Servant of God, (Mgr) Joseph de Piro (1877 - 1933)
Lecture delivered by Fr. Francis Ferriggi mssp in Australia,
Maltese Community Center, 477 Royal Parade, Parkville
for the Malta
Historical Society, 17th June 1997.
idea of this talk came to my mind when once, after one of the monthly
lectures, the president asked me to talk about the work of the
Congregation in Australia. I am not a historian but I accepted the
invitation and at once decided to talk about the man who made all this
possible, the Founder of the Missionary Society of St. Paul, Joseph De
Quite a number of us where born in Malta and know about it. Some know
very little. Some know next to nothing. So I will start from there.
Malta is a small island (the size of Philip Island) in the Mediterranean
Sea, roughly 100 Km from Sicily and about 300 Km from Africa. We know
that the oldest standing public place for worship in existence is in
Malta. At one point Malta was inhabited by the Phoenicians, they by the
Carthaginians and then the Romans took over. In 60 AD when Malta was a
Roman colony, St. Paul was shipwrecked on the island. The writer to The
Acts of the Apostles calls the inhabitants "Barbarians". That means that
the people did not speak Greek, one of the main languages at that time.
Professor Aquilina, I think, believes that the people spoke some sort of
Semitic language. But there are no written documents of that time. In
870 AD the Arabs took over the island and again professor Aquilina
believes that the old language died gradually. In 1090 AD Count Roger
the Norman conquered the island and from that point onwards Malta became
part of Sicily politically and so part of Europe. From 1530 to 1798
Malta was ruled by the Knights of St. John. Then the French ruled the
island for just two years. Malta was an English Colony from 1800 until
very simplistic history of Malta helps us to understand better the
person we are to talk about today, Joseph De Piro, born in Imdina in
1877 when Malta was a British colony and when the British Empire was a
The DePiro Family
De Piro family is a noble family that went to Malta around the time of
the Great Siege, that is 1565. But it is much, much older. This family
went to Malta from Italy, from the cities of Pisa and Firenze
(Florence). In Malta they had titles like Baron and Marquis conferred on
them. This shows that they played some very important roles in the
politics of the Island. They lived in Imdina but possessed land and
buildings in Malta and in Florence. Joseph De Piro's father was called
Alexander. His mother Ursula Agius Caruana. She was also noble by birth.
Both were convinced Catholics. They fulfilled their religious duties.
But they were deeply concerned about their social duties as Christians.
So they were helped the poor, helped people in need and taught their
children the value and nobility of manual work.
Imdina was very quiet city; before the Knights of St John built
Valletta, it was the Capital city of the island. The Nobility lived
there. Joseph De Piro was born in very rich and noble family when social
position and titles of nobility meant so much. In the family there were
seven boys and two girls.
Joseph De Piro: Early life and Priesthood.
Joseph was child number seven. He was born in 1877. All the children
were given the best education available; Joseph first had home tutoring
and then he passed the examination for the Lyceum. Apart from the
intellectual education the children learnt some manual trade or trades;
they had to give a helping hand in house chores although there were
maids and servants in the home. The mother, Is-Sinjura Ursula, was a
first class organizer. But she did not just give orders; she also did
her share in the tasks undertaken. She also built a very Christian
family; not simply in the traditional sense of going to church and
praying but also in matters of social justice; they treated the people
employed with them with the greatest fairness and they helped many poor
beggars or people in need.
Joseph was first educated at home. Then he passed the Lyceum
Examination. He did very well at school; he was also very gifted in the
arts. He could have made a first class artist. He joined the Royal
Militia for two years; there he was a part-time soldier and fulfilled
his duties very conscientiously. Roll calls show that he hardly ever
missed. He went to the University and started reading Law. He was
preparing himself to become a lawyer or barrister. However on the 8 of
May 1898, during a Novena to Our Lady of Pompeii at the Jesuits' Church,
Joseph felt strong enough to decide to become a priest. He informed his
mother of this decision - his father had already died. He made the
necessary arrangements, talked to the bishop and some months later went
to Rome. He stayed at the Capranica. In Rome he studied Philosophy and
Theology. While studying in Rome, he wrote letters to a Maltese priest
in Malta and he felt the call to do something for the missions, like
founding a missionary society. He was also very much interested in the
orphans and boys hit by poverty living at St. Joseph's orphanage,
Hamrun. He was ordained priest before he had finished his third year of
Theological studies. On the 15th of March 1920 he was
ordained a priest. Soon after he came to Malta and sung his first solemn
high mass on the 30th of March that same year. The Rector
noted the following about him: "Joseph
De Piro is naturally inclined to forgive always. He is very kind. He
left behind him a much cherished memory in this College."
Sickness: (Tuberculosis) A time for reflection.
had not completed his studies but obtained the necessary permission. He
was thinking of finishing his studies and then studies further Canon
Law. Yet his dreams were not to be fulfilled. Some months after he was
ordained a priest he was diagnosed as suffering from tuberculosis - a
very serious illness at that time. So the doctors suggested a long stay
on the mountains. He went to Switzerland and stayed there from August
1902 to February 1904. During these months he did not just strengthen
himself physically. For him it was a time of prayer, reflection and
searching for God's will.
DePiro and the Orphans.
During his life, Joseph De Piro was assigned seven orphanages; for boys
and for girls. I am not going to list them but I will speak at length
about one, The Fra Diegu Institute for Girls at Hamrun. He was
responsible for it from 1907 to 1933, the time of his death. During his
busy life he never resigned from any of the orphanages although he
resigned from other prestigious positions, as we shall see later.
His educational System.
method or system of education was very simple and effective. He wanted
children under his care to be better children, to receive sound
formation which would serve well them when they were to leave the
orphanage and love on their own. He never wanted children to be punished
physically; not even to be abused verbally or shouted at. However this
does not mean that he let things go by. He wished that children be
corrected gently, showing them that they had erred, but that they were
still lovable. Usually, after correcting a child, he would smile and
offer a lolly. He was against unsupervised children and against
laziness. He always appreciated the children's and the nuns' work and he
showed his appreciation. He excused people's mistakes and was careful
not to judge people's intentions. When people gave him something
special, even during meals (like a very beautiful orange), he would say,
"Well, let's give this to the children!" He wished and wanted the
children to be happy and went to extremes to make them happy. All his
means - and his family's - even houses, were used to help the poor.
There were plays, holidays, games.
organized at least two big lunches every year: Christmas and Easter and
sometimes St. Joseph's, his patron saint. He organized outings at the
family's property at Qrendi. He wanted children to learn not only
academic subjects but other necessary trades or arts, like cooking,
sewing, embroidery ('rakkmu'); for boys he insisted on trades such as
printing, bookbinding, shoe-making. At St. Joseph's Boys' Orphanage
(Gozo) he introduced a band which was very successful and is still in
existence as the Ghajnsielem Band. Whenever he went abroad, he brought
small gifts with him: like soap and perfume for girls. He held 'Prize
days' and invited personalities at his Orphanages to be guests of
honour. When children were sick he visited them in hospital and carried
gifts with him, like oranges, for example.
expects a priest to be interested in the spiritual welfare of those
under his care. That was why he worked so hard. He taught them to have a
fixed time of regular prayer. Every Thursday he spent an hour of
Adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament with children. He wanted
them to sing well in church and asked for a person learned in this
matter to teach the children and the nun concerned. On special occasions
he saw that there were priests to hear the children's and the nuns'
confessions. He spoke of true and everlasting values-and he taught what
he himself tried to live.
When Young Persons had to leave the Orphanage.
Founder was a rich man, he was noble by birth and he knew what earthly
comfort was like. Yet he chose not only to help the poor, but also to
live for the poor and to feel the pangs of poverty. He put his wealth
and that of his family at the poor's and orphans' service. He begged
from his mother and from his relatives. His mother used to call him,
"Il-fqir tieghi!", "My poor son". When he was in need, he even went
begging from his rich friends. On Thursdays he used to visit streets
where his rich friends lived and paced up and down. Some say that was
his way of asking for money. Probably it was very humiliating for him.
involved his mother in his charitable works; she used to gather young
women, even well-to-do women and they would sew liturgical vestments or
do whatever was necessary and possible to help; She used to say, "These
are my visits to the theatre and my films: working for the poor." Quite
naturally, she also worked with the others. She also visited the
orphanages and spent time talking to the girls who lived in the
orphanage and she worked with them too.
Before passing on to another subject, I wish to emphasize the following
points: He never resigned from any of the orphanages;
did his best to advance every particular orphanage;
was very gentle with those in charge and with the persons under his
encouraged everybody to achieve the best one could;
was interested in every person under his care.
His sense of Justice towards worked with him.
Joseph De Piro had a great respect towards those who worked with him or
those who were employed by him. When Fr. Joseph Spiteri was elected
Assistant Superior, he told him to sign instead of him and state that he
was assistant superior. He assigned another priest Fr. Gaetanus Bartolo
to be responsible of the wages. So he explained everything in detail.
Since wages were low, he used to put some extras money. He even handed a
pension to ex-employees in need. He also used to visit the sick
employees - either at home or at the hospital. In case of need,
sometimes he even called a doctor. However he was always careful either
not to humiliate the people involved; he would let others appear as if
they were taking the lead.
His sense of Duty towards his country: His Patriotism.
The 7th June Riots.
Joseph De Piro decided to be a priest, his ideas was to serve God in
whichever way he asked him. He was not after honors, titles or the
lime-light. He was not after making a career in the worldly sense or of
making money. I think most of us heard about the seventh June nineteen
nineteen Riots; what is referred to as the "Sette Giugno". The Maltese
people were striving for a better Constitution because they wanted to be
masters of their destinies in their own country. At the National
Assembly sitting on 25 February 1919, Monsignor Ignatius Panzavecchia
suggested a motion calling for more autonomy in local problems. The
session was adjourned for June 7, 1919. On that fateful day, the second
sitting was in session. The meeting was held at "La Giovane Malta".
There were big crowds in Valletta because many people were facing
unemployment. The First World War was just over and the Empire did not
need too many workers at the Dockyards as it needed during the war. The
people were protesting because they felt they were treated unjustly.
Some people became violent and attacked the premises of The "Malta
Chronicle" and the English Club. The Maltese police did not try to
control the situation. So the Lieutenant Governor called in the English
soldiers to take charge. The soldiers fired at the people, many were
hurt and four people died; two more died later because of inflicted
While all this was happening in the streets, the sitting of the National
Assembly was in progress. Notary Salvatore Borg Olivier suggested a
committee or deputation be chosen to form the draft of a constitution.
Meanwhile an injured person was carried into the hall where the meeting
was in progress and people started asking protection. The sitting was
brought to a hasty end. Most people at the National Assembly left
quietly because they sensed the explosive situation. Monsignor De Piro
was asked to take charge. He and five other members formed a delegation.
With great difficulty they took charge of the crowds and acted as
mediators between the English authorities and the Maltese crowds. After
negotiations, Barrister Caruana Gatto addressed the crowds and informed
the angry people of the negotiations' results. First, that all the
soldiers were to be called to their quarters and second, that those
responsible were to be held accountable for their actions. Very slowly,
the crowds dispersed.
the 8th and on the 9th of June, there were further
protests and some criminals took advantage of the situation; there was
looting and property destroyed. Some people even tried to attack the
Bishop's Palace at Valletta. Bishop Portelli and Monsignor De Piro faced
the angry crowds and tried to calm the people and to reason with them.
1932: Senator in The Third Parliament (17 Oct 1932 - 23 Jul 1933)
this time, De Piro was chosen as chaplain of the Third Parliament. On
hearing the news, Bro Joseph Caruana MSSP who was in Abyssinia, wrote
the following: "I have heard that you were elected Senator.
Congratulations! In the "MALTA" I read that some rascals insulted you. I
was very sad for you. I think they do not know you."
was praised for being above party politics, for writing to help others
and for not seeking his own interests. That is what "The Daily Malta
Chronicle" said on the 19th Sept 1933 edition, two days after
Mediator between Lord Gerald Strickland and the Church.
the 27th April 1930, The Bishops of Malta and Gozo issued a
pastoral letter saying, "It is a grave sin to vote for Lord Strickland,
his candidates and those who side with him in his fight against
ecclesiastical rights and discipline." Church authorities also condemned
the newspapers "THE DAILY MALTA CHRONICLE" AND "IX-XEMX".
British Government felt the Maltese were not free in the elections and
the Constitution was suspended. This means that Malta returned to its
pre 7th June 1919 political status.
During this 1930 - 1932 crisis, De Piro acted as intermediary. He met
secretly with Lord Strickland several times. Very little is known about
the meetings. He never said anything about it. One of our members told
me, "He never said anything; he kept complete silence." In Maltese he
told me "Qatt ma qabzitlu kelma", and "Fommu sieket".
After his death, "THE DAILY MALTA CHRONICLE", Lord Strickland's
newspaper, said, "Peace was settled very quietly. There was none like
him trusted by both sides. There was none like him who had the necessary
qualities to accomplish this delicate mission."
was another case where he sought the good of all involved: Church, State
and all the individuals involved without making any personal claims for
His Love and
Dedication for the Church
Joseph De Piro became a priest to serve the church and the people as a
priest. He was a man for the people: he said mass, heard confessions
even on days off, celebrated marriages, heard people's problems.
However, in this section we will be speaking of this, the public
positions he held in the church as an ecclesiastical figure.
Secretary to the Archbishop 1915 - 1918
Archbishop Caruana chose him as his secretary. He fulfilled this duty
with his usual scrupulosity: everything in order, attention to detail,
everything on time. During this time the Archbishop chose De Piro and
other holy and experienced priests to organize meetings to help the
newly-ordained young priests to settle down in their new and difficult
vocation and profession. Records show his dedication to duty but we know
very little else about him in this duty.
Rector of the Seminary 1918 - 1920.
Archbishop asked him to be in charge of the Major Seminary, that is the
institution where young men are trained to become priests. The priests
who were seminarians under his care noted his fatherly kindness, his
interest in those under his care, and his ability to correct gently.
1920 he wrote an eleven page letter to the Archbishop about the state of
the seminary. In fact it was a detailed report. He spoke about the
professors, combining truth and charity. He commented on the teaching of
philosophy and theology and showed how teaching can be upgraded. He
called for a resident spiritual director and confessor. He criticized
the use of a certain book because the 1917 Code of Canon Law rendered it
Since there were financial problems, he said that if the problems faced
were so great, it was better to close down the Seminary.
During the Summer Holidays, seminarians helped in liturgical functions
in their parish church. Then, the parish priest had to write a report on
the persons involved. But some parish priests wrote hasty reports for
formality's sake. The Rector asked for more detailed and specific
reports. The seminarians had some communal outings which were suppressed
because of financial problems. The rector noted that seminarians turned
indifferent and sometimes even hostile to each other since these
celebrations were suppressed. He suggested that they be re-introduced.
the 27th August 1920 Fr. De Piro handed in writing his
resignation as rector of the Seminary. He said that he had to dedicate
more time to the congregation he had founded, the Missionary Society of
Seeking Peace in the Gudja Parish 1922.
Those of us who were born in Malta and spent some years there, know how
much pride and passion are involved in the parish church, the statue of
the patron saint the committee in charge (il-partit tal-festa) and the
village festa. In 1922 tempers flared up in the village of Gudja about
some misunderstandings. The priest felt threatened and withheld daily
mass, although masses were said on Sundays. Since no priests were
available, the Archbishop asked Mgr. De Piro to take charge and to try
to find a peaceful solution. He went there on the 13th of
July and spent a month there. He and some members of the new
congregation provided the necessary ecclesiastical services and worked
hard to promote a message of peace. When the feast was over, he and the
two members of the Society left Gudja. The people were grateful for what
he did in their parish; they asked him to stay there; quite naturally,
he could not because he had other duties.
Joseph de Piro as Founder of the Missionary Society of Saint Paul.
Although De Piro was involved in many activities, his main
accomplishment was the Missionary Society of Saint Paul. He had this
dream since he was a seminarian in Rome. When he was convalescing on the
Alps in Davos, he had more time to reflect, plan and pray.
Between the years 1904 and 1907 he was exercising his ministry at Qrendi
while recuperating. At the same time in 1905 he started sharing his
ideals with fellow priests. He thought that other priests might be
interested. On the 16th January 1905 something strange
happened to him. He was in Valletta with another priest. A beggar
approached the two priests and asked for money. Fr. De Piro gave him
some. The beggar thanked him in a very unusual way, saying, "May Saint
Paul be with you". In his diary, Fr. De Piro noted this strange
expression, more so since it came from a beggar.
De Piro was talking of "A Society of Missionaries". Other priests told
him that they had had a similar idea and had tried, but they had failed.
There were priests who told him that was an impossible idea, unless
something miraculous happened. In his diary, De Piro noted, "At the
moment there will be neither vows nor oaths. However we must be ready to
submit to the divine will with the greatest generosity. This should be
the word which urges us foreword, 'I will follow you wherever you go'.
He felt the need for a community of future missionaries. At that time in
Malta there was 'The Big Mission' and 'The Small Mission'. These
consisted of groups of priests who visited parishes and spent some time
preaching there. De Piro took part in these missions on different
occasions. But he said that his ideas were different; he meant going to
1908 Archbishop Peter Pace blessed his dreams and encouraged him to find
other priests with similar ideals. In 1909 De Piro drew a sketch of his
society. He wrote, 'Aim of the (Little) Society (of Saint Paul) is
that of forming missionaries and sending them wherever they are
required'. In 1909 the Apostolic Visitor Monsignor Peter La
Fontaine was in Malta. Together they discussed De Piro's ideals. He told
De Piro to write a letter to the Pope and to get his Archbishop's
written approval. La Fontaine then carried his letter with him to Rome
and gave it to the Pope, at that time Pius X. In a letter dated 27
January 1910, the Pope blessed De Piro and his ideals. An his non
existent companions. De Piro wrote a phrase which was to cause him much
trouble. He wrote about "A Religious Society to form missionaries in a
special way and above all to work in colonies of Maltese migrants". His
love of Maltese migrants caused him much trouble; later he explained
himself better but he never wavered from his ideas.
Finally, Fr. De Piro could see his dream taking shape. On the 12th
of June 1910 the Archbishop of Malta blessed a small rented house in
Imdina. And some days later, on the 30th of June 1910 two
young men joined him, John Vella and Joseph Francis Caruana. John Vella
was to become a priest and late to leave the Society while Joseph
Francis Caruana was to become a lay-brother and to be the first
missionary of the Society in Abyssinia/ Ethiopia.
1916 De Piro would explain himself better to Pope Benedict XV in these
words, '…to form an Institute for foreign Missions and in a
particular way for those Maltese who live far away from their island…'
Our Founder is daring enough and points out that when he said that the
Institute is 'for the Maltese, before everybody else', he wanted to
exclude no one. Finally, in 1921 (14th of November) the
Archbishop of Malta issued a Decree, "Auctoritate Nostra Ordinaria" (By
Our Ordinary Authority) declared canonically erected the Pious Society
(of Saint Paul the Apostle).
June 1927: The Abbysinian Mission.
Maltese Capuchin Friars had opened a mission in Abyssinia, what we now
call Ethiopia. This particular mission was in what we now call Somalia.
The person in charge of the Mission, Friar Angelo Mizzi OFM Capp asked
De Piro to send him some Missionaries. The people available were few
because there were few members. After the long and necessary
negotiations De Piro could send one member, Brother Joseph Francis
Caruana. De Piro had to say the following about Fra Guzepp, as he was
known. "His name is Brother Joseph Francis Caruana. He is a
member of the Society of Saint Paul. He is 36 years old. In him I see a
deeply spiritual man; he is able to adapt himself very well to children.
He is also an able infirmirian. Here I will be losing his help; but I
undergo this sacrifice knowing with certainty that the Lord will not
refrain from sending me others instead of him."
Brother Joseph left for Abyssinia in June 1927. He worked hard, helped
and loved the people, was a man of prayer and died in that land in April
1975, aged 83 years. He never left that country - not even for a short
was not De Piro's style to do things by halves. He kept constant contact
by correspondence with Brother Joseph, encouraged him, was proud of him
and praised him, sent him money. He also wrote to authorities concerned
with this mission; he encouraged people to pray for this particular
mission. It was present in his heart until he died. In 1933 De Piro was
thinking of visiting Brother Joseph and having two new missionaries
accompanying him. But this was not to happen. De Piro died on the 17th
The Mother-House, St Agatha's Rabat.
Piro hired the first house in Imdina. Later, he moved to two other
houses, also in Imdina. This shows that he had other plans. We have
written records showing that since 1921 he was negotiating to acquire
St. Agatha's chapel in Hal Bajjada, Rabat, and lands surrounding it
where he could build a house for his own Institute. He spent fourteen
years of constant worry, trouble, negotiations and forking out money
until he could lay the foundation stone of what is now The Motherhouse,
on 3 October 1932. This was a very solemn day.
He wanted it to be a
thank all his benefactors publicly;
show what had been achieved;
encourage those working with him;
encourage the few members in his congregation;
encourage young men to become new members;
make his congregation known;
above all to thank God and praise Him publicly for His faithfulness.
the 30th June 1933 Archbishop Mauro Caruana blessed the first
part of the new house. Finally, De Piro and his Congregation could say
that they had a home of their own. There they could live together and
work to fulfil their dreams. The new House meant that they now had a
base for training future missionaries.The
new house probably saved the Society from extinction. Less than three
months later, the Founder died suddenly.
His Love and Care for Migrants.
Piro was always interested in those who are poor, those who suffer,
those who undergo some hardship or other. Early in his life as a priest
he was interested in Maltese migrants. When he wrote his constitutions
and when he presented himself to church authorities, he always said that
he wanted a missionary congregation which also gives special care for
Maltese Migrants. Church authorities in Rome told him, "You cannot have
both; either one or the other". He was always firm on this point.
Finally he got what he wanted.When
there was a mission in Tunis in 1922, De Piro went and gave a helping
hand. And he also wrote about it in his publication "Almanacc". In the
"Almanacc" he also gave news about Maltese priests working among Maltese
migrants and dreamed of sending his spiritual sons in countries like
Australia and America.
Other Missionary ventures which De Piro undertook.
"L-Almanacc tal-Istitut tal-Missioni "
Piro started to publish this "Almanacc" every year from 1922. He
published it for the last time in 1933, the year of his death. It was
again published in 1934 and in 1936. The its publication ceased.
himself wrote most of the articles - nearly all of them follow his style
of writing. He published it to keep his benefactors informed of the
progress of his small society. He wanted people to appreciate the gift
of faith and to do their best to share it with others. He rightly
believed that all Christians are called to spread the Gospel in one way
or another. He wanted also his young companions to be on fire with the
love of God and to be ready to share this live with fellow human beings.
He also saw it a way of making his congregation known and recruiting new
vocations. He also saw its publication as a way of holding himself
accountable for the money received; every year he published names or at
least initials against the amount give; every single donation however
small was acknowledged and he prayed for all his benefactors; he
acknowledged all the generosity around him.
The Missionary Laboratory.
1927, together with his mother, De Piro founded the Missionary
Laboratory; this was a practical way to collect money and to get people
interested in the missions. As usual, his mother was an organizer and a
hard worker. His mother suggested a "Muzew tas-Somalia", "A Somalian
Museum". Friar Mizzi sent lots of exhibits and postcards to help the
Co-Founder of the Missionary Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth.
Josephine Curmi had started to help some orphans and gathered some girls
around her. This was in 1913. Joseph De Piro encouraged her, guided her
and later suggested that she give a missionary character to her
Institute. He also guided her in dealing with civil and ecclesiastical
authorities. He also suggested that the two Societies work together. He
also wrote official letters for Miss Curmi. He is considered as a
Co-Founder by the sisters of Jesus of Nazareth.
Other ventures in De Piro's life to help the poor.
The Oratory, B'Kara.
1910 The Notary Michael Casolani built a chapel, classes for religious
instruction and a playground so that the poor children of the area could
play and at the same time grow up as practicing Christians. However he
had difficulties in running it. Between 1910 and 1912 it was run by the
Salesians, they named it "Domenico Savio Oratory". However they could
not run it for lack of staff. The De la Salle Brothers tried their hand
and ran it from 1912 to 1918. They also had to move out for the same
reason. Fr. Michael Sammut took charge for some time although his
strength was very weak. In 1925 Mr. Casolani wrote a letter to De Piro
to take charge; he saw the ability of De Piro to deal with the poor
children. In 1925 they started the negotiations and in 1927 Casolani
donated the Oratory to De Piro and the Society. In this place the
children of poor people could go to play and enjoy themselves; they
received Christian instruction; they received the Sacraments of the
Eucharist and Confession; they attended Mass; De Piro introduced also
the theatre as another form of recreation. This recreational and
educational activity is still going on there.
Saint Joseph's Home, Ghajnsielem, Gozo.
1924 - 1925 the Parish Priest and the Bishop of Gozo His Brace Bishop
Michael Gonzi asked De Piro to take care of St. Joseph's Institute for
Boys at Ghajnsielem. De Piro accepted this position as duty on himself
and also on his Society. However he layed down his conditions. One of
his conditions was that he would accept any boy who needed help
irrespective of the money available; another important condition was
that he wanted to be the director thus assuming all responsibility and
the possibility of running it his own way. Together with members of his
Society, De Piro did his very best for the children sheltered there and
in due time they even had their own band.
Laboratory for poor girls, Valletta.
1927 De Piro was thinking about those girls who leave the orphanages as
they had reached their eighteenth year. He was thinking of a place where
these young women could work and get paid for their work. He looked for
such a place in Valletta and he also wrote letters to people in
authority. Finally he could start this project and named it "Sacred
Heart Laboratory". He found a number of women ready to help him, amongst
them a certain Marija Assunta Borg. She was a very zealous and hard
working woman but it seems that she wanted to things run her own way and
considered herself equal to De Piro. De Piro stood his ground gently but
firmly. At one point in August 1931 De Piro and Borg declared officially
and legally that The Laboratory for Poor Girls was dissolved. At that
time it was probably unique and it also showed how De Piro had the
welfare of the poor and defenseless at heart.
1911: Fr Joseph de Piro given the title of 'Monsignor'.
we said in the beginning, Joseph De Piro was noble by birth. He saw the
priesthood as the noblest thing a man could achieve. For him the
priesthood was to be like Jesus, to serve the poor, to heal wounds, to
live like the poor. So for himself he chose poverty and humility as much
mother felt that he deserved some sort of title and so she went to the
chaplain of the Archbishop and expressed her wish. Things started
happening…everything behind De Piro's back. The Chaplain wrote to Fr. De
Piro after lots of behind the scene dealings. De Piro came to know of
his mother's actions and told her that he was very sad and that he could
not accept. He told her among other things, "I want to remain a
simple priest. Without any other titles. The priesthood is the greatest honor for me". He wrote also tot he Archbishop's chaplain
explaining gently that he had to decline the title. He wrote, "Do me
also the favour of informing the Archbishop that the title offered me is
unsuitable to me because of my work". It seems that his mother had
second thoughts after her son's words and said something to the
Archbishop's chaplain or the Archbishop himself. However the Archbishop
had a completely different opinion. On the 19th January 1911,
the Archbishop answered De Piro in the following way.
Dear Father Joseph,
You never sought neither high positions nor ranks.
Receive, therefore this position as coming from the hands of God and
accept it as an act of obedience to me. Leave the rest to the Lord. Just
as the Lord began the holy work of the missions, so He himself will
develop it and perfect it.
Yours sincerely, Dear Father Joseph,
Writing and Sermons.
Piro did not consider himself an orator or a writer. When he preached,
he preached because a priest has to preach. He used a very simple of
style of speaking to the people. Yet he spoke through his faith and from
his heart. I dare say he also spoke to the heart of his listeners. His
written sermons show a man with a very positive outlook on man, life,
God, and God's mercy. He wrote quite a lot. Again his writings seem very
simple. However they reveal the same characteristics: a man full of
faith, gentleness, compassion, love of God and of neighbour. A passion
for God, the Church, man and mission. However his writing is never
sloppy or childish. It is just simple so that his readers / listeners
could understand him clearly.
hope you realize that our Founder was a very interesting man. This is a
very brief and incomplete sketch. But it helps you understand how we
came to Australia, for example. May this sketch encourage us to be
better persons and more at peace with ourselves.