The Servant of God Fr. Giuseppe De Piro (1877 - 1933)
His Public Life (1904-1907)
years of priesthood up the beginning of his Missionary dream
While the first twenty seven
years of De Piro’s life were indeed private, the twenty years that
followed were completely different.
In them he was more than the full timer priest, involved in the
various aspects of the Diocese of Malta; the citizen who gave a big
share for his Country’s development and well being; he was more than a
benefactor to the many poor children and grown ups in Malta and Gozo;
and God chose him to be the Founder of the Missionary Society of St
priest dedicated to the Diocese
parish priest at the Qrendi parish (1904 – 1907).
Davos, the Servant of God was almost completely cured he had to spend
some time in convalescence even when back in Malta.
In fact he went to
Qrendi, a village where the De Piro family had one of its summer
residences. There Fr.
Joseph went for rest while things turned out to be different:
he was attentive on his health, but he was also involved in
pastoral work. Each day,
early in the morning, he went to the Parish Church for the six o'clock
mass. Here it is very
relevant to say that as regards the mass intentions Fr. De Piro used to
have the legacies left for the Parish.
These were quite cheaper related to those he could have got from
De Piro had
his own confessional in the aisle of the Church and he used to sit in it
hearing confessions both before and after mass.
Not to mention the many other times when he did the same thing. He was so much sought for this ministry that even after
leaving the Parish, he continued going to Qrendi regularly to offer his
service. Witnesses say that
some parishioners even went to seek his help elsewhere.
This pastoral contribution
of De Piro was strengthened all the
more by his exemplary life.
Witnesses who still remember him, say that De Piro
used to be very frequently in Church for adoration to the Blessed
Sacrament. There he used to
spend long periods. He
never missed the weekly one hour adoration ... and this he did on his
knees. Father was often seen saying the Breviary in the garden of the
house where he was staying.
When going from some part of the Village to the other he used to carry a
big rosary beads in his hands in order to say this Marian prayer.
Fr De Piro
realised that it was not only the laity who needed help in their
christian growth. Priests
had to continue strengthening that formation which they would have
started receiving in the seminary.
In fact De Piro had already planned to start gathering together the
priests of the parishes near Qrendi to have some conference at the
Church of St. John the Evangelist, at Hal Millieri, a church in the
vicinity of Qrendi.
It was only because Fr Joseph had to leave the Parish that this
project never came to reality.
the Metropolitan Chapter (1911 - 1933).
of Malta, Mgr Peter Pace, thought it most opportune and reasonable to
make De Piro Monsignor of the Metropolitan Chapter.
When De Piro came to know this, he refused.
It was only out of obedience to the Bishop that he accepted.
For many the
title of Monsignor meant prestige and honour. For De Piro it signified more than that.
He was being loaded with many responsibilities and therefore going
to Mdina for the daily Conventual Mass and for the singing of the Lauds
and Vespers was not an easy thing to do.
Besides these daily Chapter responsibilities he had also to attend
the feasts celebrated at the Cathedral
which at that time were not that infrequent!
to Archbishop Caruana (1915 –1918).
If one were
to go to the Curia's archives and get the section where there is
preserved the correspondence of Archbishop Caruana one would notice that
the very first letter of this Archbishop was addressed to the Governor
General of Malta, Lord Methuen.
But for us it is all the more interesting because after mentioning the
choice of Bishop Portelli as his Vicar General, Caruana also informed
the Governor that he had chosen Fr. Joseph De Piro as his secretary.
This four year contribution
of De Piro to the Diocese may be considered by many as rather
insignificant; there was no room for De Piro to practice his creativity
and energy. It may be so, but it is as much true that this was an
occasion where the Servant of God could show his precision at work: he
was very quick in answering all correspondence which came to his desk. During these four years he also showed his dedication to the
Archbishop. But this period
was particularly important for De Piro's contact with the Maltese who
had migrated to other countries and with the priests who were working
among them. It was before
the 1915-1918 years that Monsignor first thought about the Maltese
migrants. With Mgr. Peter La Fontaine who visited Malta in 1909, De
Piro had already mentioned his Society's work among the Maltese who
lived away from their Country.
But the letters he received as
His Excellency's Secretary made De Piro more conscious of the urgent
situation of his conationals living abroad.
Before he could send any member of his Society, De Piro did his best to
find some other diocesan or religious priest to go instead. In fact he
found one for California. But this seemed to be a rather difficult thing to do.
De Piro's hopes were in the Society he was founding.
formation of young priests (1915 - ).
already said that at the time spent in Qrendi, Fr Joseph had planned a
project for the formation of priests in the nearby parishes.
A few years later, during his time as secretary to the Archbishop,
he was chosen to make part of a commission in charge of the formation of
It was the
time of the first World War.
Archbishop Caruana was noting that newly ordained priests were
encountering huge problems when they left the Seminary to start their
pastoral activity. His
Excellency realised that these newly ordained priests needed other more
mature and exemplary priests who could accompany them in their new
experience and who could help them to gradually tackle the transition
from the seminary to the parish life.
On 19 July1915 the Archbishop issued a decree exposing his intentions.
He himslef was to assume the responsibility of the whole project.
Fr. De Piro features first in the list of members for this
the Major Seminary at Mdina (1918 – 1920).
It was in
order to be involved in another responsibility that De Piro's services
as secretary to the Archbishop came to an end.
On 30 September 1918 Archbishop Caruana nominated De Piro Rector of
the Major Seminary, at Mdina.
Mgr. Caruana had been noticing De Piro's ‘... intellegence, good life,
and many oher capabilities’ and it was for these that he chose him for
such an important work in the Diocese.
who were seminarians during his rectorship, emphasised, in the
interviews we did to them, the humanity with which
Monsignor behaved when relating to them.
They also referred to his continuous attention in finding ways and
means how to improve the hygiene of the place, and the menu.
But that which shows most the Rector's dedication is an eleven page
report which he prepared before terminating his office.
Dean of the
Metropolitan Chapter (1920 – 1933).
Cathedral there was a fixed number of Monsignori and it was only when
there was a vacancy that one was nominated for that post.
In the case of De Piro it was Mgr. Vincent Vassallo who was to be
replaced. But the latter
was also the Dean of the Metropolitan Chapter.
This meant that the Servant of God was to take sooner or later
Vassallo's place even in this latter responsibility.
deanery might have been considered as an honour to look for.
But it was not in fact only this.
The Dean had all the duties of the other Monsignori
as regards the liturgical celebrations.
Besides these he had to preside on all Chapter meetings.
Here one must remember that the Chapter was in those days what the
Presbyterial Council is nowadays for the Archbishop.
Therefore members had to meet frequently to discuss many matters of
importance. Besides the
Chapter sessions themselves the members were expected to do even their
homework! As dean, Fr. De Piro had to lead delegations to the
Archbishop. Since, as
already said, the Chapter was the consultative body to the Archbishop, these delegations were quite frequent. But not only this!
Because the relations between Church and State were bigger in De Piro's
times there were more occasions when there was need of some delegation
from the side of the Church to go to the government.
And Fr. De Piro was supposed to head these delegations.
At the Gudia
of God was not destined to spend his life working in a parish.
After his stay at Qrendi Bishop Pace entrusted him with another
completely different duty in the Diocese, for which he had to leave the
Parish. But years passed by
and De Piro was asked to give a helping hand in another parish, this
It happened that in this
village the parishioners were divided into two, one group supporting the
main feast while the other favoured the secondary one.
These two parties had been in trouble for a rather long time, but in the
year 1922 the conflict reached its climax.
It was so much so that the parish priest abandoned the place and the
church was closed on weekdays.
The Archbishop did his best to find someone to take over but
knowing the situation no one was couragious to do it.
After one month the Archbishop thought of De Piro as a temporary solution.
Monsignor was again ready to obey.
In spite of the not so much favourable situation in the Parish and
the many other duties already at his back, De Piro went immediately and
succeeded in getting peace among the parishoners.
After a few weeks he could leave the Village and let the newly
appointed parishpriest take
the Word and the sacraments.
seminary years in Rome Joseph did not show very good qualities as a
prospective preacher. He
suffered from an inflammation in his throat which, apart from being
painful, often created dificulties when speaking.
Though when still in Rome he got rid of this, he continued
suffering from TB. In fact during his first years as a priest in Malta he was
afraid to accept the offer of the director of the Opera della Missione,
Mgr Debono, to begin to preach in Maltese parishes.
However as time went on he overcame this fear and though not with
Mgr Debono, embarked on this apostolate with fresh zeal.
We can deal
with this aspect of De Piro’s life because luckily, as in other areas of
his life, he took pains to be exact.
In fact at the Archives of the Missionary Society of St Paul one
can still find sermons which De Piro used to write, some of them
complete, before delivering them to the congregation which was to listen
There are two hundred and thirteen of these sermons.
This is already a good number, but these same sermons indicate that
De Piro had made more than these.
Some of them are not complete; they imply that there was more material. Others refer to sermons which do not seem to exist anymore.
De Piro did
not only write the sermons.
He even put them in files according to the themes.
At the top of the sermon he often noted where, when, and to whom he
was making the sermon.
Although he used Maltese when preaching, the written preparation was in
written homilies show that Monsignor used to prepare homilies related to
the Sunday liturgy or the Lenten spiritual exercises. Sometimes he was asked to preach on more special and solemn
occasions, such as the eucharistic Congress of 1913, the centinary of St
Francis of Assisi or that of St Anthony of Padua. At other times he was even requested to deliver the panegyric
in the main feast of some town or village.
On other occasions he led retreats for groups of youths or
preaching was quite pastorally oriented; with his word he wanted to help
those hearing him to come closer to God.
Thus his homelies tended to be simple.
At the same time an analysis of the texts reveals sound biblical
and theological foundations.
Eucharist was central to Monsignor’s preaching. There were also occasions when he speaks of marriage.
De Piro lived at a time marked by the devotion to the Heart of
Jesus. In fact Margherita
Maria Alacoque was canonised in 1920. De Piro paractised this devotion. In fact there exist no less than thirteen homilies on the
theme of the Sacred Heart.
Our lady and the Saints are also recurrent topics.
The Servant of God preached also about religious life, missions,
health, death, and the end of the year.
In retreats a wide range of topics was touched upon.
the administration of the sacraments we cannot expect to find records.
The interviews mentioned above shed more light on this aspect.
One person said, “Many people went to him for confession and he
used to spend hours in the confessional”.
Another person stated that De Piro used to hear a lot of
confessions and would not leave the confessional before listening to the
last person. Another person sheds light on De Piro’s approach at
confession, “His confessions were not rushed affairs.
He used to speak little but what he said was food for reflection.
He stressed a lot on prayer because he was certain that the person
who did not remember God frequently would not be able to face adversity.
De Piro used to encourage priests and religious not to stop doing
their meditation which helped them think more of God.
His devotion to the blessed Sacrament is well brought out by the
penances he used to give, namely visits to the blessed Sacrament.
who always loved his Country
Participating in the National Assembly (1919-1921).
On 23 November 1918 a
certain Dr. Filippo Sciberras was entrusted
with the preparation of a draft of a Constitution for the Maltese
Islands. First there was an appeal to all Maltese associations to send
their delegates to form a National Assembly.
Amongst those present there were four Monsignori.
De Piro was the first of these.
The members met for the first time on 25 February 1919.
On 7 June of that same year there was the second meeting.
Here it was decided that there be formed a Central Commission made
up of a representative from each important Maltese association, already
present in tha Assembly.
Monsignor De Piro, being the Dean of the Cathedral Chapter, was chosen
again. In this meeting the members agreed to start work on the draft
of the Constitution. But
outside the "Giovine Malta", where the members were gathered, there
arose an upheaval and the session was suspended.
It was on 23 June that the Central Commission held its first
meeting. In all there were
five sessions of the National Assembly and fourteen of tha Central
Commission. Although these
meetings meant hours and hours of discussions,
De Piro was always present.
This was already a proof of his real love for his Country.
But it was not only a question of attendence; his was always a very
Together with the other Monsignori he had to be present at ordinary and
extraordinary Chapter sessions in order to discuss and prepare material
which was to be treated in the Assembly or in the Commission.
It was not once that he had even to do research work on his own in
order to support the Chapter's
During the meetings he always behaved with the
other members with an open mind: he was always and only after the good
of the Nation and never wanting to impose his own ideas. After each session he had to inform the other Monsignori, and
this again meant much
time for him.
efforts to be always present in all these meetings and his active
participation in them are already a proof of his dedication to his
Country. But this love of
his for whatever was Maltese was expressed more directly when the
Central Commission discussed the language problem; he was among the
members who were in favour of the use of the Maltese language in the
future Parliament by those who wanted to do so.
Giuqno' riots (1919).
has already been made to the '7 June uprisals'. Since Monsignor De Piro was a member of the National Assembly
and this was the body set up with the explicit scope of seeking the
interests of the Maltese, he, together with a few other members,
considered it his duty to intervene even in this historical moment.
It is a
known fact that in the 'Sette Giugno' riots there were several criminals
who mixed with the other Maltese and acted in a most condemnable way.
But these must be considered as the exception. In general those who participated in the three day event were
people who wanted to fight for their legitimate rights.
This was the only reason why De Piro intervened in this so delicate
situation. In spite of the
fact that he even risked his own life, the Servant of God spent three
days going here and there, at one time meeting some British officer, at
another time the Commissioner of Police, at another time members of the
Assembly, and at other times, even the mob.
It seems befitting to stress all this by a statement published eight
"Don Giuseppe De Piro, a
priest whom nobody can accuse of any fault, is an example of integrity,
devoted dedication and holiness.
He is also a patriot, who was involved in heartbreaking events -
the disorders and deaths on 7 June 1919. On that occasion he was in the
midst of firing and close to the injured.
De Piro is, for the Church and his native country, an exemplary
ideal patriot. Everyone
should love and admire him."
And on our part we can add
that Monsignor was a real proof of the power of non violence.
between Strickland and the Church (1930).
comes to know that Monsignor was so much involved in the social life of
our Country one may conclude that he was also active in its political
dimension. One may arrive
all the more at the same conclusion when one knows that the De Piros
were quite involved in politics on one side or other.
The Servant of God might have had his own personal convictions but
he never expressed these same opinions in public.
It was because of this that he could serve as a mediator between
the Church and the Governor, Lord Gerard Strickland, during the years
1930-1932. It was to this
intervention that the Daily Malta Chronicle referred in an appreciation
it published on 19 September, 1933:
'Monsignor De Piro - A Tribute to his Memory '
"... For a little more than
a year ... since the opening of the present Parliament ... he (Monsignor
De Piro) had, in addition to his manifold roles, yet another ... he was
one of the Archbishop's representatives in the Senate ... a task we are
inclined to believe, which he must have undertaken out of that sense of
duty and utter selflessness which were uppermost in his character;
for he fought shy of politics and kept away from political strife.
Yet there has been a notable and quite recent occasion, when he
played a remarkable and beneficent part in the political field, though
he hardly figured in it at all.
It was he, in fact, who was mainly responsible, through his initiative,
his tact and particularly his sincerity and earnestness of purpose, for
putting an end to the unfortunate politico-religious dispute which
caused so much harm to the Island; it was he who restored the relations
between Church and State to their normal
and traditional state of peace and cordial cooperation.
No one was better fitted for the task ...
no one enjoyed to a greater degree the confidence of both sides, nor
possessed the qualities that were necessary to undertake the delicate
mission and carry it to a happy conclusion.
Not for that alone, however, are we all in the Church and State
alike profoundly moved by his sudden and untimely death: we mourn in him
the loss of one who was indeed a pillar of both Church and State."
interventions Monsignor was once again an instrument of peace between
the two sides.
the Third Parliament (1932 – 1933).
One of the
issues which caused most of the trouble between Lord Strickland and the
Church was the participation of the clergy in the Legislative Assembly.
As had been just said peace was acquired. But the Archbishop held the
right to have representatives in Parliament.
In fact when the Third Legislative was formed, on 17 October, 1932, His
Excellency nominated two Monsignori as members of the Senate; One of
these was again Fr. De Piro.
death the 'Malta Chronicle' commented about this other duty of De Piro:
"A little more than one year
ago, Fr. De Piro was entrusted with another duty besides the others he
had. He was chosen as one
of the Archbishop's representatives in the Senate. We feel we can say that he accepted only because he
considered it his duty and on his part he never sought his own
For him duty and dedication to others came first..."
And we know what were "the
other duties" of De Piro!
As has already been
said he was Monsignor and Dean of the Cathedral Chapter.
He was also
Director of five charitable Institutes.
Besides, the Servant of God had, in 1910, founded the Missionary Society
of St Paul which by 1932, had already four communities in Malta and a
missionary in Abyssinia.
Monsignor did not intervene too often in the Senate.
"The dedication" mentioned above could be seen in his regular
attendence, even when this meant remaining until late at night in