricordarei gil affronti che Gesu’ Cristo sopporto’ per noi: — Schiaffi - Sputo— calunnis — denigrato l’onore - nelle vesti — Se Egli accetta tutto questo per tuo amore e’ possibile che noi non possiamo con mansuetudine sopport— di poco per Lui.
137. Ibid., p.55.
138. cf. Jas 1:19.
2°. Vedendo e ricevendo le mancanze contro di noi, riflettiamo alle mancanze commesse da noi contro gli altri — Le suddite ci mancano, pensiamo all’ommissione dei nostri doveri.
Come l’acqua estingue il fuoco cosi’ la memoria delle proprie colpe smorza ii fuoco dell’ira.” 139.
In the references quoted above, Fr Jor Vella has already referred here and there to the fact that the Founder corrected the first members. 140. This same member has other more direct confirmations of this very reality:
“...but he would tell you, make you see that you had made a mistake in order that you may not repeat that same mistake.” 14l.
In another Interview the same Vella, after saying that Depiro was very gentle to his members, said that the Founder used to tell them where they would have made some mistake. 142.
Mgr Depiro was convinced that:
“La correzione paterna e segno di amore.” 143.
139. Sermon I p. 6.
140. cf this same chapter, p.l61-162
l4l. Personal translation.
Interviews, Fr J. Vella, p. 21.
142. Personal translation.
Ibid., p. 53-54.
143. Sermon I, p. 5.
And he knew that:
“...lo dice lo stesso Iddio per mezzo di S. Giovanni 1’Apostolo “Ego quos amo arguo et castigo” e San Paclo “Quem enim diligit Dominus castigat” - Cosi’ i1 padre che ama il figlio lo corregge perche’ lo vuol buono - S. Agostino “qui. non corrigit non regit” 144.
In fact Depiro continued telling the Franciscan Superiors:
“Quindi non vi ha dubbio che la correzione sia un atto di vera carita’, amore” 145.
At the same time he was convinced that:
“...siccome (la correzione) non dipende soltanto dai sentimenti e dalla disposizione materna della Superiora ma anche dall’ accettazzione delle suddite...” 146.
Because of this same reality:
“...con quanta cautela non va fatta. Quindi ricordiamoci del monito odierno ‘tardus ad loquendum’; esso ci aiutera’ a correggere con carita’ e prudenza. Perche’ dopo tutto la correzione sempre reca pena e quindi quante cautele perche’ sia meno penosa e piu’ propicua e vantaggiosa:
1. Scegliere tempo favorevole — finche’ torni la calma, tanto nella suddita che in voi.
2. Adattarsi al carattere della colpevole.
3. Eliminare .i sentimenti di antipatia e di avversione.
4. Castigate poco.
5. Incoraggite molto.
6. Perdonate facilmente.
8. Riprendete secretamente le colpe secrete.
9. Per cose da poco non troppo soventa.
10. Avere riguardo all’eta, grado di. Virtu. 147.
Depiro’s determination in his leadership
Although the Founder was very kind and paid much attention to be a real father to the members of his Society, he was very determined in his leadership.
Fr Joseph Spiteri, one of the two priests who were Council members during Depiro’s times said that:
“Many had thought that since the Society was at its beginning, they would be accepted immediately and avoid too much study. But the Founder remained resolute about this and he permitted no exception about the studies required.” 148.
In fact from the Council Minutes of the 26th September 1927 one can find out that Mgr Depiro saw to it that a certain student who was going to enter the prenovitiate, would be examined by the Augustinian Fathers
147. Ibid., p. 5-6.
148 Personal translation.
Interviews, p. 9.
who were helping in the education of the Society’s students.149. One must add that everytime there was a new entrant for the prenovitiate or for the novitiate, the prospective candidate was always examined against all the certificates required. 150. Whenever these were missing the Founder would wait until they were acquired. This would sound more significant when one remembers that his were times when he was in a real need of members, because his Society was almost at its beginning.
This same determination could be seen even in relation to those who had entered the Society. It was not infrequent that some member was held from doing his profession because of some lack of involvement or responsibility towards the Society:
In the Minutes of the 25th June 1930 one can find out that a novice who had arrived for his first temporary profession, was held from doing it at that time, “Per dargli agio di dare prova di maggior seduleta’ nel disbrigo dei suoi uffici.” 151.
149. cf. Council Minutes, p. 5 r.
150. See almost all the sittings of the Council during the Founder’s time, this is 1927-
151. cf. Council Minutes, p. 45 v.
On the 4th March 1932 a certain student was called to declare, “Che nessuna idea secondaria lo muove di continuare a vivere nella nostra Compagnia e che egli si trova pronto a correggersi di tutti quei difetti contrari allo spirito del nostra santa regola” 152.
Mgr Depiro being the Founder and Superior of the Society of St Paul, and the one responsible for any decision taken in the Council, wanted that the Secretary, Fr M Callus, would prepare two lists with the requirements for the candidates for the novitiate and the profession, “Secondo le nostre regole, quanto secondo il Nuovo Codice di Diritto Canonico” 153.
All this with the help of God.
Mgr Depiro knew that acting in this way was not an easy job for a superior. At the same time he was convinced that God would help such a person. But the individual had to hear the voice of God, “Cite vi parla in favore della vostra comunita’. 154.
152 .This before being accepted for the perpetual profession.(cf. Council Minutes, p.58 r).
cf. also Ibid., p. 10 r-v, 12 r-v, 65 r.
153. cf. Council Minutes, p. 5 v.
On the sitting of a short while after, it was mentioned again that there would be a set of questions “da farsi agli aspiranti della compagnia” (Council Minutes, p. 11 r).
154. Sermon I, p. 2.
When superiors are disheartened and doubtful about how to manage the communities entrusted to them they must be sure that:
“Dio sara con voi. Se non vi scotaggiate, Dio e’ con voi, non ve no ha dubblo..... Dio dirige, maniggia, santifica la vostra comunita per mezzo vostro.” 155.
The Superiors must hear the voice of God
But Depiro was convinced that there is one main condition on the side of the Superiors in order that they may receive the help of God:
“...ma la vostra parte e appunto questa, di udire la voce di Dio che vi
“...quindi ecco l’obbligo di star sempre vicine a Dio, per udire la Sua
voce, “Velox ad audiendum”. 157.
“Ma voi? voi? dovete udirlo, dovete essere premurose di ascoltare la sua voce, di
conoscere i suoi consigli, ‘velox ad audiendum”. 158.
And Mgr Depiro continued telling the Superiors where, when and how they could hear the voice of God:
“- nella Santa Comunione -Anzitutto mantenete la vostra coscienza - continuamente nello stato d’innocenza in modo da poter frequentare ed accostarvi alla Sacra Comunione giornalmente - E fatta la Comunione dopo offerti i sentimenti di umilta’ e gratitudine per tanta degnazione, e domandate tutti i lumi e le grazie necessarie al vostro ufficio - entrata a trattare con Lui del sorelle affidate alla vostra cura: presentatele a Lui una per una e state attente a quel che vi dice per ognuna “Velox ad audlendum.”
-Amate l’orazione e sopratutto la meditazione La mezz’ora di meditazione e per voi, superiora, una mezz’ora di udienza epeciale che Iddio vi concede. Egli vi ammaestra ed Egli vi da I suol ordini - Iddio e’ il capo del vostra Comunita’ e non gia’ voi - Vol siete la sua rappresentante, la sua per cosi’ chiamarvi, Segretaria. L’orecchio dell’anima vostra deve essere continuamente teso ad ascoltare la sua voce “Velox ad audiendum.
Ma sopratutto avete un altro mezzo per ascoltare la sua voce, e questo e’ l’atto della Sua presenza Tenete l’anima vostra sempre qual dev’essere tempio di Dio, e quando non potete andare a far meditazione e quando per voi e’ passato il breve tempo della Comunione non vi scoraggiate, chiudetevi un istante con Dio entro l’anima vostra e con Lui conferite, e pregate, pregate e pregate continuarmente per le sorelle affidate alla vostre cure. Oh! che premura vi assalirebbe, se ii Signore permetterebbe che vi si palesi lo stato dell’anima di ciascuna delle vostre sorelle, come le vedrete assalite dalle tentazioni, con quanta premura chiedereste al Signore a farvi sentire la sua voce, “velox ad audiendum.” Una e tentata da scoraggimento, altra contra la vocazione, un altra da superbia, invidia, gelosia, vanita’, affezzioni, sensulita’, etc., memorie passate, etc. E se il lupo infernale cantera’ vittoria su qualcuna di queste anime a voi affidate potete voi esimervi da ogni colpa?
Percio’ usate tutti i mezzi per ascoltare la voce di Dio - Comunione, Meditazione, Presenza di Dio”. 159.
159. Ibid., p. 3-4.
Did Mgr Depiro want a Society with the Vows?
Even if one were to go into more details as regards the life of the Founder, than it has been done in the previous pages. One would not find that Mgr Depiro had ever professed the three vows of’ chastity, poverty and obedienc, at least in a public way. As has already been said, 1. the dispositions about his property are a clear sign of the fact that he himself was not a religious. Notwithstanding all this, the Founder of the Society of St Paul, wanted that his Congregation would be a religious one in the full sense.
In the previous pages one can find several references to the Rules of the Society of Depiro and in particular to the sections which speak of the Vows. This is already a clear proof of the fact that the Founder had introduced the vows in his Society, but for all this to happen there had to be some history.
Since the writings of the very first set of Rules, presented by Mgr Depiro to Bishop Portelli on a letter
1. cf. Chapter 2, p. 73-74.
sent to him on the 30th June 19l4 the Founder made a very clear reference to the vows:
“I membri di detta Picc: Comp: emetteranno i voti di Ubbidienza, Missione, Poverta’ e Castita’.” 2.
But making reference only to these words one would not be able to say that the members of the ‘Piccola Compagnia’ were professing the vows, at least in a public way and in the name of the Church. On the contrary, keeping in mind the Decree published by the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, in 1906, one can say that there was not even a ‘Piccola Compagnia’, because the Founder had not acquired the diocesan approval yet. For this same reason the members of Depiro’s Society could not profess the vows in the name of the Church. This is so much true that writing to Bishop Portelli in order for the latter to send information to Cardinal Van Rossum of Propaganda Fidei for the acquisition of the Diocesan Approval, Depiro did not speak of the Vows but of the virtues:
“Essa si assume la lotta di perfezionare i suoi membri nell’amore di Dio e del prossimo per mezzo dell’osservanza delle virtu’ cristiane ed in particolar modo di una perfetta ubbidienza, castita’ e poverta’...” 3.
2. M.S.S.P. at the time of the Founder, p. 37 v.
3. Ibid., p. 120 V.
This same use of the word ‘virtues” instead of “vows” made Van Rossum doubt Depiro’s intentions and his setting up of a religious Congregation. In fact writing to Bishop Portelli, the Prefect of Propaganda Fidei put down this difficulty:
“Prima di tutto pero’ e’ necessario conoscere le intenzioni precise del Revmo fondatore sulla natura dell’Opera, se cioe’ abbia egli intenzione di vincolare i membri con i tre voti di religione, o di vederli uniti soltanto senza che siano religiosi, come meinbri di uno societa’ di missionari.” 4.
This same letter of Van Rossum to Bishop Portelli 5 and which was then sent to Depiro himself, 6. made the Founder happy because it offered him the opportunity to speak clearly about the vows. In fact in a letter sent by Depiro to Bishop Portelli, after the former had received the one from Van Rossum, the Founder said quite clearly that:
“...gia da tempo, per piu’ motivi, ho cosi’ in Domino deliberato.” 7.
And before he had been mentioning the vows:
“...i membri di questa Compagnia di Missionari debbono essere vincolati dai tre voti religiosi, salvo ogni miglior giudizio.” 8.
14. Ibid., p. 122.
5. cf. Ibid.
6. cf. Ibid., p. l21.
7. Ibid., p. 125 r.
In the same letter he says that as regards Van Rossum’s difficulty presented in the just above mentioned words:
“...rispondo affermattivamento.” 9.
Adding to these direct affirmations from the side of the Founder, one cannot forget to mention the several professions made by the first members of the Society, “beninteso in via privata” 10. : on the 22nd August 1915, the student John Vella vowed obedience In the “Piccola Compagnia di S. Paolo” 11 the same Vella professed obedience, chastity, poverty and missions “nella Piccola Compagnia di San Paoio” on the 10th February 1917. 12; on the 23rd March 1919, Joseph Spiteri, another student made
It is interesting to make reference to what has been said about the utility of the vows in the life of the members of his Society: He spoke of the “gran bene spirituale che ne riceveranno i membri; l’assicurazione della retta intenzIone nei postulanti; l’allontanamento di coloro the vorranno servire dell’opera per interesse tutto privato; le persuasioni nei genitori, che col permettere ai figli di appartenere alla Compagnia essi offrono a Dio Un vero olocausto; una maggior coesione al in se stessa; la quiete e stabilita’ d’animo nel membri” ( Ibid., p. 125 r—v).
10. cf. Ibid., p. 119 r.
11. ec. Personal files: J. Vella (not. enumerated) OR. M.S.S.P. at the time of the Founder,
12. cf. Personal files: J. Vella (not enumerated).
the vows of obedience, chastity and poverty. 13. Adding to these one can make reference to the words of Depiro himself who, writing to Mgr A. Portelli on the 10th March 1919, mentioned the profession of a Catechist 14. ; and that of another three who had vowed poverty, obedience, chastity and missions, about whom Depiro wrote to Van Rossum on the 18th May l92O. 15.
On the 10th August 1921 Depiro wrote to Archbishop Caruana, asking him to “erigere in Congregazione Religiosa 1’Istituto suddetto...”16. In this petition the Founder was quite clear about the vows:
“Tutti i membri, dopo la debita prova, emetteranno i voti di ubbidienza, missione, poverta’ e castita’.” 17.
And the members could begin professing the vows of chastity, poverty, obedience and missions, after the Society had received its Approval by the diocesan Archbishop Maurus Caruana, on the l4th November 1921.
13. cf. Ibid., J. Spiteri (not enumerated).
14 cf. M.S.S.P. at the time of the Founder, p. 119 r.
15. cf. Ibid., p. 132.
cf. also Ibid., 151 r for another reference.
16. Ibid., p. 151 r.
17. Ibid., p. 151 r.
‘Regole della Comoagnia di S. Pao : 1924
“Mons. Can. Dec. Gius. del Msi. De Piro : I1-Hajja u 1-Opri”. Student S.S.P. Malta, 1948.
“Nagharfu Lill-Fundatur” : Papers prepared on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Canonical Erection of the Society of St Paul, and the Special Chapter”.
Mons. S. Bonnici, “Chelmtejn Fuq Mons. De Piro”.- Malta, 1933.
Bonnici, A. Malta Kattolika, fil-Hajja Mqallba tas- Seklu XX.- Malta, 1979.
Idem. Mons. G. De Piro : Fundatur tas-Socjeta’ Missjunarja ta’ S.Pawl.- Malta, 1979.
AAVV I Decreto sulla Formazione Sacerdotale.-Torino - Elle Di Ci. 1967.
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Favale, A. Per Una Presenza Via del Religlosi nella Chiesa e nel Mondo. A Falale (ed.).-Torino - Elle di Ci, 2a ed., 1970.
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O’Doherty, E.F. Consecration and Vows: Psychological Aspects.-Dublin, Gill and Macmillan, 1971.
Wilcken, J. Religious Life Today: A Theological and Scriptural Approach.- Bangalore, A.T.C., 1977.