The Servant of God Fr. Giuseppe De Piro (1877 - 1933)
His Public Life (1907-1933)
From the beginning of his Missionary dream to his
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
father to the poor
Charitable Institutes under his care.
Although the activities mentioned
above were already in themselves a reasonable contribution to the Church
and his native Country, Fr. De Piro did more than that for both of them
completely different area than the ones mentioned above.
Since the time he was a seminarian
in Rome, Joseph De Piro had contacts with Fr. George Bugeja, the
assistant director at St Joseph's Institute in Sta. Venera, Malta.
used to send him donations for the orphans living in that Institute.
There was once
when De Piro even substituted Bugeja at the Institute when Fr. George
was abroad for some one
month ... and was most successful.
This same contact with the Institute's Assistant
Director solved the Bishop's problem about whom to choose for the
leadership of another Institute, Fra Diegu,
at a time when the Franciscans Minors could not
continue taking care of it.
Peter Pace found himself faced with this difficulty he talked to Fr.
Bugeja about it and the latter immediately mentioned De Piro. His
Excellency accepted this proposal and nominated the Servant of God,
Director of Fra Diegu Institute for girls, on 2 August 1907.
This was only the first of a series of Institutes
to be entrusted to the care of Monsignor.
In 1922 Archbishop Caruana handed on to him another
two Institutes, St Joseph's for boys and that of Jesus of Nazareth for
In 1927, there came still another home for De Piro
to care for, St Francis de Paul, for girls.
Besides these Institutes in Malta, Fr. De Piro had
to found and take care also of another
St Joseph's, this time at
At Fra Diego Institute, Hamrun
Fr Joseph De Piro was thirty
years old when entrusted with the direction of Fra Diegu Instititute.
At first the sisters of the Tertiary Franciscan Order, who looked after
the Institute, imagined that De Piro, belonging to a distinguished
Maltese family, would be aloof and difficult to approach. This notion
was rapidly removed as soon as De Piro encountered them for the first
time - indeed they were pleasantly surprised at his ability to mix with
the young orphan girls, in spite of the fact that this was his first
De Piro involved himself
whole-heartedly in the Institute - at that time he had no other official
appointments. He visited it regularly and spent hours talking to the
sisters and the girls. He kept this regular contact even in later years
when he was burdened with many other responsibilities.
The Director also became
extremely popular with the girls who saw in him a loving father. He was
however a firm administrator and his first concern was that the girls
should get a proper education. Rather than punishing the girls, De Piro
always made it a point to explain what they had done wrong. He was
strongly against corporal punishment and he discouraged the sisters from
shouting at the girls. Still he insisted that the girls should be
closely watched over at all times and that they should not be left idle.
Another of his beliefs was
that the girls should wear better dresses on Sundays as these would make
them realise that that day should be a special one.
Moreover he himself used to examine the young girls before their
First Holy Communion, to which he attached particular importance.
De Piro believed he would
achieve far more by gentle words than by strict unreasoning discipline.
This method he practised both with the girls and with the sisters who
looked after them. He was never thrifty with words of encouragement to
all those who were performing their duties.
The Servant of God strongly
believed in the importance of recreation which was a means of making the
individual happy. He organised plays and outings and games to gladden
the young orphans’ lives. He wanted to make the orphans’ existence in
the institution a merrier one than they had experience before.
In addition to learning
academic subjects, the girls were taught cooking, sewing, embroidery and
other practical subjects. De Piro personally used to bring prizes for
those who distinguished themselves in these subjects, which were often
presented by some personality who was appositely invited.
Fr. De Piro had moreover a
genuine and deep spirituality which was evident even in his
administration of children’s institutions. His love for the Virgin Mary
made him place his complete trust in her. He had a special affection for
Our Lady of Pompei whose feastday is 8 May, the day on which he had
finally decided on his priestly vocation. For some years he made it a
point of celebrating the feast at the chapel of Fra Diego’s Institute.
Later, when he was appointed director of St. Joseph’s Institute, he
started to conduct the function in that Institute. He used to ask the
orphans to make some special sacrifice to offer to Our Lady.
De Piro’s devotion to Our
Lady could be noticed every day of the year. Whenever he came to the
Institute he never failed to kneel in front of the statue of Our Lady
and say three Hail Mary’s. He was always praying whenever he found some
free time; indeed he was always saying the rosary.
Monsignor believed strongly
in the power of prayer and he greatly encouraged the nuns to instil the
love of prayer in the girls. He insisted that there should be a number
of priests who visited the Institute regularly in order to cater for the
spiritual needs of the young orphans.
In those days Pope Pius X
had just sanctioned the giving of Holy Eucharist to young children and
he personally saw that the girls were suitably prepared to receive the
Two secrets for success : order in everything and belief in Providence.
By the time of his death in
1933, De Piro had five institutes to look after. Since he was an
extremely meticulous man he kept a careful record about each of them, as
he himself wrote in his will of 8 February 1932.
He kept an office in each
institute which he normally furnished with his own personal things,
which he however bequeathed to the particular institute.
There exist ample references
to the careful way in which De Piro kept the accounts of the various
institutions. Alfons Maria Galea, a noted Maltese philantropist who was
often asked to audit the accounts of diocesan institutes, attested to De
Prio’s exactness and rectitude. In a declaration made to Galea, De Piro
insisted that he never expected, nor would he expect, any financial
reward for his work with the young orphans. In a later declaration,
dated 8 March 1920, Galea again refers to the noble work De Piro was
doing and for which he reserved all praise.
Not only did De Piro receive
no payment for the work he carried out but he regularly contributed
handsomely from his own personal wealth.
De Piro never wanted any
preferential treatment. He insisted on sharing the common food
available, in return for which he never failed to make some offering in
the poor-box to pay for the food he had taken.
Few people were actually
aware of the extent of De Piro’s regular financial contributions to the
Institute. At one time, during the hard days of the First World War,
when the general social condition severely affected the contributions of
the population, he personally paid the bill for the bread consumed at
Fra Diego’s Institute. He even gave money to the children’s families
though he often preferred to do this through one of the Nuns. In all
acts of charity he performed, he used to warn the Sisters that no one
should be told as to who the donor actually was.
beggar for others.
De Piro was not satisfied
merely to give nearly all he had to the poor, but he reduced himself to
great humiliation to beg for money and goods for the sake of the poor
children. 0ften he turned to his understanding mother who used to call
him ‘my poor one’ and who was sincerely worried that he would neglect
himself for his beloved orphans. Sometimes, ironically, he could not
find the fare for his return home and he had to pass at the Institute to
borrow some money.
Every Thursday he used to
visit those benefactors who regularly contributed to the institutes. He
always made it a point to be aware of what a particular one needed so
that he could obtain it. He did not deign it beneath him to go and walk
in the streets where lived some kind-hearted benefactor - his mere
presence was often enough and had the desired effect.
On his part he expected the
children to be grateful to their benefactors whom he regularly invited
to all activities in the various institutes. He did not distinguish
between donors - it was not the value of the donation that mattered.
One of his greatest
pleasures lay whenever the children were bequeathed something through
somebody’s will. He himself remembered the institutes in his will - the
money he left Fra Diego’s Institute was expressly meant to provide,
amongst other things, for the Christmas tree that would have cheered the
girls during Christmastide.
Father and Superior General to
The Congregation of the
Franciscan Sisters of Malta had been founded by Fr Joseph Diacono who
however soon severed all connections with it leaving the effective
administration in the hands of Mother Margaret of the Sacred Heart. She
found a most understanding person in Fr. De Piro who was always ready
with practical advice. In 1920 Mother Margaret asked him to attempt to
obtain official approval for the Congregation. De Piro left his mark on
the Congregation as he was to all intents and purposes their spiritual
St. Joseph’s Home, Sta. Venera
St. Joseph’s Home was
founded in 1888 by Mgr. Francesco Bonnici to accept orphan boys. From
its origins in a rented house near Tas-Samra chapel, in 1893, it moved
to larger premises, which up to 1919 lay in the limits of Hamrun before
it became part of the Parish of St. Venera. Mgr. Bonnici soon involved
other priests in his work to give the proper spiritual care to the boys.
And the Director had to leave the leadership of the orphanage in 1898
due to reasons of health.
Mgr. Bonnici’s departure
almost caused the orphanage to close down until a new priest-director,
Fr Manwel Vassallo, was found to take charge of it. Vassallo was
assisted by another priest, Fr Gorg Bugeja.
De Piro, as he writes in his
diary, had felt the desire to join Mgr. Bonnici from his very first year
at the Capranica College, in Rome. In 1899, during his summer holidays
in Malta, De Piro met Vassallo for the first time and a bond of
friendship was forged between them. De Piro did his best to help the
home even while he was studying in Rome, from where he kept a regular
correspondence with the priests in charge of the Institute.
One of the major problems
facing the Institute was the shortage of staff to look after the
children - moreover the home depended almost entirely on voluntary
charity for its running. At a time when all the Brothers of Charity,
whose Congregation had been founded to provide help in looking after the
boys, had left the Institute, Vassallo placed high hopes in the young
De Piro who would one day return as a priest to assist him in
administering the Place.
It has already been said
that De Piro’s desire to involve himself in the running of the Home was
so strong that he even refused the opportunity of furthuring his studies
at the Accademia Ecclesiastica in Rome.
At that time De Piro was
quite worried about his state of health which could even stop him from
realising his dream. He was also afraid that pressure might be brought
to bear on him to accept a post at the Accademia.
When De Piro eventually
returned from Switzerland to Malta in 1905, he failed to get the
invitation to go to live in the Institute as he had hoped so fervently.
At that time Fr Gorg Bugeja had taken over as Director, following the
resignation of Fr Manwel Vassallo. Bugeja was to dedicate himself fully
to St. Joseph’s Home which experienced a number of positive reforms
during his time.
As has already been said,
until 1907, when he was appointed Director of Fra Diego’s Institute, De
Piro carried out his pastoral ministry in Qrendi. During this time he
did not forget his project of organising some congregation of priests
who wou1d, amongst other tasks, have the responsability of running St
Joseph’s Orphanage, in Santa Venera. Events were however to prove that
De Piro’s noble mission was not fated to see light of day within that
Institute! Though Fr Gorg Bugeja was to help him in the setting up of
the Society of St. Paul, he never formally asked the Congregation to use
the premises of the Institute. De Piro and Bugeja remained close friends
and De Piro must have made it quite clear to the other priest that he
would give all the assistance he could. Indeed one of the new Society’s
aims was to 1ook after charitable institutes.
Between 1905 and 1922 the
Christian Brothers known as the Freres De La Salle were asked to provide
a helping hand in the education of the boys at St Joseph’s. Eventually
the members of the Society of St. Paul started replacing the Freres
whenever they had to leave for a few days to attend some spiritual
retreat. This activity helped to draw the Society and St. Joseph’s Home
even nearer to one another, while Fr Gorg Bugeja never failed to show
his deep and sincere gratitude for the part played by its members.
Director of the Institute
together with the members of his Society (1922 – 1933)
Fr Gorg Bugeja died suddenly
on 23 November 1922 while saying Mass in the Institute he loved so much.
That same day, De Piro was nominated by Bishop Caruana to take over the
administration of the Home.
In spite of his numerous commitments, Fr. De Piro accepted this new
Towards the end of that
year, the members of the Society of St. Paul took over the running of
the Home from the De La Salle Brothers who, due to a lack of vocations,
could not cope with the added work of ministering to the orphans.
Dedicated to the
During his directorship, De
Piro enlarged the premises and the Institute’s chapel to cater for as
many needy children as possible. He administered the finances wisely,
seeing that expenses never exceeded income. Another of his reforms
included using the Home for the novitiate of Catechist-Brothers of the
Society, whom he placed under the patronage of the Assumption of the
As soon as he was nominated
Director of St. Joseph’s Home, De Piro started sleeping there at night.
He used to encourage the priests working there to use their initiative
because he did not want them to think of him as indispensable. He even
supplemented out of his own pocket the wages paid to the employees of
the home and, at a time when there was no national pension scheme, he
even provided a pension for those who finished work and who were in dire
In his instructions to the
members of the Society who looked after the boys, De Piro warned them
against being too familiar with their words. He even told them they
should only converse with the external teachers when it was absolutely
necessary. He also insisted that the Assistant Director should give him
a weekly report.
St. Joseph’s Home subsisted
on public charity. Though some considerable sums were occasionally
given, the greatest amount of contributions consisted of small sums
generously given by ordinary Maltese citizens. Still this precarous
financial state did not stop Fr. De Piro from assisting needy cases who
went to him for help.
Fr. De Piro also believed
firmly in the importance of providing decent means of recreation for the
boys, to whom he always wanted to dedicate more of his time. He
organised theatrical representations especially during carnival time and
he regularly took them to his brother’s summer resisence in St. Paul’s
Bay. He did not deign it beneath him even to play some jokes with the
chi1dren to gladden their time.
As far as food was
concerned, Fr. De Piro strongly insisted that his fare should not be
different from the children’s, for whom he made a great number of
De Piro’s indefaticable
dedication helped to put the Home on a firmer financial footing. Most of
the regular income came from the Opera della buona morte and from the
printing and book-binding carried out on the premises. At the time of De
Piro’s death the Home had no debts and the general lines by which the
Home is still administered had been laid down.
A new home for little boys at Santa Venera (1930 - 1933).
Fr. De Piro also found time
to think up other projects that would help the needy and the destitute.
One such project was an extension for the home to include male infants,
a project he comunicated to Archbishop Maurus Caruana in 1930. According
to the letter sent to the Bishop, De Piro also had in mind the building
of furthur quarters for widows and unmarried mothers, and for the
Though the Bishop approved
this idea on 11 September only the home for young boys above the age of
three actually materialised.
This was entrusted to the care of
the Missionary Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth. De Piro’s death in
1933 was to put an end to the other plans before they actually got
Director of Jesus of
Nazareth Institute, Zejtun (1922-1933)
The Congregation of the
Missionary Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth was actually founded by Maria
Giuzeppina Curmi, a Valletta spinister who had gone to live at Zejtun
where her father had been nominated mayor by the British authorities.
De Piro played a leading part in the setting up of this Congregation
which had as its aim that of looking after orphans or children coming
from broken families.
He even had to go to court to protect the interests of the Congregation
when it looked as if the heirs of the Foundress would claim all its
He helped to obtain official recognition and provided the
Congregation with solid foundations for their future.
Maria Giuzeppina Curmi's
Congregation had its start in 1913 in a small house in St. Pius X
Street, Zejtun, where she originally managed to draw six young girls
around her to care for abandoned children.
Fr De Piro was involved in the Congregation from the very start
for he had been Curmi's spiritual director even before 1913.
Though he did not use to go to Zejtun personally, Curmi used to
seek him regularly for advice.
De Piro was to remain Curmi's spiritual assistant until the Congregation
moved to its Piazza Brittania premisis.
In 1922, following the death
of the Institute's first director, Curmi wrote to De Piro asking him to
take over its running, which he did following Bishop Caruana's request.
Curmi let herself be guided
completely by De Piro in all matters pertaining to the Institute.
In these days it seemed that the Congregation was not going to obtain
Before the Congregation was
approved it had to experience many vicissitudes.
In 1925 Curmi had obtained the Archbishop’s permission to borrow
money to buy land on which to build larger premises for the Institute.
In fact the owner of the land was to refuse all monetary payment in
lieu of a yearly handkerchief for him or his heirs and an annual mass
for the repose of his soul and that of his wife.
De Piro assumed
responsibility for the actual building, the first stone of which was
laid that same year. He
kept a careful record detailing all expenses which were so great that
all building activity soon came to a temporary stop.
It was only in 1930 that enough money was collected to finish at
least the basic section of the new Institute.
This imagination seems to
have inspired De Piro to strengthen his efforts to obtain official
recognition from the Church authorities.
De Piro proposed to Curmi that the members of the Congregation be
called "Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth" rather than "Nazarine Sisters" as
she had originally intended.
De Piro also suggested the
introduction of a missionary aspect in the Congregation since this would
distinguish them from other congregations of Sisters. Indeed this similarity with other congregations had been one
of the objections of Rome against recognizing it as a separate
Congregation. De Piro even
adapted the statutes of his Society to serve as a model for the Sisters'
own rules, suggesting the name of "Missionaries of Jesus of Nazareth."
It was also made quite plain
that the new Congregation was to be considered as a separate entity from
the Missionary Society of St. Paul.
In the first statutes, which
De Piro helped to draw up, reference is made to the "special aim of the
Congregation which is to take care, in Malta and other countries
particularly missionary lands, of abandoned boys and girls who would
have just left an Institute and to take care of widows and old people."
These aims show the large-scale projects De Piro had in mind for the
Congregation in the early days.
In 1931 Maria Giuzeppina
Curmi died. The following
year, while the Congregation had managed to obtain local approval for a
canonical establishment, the Sisters passed through a difficult time
because Curmi's heirs opened a law case to claim her property, including
the Institute. The case was
finally decided in the Congregation's favour, in 14 January 1935.
De Piro helped a lot even in this case.
The approval from the
Congregation of the Religious in Rome was finally obtained on 28 October
1933, five weeks after De Piro died.
St Francis de Paule
Institute, in Birkirkara.
During this time De Piro was
also deeply involved in obtaining the Institute of St. Francis de Paule,
in Birkirkara, for the Congregation of the Misionary Sisters of Jesus of
Its Foundress, Giuzeppa Psaila, was finding it too hard to look
after the about twenty female orphans in the Institute.
The negotiations were protected and the Birkirkara home was not
taken over by the sisters before the death of Fr De Piro.
This only took place in 1938 by which time the Sisters gave up
looking after the young boys' section of St. Joseph's Home.
A diocesan home for Gozitan
Soon after the setting up of
St. Joseph’s Home, in Hamrun, by Mgr. Francesco Bonnici, Bishop Pietro
Pace, a Gozitan and a former Bishop of Gozo, expressed a wish that a
branch be opened in Malta’s sister Island to cater for its orphans and
needy boys. Because of certain difficulties that arose, this project
came to nothing.
The need however continued
to be felt and on 10 November 1923 the archpriests and parish priests of
Gozo drew up a notarial contract whereby such an orphanage could be
founded. For this end they were to ask for a LM1000 subsidy from the
government in return for an undertaking to keep twenty orphans in the
home which they proposed to call the Diocesan-Parochial Orphanage and
which was to be sited at Ghajnsielem, Gozo. This proposal was accepted
by Mgr. Micheal Gonzi who in the meantime had succeded Pace as Bishop of
Gozo. The relevant foundation decree was issued on 6 November 1924.
According to this decree the home was to be
known as Orfanatrofio Diocesano and the civil government was not to
interfere in any way in its running. The officials responsible for its
administration were to be chosen by the parish priests themselves
subject to diocesan approval. The Bishop reserved the right to preside
over the council of administration and to vet all applications. In case
the orphanage should be forced to close down, all property was to pass
to the Bishop of Gozo.
As regards the actual
administration of the Home, the parish priests were unanimously of the
opinion that it should be affiliated with St. Joseph’s Home which at
that time had Fr. De Piro as its Director. Always meticulous in all he
did, De Piro kept asking for more information before he would commit
himself. He eventually gave his consent on 3 February 1925. That same
day, in his dual capacity as Superior of St. Joseph’s Home and Superior
of the Society of St. Paul, he wrote to the Archbishop asking for
permission to let the Society take over the running of the orphanage.
Official approval was granted on 9 February.
Furthur discussions were
then held with Mgr. Gonzi, where De Piro was informed about the
decisions that had been already reached. Together they saw what remained
to be done and there were arguments on matters of procedure to be
The parish priests of Gozo
saw in De Piro the only practical administrator for the Home and they
wanted to make sure that he would not change his mind. They let him know
that they would favourably consider any suggestions he cared to make.
Mgr. Gonzi even invited him over to Gozo to take a close look at the
All this came as a surprise
to De Piro who did not entertain much hope for a positive outcome
especially following his earlier discussion with Mgr. Gonzi.
De Piro still insisted on
the affiliation of the Gozo Orphanage with St. Joseph’s Home in Malta.
He disagreed with the conditions as laid down in Gonzi’s foundation
decree because, to his mind, they failed to take Divine Providence into
account, and they lacked a sense of charity. He wanted to obtain the
same conditions as those in St. Joseph’s Home because he wanted his
Society to look after them. In short he did not want any interference
with the way in which he understood his mission. Basically this meant
that the Gozo Home would not be dependent upon the Bishop of Gozo.
De Piro and Gonzi eventually
met towards the beginning of April and on the 18 th of that month, Mgr.
Gonzi issued the relevant affiliation decree as De Piro had wished.
Gonzi also authorised the transference of all the rights and obligations
of the Gozo Diocese and parishes into the hands of Fr. De Piro. Only one
condition was stipulated, namely that should the Gozo Branch of St.
Joseph’s Home secede from its Motherhouse or St Joseph’s in Malta, all
its rights and property would pass to the Bishop of Gozo.
De Piro was greatly
safisfied with the developments and he immediately decided on a private
inauguration ceremony that was to be held on 8 May, a date so precious
to him. However on 25 April, as De Piro was about to retire to his room
on the first floor of the orphanage, the roof slabs beneath him suddenly
gave way and he fell about four meters to the ground. Though De Piro
hurt himself he suffered no fractures. For some days he could not stand
De Piro accepted this
setback with humour and resignation but it was obvious that the
inauguration would have to be postponed to 21 May - the feast of the
Ascension. Civil and ecclesiastical dignitaries were invited, including
the Governor, Sir Walter Morris Congreve, parliamentary members and the
On that same day the first
three boys were accepted in the Home, and soon their numbers began to
increase. Fr. De Piro was confident that benefactors would continue to
support the Home.
One of the first problems De
Piro had to face was the procrastination on the side of the government
in honouring its pledge to contribute the LM1000. Indeed the months
dragged by until the contract was eventually signed. On 16 October 1926
he was asked to withdraw the agreed subsidy. The government on its part
insisted that at least 20 boys be kept for the first four years.
The person chosen by De Piro
to administer the Home as Vice-Rector or Assistant-Superior was Fr
Michael Callus, one of the first priests to be ordained from inside the
Some time later Fr Karm Azzopardi, another priest from the Society
replaced Callus. Fr. De Piro always kept in mind the particular needs of
the Gozo Home and regularly sent all possible help.
In his desire to recreate
and improve the children, De Piro set up a musical band similar to the
one the Malta Home had. From this humble origin there was to develop the
St. Joseph Band of Ghajnsielem, the first Gozo band outside the City,
In addition to providing
tuition in academic subjects, De Piro was extremely keen to teaching the
boys a trade. His original plan to bring the growing boys to Malta to
learn a trade there could not be realized because the Hamrun home always
had a long waiting list of boys expecting to be admitted. For this
reason the boys had to have instruction in the Gozo home itself where De
Piro saw to the setting up of a sewing ‘laboratory’ though the cost of
employing instructors in carpentry and shoe-making were more than the
Home could afford. De Piro therefore applied for, and was granted a
govenment subsidy for this specific purpose.
Soon the original premises
started becoming too small to make possible the developments that De
Piro had in mind from the very first. On 12 January 1930, he requested a
plot of land from the government where an extension could be built, even
though he had no sound financial means except a blind trust in Divine
Providence. After protracted negotiations he was granted the lease of a
large plot of land on 15 February 1933.
The extension project hit a
snag when a farmer who cultivated part of the land, refused to give up
his property. Fr. De Piro actually died on 17 September 1933 and the
Society eventually renounced responsability for the Home on 2 October
1935. The extension never materialized but De Piro had seen the Home
through its first difficult years.
The will and the Institutes
What has been said is
already enough proof of the bond that existed between Joseph De Piro and
the Institutes under his care.
His will confirms
this close link.
The second article
says that, “As regards the administration of the various charitable
Institutes I have a separate book for each administration.
For obvious reasons I
declare that in the Institutes administed by me, whether they are
missionary or charitable, there is no furniture … or sacred objects that
are my property.
The fact they they are there means that they
pertain to that institute … I wish to declare also that I do not want
any payment for any administration I would have carried on, or for any
expenses I would have incurred during my term of office …”.
After saying what he leaves for the Society of St Paul, his mother,
Bishop Caruana, the Sisiters of Jesus of Nazareth, and St Ursola House
in Qrendi, in article eight and nine he leaves something for the
Institutes : Fra Diegu, esus of Nazareth, and St Francis de Paule.
A workshop for unemployed
girls in Valletta
Fr De Piro never
stopped thinking about what to do more for the Institutes under his
It was exactly this
dedication that made him enlarge, refubish, or change some part or other
of their buildings.
It was again this interest in the Institutes that
continually encouraged him to introduce new ways how to run these
charitable Institutions. It was because he wanted to help even the girls
who had left the Institutes and who had no one to welcome them that he
thought of the Laboratory of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In 1927 De Piro had already
aired a project with government officials that would consist of a
workshop for poor and needy girls in Valletta. This he had the idea of
siting in a small house near the Lower Barracca.
Nothing came of this particular plan, which consisted of providing
a moral and technical education to needy girls. Rather than founding an
institute, he had in mind the setting up of a workshop where girls could
work and get paid for whatever they produced.
Early in 1928 the government
offered him temporary accomodation.
De Piro refused it, owing to the fact that he had in mind a place
he would not be turned out from.
Another accomodation was found and the official opening took place on 11
April 1928. The house De Piro rented was at 101, St. Christopher Street.
In order to subsidise the high rent he was asked for, De Piro asked for
and was granted permission to hold lotteries to raise some money.
De Piro found an able assistant in Maria Assunta Borg, who, after having
been legally separated from her husband, administered the laboratory in
which she even resided permanently. The girls were being instructed in
sewing and other feminine accomplishments.
After working from 1928 to
1931 together, relations between De Piro and Borg started becoming
strained. De Piro preferred to see the 1aboratory reserved for girls
coming out of the orphanages he was looking after, while Borg desired to
open them to all girls living in moral danger. Moreover Borg started
thinking that only she was responsible for the laboratory while De Piro
felt that he could even remove her from her office if needs be. The
disagreement between the two had arisen because Borg started seeking
advice from Mgr. Enrico Dandria who advised her to listen to De Piro
insofar as the administration of the laboratory was concerned and to
Dandria himself where problems of conscience were involved.
Matters came to a head in
November 1930 when De Piro ordered Borg to leave the laboratory and move
to Hamrun. In February 1931 she complained to Dandria who advised her to
contact the Archbishop. Instead she went to De Piro who was obviously
displeased that anybody had dared interfere in the running of the
laboratory. De Piro offered to remove Borg who was even told off by
Dandria for not having listened to his advice. Borg only went to the
Archbishop in March 1931 and he told her that he would personally
discuss the whole thing with De Piro.
When De Piro got to know
about her encounter with the Archbishop, he informed Borg that he had
lost all confidence in her and that she therefore would have nothing
more to do with the laboratory. De Piro also let the Archbishop know of
This clash of opinions had
its repercussions on the laboratory. Indeed to avoid legal problems it
was decided that the laboratory of the Sacred Heart of Jesus be formally
declared closed and a declaration to that effect was drawn up by De Piro
and Borg on 14 August 1931. To show that there was no bad blood between
them, De Piro entrusted Borg with the small sum of money that was left
over after the dissolution.
Though De Piro was greatly
saddened by the whole outcome, the events prove how strong-willed and
decisive he was whenever he felt he was in the right. Still the failure
of the project upset him deeply because he was quite conscious of the
magnitude of the problem of the young girls who had to leave the shelter
of the orphanages without having anyone to provide them with a home.
He dearly loved to found some other charitable institution in its stead.
Maria Giuseppina Curmi, the Foundress of the Missionary Sisters of
Jesus of Nazareth was to be the alternative.
She died on 27 December 1931 but the members of her Congregation
concretised what De Piro had dreamt.
As Monsignor was drawing up the statutes, he suggested the insertion of
the care of girls who left orphanages as one of the secondary aims of
the Sisters’ Congregation. Even in his spiritual testament De Piro urged
his successors in the administration of the Congregation to cherish this
particular aspect of their mission.
A less organised charity.
De Piro’s charity was
even of a less organised and formal nature.
If one goes through
the petty cash books of St joseph’s Institute
one frequently meets
such entries as : “To the mother of … “, “To the father of …”, “To a
wretched poor woman …”, “To a poor family …”, “Charity given by the
This last note is frequently met with in the
registers and the money involved is many a times relatively substancial.
A promotor of justice.
Justice was next to charity in the case of De Piro.
Studying the registers “Casa di San Giuseppe, Ist. Bonnici, Piccola
Casa”, one immediately realises that the Director every now and then
increased the wages of the workers at St Joseph’s Institute.
At a time when there was no retirement pension, Monsignor gave this
assistence to the workers who left the Institute because of old age.
wife of the worker who had to abandon his work because of some
invalidity was given some sort of assistence.
The Birkirkara Oratory
Birkirkara is one of the
oldest and most populous towns in Malta. There, early in the twentieth
century, an Oratory was built in the eastern part of it to cater for the
teaching of christian doctrine.
In 1910, Fr Michael Sammut,
a priest from Birkirkara, and Notary Michael Louis Casolani obtained a
plot of land for the building of a chapel. It was Casolani who paid for
its construction which was completed in four months and solemnly
inaugurated on 31 July 1910.
Casolani had hoped that the
Salesian brothers would look after the chapel and provide a religious
and civil education for the people’s children according to the methods
of Don Bosco.
A short time after, an
Oratory was built adjacent to the chapel. Again Casolani paid for the
building and, in accordance with his wishes, it was entrusted to the
Salesian brothers who named it ‘Domenico Savio Oratory’.
When the Salesians gave up
the Oratory in 1912 due to a shortage of priests in their Congregation,
the Freres De La Salle took it over and renamed it after St. John
Baptist De La Salle. But the Freres too had to give up responsibility
for the Oratory since they were finding it hard to find enough
The Oratory continued in its
mission under the general direction of its two founders for a number of
years. On 15 December 1925, Casolani wrote to Fr. De Piro asking him to
take over the Oratory, though De Piro had his hand full with his Society
and the various charitable institutions he was responsable for. Moreover
even his physical condition was giving him reason for concern. Still De
Piro seriously considered taking over the Oratory for the Society of St.
Paul, asking Casolani for detailed information regarding all the
conditions he wanted to impose.
Since the Society was still
a diocesan one the Archbishop’s approval was necessary before the
Oratory could be accepted. The Archbishop gave his consent on 21 January
1927 and the relevant contract was signed on 4 April. De Piro made it
quite clear that the Oratory was only being accepted on behalf of the
Missionary Society of St. Paul, and that there should be no interference
in its running by any other congregation. On its part the Society
undertook to continue that spiritual welfare that was already being
performed and to accept responsability for all future expenses.
The ceding of the Oratory to
the Society came at a most opportune time because its Co-founder and
Director, Canon Michael Sammut died soon afterwards on 11 November 1927.
The primary concern of the
Oratory was to educate the young poor children of the area, spiritually.
The children had mass daily and were encouraged to go to confession
every Saturday. The main feasts observed by the Oratory were Christmas
and Our Lady, Help of the Christians.
De Piro, however, did not neglect the physical and intellectual
development of the children. The Society’s catechists supervised them as
they played in the playground and produced modest theatrical
representations to bring out their hidden talents.
For the first few years of
the Society’s administration, De Piro was formally considered the
Superior of the Oratory. He had struck a very close friendship with
Notary Casolani with whom he shared a deep desire for charitable deeds.
Casolani was eventually drawn towards the Society and he considered it
more than a coincidence that both the Society and the Oratory had been
inaugurated in the same year.
If one were to have a look
at the minutes of the council meeting of the Society of St Paul of 4
August 1928, one would find out that Fr. De Piro also had in mind the
utilising of the Oratory as a sort of novitiate for those who aspired to
join the Society as either priests or catechists. As De Piro said in the
following council meeting of 11 August, the Birkirkara Oratory would
serve as a kind of Training School, while the novitiate proper would
remain at Mdina or Hamrun, or at St. Agatha’s when this bui1ding would
be completed. It was planned that the Training School, which was
dedicated to Our Lady Assumed into Heaven, would open towards the end of
It was placed under the directorship of Fr Michael Callus and was to
remain open for six years, that is a few months after De Piro’s death.
Notary Casolani died on 3
February 1930 and the Society took part in the funeral services of this
great benefactor. De Piro personally concelebrated a Mass in his memory
on 13 February in the Birkirkara Oratory which was attended by
Casolani’s widow and the children of Birkirkara.
In 1931 the Church
celebrated the fifteenth hundred anniversary since the Council of
Ephesus, in which the dogma of Mary as the Mother of God was proclaimed.
For this occasion De Piro organised a conference at the Training School
in which the decision was taken to ask the Church to declare that Our
Lady was assumed bodily into heaven.
The Oratory and the Society of
Christian doctrine (M.U.S.E.U.M).
Already in 1915, twelve
years before the Society assumed responsability for the Oratory, its
catechists used to teach catechism to the children of Birkirkara in a
small church dedicated to St. Paul.
Those years also saw the
start of a Society of lay catechists, then known as Tal-Papidi, today
better known as M.U.S.E.U.M. It had originated in 1907 in Hamrun, the
work of an unassuming priest, Fr Gorg Preca.
In 1914 the M.U.S.E.U.M.
opened a female branch in Birkirkara, followed four years later by a
male one. Casolani had seen the M.U.S.E.U.M. as a threat to the Oratory
and in 1922 had unsuccessfully petitioned the Church authorities to
close it down. In 1930 the M.U.S.E.U.M. members felt it was time they
started providing lessons in catechism to boys in an area quite close to
where the Oratory was sited. It was obvious that some sort of agreement
would have to be reached betweem the M.U.S.E.U.M. and the Oratory. The
members of the M.U.S.E.U.M. therefore asked De Piro if he would find any
objection if they were to teach boys under the age of twelve, in view of
the fact that the parish authorities had entrusted the Oratory with the
responsability of providing religious instruction in that area.
De Piro desired that any
agreement would be sanctioned by a formal written contract, which was
presented at the sixth meeting of the Council of the Society on 26 April
1930. A petition was then forwarded to the Archbishop who however
pointed out that such a decision was the prerogative of the Provost of
Birkirkara, though he was not against a legal contract being drawn up.
The contract was signed on 11 June; the signatories being Fr. De Piro,
Canon Don Karm Bonnici, the Provost of Birkirkara and Fr Gorg Preca.
Though the right to teach
catechism was granted to the M.U.S.E.U.M., the Director of the Oratory
was given the authority to inspect the premises and the teaching being
imparted, either personally or through a delegate. The Director also
reserved the right to examine the young candidates for Holy Communion
and Confirmation instructed by the members of the M.U.S.E.U.M.
Cradle of Vocations
The Birkirkara Oratory
played an important part in fostering vocations for the Missionary
Society of St. Paul in particular among the young students at the
One of the facts that
worried Fr. De Piro was the lack of a sufficient number of priests to
meet the needs of his Society. For him the Oratory and its Training
School represented a great potential. In September 1931 two young men
did actually start their novitiate in Mdina after having attended the
St. Mary Training School. Both these young men, Gorg Xerri and Giovanni
Xuereb were later actually ordained priests.
Till the end of his life De
Piro kept working to improve the Oratory and to make life better for the
boys who frequented it. He had the good fortune to see the number of
young men applying to enter the vocational Training School increase so
much that some had to be sent to St. Agatha’s, in Rabat, instead.
De Piro’s death in 1933 did
bring some financial problems to the Birkirkara Oratory as it did to the
Society as a whole, since he used to contribute generously from his own
resources. Providence however intervened to make sure that neither of
these two noble projects would die a natural death. The Training School
did die out but the Oratory grew and prospered and has continued its
mission of educating the children of Birkirkara to this very day under
the guidance of De Piro’s Society.
of the Missionary Society of St Paul
When writing about De
Piro's period of the deaconate it was said that this was the time when
he had to decide whether to go to the Accademia
Ecclesiastica or to St Joseph's
It was also said that he wanted to
settle in the Institute in order to be with other priests taking care of
But this was not the only reason.
also said that:
“An internal feeling tells me
that from this Institute God wants to form in Malta a Congregation of
priests under the patronage of St Paul.
After establishing itself
in Malta, it goes even abroad."
This was the time when De Piro was still at his studies, but had it not
been for his spiritual director, Padre Gualaudi, who told him to stop
thinking about this, Joseph would have developed more and more his
to De Piro’s Diary one finds out that the Servant of God obeyed the
advice of his spiritual director: during his studies and for another
three years he never spoke to anyone about his project. But on 7 August,
1905 he exposed his ideas to Fr Emanuel Vassallo, the then director of
St Joseph's Institute and presented to him his ideas in writing.
same pages of his Diary one sees that De Piro did not specify what his
project was, but then he put an asterisk near the words "my written
idea" and at the end of page 9 he added:
"A Society of Missionaries"
Fr Vassallo did not tell De Piro that he would not succeed, but the
former did not seem enthusiastic about the idea:
"He promised me his help, but he also told me that he would only do this
when less busy".
Vassallo suggested to
De Piro to go to Mgr. F. Bonnici, the founder and first director of St
Joseph’s Institute. De Piro recorded that:
"He told me that considering
the character of the Maltese priest, namely
that he is too much
attached to his native country ... my idea is impossible,
if there is not some
"He even told me how he worked
for a similar cause and that he failed, adding that he might not have
been the person destined by Providence."
The same Bonnici adviced De Piro not to do anything and:
"He encouraged me to pray and not to take any other steps
forward, while he repeated what
had been said by Padre Gualandi …”
"The idea" was still very vague in De Piro's mind.
He was only convinced of the fact that he intended
to begin a missionary project 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 share his idea,
without professing any vows.
At the same
time in the 'addendae' mentioned above one can notice that De Piro was
quite determined that:
"If with God's help ... I arrive at the foundation of a regular
Institute this must be perfectly so."
But he also adds that:
"It must find a way how to
accept even the secular Clergy."
Quite obviously therefore the ideas
in De Piro's mind were still a bit vague.
notwithstanding the fact that "the idea" of a religious institute was
not yet clear in De Piro’s mind, the thought about providing
missionaries was fundamental for him from the beginning.
the form of the Society, the need was felt that the missionary ideal be
clearly seen even in the name itself of the new Institute.
The first activities of the Society
were to be (i) work among the orphans at St Joseph's Institute (ii)
apostolate among the Maltese who lived abroad (iii) a dedication towards
those who work on ships. As has already been said, Fr Joseph was finding
no support from those around him.
1906 passed away without providing for him anyone to make him hope for
himself seemed to be a bit disheartened.
same time he was resolute to do whatever providence had planned for him
himself said that being the feast of the dedication of the Basilicas of
St. Peter and St. Paul, he asked the help of the Lord through the
intercession of these two saints:
"... I have celebrated Mass at
St Peter's in the Vatican and precisely at the altar of St. Peter.
I said the mass of the Apostles
Peter and Paul praying them to help me know the will of God and to put
it in practice."
It has already been
made clear that Fr. De Piro was quite open about the special
characteristic of his future Society; he wished to
set up a missionary one.
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
ideas" of Fr. De Piro, invited him to join his Organisation, hoping to
satisfy the zeal and "ideal" of Fr Joseph.
Being open to the signs of the times the latter
accepted the invitation. But in spite of all this great fervour to help,
De Piro was in fact not able to contribute much to Mgr. Debono's
Association at that time;
he was still sick of TB and therefore could not
preach for a long time because of his affected bronchi.
Here one has to say also that De Piro's wish and
missionary ideal were 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
1907 can be said to have been as much disappointing for De Piro as the
years before; he had still to work very hard to find other priests to
begin living with him as a community with a specific purpose at St
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 19
February, 1907, he and Fr.G. Bugeja agreed to share their thoughts with
Fr. Paul Galea and Fr. Robert Caruana Gatto. De Piro and Bugeja were
working very closely together, and had agreed to form a community of
secular priests; for the time being they were
not envisaging to bind
their prospective confreres with the religious vows.
The time passed by without offering
anything positive to De Piro. The diocesan priests were not cooperating
at all with him.
It was only
Fr G. Bugeja who was supporting him.
The year 1907 was unsuccessful as
was more than the first half of 1908.
on the 8 August of that year, De Piro met a seminarian who was already a
deacon and who was interested in De Piro's project. His name was John
He wished to
set up an institute.
De Piro invited him to meet Bugeja.
the three met on 25 September and they agreed to help each other.
The Servant of
God and Bugeja encouraged Mamo to begin his institute at Vittoriosa, one
parishes in Malta.
Mamo agreed with them and talked immediately to
the parish priest.
accepted the idea of having an institute for religious instruction in
has to say that Mamo's plans did not in fact conform with those of De
to De Piro's Diary one finds it clearly hinted that Mamo's project was
independent of Fr Joseph's own plans.
other hand Mamo wanted to present his ideas as originating from him and
the other two.
This seminarian promised De Piro that there were other seminarians who
were interested and ready to join, if the three of them, that is De
Piro, Bugeja and Mamo, would succeed in beginning a congregation.
prove the independence of the one project from the other, one can make
reference to the fact that De Piro and Mamo presented their plans
separately to Archbishop Pace.
this through one of his professors, Fr Anton Vella,
Piro thought that he could do this directly.
In fact he
communicated "his ideas" for the first time to the Bishop Pace on 29
by De Piro to bless the project, His Excellency did not only accept to
do this, but also promised his help.
If Mgr. Debono's and Mamo's projects
did not agree at all with De Piro'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 De Piro.
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.
that Pace had written to the Superior General of the Mill Hill Fathers,
through a certain Fr Innocent, asking
suggest some way how to begin a missionary seminary. This Superior
General answered Fr Innocent on 30 May, 1908.
Bishop, knowing De Piro's
"wish" to begin a Missionary Society and having promised his help,
passed on this same correspondence to De Piro for the latter to express
Analysing this letter one
finds out that there the missionary ideal
as escogitated by De Piro was
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 Bishop himself and it was he
who had to choose its superiors and staff.
Notwithstanding all this difference between De
Piro's plans and suggestions made in this letter, De Piro thought that
it was better to get hold of that same opportunity and try to develop
it. Therefore he asked the Bishop whether it was possible for him to
begin such a seminary.
But it was exactly here that De Piro had to
experience another setback.
It happened that Mgr Pace himself was not in favour
of establishing such a seminary, at least at that particular moment.
The reason presented by the Bishop was that the
Salesians had begun one of their Oratories in Malta and therefore the
His Excellency thought that it was not proper to begin a similar project
at the same time.
De Piro knew
that the two activities were in actual fact not similar, but he was
determined to do what the Bishop had suggested.
In fact Fr
Joseph asked Mgr Pace whether he had to abandon his own project.
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
year 1908 came to an end.
De Piro had
some meetings with Mamo.
informed the Servant of God that he had made contact with one of his
professors, Fr Barbara, who was interested in
At the same
time De Piro 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.
hope for Fr Joseph came in 1909.
De Piro, Bugeja and Mamo were still thinking of
opening a house.
All three met together on 29 July, 1909 and
decided that for the time being they had to
telling the Bishop about their plans.
decided to open a house to
teach catechism in it.
In spite of
this agreement it was still very clear in De Piro's mind that his
original project was something else.
In fact on 1
August, 1909, while on his own, he formulated a promise that was
intended for those who were to form part of his future Congregation.
This manifests what De Piro's plan and ideal was:
"In the name of the Father, and
of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen. We do our promises
in front of God, Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St Paul the Apostle,
when the proper authorisation of the Holy See arrives.
The aim of the Company is to
form missionaries and send them where necessary.
The Company considers as
its own the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola.
It is from these that it gets
its proper rules and constitutions."
La Fontaine - A great
benefactor of De Piro
can be considered to have been of great encouragement to the Servant of
God because he seemed to have understood his wishes and aims and had
passed on to him the letter about missionary formation.
was someone else who must be considered
very great benefactor.
the Apostolic Visitor, Mgr Peter La Fontaine.
Many of the
people whose help De Piro sought remained passive or gave very little
gave the Servant of God his constant support up to his very death.
On the 2 November,
1909, De Piro wrote these words in his Diary:
"All Souls' Day and first
Wednesday of the month.
The Apostolic Visitor Mgr
La Fontaine was at Fra Diegu Institute. During the meeting I had with
him we talked about the plan of the foreign missions.
I communicated to him my idea.
He encouraged me to present my petition ..."
La Fontaine had gone to Fra Diegu
Institute as Apostolic Delegate. Undoubtedly this was a providential
visit for De Piro and his future Society.
As the above
words indicate De Piro and La Fontaine talked together about the
Being asked by
the Apostolic Visitor to express his wishes in writing the Servant of
God met Fr gorg Bugeja to share
the suggestion made to him by La Fontaine. In fact De Piro wrote the petition
on 3 November and passed it on to Bugeja to sign it.
down his name on the 8 th of the same month.
were the exact words of De Piro's 'Supplica':
We the undersigned humbly kneeling at the feet of
your Sanctity, ask the permission to start a religious Society, with the
aim of forming Missionaries first and foremost for the colonies of
Maltese living abroad.
Fr Joseph De Piro,
Fr Gorg Bugeja, Deacon
On 11 November, De Piro took this same petition to
The latter, knowing how much the Holy See
appreciated such a 'supplica' when recommended by the local ordinary,
told the Servant of God to have the signature of Bishop Pace on it.
De Piro, who trusted La
Fontaine, did as he was told and on 22 November of the same year talked
to His Excellency about the petition.
From the same 'supplica' we know that the Bishop
wrote his recommendation on the left hand side of the 'supplica', and
signed it on 15 November, 1909,
Valletta on the 15 Nov. 1909
Bish. of Malta.”
This 'supplica' was most important for the
beginning of the Society, but at the same time the words "first and
foremost for the colonies of the Maltese who are abroad" were to cause
De Piro much misunderstanding from the side of the Holy See.
Fr Joseph never meant that his Society should ever
exclude the work among those who had never heard the Good News.
However, he could not eliminate the fact that his
times were such that many Maltese were going abroad to find work there
and many a time they had no priest to cater for their spiritual needs.
For the time
being De Piro thought it was wise to launch his Congregation by
beginning the work of evangelisation among the Maltese migrants.
De Piro and
La Fontaine contacted each other continuously.
letter from the side of the Apostolic Visitor was written on 27 January,
told De Piro that:
"The Holy Father, to whom you
presented the petition, while
informed by me about it, expressed his joy at the news. He
has also entrusted me with the honourable duty to pass on to you his
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 De Piro's project.
still many things to be done in order that De Piro's plans might get
this same approval.
De Piro began
to realize that even his great benefactor, La Fontaine, had not
understood him completely; the Apostolic Visitor had compared De Piro's
'project' to that of Mgr Coccolo who had founded a Society of diocesan
worked among the Italian migrants.
La Fontaine also suggested to De
Piro to talk to a certain Fr Vella, S.J., who had worked among the
Maltese in Greece.
and foremost" of the petition seemed to have been interpreted as "only"
by La Fontaine!
Another illness was to trouble the
Servant of God after La Fontaine's
departure from Malta.
In fact one can find out that the above mentioned
letter from the Apostolic
Visitor found De Piro sick of typhoid fever.
Answering La Fontaine's
letter on 21 February, 1920, De Piro told him these words:
"When I was well again I
discussed the matter with the others. With God's help we hope to start
In this way we would
deserve the Holy Father's Benediction, of which we feel so much the
The "Small House of St
the time when De Piro, Bugeja and Mamo began their search for the first
house of the Society.
asked to give permission for this, the Bishop approved,
"... wholeheartedly the Initiative and we wish every success.”
This was on 6 June, 1910.
The petition made by De Piro and his two companions gave details about
the use of the house and repeated the aim of the Society:
"... a house which will
serve as residence for the members of a religious society.
The aim of this Institute is to
form missionaries, first and foremost for the colonies of Maltese who
The name of the house will
be 'The Small House of St Paul' ”.
The Bishop on his part, having blessed the project, asked the three
priests to present the Society's statutes.
The above-mentioned house was opened
on 12 June, 1910, and Bishop Pace blessed it.
delivered a speech for the occasion and having made an appeal to the
Maltese clergy, reminded those present that Mgr F. Bonnici and Mgr E.
Debono had thought before of founding such a Society.
compared the Small House to the Grotto at Betlehem.
The first vocations
Piro and the other two companions had succeeded in finding a small house
where to give start to their project, they all did their best to make of
it a decent place where the future members could live.
De Piro did
not forget his benefactor, La Fontaine. On such an occasion he thought
it was opportune to write to him about the Small House:
"As regards our Project we have
already hired a small house in Mdina which as much as possible we are
going to embellish.
It already surpasses our
exemplar: the Grotto of Betlehem"
continued telling La Fontaine about the benediction of the house by
But then he
added something else which was of the utmost importance:
"... and next Wednesday, vigil of the feast of Our Father ...
the "Small House will start
accepting a student and a catechist."
Thus the first two members of the new Society went to the "Small House"
to begin their life of dedication to God and their neighbour.
De Piro was left alone.
After Bugeja and Mamo had worked with De Piro in
order to begin their project, both of them left De Piro alone.
Yet he was determined to
At the same time, although he
tried to remain always humble, De Piro himself admitted that he had
never imagined that the work was so much difficult.
He had never thought it would
hard to cultivate a vocation and help the members of his Society to
from Pius X.
Pius X did not bless the Founder and his Society
only in words and through an intermediary.
11 June, 1911, the Pope sent
a written blessing carrying his own autograph.
This blessing is still kept
by the Society with great veneration.
At the same time it cannot be
considered as a valid document, historically.
By means of it the Pope
blessed De Piro and the "Catechist priests" who made part of his
He blessed them for the
spiritual work they were doing in
the Maltese clonies of Corfu’ and Tripoli.
here was that not only had De Piro not yet
sent any member abroad, but that several other years still had to pass
for the Society to have any priests at all.
De Piro's Society grows up amid great difficulties.
By the year
1916 one of the first two members who had arrived at the "Small House of
St Paul", and who was to continue his studies for the priesthood, was
De Piro, 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
Accompanying this petition, written on 22 August, 1916, the Founder sent
a brief history of the Society up to that date. This information is most
Having mentioned the origin, the Apostolic
Benediction of Pius X, and the opening of the residence for the first
members, the Servant of God continued with the historical development of
"Development - from then on,
each day has had its weight and suffering.
humiliations were not missing.
Three very good students
who were the hope of the Institute, left.
But Divine Providence
balanced these sorrows.
It provided such
consolations as the decree of His Excellency Mgr Portelli, the then
Administrator of the Diocese.
permission to the members to wear the Society's dress."
One can therefore see that the
beginning of De Piro's Society was not very easy in that the Founder had
to suffer, amongst other things, several defections.
other hand Fr Joseph was going to have his first priest, John Vella.
In fact one
finds that Vella was approved for the minor orders on 10 September,
1917, deacon on 4 April 1919, and presbyter on 20 September 1919.
For the Founder this was also the
time when he was doing his best to get the Pontifical Approval for the
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. De Piro’s new Congregation did not have such an approval
yet. Therefore the Founder wrote to Bishop Portelli
on 10 March,1919,
in order to give him information about the origin,
development and Constitutions of the "Small Institute".
This information was then passed on to Cardinal
Van Rossum, the Prefect of 'Propaganda Fidei', in order that he might
see whether it was possible for tha Sacred Congregation to accept in its
decastery De Piro's Missionary Society.
The Congregation could not see clearly the real
intentions of the Servant of God, whether (i) he intended to set up a
Society the members of which would profess the vows,
and whether (ii) the members would go only to the
Maltese migrants, or anywhere.
All this caused many difficulties for the Founder.
In order to help him overcome these hurdles he
relied on Don Archangelo Bruni, one of the secretaries at 'Propaganda
After a protracted correspondence between them,
Bruni answered De Piro about another two rescripts for the "Titolo
Missionis", for another two students of his Society.
It is very
important to report some of the words of this letter of Don Bruni:
"I make haste to send you the
two rescripts you have asked me. There was some difficulty but now it's
But in the
future if you will be in need of any similar document you must refer to
the S.C. of Religious.''
These words of Bruni were very significant for the
Servant of God 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 Bishop Caruana to De Piro on 2 April, 1924, one can
find out that it was the Sacred Congregation for Religious which had
permission to his Excellency to grant the Canonical erection to De Piro's
Notwithstanding all this the Founder
of the new Society continued stressing the missionary characteristic of
to make the members realise that besides being religious and therefore
bound to live the three vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, they
had to be prepared to leave their country and evangelise the Good News
The Missionary Charism over and
activity was the greatest ambition of De Piro. 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 Founder was still looking forward to
the moment when he would be able to send the first members to the
It was in 1927 that Bro Joseph Caruana, one of the
first two members of De Piro's Society, left Malta and went to Addis
Abeba in Abbysinia, or the present Ethiopia.
not enough for Fr De Piro; 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 to 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 the Founder, together with the others, intended to
reach Abbysinia in September, 1933.
His Sudden Death
proposes and God disposes.
Piro's desire to go to Abbysinia and plan for the Society's future
there, had to give way to another event.
It was 17
Servant of God had led the procession of Our Lady of Sorrows in one of
Malta's parishes, Hamrun, he felt sick while giving the Blessed
that same day, late in the evening, at the Central Hospital in Floriana.
De Piro had to end up his life when he was only
fifty-five years of age.