Institutum Theologiae Vitae consacratae
Tony Sciberras mssp
Spirituality of Joseph De Piro
Prof. S. Gonzalez Silva cmf
Ad Doctoratum Theologiae Vitae
In Institutum Theologiae Vitae
Consacratae “Claretianum”, Universitatis Lateranensis
my dear parents,
sisters and brothers,
members of the Missionary Society of St Paul
and beloved friends
List of tables
PAGEREF tables \h xiv
PAGEREF abb \h xv
PAGEREF ack \h xvi
PAGEREF intro \h xvi
PART ONE – Joseph De
Piro: His Life and
PAGEREF p4 \h 4
Chapter One – The private and public
phases of the life of Joseph De Piro................ PAGEREF life \h
Section I - The private phase of his
life (1877-1904): From birth to the first two years of
priesthood PAGEREF part1 \h 6
Piro’s birth , childhood and early youth…6;
Member of the Royal Malta Militia…9;
Member of the Congregazione degli Onorati…
PAGEREF onor \h 9;
Drawing and painting…10;
De Piro’s call to the priesthood…11;
Death of Joseph’s father…12;
Studies of philosphy and theology in Rome…13;
Worries, prayers … but even projects…14;
Subdiaconate, diaconate and presbyterate…213;
The “Accademia Ecclesiastica” issue put aside…20;
At Davos, Switzerland…21.
Section II - The public phase
of his life (1904-1933): From the first years of
priesthood up to his
PAGEREF pa \h 22
(i) - A priest dedicated to the local
PAGEREF pr \h 22
Assistant parishpriest at the Qrendi Parish, Malta…22;
Procurator of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Consolation, Qrendi,
Sindaco Apostolico of the Franciscan Minors Convent, Rabat, Malta…24;
Canon of the Metropolitan Chapter…25;
Effective Member of the General Committee of the XXIV International
Eucharistic Congress (1913)…29;
Co-rector of the Manresa Retreat House, Floriana, Malta…30;
Director of the Associazione Sacerdoti Adoratori…30;
Secretary of Archbishop Mauro Caruana…30;
Member of the Commission for the formation of young priests…31;
Deputy of the Commission for the temporary administration of the
Major Semianry, Mdina, Malta…32;
Rector of the Major Seminary, Mdina, Malta…33;
Member of the Camera Pontificia Maltese…35;
Dean of the Metropolitan Chapter, Malta…35;
Acting Parishpriest of
the Gudia Parish, Malta…36;
Cooperator in the foundation and growth
of Maltese religious congregations…37
- the Daughters of the
the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus...38,
the Missionary Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth...40;
President of the Special Consultative
Committee for the restoration of St Paul’s Church, Rabat, Malta…41;
Minister of the Word…42.
Archbishop’s Delegate in the Committee for the Peace Feasts…43;
Member of the National Assembly (1919-1921)…43;
The Sette Giugno Riots (1919)…44;
Cashier of the Committee Pro Maltesi Morti e Feriti per la Causa
Nazionale il 7 Giugno del 1919…45;
Member of the Committee for the Visit of H.R.H., the Prince of Wales
Member of the Unione Leoniana…46;
Member of the governing board of the Malta War Memorial Hospital for
Member of the Special Committee of the British Empire Exhibition…48;
Archbishop’s representative on the Committee of the Zammit Clapp
Archbishop’s representative on the Organising Committee for the
Visit of the Duke and Duckess of York…49;
Member of the Tourism Committee…49;
Mediator between the Church and Lord Gerard Strickland…50;
Senator in the Third Maltese Parliament…50.
(iii) - A father to the orphans and the
PAGEREF fath \h 51
Director of Fra Diegu Institute, Hamrun, Malta…51;
Secretary of the Committee of the Bishop’s Foundation for the bread
to the poor during the War…52;
Director of the Jesus of Nazareth Institute, Zejtun, Malta…53;
Director of St Joseph’s Institute, Santa Venera, Malta…54;
Director of St Joseph’s Institute, Ghajnsielem, Gozo…54;
Director of the Home for babies and young children, Santa Venera,
Director of St Francis de Paul Institute, B’Kara, Malta…56;
His testamentary will and the Institutes…57;
Director of the Workshop or Laboratory for unemplyed young women,
Director of the Birkirkara Oratory…58.
(iiib) A non-institutionalised
PAGEREF le \h 60
(iiic) Working for
PAGEREF wor \h 60
(iv) - De Piro’s Missionary
PAGEREF sp \h 61
A lot of work in Malta and for the Maltese migrants, but priority to
the missions ad gentes…67;
The “Saint Paul: Almanac of the Institute of the Missions”…67.
(v) - His sudden
PAGEREF sud \h 68
PART TWO - De Piro’s
love for the underprivileged and for evangelisation............
PAGEREF two \h 75
Chapter Two -
De Piro’s love for the
underprivileged: His institutionalised
charity, his non-institutionalised charity, and his work for
PAGEREF und \h 75
Introduction - Malta in the 19 and
early years of the 20 centuries…75
- The population...75,
The socio-economic conditions...75,
The housing conditions...80,
Hygiene... PAGEREF hygi \h 82,
– The government’s share in charity...85,
The local Church’s share in charity...86,
De Piro’s share in charity...89.
Section I -
De Piro’s love for the underprivileged through
an institutionalised charity PAGEREF sec \h 89
(i) Director of Fra Diegu
Malta................................................. PAGEREF di \h
De Piro’s dedication to Fra Diegu
A very humble Director…91;
A balanced formator – loving but firm…91;
Financial guarantor for the Institute…92;
Grateful towards the benefactors…92;
A holistic formation - The learning of crafts…93,
Care of the spiritual aspect of the girls’ life…93,
Recreation, an important element in the girls’ upbringing…94;
The Director’s love for the families of the girls of Fra Diegu…95;
De Piro’s love even for the old girls…95;
De Piro, the orderly Director and a one who trusted God’s
(ii) Director of the Jesus of
Nazareth Institute, Zejtun, Malta................................
PAGEREF je \h 99
De Piro, the Director of the
His charity, the virtue that showed most…103;
His visits to the Jesus of Nazareth Institute… PAGEREF visits \h 104;
Did not talk frequently to the girls…105;
But he was gentle and kind with the girls … and enjoyed their
Non talkative but sociable…105;
The poor and humble Director…105;
Holistic care of the girls… PAGEREF ho1 \h 105
- The physical health…106,
He did encourage feasting…107,
The spiritual aspect…107,
Preparation for their future… PAGEREF pre1 \h 108,
Discipline and corrections…108.
(iii) Director of St Joseph Home,
Santa Venera, Malta..........................................
PAGEREF jo \h 109
De Piro’s initial involvement at St Joseph’s, Malta…110;
De Piro, the fourth Director of the Institute…112;
At St Joseph’s with the members of his Society…112;
What had been the situation of St Joseph’s before De Piro took
Who were the boys at the Institute…113;
How many boys at the Institute…113;
De Piro was already quite busy when he took over St Joseph’s…113;
Because of the above, St Joseph’s not an easy job at all…114;
In fact all this and many other duties made De Piro very busy and
De Piro could not be all the time present at the Institute…115;
Yet De Piro was synonymous with St Joseph’s…115;
De Piro’s relationship with the boys…115;
But he was never a one to be afraid of…116;
Because he was very humble…117;
When correcting the boys he still showed them his love and
In this environment De Piro helped the holistic growth of the
- The spiritual care…118,
The academic aspect…122,
The trades… PAGEREF t \h 124,
The music band…125,
The boys’ relationship with their families…128,
Reinsertion of the boys in the normal life after leaving the
The end result…129;
De Piro was not alone…129
- To these De Piro delegated responsibilities…130,
… but he demanded accountability…130,
… and dignity…130;
Together with an organised good staff, De Piro had other sources of
support - His own family…130,
Especially his own mother…131,
Himself a benefactor of the Institute…131,
But more than anything else he believed in Providence…132;
With all these De Piro worked miracles…132
- De Piro planned to send the St Joseph’s boys to the USA…133,
He enlarged the building of the Institute…133,
He provided a house for babies…134;
No limits for his generosity…134
- De Piro was always in solidarity with the boys…134,
The Director was in contact even with the families of the boys…135,
De Piro helped the employees of the Institute…135,
De Piro prepared the boys for life…136;
“An internal feeling tells me that God, from this Institute, wants
to form in Malta a Congregation of priests under the patronage of St
Paul…” PAGEREF internal \h 136.
(iv) Director of St Joseph’s Home,
Ghajnsielem, Gozo........................................... PAGEREF
jo1 \h 137
Gozo - an introduction…137
- The population…138,
Standard of living…138,
The public health system…139;
The Institute at Ghajnsielem, Gozo …139,
- The attempts by the bishops of Gozo…140,
The Gozo parishpriests sought the help of De Piro…140,
A branch of St Joseph’s, Malta, to be led by the Society of De
De Piro did not want any interference from the side of the local
hierarchy in the administration of the Institute…142;
Inauguration of St Joseph’s Institute, Gozo…148;
The admission of the boys at St Joseph’s, Gozo…152;
The Director, a very busy man…152;
De Piro’s visits to St Joseph’s…153;
In his visits De Piro mostly talked to the Fathers…153;
No small talk from the side of the Director…154;
At the same time the Director was very affable…154;
Because he was humble…155;
The Director’s contact with the boys…156;
A holistic care of the boys…156
- The spiritual aspect…156,
The physical health…257,
A trades school…161,
The music band at St Joseph’s: background…162,
De Piro started the music band at St Joseph’s…163,
Preparation for life…164;
De Piro, the man who always had new projects in mind…165;
The means with which De Piro directed the Institute - De Piro’s
His determination, courage and orderliness …165,
The members of his Society…165,
On his part the Servant of God respected the role of those
responsible for the House…167,
De Piro’s relationship with the employees at the Institute…167,
But his faith in Providence over and above anything else…168;
De Piro was therefore loved by the boys and all…169;
Vocation recruitment at St Joseph’s, Gozo…170;
But he never used any pressure on the boys…171.
(v) Director of the Home for
little boys, Sta
Venera.............................................. PAGEREF new \h
(vi) Director of St Francis de
Paul Home, Birkirkara (B’Kara), Malta................. PAGEREF fra
(vii) A beggar for the children of
PAGEREF bega \h 172
(viii) De Piro’s testamentary will
and the Institutes..................................................
PAGEREF testa \h 172
(ix) De Piro’s care for the old
boys and old girls of the Institutes..........................
PAGEREF old6 \h 173
Director of the Sacred Heart
Laboratory, a workshop for unemplyed girls, Valletta, Malta…173;
De Piro’s second intervention in the Third Maltese Parliament in
favour of the old boys and old girls of the institutes…176;
The old girls of the institutes in his testamentary will…179.
(x) The Birkirkara (B’Kara)
PAGEREF birk \h 180
A Centre for boys…180;
an Oratory for the sons of the people…183;
The formation imparted at the Oratory…186.
Section II - De Piro’s love for the
underprivileged through a non-institutionalised charity
PAGEREF cont1 \h 188
PAGEREF fi \h 188
(ia) From his own
PAGEREF aid \h 188
(ib) From the money of Fra Diegu
Institute and St Joseph’s Home, Malta........... PAGEREF money \h
PAGEREF non \h 194
(iia) Caring for the physical
PAGEREF ca \h 194
(iib) A listening
PAGEREF li \h 195
(iic) Academic formation of
PAGEREF ac1 \h 195
Section III - De Piro’s love for the
underprivileged through his promotion of justice PAGEREF sec2 \h 197
(i) Stole-fees to confessors
and conference masters.............................................
PAGEREF stole \h 197
(ii) Justice with the employees
depending on him...................................................
PAGEREF jus1 \h 197
The employees of the Major Seminary,
The employees at St Joseph’s, Malta…197.
(iii) Justice during the riots of
the Sette Giugno
1919............................................. PAGEREF ju \h 199
The socio-economic history of Malta
before the Sette Giugno…199;The
National Assembly - justice with all the Maltese…200;
Saturday, 7 June 1919 - justice with the unemployed and the othpoor
Sunday, 8 June 1919 - justice with the unemployed and the other poor
Monday, 9 June 1919 - justice with the Archbishop…208.
Chapter Three - De Piro’s love for
evangelisation: De Piro’s “evangelisation to the faithful”, his
“second evangelisation” and his “first
PAGEREF ev \h 210
Section I - De Piro’s
“evangelisation to the faithful” or his evangelisation
to the Maltese in
PAGEREF ev1 \h 211
(i) De Piro’s drawn
PAGEREF dr4 \h 211
Introduction: the devotion of the face
of the suffering Jesus…211;
De Piro’s drawing of the face of the suffering Jesus…212;
A study of the drawing…212.
(ii) De Piro’s preached
pr2 \h 214
The Word of God as the basic source…214;
Hagiography and the writings of spiritual masters as another
The themes of De Piro’s preaching in Malta…215
- The Word of God…215,
The incarnation of Jesus Christ…216,
The Sacred Heart of Jesus…219,
God the Father…220,
The Holy Spirit…220,
Mary’s Immaculate Conception…221,
Mary our hope all along our life…221,
Mary hope for peace at the time of the First World War…223,
Salve Regina - Mater Misericordiae…225,
Our duties towards Mary…226,
As far as being consecrated to her…226,
The other topics preached by De Piro…229.
(iii) De Piro’s printed
evangelisation in Malta or the “Saint Paul:
Almanac of the Institute
PAGEREF pr25 \h 229
The contents in general…229;
a more central topic - the Maltese migrants…230;
the most central topic - the missionary animation…232.
(iv) De Piro’s catechised
Malta................................................... PAGEREF ca1
Introduction - the teaching of
ca2 \h 235
(iva) De Piro’s personal catechetical
evangelisation to the Maltese children......... PAGEREF ca4 \h 239
In Mtarfa, a Rabat suburb…240;
in the Church’s charitable institutes…240.
(ivb) De Piro’s catechetical
evangelisation to the Maltese children and
youths through his
PAGEREF ca7 \h 241
The teaching of catechism in the first
houses of the Society…241;
He organised catechism classes since the very first years of the
He catered for boys…and all of them…242;
He paid from his own money for the lodging of the catechism
He even made available the first house of the Society for the
teaching of catechism… and in fact several parts of the building…242;
His continuous attention for development of the catechetical
De Piro involved the members of his Society…243;
The Founder involved especially the lay brothers…244;
De Piro gave his support with his own physical presence…244;
The catechetical service of De Piro and his Society did not have
He and the members of his Society prepared the boys for the first
holy communion and confirmation…244;
… and even furthur than these two stages…245;
The catechism teaching imparted in the house of De Piro’s Society
was more organised than in some other places…245;
De Piro and the members of his Society did more than memory
He and the Society gave the catechetical formation within a holistic
(ivc) The catechetical formation of
children and youths: two main
apostolates in De Piro’s
Constitutions for his Missionary Society and in
his correspondence with the
PAGEREF ca24 \h 247
For all the members of his Society…247
- For the children…247,
More than memory work…248,
The basis for the teaching of catechism: a holistic formation…248,
Youths helped by youths…248,
The young helpers must be themselves helped…249,
Love, crucial for youth catechesis…249,
And this on an individual basis…249;
Especially for the lay brothers…250
- In his correspondence with
the local and Vatican hierarchy… PAGEREF vatican1 \h 250,
In the Society’s Original Constitutions…252,
In St Joseph’s Institute, Malta…253.
(ivd) At the Oratory,
PAGEREF ca38 \h 254
Introduction - The teaching of
catechism in B’Kara…254;
De Piro, the members of the Society and the teaching of catechism at
the Oratory, B’Kara…256;
The Oratory and the Society of Christian Doctrine (MUSEUM)…258.
Section II - De Piro’s “second
evangelisation” or his evangelisation to
PAGEREF mi1 \h 259
Introduction - Migration during the 19
and early years of the 20 centuries............. PAGEREF mi2 \h 259
(i) De Piro’s
PAGEREF kont \h 260
(ia) Publication of information
about the living of the christian life by
the Maltese communities abroad - the
“Saint Paul: Almanac of the
......... Institute of the
PAGEREF mi3 \h 260
(ib) .. He helped the Maltese
migrants by finding for them diocesan or religious priests and nuns
who could evangelise
PAGEREF mi4 \h 260
(ic)... He himself went to
evangelise the Maltese in Tunis and Carthage.................
PAGEREF mi5 \h 262
(id) De Piro founded a Society
whose secondary aim was the evangelisation
of the Maltese
PAGEREF mi6 \h 264
Before the foundation of his
after the foundation of his Society…267,
De Piro continued mentioning the migrants even when facing
misunderstanding regarding the principal aim of his Society…268,
in the Original Constitutions…275,
in the “Saint Paul: Almanac of the Institute of the Missions”…275.
(ie) Why was De Piro so
determined to evangelise the Maltese
PAGEREF mi12 \h 276
Section III - De Piro’s first
evangelisation or his evangelisation
PAGEREF g \h 277
PAGEREF intro1 \h 277
Several of the popes and the Vatican…284;
The missionary movement in Malta…287
- The Opera della Propagazione della Fede…287,
The Opera della Santa Infanzia…289,
The Casolani Project…289,
The Crociata Missionaria San Paolo…291.
(i) De Piro, a promotor of the
first evangelisation or his evangelisation
PAGEREF g11 \h 292
(ia) The publication of the
“Saint Paul: Almanac of the Institute of the
PAGEREF g12 \h 293
The missionary work is for all…293;
The truths contained in it - First evangelisation, a special
It is God who calls the evangelisers and sends them to the ad
The missions ad gentes are set up in the name of God…295,
Missionaries are working for God…295,
In fact Jesus is the master of the missions…295,
For De Piro the missionaries are those who…295,
What is faith according to the Servant of God?…296,
The tools of the missionaries…296,
The importance of contemplative religious commmunities in the
The necessity of the indigenous clergy…297
: On the example of the first christian communities…299,
Three reasons why the indigenous missionaries are necessary…299,
The result of the work of the indigenous missionaries…299,
Saint Paul, model of every missionary…299.
(ib) The sending of
PAGEREF g28 \h 300
The foundation of a Society for the
evangelisation ad gentes…300
- Seemed to be primarily for Maltese migrants…300
: De Piro’s own writings…300,
The impression of others…301,
The Maltese migrants, only a chronological priority - the
missions ad gentes, the primary aim …302;
De Piro sent the first member of his Society to the missions ad
- Br Joseph Caruana in Abyssinia…304;
More correspondence between De Piro and Fr Angelo Mizzi; De Piro
himself wanted to go to Somalia…306;
De Piro provided continuous support to his first missionary…307
- The Somalia museum…308,
The Laboratory for the Abyssinia mission…308;
Further plans for Ethiopia…309.
(ic) De Piro himself for
PAGEREF g41 \h 312
(id) De Piro’s missionary
convictions in the Constitutions of his Society...............
PAGEREF g42 \h 313
First among the apostolates of the
With no geographical limits…314;
Within the context of a parish…314;
Always subject to the local hierarchy…314;
Accountable to the immediate superior of the Society…314;
The prayerful life of the evangeliser - A support for his
Prayer for the evangelisation itself…315;
And by an exemplary life…315;
What De Piro meant by evangelisation…316
- Evagelisation of the whole person…316,
A non-possessive evangelisation or plantatio ecclesiae…316.
PART Three – De
PAGEREF c4 \h 318
Chapter Four - De Piro’s charity:
PAGEREF ch2 \h 319
(i) An option for the materially
PAGEREF ch4 \h 320
What helped De Piro opt for the
ch5 \h 327
(ii) An option for the poor
lacking the Good
News................................................. PAGEREF ch8 \h
The choice between remaining in Rome in
order to go to the “Accademia”, or returning to Malta where he could
start the Society which was expected to help “… quelli che
difettanto di operai evangelici”… PAGEREF operai \h 328;
A choice between continuing the option of the apostolate with
migrants and the more immediate approval of the Society…329.
What helped De Piro opt for the poor
lacking the Good News.................................. PAGEREF ch9
The love of the Father shown through
the Incarnate, Suffering and Eucharistic Son, the one with a Heart
full of love for all…330.
(iii) An option for those in
PAGEREF ch11 \h 331
What helped De Piro opt for those in
the most immediate need................................ PAGEREF ch12
(iv) A personal
PAGEREF ch14 \h 333
What helped De Piro be personally
PAGEREF ch15 \h 335
The incarnate Jesus…335
; Jesus in the Eucharist…336.
(v) In unity with
PAGEREF ch18 \h 337
What helped De
Piro love in unity with
PAGEREF ch19 \h 344
not mince words…345;
De Piro respected the roles of others…347;
De Piro’s ability to relate well with the employees of the entities
under his care…348;
ability to seek the help of others…348;
He was able to dialogue…350;
De Piro’s gratitude and appreciation…352.
(vi) A limitless incentive and
PAGEREF ch28 \h 358
What helped De Piro live his
limitless incetive and creativity...................................
PAGEREF ch29 \h 370
Zeal, devoted dedication,
responsibility, determination, courage, perseverance,
De Piro’s belief in God’s providence…372;
Did not give up when facing difficulties because he believed that
God’s help was stronger than the devil’s power…377;
Strong intellect, realistic and
Satisfied and happy with own achievements, grateful to himself…380.
(vii) A solidarity with the poor and
PAGEREF ch37 \h 380
What helped De Piro live his solidarity
with the poor and the needy........................ PAGEREF ch38 \h
Jesus incarnate, the Suffering Jesus,
Jesus in the Eucharist…382.
(viii) Did not expose the others’
PAGEREF ch40 \h 382
helped De Piro not expose the others’
mistakes.............................................. PAGEREF ch41
Good, pious and holy…383.
(ix) A love
towards those who did not support
him.................................................. PAGEREF ch43
What helped De Piro love those who did
not support him.......................................... PAGEREF
ch44 \h 386
God’s love for him, a sinner and therefore God’s enemy…386.
(x) A holistic
PAGEREF ch46 \h 387
The physical aspect…389
Physical health/care of the sick…396,
Housing… PAGEREF ch53 \h 398,
Financial and other material help…399,
The spiritual aspect (that which had to do with the human
- Appreciation for service rendered…405,
A listening ear … and more than that…405,
The need of self government…406,
The music band…411,
A good management…412,
Discipline and corrections…414,
Relationship with family…417,
Relationship with other people outside the entity…418,
Preparation for life outside the ecclesiastical charitable
Vocation and decision making…418;
The religious aspect (religious practices)…419
- Teaching of the catholic faith…419,
Confession or the sacrament of reconciliation…426,
Prayer and religious practices…427,
The Marian devotion…430,
Mary Assumed into heaven…431,
Saint Joseph… PAGEREF s3 \h 435,
The religious life aspect…438
- The community dimension…439,
Poverty… PAGEREF p1 \h 440,
And the vow of mission…65.
What helped De Piro have a holistic
PAGEREF w \h 445
Mary assumed into heaven…445;
The lives of the saints considered together…445;
The holistic charity of Jesus…446.
(xi) Until it
PAGEREF ch94 \h 446
His own money…446;
The Society’s and
therefore his own houses…448;
His own bed and clothes…448;
His own rest…449;
His own food…449;
His own time…450;
His own dignity, prestige, honour, status and reputation…453;
Promotions in the civil society…454;
His own health and his own life itself…455;
A lot of psychological, moral and physical suffering (lack of
understanding and support, discouragement, disheartenment,
disappointment, sorrow, sadness, deprivation, pain)…458.
What helped De Piro live a charity
PAGEREF ch107 \h 461
Jesus who suffered for him, a
Jesus at prayer…463.
(xii) De Piro’s charity until it
hurts: not a
PAGEREF ch110 \h 467
Chapter Five - An existence for a
pro-existence: The incarnational
aspect of De Piro’s
PAGEREF ex \h 472
Section I - De
PAGEREF ex1 \h 472
(i) De Piro’s
union with God the
PAGEREF ex2 \h 473
Experienced through his union with the
ex3 \h 474
Experienced through his union with the
ex7 \h 477
Experienced through his union with
PAGEREF ex8 \h 478
Experienced through his union with the
saints.................................................. PAGEREF ex9
Experienced through his union with the Word of
God....................................... PAGEREF ex10 \h 480
St Paul’s Letters in particular…481,
Experienced through a continuous search for the divine
will............................ PAGEREF ex14 \h 482
PAGEREF ex15 \h 484
(ii) All the
above helped De
PAGEREF ex16 \h 489
himself and accept
PAGEREF know \h 489
(iib) And even
PAGEREF ex17 \h 490
De Piro could have had so much, but he
gave up all…492
Section II - For
PAGEREF ex18 \h 497
(i) Hving tried
to know God’s will, for him, De Piro went further;
he did his best
PAGEREF ex19 \h 497
(ii) Through the
PAGEREF ex20 \h 502
With the help of his mother and other
members of his own family…502;
In unity with his local Ecclesiastical superiors…505;
Through the help of other priests…506;
In conjunction with the Foundress of the Jesus of Nazareth
De Piro’s collaboration with other priests at St Joseph’s, Malta…509;
In union with the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus, the
Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth, the members of his own Society and
Maria Assunta Borg in the ecclesiastical charitable institutions…510;
With the other members of the Maltese National Assembly (1918-1921)
and those of its Central Commission…510;
In conjunction with the members of his Society, those of the Society
of Christian Doctrine (MUSEUM) and with Michael Casolani, for the
evangelisation of the children in Mdina and Rabat, in the
ecclesiastical charitable institutes and in B’Kara…511;
With others in favour of the
evangelisation of the Maltese migrants…511;
The collaboration of others for the evangelisation of those who
lacked the Good News…512.
(iii) And by loving everyone
according to one’s
needs.............................................. PAGEREF ex21 \h
PAGEREF con \h 517
of Biblical references made by De Piro in his
references to Pauline Letters made by De Piro in his
3 De Piro’s
Piro’s contributions to the local and universal
Church and to society in general 535
5 The main and
secondary aims of De Piro’s
Society............................................... PAGEREF a5 \h
6 The genesis of the Original Constitutions of De Piro’s Society
PAGEREF a6 \h 544
PAGEREF bib \h 550
List of Tables
Maltese population (1842 – 1931)
naval commerce (1904, 1914)
Education in Malta (5-9 year old children according to the 1903
Education in Malta (10-14 year old children according to the 1903
Church’s charitable institutions in Malta (1725 – 1937)
Gozo population (1807-1931)
Gozo standard of living (according to the 1861 Census)
08 Table 3
09 Table 4
cost of basic necessities in Malta before the Sette Giugno
escalation of the wheat price in Malta (1913 – 1918)
number of references De Piro made to the Pauline Letters
saints about whom De Piro preached and the number of sermons about
Catechetical initiatives in Malta (Early 17th century –
Catechism books published in Malta (1752 – 1933)
Catechism initiatives in Birkirkara, Malta (1820 – 1909)
Important dates related to the Birkirkara Oratory (March 1910 –
missionary movement worldwide (1800-1932)
missionary movement in Italy (1815-1931)
Missionary activities of some popes and the Vatican (1814-1933)
number of Maltese diocesan and religious priests, and male
and female religious in the missions (1800-1933)
22 The prayer timetable at St
Joseph’s Institute, Malta
23 References to Pauline Letters
dealing with Christ’s union with humanity
AAM Archives of the Archbishop of
Malta, Archbishop’s Curia, Floriana
AAS Acta Apostolicae Sedis
AFSHJ Archives of
the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus
AMSJN Archives of the Missionary
Sisters of Jersus of Nazareth
APF Archives of Propaganda Fide
Archivum Provinciale S. Augustini, Vallettae
CIC Code of Canon Law
COSM Central office of Statistics, Malta
DP Diocesan Process of the Cause of Canonisation
of the Servant of God
DPA De Piro Archives, Agatha’s,
Rabat - Malta
MG Malta Government
ML Malta Lyceum (Hamrun)
MSSP Missionalis Societas Sancti Pauli
PAR Public Archives, Rabat
PDS3 Parliamentary Debates, Senate,
RML Royal Malta Library
RPA Rabat Parish (Malta) Archives
RRC Report of the Royal Commission
SCCS Sacra Congregatio pro Causis Sanctorum
SSP Societas Sancti Paoli
UMCI Unione Missionaria del Clero in Italia
I wish to express my gratitude to the good Lord
for having provided me with another possibility of going deeper into
the life, activity and spirituality of our Founder, the Servant of
God, Joseph De Piro.
My next thanks go to my parents, sisters and
brothers. The family environment has always been for me the place
where I grew up loving the search for truth in all its
A special thanks goes to my brother Fr Paul who
has been of great encouragement to me during this research. In spite
of his many other duties he has always been more than available to
give me excellent advices regarding contents and methodology.
I wish to thank my last Superiors General: Fr
Stanley Tomlin for having supported me as far back as 1980 in
obtaining the Licenciate in Spiritual Theology, especially in my
dissertation about the Founder, when no previous similar research
had been yet carried out; Fr James Bonello for having always
personally and in a particular way supported in the Society anything
academic, like this endeavour, especially matters regarding the
Founder and the Society; Fr Bernard Mangion, the actual Superior
General, who has continuously encouraged this research, conducive to
enhancing our identity.
I wish to thank all the members of the Society,
but in a most particular manner, I am indebted to Fr Martin Galea
mssp, who has always been at hand in the technical setting of this
thesis and Fr Gerard Bonello mssp, the College Rector, for making
all the School’s facilities available for me.
My moderator, Prof. S Gonzalez Silva cmf, I will
always consider as one of my greatest benefactors. When I could not
dedicate myself duly to this thesis because of my other
responsibilities as the General’s Delegate for Malta, as General
Councellor, as Postulator during the Diocesan Process of the Cause
of Canonisation of the Founder, and as Regional Treasurer, Prof.
Silva waited patiently with me for better times. When better
opportunities were available these last year and a half, he
accompanied me along the arduous journey of discovery of one of the
aspects of the spirituality of our Founder by reading, correcting
and suggesting better ways how to present the Servant of God.
During the months of July and August 1982 the
Missionary Society of St Paul, of which I am a member, held its
General and Special Chapter which had the renewal of the
Constitutions as its aim. But on this same occasion the members
present also unanimously agreed to ask the Archbishop of Malta to
initiate the Diocesan Process of the Cause of Canonisation of our
Founder, Monsignor Joseph De Piro. In fact on 14 November 1984, the
Superior General, Fr James Bonello, wrote to Archbishop Mgr Joseph
Mercieca, and manifested to him the members’ wish. On 28 January
1985 Fr Bonello wrote again to His Excellency asking him to approve
me as the postulator of the Cause. The Archbishop signed his
“Admittatur” on 1 February 1985. On that same day I started the
very long journey, the end of which is still quite far away: the
Diocesan Process has been closed on 25 January 2003, but the
Apostolic one is still in its initial stages.
One of the first steps taken by the Postulation
was the classification of the documents that were found in the De
Piro Archives, at the Society’s Motherhouse. These were sorted out
according to subject and put in chronological order. Then all
material was typed and presented in volumes for the members of the
Society to study and meditate. In the meantime an attempt was made
to meet as many individuals as possible who knew the Servant of God
de visu or de auditu a videntibus and who were ready
to give their testimony to the Ecclesiastical Tribunal.
Since 1948 the members of the Society
have been trying to publish very short biographies of the Founder
for themselves and for the general public. Short extracts of some of
Monsignor’s writings were also distributed among the members. Four
of us, members of the Society, have even written whole dissertations
or parts of them about some aspect of the life of the Founder for
A historian, Fr Alexander Bonnici OfmConv., has even written a
two-volume biography of the Servant of God. Notwithstanding these
sporadic contributions, while doing the work of the postulation, I
have been noticing that there was still a dearth of extensive
scientific research specifically about the spirituality of the
Founder. To fill this gap I decided to study in depth the sources
for such an enterprise: the life, the works and the writings of De
Piro, the testimonies about him and all background material that
could help the better understanding of the Founder. Such material
was found in the De Piro Archives, in the Archives of Propaganda
Fide, in the Archives of the Archbishop’s Curia, at the Malta
National Library, the Public Archives - Rabat, Malta, at the Central
Office of Statistics, at the University of Malta Library, and at the
On its part,
then, this study made me conscious of a very crucial reality in De
Piro: his incarnational spirituality or his making himself always
one with the others in all kinds of needs. In fact I now consider
the present thesis as a working definition of this incarnational
Part One or Chapter
One of this thesis presents in detail and from a historical point of
view the life of the Servant of God. It is divided in two sections:
the private and the public phases. While in the first phase De Piro
was relatively restricted in his self-giving to the others, the
second phase presents a much more active and public figure: he was
the priest completely dedicated to the local Church, the citizen who
contributed a lot to his country, the father to the orphans and the
poor and the one who did his utmost to promote the missionary aspect
of the Church, whether through his evangelisation to the faithful in
Malta, or to the Maltese migrants, or to the ad gentes
Part Two, or Chapters
Two and Three, De Piro’s main charism is shown to be his love
for the underprivileged and for evangelisation. This for four
reasons: (1) these two ministries occupied the better part of his
time. While many of his other activities implied only short periods
of time, the Servant of God dedicated most of his time and all his
energy for the underprivileged, especially in the Church’s
institutions, and in favour of evangelisation, especially through
the foundation of his Missionary Society; (2) while he carried out
other duties, he continued with the charitable activities and his
evangelisation; (3) whatever the contribution, his love for the
underprivileged and/or his love for evangelisation were always
reflected in it; and (4) in De Piro’s life, his love for the poor
identified itself with his love for evangelisation, and vice versa.
Part Two the main
components of De Piro’s charity have already began to emerge,
Chapter Four of Part Three
deals specifically with these characteristics, those which have been
showing more and more the Founder’s self giving to the others.
Fundamental among these characteristics is the holistic attitude of
Chapter Five of
Part Three, or the
concluding Chapter, presents the ingredients of De Piro’s
incarnational spirituality: his complete union with God helped him
know, accept and even humble himself, so much so that he always did
his best to carry out the divine will for him through the
cooperation of others and by loving everyone according to one’s
JOSEPH DE PIRO:
HIS LIFE and Activity
A man of poor
health, who lived a relatively short life of fifty-five years, ten
months, and fifteen days would not normally achieve what Mgr Joseph
De Piro did, both in society in general and in the Church -local
and universal- in particular. Key to this characteristic was
disclosed by the Servant of God himself in his continuous reference
to Psalm 126 (127),1: «Unless the Lord builds the house, those who
build it labour in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard
keeps watch in vain».
The life of the
Servant of God, Joseph De Piro, can be easily divided in two. The
first phase covers the years in between his birth, on 2 November
1877, and the months he spent in Switzerland for his recovery from
illhealth after his being ordained priest in 1902. The second phase
starts with his return to Malta from Switzerland, on 2 March 1904,
and ends up with his death on 17 September 1933.
This first phase
of the life of Joseph De Piro incorporates his birth, primary,
secondary and university education in Malta, his studies of
philosophy and theology in Rome, ordination to the priesthood and
the eighteen months he spent in Davos, Switzerland, to recuperate
his health. Compared to the second phase, this first part of
Joseph’s life can be considerd as quite hidden.
- De Piro’s birth, childhood and early youth
Joseph De Piro was born on 2
at Mdina, the old city of Malta. His father was the noble Alexander
dei Marchesi De Piro, and his mother, Ursola Agius,
also of noble blood. He was the seventh child of a family of nine.
According to the baptismal certificate Joseph was baptised at the
Metropolitan Cathedral, the day after his birth.
He was brought up in a truly
Catholic family and gradually grew up to be a noble child not only
in his ancestry but also in character. This was confirmed by the
Archbishop of Malta, Mgr Peter Pace in his recommending Joseph for
the Capranica College, Rome:
Il Barone Giuseppe De
Piro mi ha fatto sapere, che suo nipote Giuseppe fin ora secolare
intende abbracciare la carriera ecclesiastica, e stabilire per
continuare gli studi in cotesto collegio che Vra. S. Illma e Revma
degnamente presiede: e quindi mi pregava di raccomandarlo a tale
oggetto a Lei.
Io ben volentieri mi
presto a tale officio, trattandosi di un giovane fornito di tutte le
belle qualità. Egli passò con lodi l’esame di matricola nella Regia
Università, ed ora sta nel corso di scienze ed arti. È poi di
morigerati costumi, ritirato sempre in casa dove non riceve, che
esempi di virtù, essendo la Nobile famiglia De Piro distinta pei
suoi sentimenti di religione e di pietà.
It is very hard to say anything about
Joseph’s early childhood. As one may expect, the only evidence we
can have is from the way the noble families generally reared their
children in those days, and from the interviews we made to people
who lived at Monsignor’s times. These witnesses
gave valuable testimonies. All of them agreed that both parents,
Alexander and Ursola, tried to give their children the best possible
christian formation. The mother considered it her duty to pass on
the basic christian truths to her sons and daughters. Besides this,
the family was often seen going together to the Cathedral, at Mdina,
for the mass, or for some other liturgical celebration. Baroness M.
Trapani Galea, one of the nieces of the Servant of God, had this to
say about the family of her grannies:
My grandma was very
serious and she did not allow confidences. She used to tell us to
keep the friends at the entrance hall only, and not further than
They were very
religious people and as regards this aspect there were no
compromises; what had to be done had to be done, and what had to be
avoided had to be avoided. They were rigid as regards this; even in
the hardest moments of their lives religion was first. They always
said, ‘Fiat voluntas tua.’
The whole family was
consecrated to Our Lady of Pompei. Alberto had done his best to
restore the painting of Our Lady of Pompei in the Jesuit church in
Valletta. He had introduced the devotion and put the painting.
Alberto died when away from home; he felt sick, got out of his
senses and lost a lot of blood. Guido carried him up the stairs and
put him in bed. While sick his mother used to tell him, ‘Albert,
trust in Our Lady and she will help you.’ On his part he told his
mother, ‘Mum it is in her that I trust.’
Their father and
mother insisted a lot on discipline and the conduct of their
children. They preferred to get lower marks in languages, etc., but
not in their conduct. They did not admit any excuse for misconduct.
They attended the
church celebrations and they were very recollected. Everyone of them
had the missal so that each one could follow.
It was the custom among some noble
families to give their children the first schooling at home. In fact
this is what was done even in the case of the De Piro family.
To add to this it was not considered by the De Piros as downgrading
that the children learn some trade or craft. The girls used to be
instructed by the maids and learnt sewing, embroidery, and
lace-making, while the boys learnt carpentry and other similar
trades. Joseph got the tinsmith trade.
Over and above this, several of the testimonies already mentioned
above confirmed that the parents were a strong example of both the
human and moral virtues to the offsprings.
At almost eleven years of age Joseph
began his secondary education at the Malta Lyceum in Valletta.
Fortunately we, members of the missionary Society of St Paul, still
have the many exercise books on which he used to put down the notes
of his lessons. From these same records one can say that De Piro was
very diligent in his work at school.
In the year 1894 he passed the
Matriculation examination and entered the Royal University of Malta.
He studied Arts and Sciences for the first three years. Having
finished this course he started reading Law, and this he did up to
1898, that is for just one year.
Member of the Royal Malta
Schooling was not the only activity
that Joseph was involved in during the early years of his youth.
Soon he joined the local Militia.
It is worth saying that the Maltese were never keen on having their
sons enrolled as soldiers. It was very hard to persuade Maltese
youths to serve
their country by doing this type of
work. To encourage them, the noble families on the Island decided to
send their own sons for some time as members of the military corps.
Joseph, not even fifteen, was one of the youths who did this. In
fact from the registers of the Royal Malta Militia one can know that
he began his term of service on 11 October 1892, and served up to 23
His discharge certificate attests that his conduct and character
On the physical side Joseph at the age of eighteen was 5 feet 7
inches (1.75m) tall, his eyes were bright brown, his hair light
brown and his general features were pleasant.
doubt the military training strengthened the formation Joseph got
from his parents, such as discipline, order, determination,
comradeship, a sense of loyalty ... and a love for his own
Member of the
Congregazione degli Onorati
While still at the
University of Malta and at the Royal Malta Militia, Joseph, aged 18,
was accepted, on 20 May 1895, as a member of the Congregazione
Mgr Arthur Bonnici
presented this Congregazione among those organisations which
practiced the Marian devotion.
In fact it was the first Marian Congregation in Malta.
It had the Assumption of Our Lady as patroness.
It was set up by the Jesuit Fathers for the Knights of St John of
Jerusalem in 1600. Its original seat was in the Jesuit College or
University, in Valletta, and was later removed to the Oratory
annexed to the same Church.
As time passed by, besides the Knights, there joined the
Congregazione several members of the highest strata of the
The members met for their weekly devotions and performed acts of
mercy and corporal penances.
- Drawing and
Since an early age
Joseph showed an artistic inclination.
During his secondary education at the Lyceum he distinguished
himself in drawing for which subject he gained several prizes.
A number of his childhood sketches still survive. His preferred
medium was the pencil and he practiced by sketching details from
such masters as Michelangelo, Raphael and Perugino. In these he paid
particular attention to shading. The sketches were often carefully
signed G. De Piro. Although some of Joseph’s sketches are
undated, they must have been carried out between 1889 and 1898.
picture, in colour, seems to have been painted for some church or
chapel. Entwined with flowers of all shapes and colours there are
painted the words Indulgentia Plenaria and the picture is
signed in full: De Piro-D’Amico Joseph. Lyceum, 1892.
In 1893 Joseph
took part in a drawing competition organised at the Governor’s
Palace. Joseph was rather late in handing in his drawing and had to
be reminded on the very closing date by Mr. R. Baden Powell, the
secretary of the Governor General. Joseph won first prize and
received the following congratulatory letter:
8 Jan. 93
My dear Joseph,
Herewith I send you a little prize for
your beautifully painted Fire Bucket. Yours was by far the best of
the 12 sent in for the competition, and I congratulate you and thank
you for having done it so well.
Yours truly - R. Baden Powell.
Joseph seemed to
have needed pushing to meet competition deadlines. On 4 July 1893, a
certain G. Calleja wrote to him reminding him of a drawing
competition that was to close on the l5 of the same month. Joseph
was to present two portraits which had been sketched at the Lyceum.
Young Joseph also participated in other activities at the Lyceum.
For example, in an extant letter he was reminded by a certain Julia
S. Gatt that he should take part in a tableaux vivants.
- De Piro’s call
to the priesthood
however, was planning otherwise; he was going to continue neither
the Law studies, nor his military activity, nor his drawing and
painting. At the age of fourteen, Joseph had already felt
himself drawn to the priesthood.
He shared this with his father. The latter seemed to have considered
him immature for such a responsible decision. Also, Joseph’s health
was giving rise to some concern. Moreover, with his University
studies leading him to a different profession altogether, he must
have undergone anxious moments of goal searching. The legal
profession, he felt, would enable him to help materially the poorer
sections of the population,
but the call for the priesthood remained undiminished within him.
Alexander, his father, tried his best to dissuade him. Jerome De
Piro, a nephew of Monsignor, said this to Br Aloisius Aloisio: “His
father never thought that his son would become a priest. Once Joseph
talked to his father and told him about his wish to become a priest.
His father immediately disapproved…”
Joseph was the
favourite child of the De Piro family. In addition, he was extremely
sociable and he loved company, and he was considered to be a most
eligible bachelor with his good looks and family background.
Jerome De Piro
continued saying that in order to test the sincerity of Joseph’s
vocation, his father “… invited his son to go to Florence to some
friends of theirs. Joseph did this… but when he returned he told his
father that he had not changed his mind about the priesthood: he
wished to become a priest.”
Events were soon to make Joseph’s strong desire possible.
- Death of
Early in 1898
Alexander and Ursola went on a trip to Italy. Alexander had a rather
delicate constitution and suffered from poor digestion. On 10
January he was suddenly taken ill in Rome and died soon afterwards,
Reflecting on the sudden death of his father, at the end of the same
year, 1898, Joseph, , wrote to his mother and his brothers and
L’altro anno secondo
il nostro modo di vedere, ci è stato sfortunato, dico così perchè
Iddio non opera che perfettamente e le sue azioni non possono essere
altro che ottime; e poi in quella circostanza siamo stati tanto
consolati, che non esito a dire che la nostra consolazione
sopraffece il dolore della sfortuna.
Joseph felt deeply
his father’s loss, but these words seem to indicate that he saw in
it God’s way of levelling his own road. Meditating on death, as a
result of his father’s passing away and the grevious illness of his
brother Berti, Joseph came to the conclusion that he could serve God
by becoming a priest. In the summer of 1897, his confessor had told
him not to give up. Now with his father’s death he could review his
He himself put down into
writing what made him think about his vocation:
L’aver da fanciullo questa
vocazione fino quasi al quattordicesimo anno.
Non essersi tale vocazione in me
per lungo tempo spenta negli susseguenti di mia vita.
Fino a che non si fece più viva
in me, nel principio dell’ estate passato, quando per primo la
confessai al mio confessore.
La meditazione della morte.
Sento che questo è il vero stato a cui sono vocato.
Il desiderio di darmi tutto a
Dio avendo Egli tanto sofferto pei miei peccati.
Il desiderio di camminare sulla
via della perfezione, e così non temere la morte, anzi considerarla
come il mezzo che ci reca alla vera felicità.
L’aver letto in S. Alphonso de
Liguori che egli era uscito dal mondo a 26 anni, ma sarà beato colui
che ne uscisse prima.
L’aver dopo riflessione trovato
essere questo lo stato più confacente alla mia natura.
La malattia di mio fratello.
La morte di mio padre.
Il sentirmi dover essere felice
in questo stato, in tutte le controversie quali fin ora m’incontraì
in questa vita.
And in fact:
Il giorno 8 Maggio ‘98, dopo una
novena alla V. di Pompei in cui la chiesi di farmi conoscere la vera
volontà di Dio: sentì la forza di decidere pel bene, cioè in favore
allo stato sacerdotale.
He immediately exposed
his ideas to his mother.
Knowing him quite well the latter was not surprised at all at the
sudden news. And being a really Catholic mother, Ursola encouraged
her son to begin without delay his studies of philosophy and
Coming from a rich noble family, money was not a problem at all.
Therefore it was thought that Joseph should be sent to Rome for his
studies. His father having died, there intervened his uncle who
consulted the Archbishop of Malta, Mgr P. Pace, about the idea.
Joseph De Piro was going to stay at the Capranica College and study
at the Gregorian University. Archbishop Pace even wrote a letter of
recommendation to Cardinal M. Rampolla, the Protector of the
Capranica, and to Mgr G. Coselli, the Rector.
Studies of philosphy and
theology in Rome
On 9 July 1898
Joseph collected the certificate of his studies from Malta’s
Director of Education. This document once again attests to Joseph’s
This is to certify that Mr. Joseph De
Piro D’Amico Inguanez, son of the late Noble Alessandro dei Marchesi
De Piro, after passing the Matriculation Examination in 1894 was
admitted as a regular student in the triennial Course of the Faculty
of Arts and Sciences of this University, wherein he studied Latin,
English and Italian Literatures, Intellectual and Moral Philosophy,
Mathematics, Physics and Political Economy.
that after passing
the Annual Examinations in the above subjects before the Special
Council of the above faculty,
he was admitted as a regular student in the Faculty of Laws, wherein
he attended from October 1897 to May 1898 the
courses of Civil,
Natural and Constitutional laws.
And that during the above period his
conduct was very good.
Given under the Seal of the University
of Malta on this 9th day of July in the year of Grace 1898.
Director of Education.
Joseph’s stay in
Rome is well-documented thanks to the regular correspondence he kept
with his mother.
On her part Ursola treasured and preserved all the letters she
received. These letters provide precious glimpses not only of the
events Joseph passed through, but also of the development of his
Joseph left Malta
by sea on 10 July 1898, bound for Syracuse, accompanied by his
youngest brother, Giovanni Pio. From there they took the train to
Rome, stopping only for a few hours at Messina. They arrived in Rome
two days later and on the 14 Joseph was already writing his first
letter to his mother.
On 13 July, Joseph
went to the Capranica College to meet the Rector, Mgr Coselli, whom
he described as a “Gentleman”.
To the latter he presented his certificates.
While talking to Mgr Coselli he admitted being rather weak in Latin,
whereupon the Rector suggested he should enter the Capranica on 22
August. During this period he was expected to undergo an intensive
course in Latin. Moreover, Mgr Coselli pointed out that this
two-month period would enable him to brush up his philosophy.
In Rome, Joseph
stayed with relatives until he could enter the Capranica. Actually
he did not enter on 22 August as had been suggested: on 24 August he
was writing that he was going to join in about 12 days’ time.
In the meantime,
on 24 July, Cardinal Rampolla had formally granted his approval to
prayers … but even projects
clearly suggest that he was passing through a worrying time. He was
certainly concerned about his mother’s health which he thought could
suffer as a result of her separation from a number of her children:
(24 - 8 - 98)
Borgo Vecchio 170
Stasera, poco fa, ho
ricevuto la tua lettera, la quale mi mise in pensiero sul tuo conto,
poichè dai calcoli che posso fare è già da tempo che ti senti male;
secondo me sarà la fatica dei nostri corredi, ma devi stare attenta
a non affaticarti più di quello che ti è permesso dalle tue forze.
Forse ti sarai inquietata un poco ancora vedendo approssimarsi la
partenza di Gino e Teresina.
Even before he
started his philosophy and theology, Joseph had a number of projects
in mind. Some of these projects were later to be realised.
At the same time Joseph’s health was in turn rousing worries to his
mother who kept insisting he should see a specialist.
On 5 September
1898 Joseph was admitted to the College, joining the philosophy
At that same time he enrolled at the Gregorian University to follow
a course of lectures in philosophy.
Here De Piro dedicated himself
wholeheartedly to his studies and did not lose any time:
Io, grazie a Dio
finora ghadni nferfer (reggo ancora), ho molto da studiare ed
il tempo dello studio mi sembra che sia un poco ristretto. Durante
la giornata non ci è un quarto libero, con sempre in fretta per fare
a tempo alla campana; se ci è un momento di ricreazione siamo tenuti
di farlo insieme e non possiamo andare in camera senza permesso;
perciò questa lettera deve essere breve perchè altrimenti non te la
manderò neanche oggi.
But Joseph had to continue experiencing
the serious problem of ill health. While still in Malta he had first
been taken sick in a rather grave way when he was supposed to sit
for the Matriculation examination.
During the first year at the Capranica it seems that he still had
some trouble. In fact on 5 April 1899 he wrote this to his mother:
Giorni sono ho fatto
vedere la mia gola a Petacci. Localmente mi prescrisse il borato di
soda, che lo applico per mezzo di uno spruzzatore o polverizzatore;
non so come meglio chiamarlo; certi è che il borato è in soluzione,
e poi internamente prendo il (fauler?) a goccie prima del pranzo; in
quanto al bocato mi sembra che qualche effetto ce l’ha; il fauler
(?) poi non so giusto quel che fà; ma spero che mi farà bene; il
termometro dell’appetito segna piuttosto bene, e questo credo che
sia un buon indizio.
Also, while De Piro was in
Malta for his first summer holidays the Rector of the Capranica, Mgr
Coselli, wrote to him referring to the actual good health of the
Servant of God:
Almo Collegio Capranicense
29 Agosto 1899
Mio Carmo De Piro,
Ho ricevuto la sua seconda graditissima
lettera, dalla quale rilevo che godete ottima salute. Faccio voti
affinchè il Signore si degni di rendervela lui che mai galiarda e
salusta, affinchè possiate un giorno lavorare indefessamente nella
mistica vigna del Signore e riportare in essa frutti
The Rector made a similar reference on
7 October of the same year: “Ho ricevuto la vostra carma lettera
dalla quale ho rilevato il vostro ottimo stato di salute.”
Even the following year Mgr Coselli mentioned again De Piro`s
health: “La vostra lettera mi è stata graditissima per le buone
notizie che mi dava della vostra salute.”
All this emphasis on the health of the Servant of God meant nothing
but a lack of it during Joseph’s stay at the Capranica in Rome!
To add to this, on
13 May 1899, Berti, one of Joseph’s brothers, died after a grievous
illness. During Berti’s illness Joseph had tried to fortify his
heartbroken mother. In a letter dated 5 April, he wrote to her: “…
ti debbo dire che il brontolare non è cosa buona; ma il pianto
offerto al Signore per le offese fattegli credo che sia di un merito
immenso; che un cuore afflitto pianga è cosa naturale, e quando
Iddio permette che ciò ci accada facciamo di esso gran tesoro.”
Joseph’s letter of
15 May, infused with the deep sadness of Berti’s death, is one of
15 Maggio 1899
Il meno che ti possa
consolare tra i fratelli credo che sono io, ma pazienza. Si vede che
Iddio e la Vergine non ci hanno dimenticato poichè ci offrono spesso
circostanze per manifestar sempre più la nostra fiducia in Loro. In
quanto a Berti possiamo ben dire e con ragione che sta meglio di noi
e che si trova in compagnia alle altre buone anime che ci lasciarono
prima di lui…
- Minor Orders
It was during Joseph’s first summer in
Malta, and precisely on 21 September 1899, that he received the
tonsure and the minor orders from the hands of Archbishop Peter
Pace. It was a private ceremony at His Excellency’s Palace, in
Joseph De Piro received the
subdiaconate on 14 February 1901.
With regards to his priestly studies we cannot say that Joseph was
unsuccessful, but at the same time he himself was not so much
satisfied. At the end of the second year of theology he sat for the
baccalaureate examination. Commenting on the results of this same
examination, Joseph said that they were not so much promising:
In fatto di
intelligenza non risplendo. Fin ora ho tirato avanti. Quando il
Signore mi chiamò allo stato ecclesiastico mi trovava al primo anno
di legge all’Università di Malta. Adesso faccio il terzo di Teologia
alla Gregoriana. L’esame per il baccellerato è andato maluccio, da
tre voti ho avuto due col vix; perciò tra quel che è in me ed il
rigore degli esami, la speranza di ulteriori gradi è molto ridotta.
In Diritto Canonico forse ci riesco di più. Siccome nelle mie
communioni una delle prime grazie che chiedo al Signore, è appunto
di farmi conoscere la sua volontà, credo che il rifiuto motivato, mi
sia stato da Lui suggerito.
The third year theology meant
for De Piro his ordinations to the diaconate and priesthood. In fact
he was ordained deacon on 21 December 1901, at the Basilica of St
John Lateran, in Rome, by Cardinal P. Respighi, the Vicar of Rome.
This time was very important
for Fr De Piro not only because he was nearing the priesthood, but
also because he had been thinking seriously about what to do after
being ordained priest. On the one hand he had been wishing to return
to Malta and live at St Joseph’s Orphanage, Santa Venera, together
with other priests, taking care of orphaned boys. This is what he
wrote in his Diary:
In sin dal mio primo anno di Collegio,
ho incominciato a vagheggiare l’idea di ritirarmi nella ‘Casa di San
Guseppe’ del Hamrun ed aiutare il Canonico Bonnici, fondatore della
Tornato a Malta, per le vacanze estive
fui alquando sorpreso nel sapere, che il Canonico Bonnici aveva
abbandonato la Casa da lui fondata e che alla sua direzione
trovavasi il Sac. D. Emmanuele Vassallo e D. Giorgo Bugeja.
Durante le stesse vacanze sono stato a
visitare il Vassallo alla Casa di San Giuseppe, ho fatto la sua
conoscenza, gli ho portato i saluti del Collegio essendo egli gia
Capranicese, e strinsi con lui amicizia.
1899 - 1900
Ho continuato a tenere relazioni con D.
Emmanuele e col Bugeja. (1)
As footnote he added these words:
(1) Durante le vaganze estive ho
esternato al Vassallo il mio desiderio di fargli compagnia nella
Casa di S. Giuseppe. Egli (come pure il P. Sammut dal quale sono
stato ad Acireale al Collegio Pennisi) mi consigliò di terminare gli
studi prima di tutto e poi si sarebbe veduto…
On the other hand he had been invited
by the Archbishop of Malta to continue his studies at the “Accademia
Ecclesiastica dei Nobili”, in order to make part of the
diplomatic corps of the Church.
Even the President of the “Accademia” tried to persuade De Piro
to continue the diplomatic studies.
The Servant of God wanted to do only God’s will and therefore,
“Nel breve ritiro
spirituale che si usa a fare al Capranica in principio dell’anno
scolastico, ho messo in esame le ragioni pro e contro per conoscere
se dovessi o no, terminati gli studi, portarmi alla Casa di
S. Giuseppe. Ho deciso, coll’ aiuto del P. Gualandi, per
l’affermativa, previo però il permesso del Vescovo.”
The same exercise
he did three months later:
Durante il ritiro spirituale in
preparazione a ben ricevere l’ordine del Diaconato, incominciato
l’11 Dicembre, 1901, ho messo in esame tutte le ragioni pro o contro
tanto per l’entrata all’Accademia, come pure l’entrata alla Casa di
S. Giuseppe; ed il risultato fu negativo per l’Accademia ed
affermattivo per la Casa di S. Giuseppe.
Here are the exact words of
Alcuni di famiglia desiderano
che io andassi, e si son offerti perfino di pagarmi la rata.
Lo stesso Presidente
dell’Accademia si è portato dal Rettore, e gli ha espresso il
desiderio che io andassi.
Perchè all’Accademia, finchè io
sappia, non ci vanno che quelli, i quali possono vantare una
Perchè all’Accademia, mi si
mette, come a dire, in mostra, per aver qualche posto; mentre è
dottrina certissima che Gesù predilige coloro, qui ament nesciri. E
siccome Egli allorchè determinò di eleggermi per suo ministro seppe
trovarmi tra il numero dei peccatori: così adesso se Egli ha
deliberato di me qualche altra cosa, a fortiori saprà trovarmi nel
numero dei suoi eletti, e non è necessario che io mi metta avanti e
cercar di farmi conoscere coll’andar all’Accademia.
Si recogito peccata mea, non mi
trovo degno che di bastonate; altro che prelature e posti
diplomatici!!! È già infinitamente troppo se arrivo ad essere
In fatto di intelligenza non
risplendo. Fin ora ho tirato avanti. Quando il Signore mi chiamò
allo stato ecclesiastico mi trovavo al primo anno di legge
all’Università di Malta. Adesso faccio il terzo di Teologia alla
Gregoriana. L’esame per il baccellerato è andato maluccio, da tre
voti ho avuto due col vix; perciò tra quel che è in me ed il rigore
degli esami, la speranza di ulteriori gradi è molto ridotta. In
Diritto Canonico forse ci riesco di più. Siccome nelle mie
communioni una delle prime grazie che chiedo al Signore, è appunto
di farmi conoscere la sua volontà, credo che il rifiuto motivato, mi
sia stato da Lui suggerito.
Perchè mi metto in pericolo di
desiderare posti, cariche ed onori; et qui vult periculum peribit in
Mentre all’ incontro, col
rifiutare di andare all’Accademia mi son messo al sicuro dal
desiderare e molto più dal domandare posti e cariche onorifici in
Perchè, secondo me, il Signore
ha permesso che io fossi tentato di andare all’Accademia, per
formare la mia fermezza della risoluzione che avea preso, perchè
giorni addietro, quale è quella di portarmi e stabilirmi nella Casa
di San Giuseppe previo il permesso del Vescovo.
Infatti allorchè per mezzo del
mio Rettore, mandaì al Presidente dell’Accademia la negativa,
sperimentaì grande consolazione nel pensare di aver scelto la corona
di spine con Gesù anzichè quella delle rose.
Casa di San Giuseppe.
CASA DI SAN GIUSEPPE.
Perchè un sentimento interno mi
dice, che Iddio da questo Istituto voglia formare a Malta una
Congregazione di Sacerdoti sotto il Patrocinio di San Paolo; e così
nel rendere stabile l’Opera a Malta si diffonda anche all’estero.
N.B. Questa ragione mi è stata
consigliata di sospederla, e lo faccio ben volentieri.
L’amore di vivere in communità
di persone ecclesiastiche e perciò sento dover essere contento in
compagnia dei due sacerdoti, che già stanno in direzione della Casa
di San Giuseppe.
Il desiderio di far penitenza
pei miei peccati particolarmente per quelli che sono stati di danno
Perchè stando in famiglia mi
metto in pericolo di attacarmi alle richezze; o che è certo
occuperanno gran parte dei miei pensieri e del mio tempo.
Perchè potrò imitare Gesù più da
Perchè troverò pronto il campo
di esercitare il mio ministero.
Perchè mi sarà facile esercitare
la virtù della povertà; quantunque senza voto, ed in qualche modo
anche quello dell’ubbidienza.
Perchè alla morte posso trovare
qualche conforto nel pensiero di aver sofferto un poco per Gesù
avendo Egli tanto sofferto pei miei peccati.
Fr. Joseph was ordained priest
on 15 March 1902, again
Basilica of St John Lateran. In Malta Fr Joseph celebrated
his first solemn Mass on Easter Sunday, 30 March 1902, at the
Cathedral in Mdina. Soon afterwards he returned to Rome to continue
his third year theology.
- The “Accademia
Ecclesiastica” issue put aside
Right from the
beginning of the offer of the “Accademia”, the Servant of God had
showed quite clearly that having been ordained priest his wish was
to return to Malta and do pastoral work there. In fact this is what
he told the rector of the Capranica when the latter told him that
the president of the “Accademia Ecclesiastica” went to the College
inviting young Joseph to go there for the diplomatic studies, “Io ho
risposto che terminati gli studi intendevo tornare in Diocesi ed
esercitare costì il mio ministero, e che perciò non trovavo ragione
di abbandonare il Capranica per recarmi all’Accademia; e così per il
momento la cosa terminò.”
Later on the
Servant of God expressed this opinion to the President of the
Il vescovo Mgr Pace,
sempre coll’idea di mandarmi all’Accademia mi aveva dato un
biglietto per il Presidente dell’Accademia.
Arrivato a Roma sono
stato dal presidente dell’Accademia col biglietto del Vescovo e gli
ho dichiarato che dovendo tornare in Diocesi terminati gli studi,
non intendevo perciò portarmi all’Accademia, e baciandogli la mano
mi sono concedato dicendogli che avrei scritto al mio Vescovo.
In fact Fr Joseph
wrote to the Archbishop: “… dandogli le mie ragioni per non andare
all’Accademia, dichiarandomi peraltro pronto ad ubbidirlo. Egli però
mi rispose dicendomi che non intendeva forzare la mia volontà.”
Archbishop did not want to force the “Accademia” on De Piro the
issue was put aside for ever.
- Poor health
Reference has already been made to the
problems of De Piro’s poor health during his studies.
When back in Rome to finish his third year theology, he fell sick
Il 10 Luglio (1902) mi
sono sentito male e per la seconda volta (la prima era il 19 luglio
1900) ho veduto andare in aria tutte le mie buone intenzioni. Fiat!
Il Signore guarda alla buona volontà.
Dichiarato dal medico
affetto di tubercolosi polmonare ...
It was therefore providential
that Archbishop Pace had asked that De Piro should be ordained
priest before the proper date.
Officially De Piro
terminated his course at the Capranica on 23 July 1902.
Of the few comments about him in the College archives we find these
words: “… d’indole mitissima, molto pio, lasciò cara memoria di se.”
- At Davos,
In the letter written on 24
August 1898, that is before his starting his studies in Rome, the
Servant of God shared with his mother his plans for his future
Secondo i calcoli incalcolabili che ho
fatto; se non morrò probabilmente canterò messa da qui ad altri
quattro anni; poichè più di due anni di filosofia non credo che mi
faranno fare, e poi dopo due anni di teologia credo che mi
lasceranno cantarla. Pregate a S. Tommaso d’Aquino che mi intercede
la grazia di aprirmi un poco la mente, ed allora forse un anno di
filosofia sarà sufficiente, ed allora potremo fare più presto; ho
detto S. Tom: poichè questo è il nostro protettore assegnatoci in
particolar modo da Leone XIII (che non abbiam ancora potuto vedere)
in una delle sue prime encicliche. Il corso di teologia è di quattro
anni e poi quello di diritto canonico è di tre cosichè se ancor ben
faccio l’addizione mi pare che fino a 30 anni trovo da studiare.
This plan was made up of ten
years of study. In fact he did not succeed in finishing even half of
them; he had to miss completely even the fourth year theology at the
Gregorian University. Returning to Malta at the end of July, 1902,
he prepared to go to Switzerland to recover his health there,
“… ho abbandonato gli studi, mi son portato a Malta, da dove dopo
pochi giorni sono partito per la Svizzera per la cura d’aria …”
From a letter sent to him by
his brother Gwido, who was in Louvain, Belgium, studying medicine,
one can conclude that Fr. Joseph was getting better after a short
seemed to have been in continuous contact with Gwido; the latter
seemed to have been well informed about Joseph’s health improvement,
“… perciò prima di tutto ti auguro un anno felice e sano e un
subito ritorno a Malta ed in seguito mi gratulo con te della tua
In fact the Servant of God
planned to return to Malta in January 1904.
Yet he left Davos
some time after that and was back in
Malta on 2 March of that same year.
While the first
twenty seven years of De Piro’s life were indeed private, the twenty
years that followed were completely different. In them he was more
than a full time priest, involved in the various ministries of the
local Church. He was the citizen who gave a big share for his
country’s development and well being. He was more than a benefactor
to the many poor children and wretched grown ups of Malta and Gozo.
And God chose him to be the Founder of the Missionary Society of St
parishpriest at the Qrendi Parish, Malta
Although at Davos, the Servant of God
was almost completely cured from his illness he had to spend some
time in convalescence even when back in Malta. In fact he went to
Qrendi, a village where the De Piro family had one of its summer
There Fr. Joseph went for rest, but things turned out to be
different: he was attentive on his health, but at the same time he
was also quite involved in pastoral work. Louis Galea, Joseph
Brincat and Angelo Falzon, three witnesses who were asked to give
their testimony in the Diocesan Process of the Cause of Canonisation
of the Servant of God, said that each day, early in the morning, De
Piro went to the Parish Church for the six o’clock mass.
De Piro had his own confessional in the
aisle of the Church and he used to sit in it hearing confessions
both before and after mass.
Not to mention the many other moments when he did the same thing. He
was so much sought for this ministry that even after leaving the
Parish, he went regularly to Qrendi to offer his service.
Fr De Piro realised that it was
not only the laity who needed help in their growth. Priests had to
continue strengthening that formation which they would have received
in the seminary. A certain Mgr John Baptist Ghigo referred to the
fact that when in Qrendi De Piro had planned an initiative in favour
of the ongoing formation of the priests of the nearby parishes:
After he was ordained
priest and came from abroad, he chose to go and stay in Qrendi,
because he was not feeling well. There he showed his priestly zeal;
he was very active and also was responsible for the Church’s proxy.
He started first by gathering together the priests of the area:
Luqa, Mqabba, Zurrieq, Qrendi and Kirkop, in the Church dedicated to
St John the Evangelist, at Hal Millieri, for sermons given by some
It was only because Fr Joseph
had to leave the Qrendi Parish that this project was stopped.
contribution of De Piro at Qrendi was strengthened all the
more by his exemplary life. Witnesses
say that De Piro was often seen saying the Breviary in the garden of
the house where he was staying.
When going from some part of the Village to the other he used to
carry a big rosary beads in his hands in order to say this Marian
At Qrendi the parishioners are to this day divided in
two parties, one supporting the feast of Our Lady Assumed into
Heaven and the other that of Our Lady of Lourdes. Even at the time
of the Servant of God these two parties were very strong, and
especially at the time of the respective feasts their members used
to cause a lot of trouble to each other. Each party even tried to
involve both the parishpriest and the other clergy of the parish.
Louis Galea testified that De Piro always kept away from these
“De Piro never got involved in the
parties there are in Qrendi and which existed even in my time. Nor
did they ever involve him. Even the supporters used to say that they
would not approach him for he was a good man and would not be
involved in the parties.”
The witnesses from Qrendi all agreed
about De Piro’s charity. Louis Galea said this,“He was a charitable
priest. Charity was the hallmark of both the Monsignor and his
family. The people in need often asked each other: ‘Have you been to
the De Piros?’”
Joseph Brincat referred to the charity
De Piro lived in Qrendi and even elsewhere, “Mgr De Piro was a
person of great charity. Besides Qrendi, he was involved in many
projects of beneficence and charitable institutions. I hear the
people of Qrendi mention the Monsignor for this charity.”
Angelo Falzon confirmed the above and
said that De Piro was very discreet in his charity,“Monsignor was
very charitable. At that time there were many beggars, none the less
at Qrendi. These used to go a lot to De Piro and he used to help
them. Many a time he helped secretly.”
- Procurator of
the Confraternity of Our Lady of Consolation, Qrendi
On 20 September 1909 Fr Alphonse
Tabone, parishpriest of Qrendi, wrote to the Archbishop of Malta,
Mgr Peter Pace, telling him that on 18 April 1909 Fr Joseph De Piro
was nominated and elected procurator of the Confraternity of Our
Lady of Consolation.
Tabone also asked the Archbishop to confirm the Servant of God
in this responsibility.
His Excellency sent his approval on 23 November 1909.
Apostolico of the Franciscan Minors Convent, Rabat, Malta
Wherever they were
and since the beginning of their existence until a few years ago the
Franciscan Minor Friars were not allowed to administer their own
mobile or immobile property. Instead, they nominated what they
called the Sindaco Apostolico. This person, who did not make
part of the Franciscan community , province or Order, was always a
well off person, and at the same time was a trustworthy individual.
He had the duty to administer all types of property and was also
expected to keep in order all the documents related to the same.
Every month he had to give any money needed by the entity he
represented, and he had to give a monthly report of his
administration to the sostituto sindaco apostolico.
Mgr Joseph De Piro
was one of the sindaci apostolici of the Franciscan Minors
community in Rabat, Malta. It was not possible for me to find out
exactly when he started and when he ended up this minsitry. All I
can say is that in the De Piro Archives there were found three
letters related to this service; the first one is dated 21 August
1906 and the last one 22 February 1907.
- Canon of the
If one were
to make reference to the above mentioned ‘Reasons in favour and
against’ which De Piro
put in writing in relation to his going to the “Accademia
Ecclesiastica” or St Joseph’s Institute, one finds amongst others
these words against his going to the “Accademia”:
Perchè all’Accademia, finchè io
sappia, non ci vanno che quelli, i quali possono vantare una buona
Perchè all’Accademia, mi si
mette, come a dire, in mostra, per aver qualche posto; mentre è
dottrina certissima che Gesù predilige coloro, qui ament nesciri.
E siccome Egli allorchè determinò di eleggermi per suo ministro
seppe trovarmi tra il numero dei peccatori: cosi` adesso se Egli ha
deliberato di me qualche altra cosa, a fortiori saprà trovarmi nel
numero dei suoi eletti, e non è necessario che io mi metta avanti
e cercar di farmi conoscere coll’andar all’Accademia.
This reference can
be considered as a clear sign of De Piro’s humility. He was only
twentyfour years when he wrote these words, but he kept to this
frame of mind all his life. In fact he showed this very attitude
when he found out that he was going to be made canon of the Mdina
As every other
mother, Ursola De Piro wished her children to achieve success in
life. In October 1910 she approached Fr Michaelangelo Pace,
secretary to the Archbishop of Malta, and asked his help on her
behalf, so that her son Joseph might be appointed canon of the
At that time the Servant of God was barely 33 years old, and only a
few years had passed since his priestly ordination. Fr Michaelangelo
knew only too well how zealous and exemplary Joseph De Piro was, and
courteously promised Ursola De Piro to do all he could to help her
realise her desire.
kept his promise. At that time the Dean of the Cathedral, Mgr
Vincent Vassallo, who was 73 years old, had been unwell for months.
The Archbishop’s secretary thought it was opportune to advise His
Excellency to persuade the Dean to ask for a Coadjutor in the person
of Fr Joseph De Piro.
The latter was unaware of these designs when the Archbishop made the
proposal to the Dean on 6 November, 1910. The appointment would be
an important choice, for the dean was subject only to the archdeacon
of the Chapter.
On 7 November Fr
Michaelangelo gave De Piro the news, and he was the first to
congratulate him, adding that his new assignment was still strictly
confidential, as the appointment was not yet official:
7 Nov 1910
Molto Revdo Signore,
Ho l’alto onore in
piacere di dirle sotto sigillo di confessione che Sua Eccza Revma
Mgr Vescovo è stato ieri da Mgr Canco Decano della Cattedrale a
proporre V.S. Molto Revda per suo Coadiutore ed è già tutto
combinato ciò servirà per di lei norma. Tanti sinceri auguri.
Intanto con sensi di
perfetta stima rinnovo i miei auguri qual sono.
Devmo Servo ed Amico
Sac: Angelo Pace,
Joseph discovered that his mother had been behind the whole plot,
and frankly and humbly told her he did not approve of it:
Mother, you know I have always obeyed you, but I beg you not to
speak to the Archbishop about me, asking him to grant me these high
Church dignities. I wish to remain a priest without any honours; for
me the priesthood is the highest honour. If you wish me to be a
Monsignor at the Cathedral, I am sorry I cannot obey you.
On 11 November, De
Piro wrote to Fr Michaelangelo the following words,
beg you to present my thanks to the Archbishop for wanting to
promote me to these high honours. Please do me the favour of
informing the Archbishop that the honours offered are not suitable
for me due to the work I have started, and I do not have to mention
any other reason. It is impossible for me to accept.
Despite the secrecy entailed, the plan
had by now developed in a more concrete way. The Dean of the
Cathedral surprised De Piro with a visit on January 1911, and De
Piro was informed that all had been definitely concluded. The one
formality still required was the approval of the Governor of Malta,
Sir Leslie Rundle. This last step had already been made privately,
and although the official letter had not been written, De Piro knew
that the Governor had approved his appointment.
De Piro was firm
in the resolutions made ten years before. He courteously thanked
Monsignor Dean for having thought of him, but his conscience forbade
him to accept this appointment. He explained in detail to the
Archbishop adding that he felt unworthy and not capable of
undertaking the duties of the office offered him. De Piro feared the
precedent he might be creating for the members of his Society. He
explained to the Archbishop he did not wish his spiritual sons to
aspire to worldly honours. Should he accept to be Dean of the
Cathedral, how would he have the courage to present himself to his
young members, and persuade them to shun worldly honours?
Giorni sono è stato da
me Monsignor Decano per informarmi che riguardo l’affare della
Coadiutoria tutto era sistemato, che la mia nomina era stata già
raccomandata da V.E. e che il Governatore era già pronto a mandare
fuori il ‘Warrant’. Tutto ciò mi ha confuso non poco, però nel
ringraziare Monsignor Decano non ho esitato a dichiarargli che in
conscienza non potevo accettare e che qualora V.E. avesse insistito
avrei solo ceduto di fronte ad un ordine preciso di obbidienza.
Ora oltre la mia
indegnità ed incapacità umilmente sottopongo alla prudente ed
illuminata considerazione di V.E. che l’occupare simili posti
onorifici, come appunto sono i canonicati della Cattedrale è contro
lo spirito del Nouvo Piccolo Istituto per le missioni Estere, e che
io dovessi accettare la nomina propostami mi sarebbe difficile
l’insinuare ai membri dell’Istituto il distacco da simili onori.
Pertanto spero che
V.E., veduta la ragionevolezza del mio riferito, non insisterò. In
ogni modo lascio alla coscienza di V.E. tutta la responsabilita`
Da ultimo al bacio del
Sacro Anello umilmente Le chiedo la Benedizione ed ho l’onore di
Dell’E V Revma
Umilmo ed Ubbmo Servo
Sac Giuseppe De Piro
17 gennaio 1911
De Piro confided
in his Archbishop, but in his authentic spirituality he was fully
aware that obedience to his Superiors was more important than the
practice of humility. He still hoped to evade the assignment and he
wrote to his Archbishop. Thus he made the last effort to decline,
but placed himself in the hands of his Archbishop, ready to obey his
orders. Two days later, on l9 January 1911, the Archbishop replied
on the same letter De Piro had written:
19 gennaio 1911
V.S. non ha mai
cercato ne posti , ne promozioni. Prenda quindi dalle mani di Dio la
proposta, e l’accetti per mia obbedienza. Al resto penserà il
Signore, il quale come ha cominciato l’opera non la … perfezionarla.
Intanto … La benedico,
mentre …di …benevolenza ne raffirmo
Di Lei D.Giuseppe …
At this time De Piro’s mother developed
a guilt complex about it, and she told the Archbishop that her son
was not ready to accept the dignity of Monsignor. But the Archbishop
was firm in his decision, knowing that the Servant of God was most
suited to the position he would occupy.
De Piro bowed his head to the wishes of
the Archbishop, knowing these manifested the will of God, and waited
for the necessary formalities to be concluded. The Governor, Sir
Leslie Rundle, on 25 February 1911, officially informed the
Archbishop that due to the age and ill-health of the Dean, Mgr
Vincenzo Vassallo, it was necessary for him to be aided by a
Coadjutor. He also added that he, the Governor, was presenting the
Servant of God as Coadjutor to the Dean with right of succession.
On 11 March 1911 Rundle wrote to De Piro and told him more or less
what he had told the Archbishop.
The application to the Archbishop by De Piro followed.
On the same day Mgr Vassallo was informed of the acceptance of De
Piro and the warrant was granted. Mgr Vassallo received the
information from the Office of the Crown Advocate, Dr. V. Frendo
Before the issue of the relative decree from Rome, Mgr Paul Gauci,
General Secretary at the Archbishop’s Curia, informed De Piro that
he had been accepted by the Concistorial Congregation as Coadjutor
to the Dean.
By decree of Pope Pius X, Fr Joseph was to enjoy by right whatever
concerned the Dean’s office, to represent him and fulfil his
From then on, much against his inmost desire, De Piro was addressed
as Monsignor Joseph De Piro.
For many the title
of Monsignor meant prestige and honour. For De Piro it signified
much more than that. First of all the canons of the Cathedral had
their liturgical duties at the Cathedral: the Conventual Mass, the
singing of the Lauds, Hours and Vespers and the celebration of
feasts, which at that time were not that infrequent.
Also, De Piro’s times were those when the Cathedral Chapter was for
the Archbishop what is nowadays the Presbyterial Council, His
Excellency’s consultative body, his senate and council.
Although in 1911 the Servant of God was not yet loaded with the many
responsibilities he had to carry in the coming years, the liturgical
duties and the Chapter meetings were still a big burden for him.
- Effective Member of the
General Committee of the XXIV International Eucharistic Congress
A dar principio ai
lavori Mgr Arcivescovo nominò un Comitato Generale, in cui oltre
l’intero Capitolo della Diocesi, figuravano distinte persone, scelte
dalle classi diverse della popolazione. Un altro Comitato era
composto di Signori, oltre varie sotto comitati ai quali vennero
deferiti speciali incarichi …
The words above
refer to the nominations of the members of the committees which
organised the International Eucharistic Congress held in Malta in
1913. The main committee had the President, the Effective Vice
Presidents and the Effetive
De Piro was among the last group. The Servant of God was chosen
because he made part of the Capitular Chapter of the Cathedral. He
was also chosen because he was the Director of Fra Diegu Institute,
Without doubt the
Servant of God participated in the celebrations which were held
during this International Eucharistic Congress,
but I was not able to find out what was the paticular contribution
of De Piro during these days. From a letter written to De Piro by
Mgr Alphonse Carinci, Rector of the Capranica and assistant of the
Cardinal Legate of the Pope, Dominic Ferrata, we know that De Piro
was involved in the arrangements for the Legate to celebrate a
pontifical mass at the Cathedral in Mdina.
From this same letter we know that the Servant of God had invited
the Cardinal Legate to the De Piro family Palace in Mdina,
an invitation we know that the Cardinal accepted.
- Co-rector of
the Manresa Retreat House, Floriana, Malta
This House, in
Floriana, Malta, had also a church and both of them were dedicated
to the Blessed Virgin Mary of Manresa. It was also known as St
Calcedonius House. It was mainly used for the retreats of the
secular and regular clergy. De Piro was chosen, on 5 May 1913, by
the Archbishop, together with Canon Aloisius Attard as co - rector
of this House.
The two priests seemed to be responsible for all the aspects of this
House. Besides the day to day running they seem to have been the
administrators even of the property related to it.
- Director of
the Associazione Sacerdoti Adoratori
seems to have been founded in Turin, Italy. In Malta there was one
of its branches. When Fr Joseph Borg, the director of the Malta
branch, died, Archbishop Peter Pace, on 16 August 1913, nominated
Mgr Joseph De Piro for the post
and “…pro bono regimine et augmento eiusdem Piae Associationis inter
Prebyteros huius Meliten Diocesis…”
According to the programme of the Parrochial Eucharistic Congress
held in Rabat, Malta, between 11 and 18 June 1933, the Servant of
God was still the director of this Sodality until that year.
- Secretary of
Archbishop Mauro Caruana
If one were to go to the Archives of
the Archbishop’s Curia and get the section where there is preserved
the correspondence to and from Archbishop Mauro Caruana one would
notice that the very first letter of His Excellency, dated 3 March
1915, was addressed to the Governor General, Field Marshal Lord
Methuen. But for those who study De Piro it is all the more
interesting because after mentioning the choice of Bishop Angelo
Portelli as his Vicar General, Caruana also informed the Governor
that he had chosen Mgr Joseph De Piro as his Secretary. The decree
of nomination was written on 2 March 1915.
This three year
(1915-1918) contribution of De Piro to the Archdiocese may be
considered by many as rather insignificant. There was no room for
Monsignor to practice his creativity and energy. It may be so, but
it is as much true that this was an occasion where the Servant of
God could show his precision at work: he was very quick in answering
all correspondence which came to his desk.
During these three years he also showed his dedication to the
Archbishop. But this period was particularly important for De Piro’s
contact with the Maltese who had migrated to other countries and
with the priests who were working among them.
It was before the 1915-1918 years that Monsignor first thought about
the Maltese emigrants,
but the letters he received as His Excellency’s Secretary made De
Piro more conscious of the urgent situation of his conationals
living abroad. The Servant of God did his best to find some other
diocesan or religious priest to go with the migrants.
- Member of the
Commission for the formation of young priests
It has already
been said that at the time spent in Qrendi, Fr Joseph had planned a
project for the formation of priests in the nearby parishes.
During the time as secretary to the Archbishop, De Piro was involved
in another initiative in favour of the formation of the clergy. His
Excellency Mauro Caruana was noticing that, being the years after
the First World War, Malta was in a state of unsettlement and
therefore the newly ordained priests were meeting difficulties when
from the Seminary they were finding themselves in the pastoral
activities. To help these young priests, the Archbishop set up a
Commission made up of several more experienced presbyters:
D. MAURO CARUANA
DELL’ORDINE DI S. BENEDETTO
PER GRAZIA DI DIO E DELLA S. SEDE
ARCIVESCOVO DI RODI VESCOVO DI MALTA
ALLA MEDESIMA S. SEDE IMMEDIATAMENTE
Impensieriti in sull’inizio del nostro
pastorale ministero intorno all’obbligo grave, che ci incombe, di
santificare questo gregge, della Divina Provvidenza affidato alle
nostre cure e di mantenere saldo nella mente e nel cuore dello
stesso il regno di Gesu` Cristo, fondato dall’Apostolo San Paolo,
crediamo proprio di rivolgere l’opera nostra a favore del Clero.
Niente infatti, come
leggiamo nel S. Concilio di Trento, è tanto necessario alla santità
dei Fedeli quanto la santità del Clero “Nihil est quod alios magis
ad pietatem et Dei cultum assidue instruat quam eorum vita et
exemplum, qui se divino ministerio dedicaverunt: quum enim a rebus
saeculi in altiorem sublati locum conspiciantur, in eos tamquam in
speculum reliqui oculus coniiciant, ex iisque sumunt quod imitentur.
Sess. XXII Cap. I De Reform.
Ci gode l’animo
rilevare che per la sollecitudine dei nostri Predecessori la Diocesi
è ben provvista di due seminari, per i grandi l’uno e l’altro per i
piccoli. Ed entro le sacre mura di questi due istituti i chiamati
nella sorte del Signore, sotto una vigilante osservanza ed
un’accurata disciplina, vengono insin dai primi anni educati nella
scienza e nella pietà, e così imparano a praticare quella santità di
vita che li rende sale della terra e luce del mondo.
In verità ciò che
maggiormente ci preoccupa ed accresce le nostre ansie, non è già il
giovane ecclesiastico, finchè perdura la sua dimora in seminario, ma
egli è il novello Levita, il quale per aver compito gli anni di
Seminario, trovasi costretto, ancor fresco dell’ordinazione, di
lanciarsi in mezzo ai pericoli del mondo. Ed è perciò che noi ci
determiniamo di nominare una Commissione composta da sacerdoti
esperti ed esemplari, la quale vada studiando i mezzi per venire in
aiuto, difendere ed indirizzare nella vita pubblica i giovani
sacerdoti particolarmente alla loro prima uscita di Seminario.
Nel ritenere a Noi la
Presidenza, ci è grato affermare che molte sono le persone
appartenenti al Nostro Clero e che potrebbero aver parte in questa
Commissione; però pel presente abbiamo creduto di formarla come
Noi intanto sostenuti
dall’aiuto di Dio e fiduciosi nella protezione della Beata Vergine e
dell’ Apostolo San Paolo ci sentiamo pieni di speranza, che l’opera
di una tale Commissione abbia un esito felice e sia coronata da un
buon successo, di retta com’è tutta quanta al bene di questa Nostra
+ Mauro Arciv. Vesc.
Dato dal nostro
Palazzo di Notabile nel giorno dei SS. Apostoli Pietro e Paolo,
Mgr Joseph De Piro
was first in the list of the members of the Commission.
of the Commission for the temporary administration of the Major
Seminary, Mdina, Malta
On 5 July 1916
Archbishop Mauro Caruana nominated Mgr Joseph De Piro deputy in the
Commission for the temporal administration of the Seminary.
As its own name indicates this Commission was responsible for the
temporal aspect of the life of the Seminary.
- Rector of the
Major Seminary, Mdina, Malta
It was because he was going to
be entrusted with another responsibility that De Piro’s services as
secretary to the Archbishop came to an end. On 30 September 1918
Archbishop Mauro Caruana nominated De Piro, Rector of the Major
Seminary, at Mdina:
Dei et Apostolicae
Rhodiensis Episcopus Melitensis
EIDEM SANCTAE SEDI
Nos perfecte noscentes
doctrinam qua polles, probitatem morum, plurimaque merita in hanc
Nostram Dioecesim praesertim illud muneris et officii Nostri a
Secretis Generalis, quod usque nunc gessisti non tantum cum Nostra
satisfactione ac probationem, sed etiam omnium qui opera tua hos in
munere usi sunt, Te, Illum. et Revmum. Dnum. Josephum e Marchionibus
De Piro Navarra Can. Decanum Coadiutorem Nostrae S. Cathedralis
Ecclesiae eligimus et nominamus in Rectorem Nostri Ven. Magni
Seminarii a S.Paulo Apostolo Civitatis Notabilis, cum omnibus
juribus, honoribus et facultatibus huic muneri et officio adnexis.
Datum ex Pal. Archiep.
Civ. Vallettae dic 30 Septembris 1918
Archiep. Epies Melit.
Aloisius Can Theol
persons interviewed by Aloisius Aloisio there was Fr George Cassar,
a priest who had been a seminarian during De Piro’s rectorship. This
Cassar emphasised the humanity with which Monsignor behaved when
relating with the seminarians:
He was never angry at us, but he always
admonished us with kindness. Before correcting us he always laughed.
When you asked him for something he always gave it to you
immediately…When the examinations were near we preferred to go to
John Mary’s field, under Saqqajja Hill, instead of going for walks.
We enjoyed staying under the shade of the trees to study and at the
same time to enjoy the fresh air. Once there was John Mary, the
farmer, who had wicker baskets full of fruits which he had just
picked up. Gently he encouraged us to take as much as we wanted. In
a split of a second we dismantled him of all the fruit. All we left
him with was one wicker basket. You can imagine how angry was the
poor farmer. As soon as we returned to the Seminary we found John
Mary talking to the Rector. We were shocked. As soon as the Rector
saw us he told us, ‘Can you come here, you gentlemen! John Mary has
just told me what you have done after he has been so kind to you.
What are we going to do now?’ One of us stood up and said, ‘We will
all offer some money to make up for the fruit taken.’ ‘No, no. go
away. I will try to fix everything myself,’ said the Rector. When
later I went to the Rector’s room, he asked me, ‘Can you tell me
what had happened to John Mary?’ When I explained to him what had
happened he really laughed heartily and could not stop. I curiously
asked him, ‘How did it end up with him?’ ‘We have fixed everything.
I know him well,’ answered the Rector. The day after they all agreed
to go back there and there was John Mary as well. ‘May we take
fruit?’ we asked him. ‘Take as much as you want, because I made a
very good deal with the Rector,’ answered John Mary. ‘Why?’ we asked
him. ‘He gave me double the price of the fruit,’ answered John Mary.
especially the acolytes, when at the altar service, used to drip the
candles at the stairs of the altar before going out. One of the
senior Monsignori, Louis Camilleri by name, noticed this and
grumbled a lot about it. Once, while he visited the Seminary, he
found the Rector admonishing us about something we had done. ‘Well,’
said Mgr Camilleri, ‘Once we are here I need to tell you what I
observed them doing.’ The Rector answered him in a laughing manner,
‘I side with them in this matter.’ ‘Why?’ asked Camilleri. ‘Because
they are wise in caring for their cassock,’ answered the Rector. ‘It
is quite expensive and the seminarian of course should not spend a
lot of money. They have to wear the cassock especially when they go
to St John’s Co Cathedral. And you know that a cassock costs a lot
Mgr Antonio Galea, ex provost of St
Philip at Senglea, was the Vice Rector of the seminary at the time
of De Piro. After the story of the fjakkoli we met De Piro and told
him what happened. He really laughed at it. “He is rich,” he told
us, “He has a lot.”
He was never angry at us. He used to be
sad but he never expressed what he felt in any way or other. He used
to admonish us but he was never angry at us; he always corrected us
in a loving way.”
also to the spirituality of the Rector:
I was the sacristan at
the Seminary, and as sacristan I went often to the Rector. Often,
when I went to the Rector’s room I frequently found him saying the
Rosary or meditating. Sometimes he used to signal me not to speak to
him and disturb him. He used to ask me to be there later. He always
carried the rosary in his hand. He loved using the white Rosary.
And there was
mention of the special devotion of the Servant of God to St Joseph:
Once I entered the Rector’s room and
noticed that St Joseph’s picture was put in the opposite position,
facing the wall. Everytime I went there I found it in the same
position and I wanted to know why the picture was facing the wall.
In fact I asked the Rector, ‘Why is the picture facing the wall?’
‘It is like that as a punishment,’ answered De Piro. ‘St Joseph,
punished?’ asked I. ‘What did he do?’ ‘He will remain like that
until he grants me the grace I have been praying for,’ replied the
Rector. And when the grace would be granted, St Joseph would have
his punishment ended and would be facing the outside as usual.
But special reference must be
made to an eleven page report which the Servant of God prepared
before terminating his office of rector and which he sent to the
Archbishop on 27 August 1920. Apart from the fact that he had to
spend much time in preparing it, it shows quite clearly that
Monsignor was very much informed about the many aspects of the
And this at a time when he was already busy with other duties.
- Member of the
Camera Pontificia Maltese
On 23 May 1920, the secretary
of this Camera wrote to Mgr De Piro telling him that the day before
its members met and unanimously agreed to choose him as an effective
- Dean of the
Metropolitan Chapter, Malta
At the Cathedral there was a fixed
number of Canons
and it was only when there was a vacancy that one was nominated for
In the case of De Piro it was Mgr Vincent Vassallo who was to be
replaced. But the latter was also the Dean of the Metropolitan
Chapter. This meant that the Servant of God was to take sooner or
later Vassallo’s place even in this latter responsibility.
In fact the ceremony of the conferment of the deanery was celebrated
at the Cathedral, Mdina, Malta, on 24 November 1920.
Again, the deanery might have been
considered as an honour to look for. But it was not in fact only
this. As regards the liturgical celebrations the Dean had all the
duties as the other canons.
Besides these, he had to preside over all Chapter meetings. Here one
must remember that the Chapter was in those days what the
Presbyterial Council is nowadays for the Archbishop.
Therefore the canons had to meet frequently to discuss many matters
of importance. Besides the Chapter sessions themselves the members
were expected to do even their homework! As dean, Mgr De Piro had to
lead delegations to the Archbishop. Since the Chapter was the
consultative body to the Archbishop, these delegations were quite
frequent. Furthermore, because the relations between Church and
State were wider in De Piro’s times there were more occasions when
there was need of some delegation from the side of the Church to go
to the government. And Mgr De Piro was supposed to head these
parishpriest of the Gudia Parish, Malta
The Servant of God was not destined to
spend his life working in a parish. After his stay at Qrendi,
Archbishop Pace entrusted him with another completely different duty
in the Archdiocese, for which he had to leave the Parish. At the
same time in 1922 De Piro was asked to give, for a short while, a
helping hand in another parish, this time the Gudia one.
It happened that in this village the
parishioners were divided in two, one group supporting the main
feast while the other favoured the secondary one.
These two parties had been in trouble for a rather long time, but in
the year 1922 the conflict reached its climax, so much so that the
parish priest abandoned the place and the church was closed on
The Archbishop did his best to find someone to take over, but
knowing the situation no one dared to
After one month, the Archbishop thought of De Piro as a temporary
solution; on 11 July 1922 His Excellency chose De Piro as his
special delegate for the administration of the Gudja Parish.
Monsignor was again ready to obey. In spite of the adverse situation
in the parish and the many other duties already at his back, De Piro
went immediately and succeeded in getting peace among the
parishoners. So much so that those parishioners who had been so
angry for the members of the other party, for the Archbishop’s Curia
and for the Archbishop himself, wrote to the latter a very
18 Sda Sta Maria
19 Luglio 1922
Noi qui sotto firmati a nome di tutti i
nostri compaesani, ma in specie di quelli che furono citati dinanzi
alla Corte per causa dell’ incidente occorso nell’ ultima festa e
che sfortunamente fu causa di tanti dispiaceri. La ringraziamo di
tutto cuore, per la Tua grande bontà nell’ aver interceduto presso
il Governo per la sospensione della causa già in corso, e così
liberato i nostri fratelli da ulteriori incomodi e dispiaceri; per
la qualcosa ci sentiamo spinti non solo a ripetere i nostri
ringraziamenti ma più ancora a protestarci assai dolenti per l’
accaduto e promettiamo di fare tutto il nostro possibile ad evitare
in avvenire qualunque occasione che possa condurci a tali eccessi
non solo ma ancora cercheremo di distogliere gli altri nel caso vi
saranno, e tener sempre la pace, e così con l’ aiuto del Buon Dio e
della Sua amatissima Madre Assunta in Cielo possiamo in avvenire
vivere in pace come veri fratelli aiutandosi e amandosi
veri suoi figli in Gesù Cristo ringraziandolo nuovamente e chiedendo
la Sua paterna benedizione ci dichiariamo sempre pronti ad obbedire.
After a few weeks in Gudia De
Piro could leave the Parish and let the newly appointed parishpriest
- Cooperator in the
foundation and growth of Maltese religious congregations
The Daughters of the Sacred Heart
On 31 December
1919 the Daughters of the Sacred Heart, founded in Malta by Maria
Teresa Nuzzo in 1903, invited Mgr De Piro to help them with his
reflections about the last day of the year.
Although for its days of reflection a religious community generally
invited preachers who knew its members well, in itself this
invitation did not necessarily mean that the Servant of God had been
in any way close to these Sisters. Another sermon shows the
closeness of De Piro to these Sisters all the more; on 11 June 1920,
the Daughters of the Sacred Heart invited Monsignor for their
renewal of vows.
Again, the celebrant invited for such an occasion was usually a one
who was close to the community! But the document that proves that De
Piro was a real help to these Sisters is a letter written by a
certain Mother Nazzarena Gouder, a Franciscan Sister who had been
chosen by the Archbishop of Malta as superior of the Daughters of
the Sacred Heart:
5 Agosto 1918
Veniamo or’ ora dal manicomio dove ci
siam recate a mettere Suor Matilde. La Madre Rosalia che mi
accompagnò in questa facenda, Le faccia sapere tutte le
particolarità; io solamento mi limito a ringraziare prima il Buon
Dio che diede a V.Illma e Revma. S. un cuore dotato di tutte le
virtù e doni richiesti per aiutare il poverello e trarlo dai suoi
impicci, cosa che raramente si trova nelle persone del suo rango;
poi ringrazio lo stesso misericordioso Signore che mi fece la grazia
di farmi incontrare V.S. Rma. e godere delle sue beneficenze; indi,
piena di alta riconoscenza, mi rivolgo a Lei Padre Dilettmo e Le
dico che io mi serberò grata in eterno, per tutto quello che Ella ha
fatto per guidarmi nella retta via della santità e della società. Il
Signore la ricompensi in questa e nell’altra vita, ed io nella mia
miseria mi offro a qualunque Suo servizio.
Raccomando tutto l’Istituto al favore
della Sua preghiera mentre che con distinta Stima Le bacio la sacra
destra, e mi pregio di poter segnarmi,
Di V.S. Illma e Revma,
Umlma figlia in
Sr. M. Nazarena.
These words of
Mother Nazzarena were not to be said to someone who had not already
helped a lot these Sisters!
The Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus
Further on in this chapter I shall be
saying that in 1907 the Servant of God was nominated by the
Archbishop of Malta, Mgr Peter Pace, as Director of Fra Diegu
Institute, Hamrun. When he started his ministry there, De Piro found
the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus as those responsible
for the day to day running of the Orphanage. Because of the
relationship that grew up between the Director and these nuns, and
because these religious had only been founded in Gozo in 1880,
De Piro involved himself even in the development of the Sisters’
Congregation. So much so that some Franciscan Sisters wrote several
letters to the Servant of God.
On 23 December 1916, Madre Nazzarena
Gouder, Superior General from 1911 to 1917,
wrote to Monsignor:
Quest anno piu che mai, mi incombe il
dovere di prevalermi della presente circostanza della festa
Natalizia per ringraziarla di tanti favori e benefici che
continuamente sparge su di noi, povere figlie di San Francesco,
colla Sua solerte cura spirituale e temporale.
Padre, l’interesse che, contro ogni
nostro merito, V.S. Rma nutre per il progresso della nostra
Congregazione oggimai si sente, si conosce e si dichiara da ogniuno
dei suoi membri. La medesima, per quanto misera e povera essa sia,
per la grazia di Dio, ha sempre trovato chi la benefica, chi la
protegge; ma oggi tra tante calamità e tristezze, il Signore, nella
Sua infinita misericordia, ci ha mandato l’aiuto di V.S. Illma e
Revma a poter scivare i pericoli e progredire nella virtù e nel
lavoro; e perciò, caro Padre, nel magnificare e ringraziare il
Signore per tanta Sua bontà e providenza, ringraziamo pure V.C. per
tutto quel bene che a favor nostro abbia operato.
Però, per quanto viva
sentiamone la riconoscenza, pur non di meno non possiamo mai
compensare V.S.Rma, e qualunque cosa noi facciamo non ci sarà maì
possibile di sdebitarci…
Three months later
the same Mother Nazzarena wrote to De Piro again, and again referred
to the support he offered to her Congregation, “Nel presentarle pure
i nostri ringraziamenti, per tutto quello che Ella opera a vantaggio
della nostra Congregazione… Gradisca, caro Padre, i nostri sinceri
affetti e distinti ossequi e ci benedica.”
It is interesting
to note that in the above two letters Madre Nazzarena called the
Servant of God “Padre”. The same did Sister Epifania, first
councellor and secretary general.
She wrote in the name of the Foundress, Margherita Debrincat. She
called De Piro, “…un vero Padre…”
words are as strong as those of Madre Nazzarena:
… la Sua preziosa vita
di quarant’anni fu spesa tutta quanta nel cercare la gloria di Dio e
nel beneficare il prossimo. Fortunatamente fra i molti da V.C.
beneficati sono i membri della nostra Congregazione che trovano in
Lei un vero Padre il quale cerca e desidera il loro avvanzamento
spirituale e temporale. Alle sue indefesse cure si attribuisce il
cambiamento notevole dell’ Istituto Fra Diegu, il vantaggio ricavato
da quelle Suore a cui tocco la sorte di avvicinarsi a V.R.P. e tanti
altri favori che per brevità taccio.
Mother Margherita Debrincat,
the Foundress, seemed to consider Mgr De Piro more than close to her
Congregation, “Insomma, rinnovando i più sentiti
ringraziamenti non solo per il passato ma per tutto quello che farà
(come spero nella S. Bonta) a vantaggio della nostra cara Comunità
la quale La riconosce quale Padre Generale, ecc.”
she considered the Servant of God as their superior general, the
Foundress wrote again to De Piro on 6 April 1920 and asked him
something quite intimate to her and her companions:
Abuso della Sua bontà
e colgo l’occasione della sua andata a Roma per pregarla a voler
farci la carità di procurarci delle informazioni, per ciò che si
richiede per la nostra approvazione. Mi dirigo a V.S. Illma di
comune intesa con Mgr Vescovo di Gozo ove risiede la nostra Casa
Madre, e Le rimetto anche copia manoscritta delle nostre
Eight years later
De Piro showed how much he wished to support these Franciscan
Sisters and the work they did. In October 1927 five of these nuns
went to Ethiopia to start their missionary work there. In his “Saint
Paul: Almanac of the Institute of the Missions”, the Servant of God
published an article in which he gave details about the departure of
these five nuns to the missions.
In the same publication De Piro presented to the readers a letter
written by His Excellency Andrea Jarosseau, a Bishop in Abyssinia,
in appreciation for the arrival of the Sisters in his diocese.
When Mother Rosa, the superior of the Franciscan group in Ethiopia,
died, Monsignor presented his readers with a short biographical note
about this pioneer missionary of the Franciscan Sisters in Ethiopia.
De Piro dedicated another considerable space of his 1932 Almanac to
describe the departure of another group of Franciscan Sisters to
The Missionary Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth
In this chapter
and in the second one
I shall be presenting Mgr Joseph De Piro as the Director of the
Jesus of Nazareth Orphanage. But the Servant of God had contact with
the Missionary Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth not only because they
were in charge of the day to day running of the Institute; he also
helped them a lot in their being set up as a religious missionary
institute. And he continued helping them until his death. It is this
contribution of De Piro that I shall be presenting here.
Although the Jesus of Nazareth
Orphanage and the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Jesus of
Nazareth are not the same thing, but they can be said to have
started and progressed concurrently. Therefore one can say that even
the Congregation had its beginning in 1913.
Although since this date the Servant of God had been only the
spiritual director of Guzeppina Curmi, the Foundress, he must have
undoubtedly discussed with her both the foundation of the Institute
and that of her Congregation. Then there was a period where it was a
certain Fr Paul Zammit, a priest from Gudja, Malta, who directed the
Institute. During these years the contact between Curmi and De Piro
were suspended. In 1922 Fr Zammit died and Curmi sought again the
help of Monsignor. From the letter De Piro wrote to Archbishop
Caruana on 21 May 1933, we know that it was His Excellency who
invited th Servant of God to help Guzeppina.
De Piro accepted the request.
From a letter the Foundress wrote to
Archbishop Caruana on 28 December 1924 one concludes that His
Excellency had told De Piro something which discouraged the latter
and made him stop helping, as much as he was before, the advancement
of the Sisters’ Congregation.
At the same time on 11 February 1932 Archbishop Caruana wrote to the
Prefect of the Congregation for Religious and told him that he had
been asked for a long time by De Piro to approve as a sodality the
group of ladies who were taking care of various homes of
His Excellency wanted to approve this group of ladies but he wished
to go step by step.
To help the acquisition of the diocesan
approval for the ladies, the Servant of God suggested that (1) for
the moment they were supposed to consider the Constitutions of the
Society of St Paul as their own rule; (2) in Malta and abroad, the
ladies were expected to cooperate in their work with the members of
the Society of St Paul, founded by De Piro in 1910; (3) their name
becomes Missionaries of Jesus of Nazareth in order to indicate that
the scope of the Pia Unione was missionary; and (4) they were
expected to have a particular type of dress.
Not all proposals were accepted by the Congregation for Religious
and therefore the Servant of God had to face more difficulites.
De Piro was not alive when the nulla osta from the
Congregation for Religious reached Malta’s Archbishop for the
diocesan approval of the Missionary Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth; it
was written to Archbishop Caruana on 31 October 1933, more than a
month after the death of the Servant of God.
President of the Special Consultative Committee for the restoration
of St Paul’s Church, Rabat, Malta
On 4 January 1925 there was set up a
General Committee for the restoration of the Church of St Paul,
Rabat, Malta. This same Committee, then, created a Commission which
prepared a Project that was presented to the Archbishop of Malta,
re: the same restoration. On his part His Excellency nominated a
Special Committee to study the feasibility or not of the same
Project and present its conclusions.
De Piro was made President of this Special Committee.
In all there were four meetings of the
Special Committee: 27 May, 2 , 12 and 19 June of the year 1925.
On the 22 of the same month the members signed the corrected minutes
of their last meeting.
- Minister of
seminary years in Rome, Joseph did not show very good qualities as a
prospective preacher. He suffered from an inflammation in his throat
which, apart from being painful, often created difficulties when
Though when still in Rome he got rid of this, he continued suffering
In fact during his first years as a priest in Malta he was afraid to
accept the offer of the director of the Opera della Missione, Mgr E.
Debono, to begin preaching in Maltese parishes.
However as time went on he overcame this fear and though on his own
and not with Mgr Debono, embarked on this apostolate with fresh
We can deal with
this aspect of De Piro’s life because luckily, as in other areas of
his life, the Servant of God took pains to be precise. In fact in
the De Piro Archives one can still find sermons which the Servant of
God used to write, some of them in complete form, before delivering
them. There are two hundred and thirteen of these sermons. This is
already a good number, but these same sermons indicate that De Piro
had made more than these. Some of them are not complete; they imply
that there was more material. Others refer to sermons which do not
seem to exist anymore.
De Piro did not
only write the sermons. He even put them in files according to the
themes. At the top of the sermon he often noted where, when, and to
whom he was making the sermon. Through the several Maltese words and
phrases De Piro put in brackets, and which he included in the text,
one can conclude that he used Maltese when preaching. At the same
time the written preparation as a whole was in Italian.
preaching was quite pastorally oriented; with his word he wanted to
help those hearing him to come closer to God. Thus his homelies
tended to be simple. At the same time an analysis of the texts
reveals sound biblical
and theological foundations.
Delegate in the Committee for the Peace Feasts
When the First World War was over the
Maltese Government organised some festivities to celebrate the
acquisition of peace.
The Archbishop was asked by the Governor to choose his deputy for
the Committee that was to take care of the organisation of the
Archbishop Mauro Caruana chose De Piro as his representative.
- Member of the
National Assembly (1919-1921)
On 23 November 1918 Dr. Filippo Sceberras offered
to help the preparation of a draft of a
Constitution for the Maltese Islands.
First there was an appeal to all Maltese associations to send their
delegates to form a National Assembly.
Amongst those present there were four canons representing the
Metropolitan Chapter of the Cathedral of Malta and the clergy.
De Piro was the first of these.
The members met for the first time on 25 February 1919.
On 7 June of that same year there was held the second meeting of the
Here it was decided that there be formed a Central Commission made
up of a representative from each important Maltese association,
already present in that Assembly.
Monsignor De Piro, being the Dean of the Cathedral Chapter, was
In this meeting the members agreed to start work on the draft of the
But outside the "Giovine Malta", the place where the members
were gathered, there arose an upheaval and the session was
It was on 23 June that the Central Commission held its first
In all there were five sessions of the National Assembly and
fourteen of the Central Commission.
Although these meetings meant hours and hours of discussions, De
Piro, with the exception of the first and thirteenth meetings of the
Central Commission, was always present.
This was already a proof of his real love for his country. But it
was not only a question of attendance: his was always an active
involvement. Together with the other Monsignori he had to be present
at ordinary and extraordinary Chapter sessions in order to discuss
and prepare material which was to be treated in the Assembly or in
the Commission. Not infrequently he had even to do research work on
his own in order to support the Chapter’s convictions.
During the meetings he always behaved with the
other members with an open mind: he was
always and only after the good of the nation and never wanting to
impose his own ideas. After each session he had to inform the other
Canons, and this again meant much work for him.
De Piro’s efforts to be always present
in all these meetings and his active participation in them are
already a proof of his dedication to his country. But this love of
his for whatever was Maltese was expressed more directly when the
Central Commission discussed the language problem; he was among the
members who were in favour of the use of the Maltese language in the
future Parliament by those who wanted to do so.
- The ‘Sette
Giugno’ Riots (1919)
A few lines above mention has already
been made of the upheavals which arose during the second session of
the National Assembly held on 7 June 1919.
Since Monsignor De Piro was a member of the National Assembly and
this was the body set up with the explicit scope of seeking the
interests of the Maltese, he, together with a few other members,
considered it his duty to intervene even in this hard moment.
It is a known fact that in the Sette
Giugno riots there were several criminals who mixed with the
other Maltese and acted in a most condemnable way.
But these must be considered as the exception. In general those who
participated in the three day event were people who wanted to fight
for their legitimate rights. This was the only reason why De Piro
intervened in such a delicate situation. In spite of the fact that
he even risked his own life, the Servant of God spent three days
going here and there, at one time meeting some British officer, at
another time the Commissioner of Police, at another time members of
the Assembly, and at other times, even the mob.
It seems befitting to stress all this by a statement published eight
Fr Joseph De Piro, a
priest whom nobody can accuse of any fault, is an example of
integrity, devoted dedication and holiness. He is also a patriot,
who was involved in heartbreaking events - the disorders and deaths
on 7 June 1919. On that occasion he was in the midst of firing and
close to the injured. De Piro is, for the Church and his native
country, an exemplary priest and an ideal patriot. Everyone
should love and admire him.
And on our part we can add that
Monsignor was a real proof of the power of non violence.
- Cashier of the
Committee Pro Maltesi Morti e Feriti per la Causa Nazionale il 7
Giugno del 1919
The shooting of
four men by the British soldiers on 7 June 1919, made all Maltese
join forces and forget their different opinions about various
aspects of their lives.
In fact on 8 June 1919 there met at the “Giovine Malta”, a central
building in Valletta, a group of volunteers
who created a Committee which would gather money for the families of
the victims who died or were wounded the day before.
In the fourth meeting of this Committee, Sir Filippo Sceberras was
chosen as honorary president and Dr Enrico Mizzi as secretary.
De Piro was one of the clerics to join them.
He was made the cashier of this Committee.
In the beginning,
the Committee met twice a week. In all, the members met 52 times,
the last time in January 1926.
In the minutes of the Committee there are the details of the
information gathered by the members about the persons who were
helped and the amount of money each person was given.
Member of the Committee
for the visit, of H.R.H., the Prince of Wales (1921)
On 10 August 1920
there was the last meeting of the Central Commission of the National
Assembly which was entrusted with the writing of the draft
Constitution for Malta.
On 30 April 1921 there followed the promulgation of the Letters
Patent of 14 April 1921 from the side of Britain.
On 5 and 6 October 1921 there were the elections for the members of
the Senate of the first bicamerale Maltese parliament, while
those for the members of the Legislative Assembly were held on18 and
19 October of the same year.
On 1 November 1921 there came to Malta, the Prince of Wales to open
this first Maltese Parliament.
For the organisation of this visit there was set up a special
committee. Mgr Joseph De Piro must have been invited to make part of
this Committee. In fact after the celebrations were over the Servant
of God received two letters of appreciation: one was a personal
thank you note from the Superintendent of Public Works,
while the other one was written by the Lieutenant Governor himself
and it was addressed to all those who helped in the organisation of
the visit of His Royal Highness.
- Member of the
In this thesis
there will soon be presented the socio economic situation of Malta
during the nineteenth and early years of the twentieth centuries.
Some reference will also be made to the employments issue and the
conditions of work of the employees during these same years.
But here it is important to say that after 1920 De Piro was implied
in a movement which was after these same issues. At least to some
It happened that,
Fr Charles Plater, the Jesuit considered by the English Catholics as
an authority in the social studies,
was feeling so much ill that he was ordered to have some rest. First
it was thought that he would go to Australia, but his doctor was
afraid of the length of the journey.
Plater had already some contact with a certain Canon Carm Bugelli of
Malta, about the labour issue.
He also had some contact with a certain Paolo Francesco Bellanti
about the same thing.
He therefore chose Malta where he thought that his apostolate would
find fertile ground.
Fr Plater arrived
in Malta on 15 December 1920.
When in Malta he seemed to forget about his rest. He met Governor
Lord Plumer, twice the Archbishop, several politicians, various
priests who were involved in the social life, and several socio
He even made talks to several organisations.
One point which Fr
Plater repeatedly emphasised during his stay in Malta was the need
for social education. He noticed that the local situation, which was
at the moment facing great social problems, lacked social
knowledge. To promote this indispensable knowledge and to stimulate
it with vital interest, he organised and set going the Unione
Leoniana, which was, according to his own draft statutes, “an
association for spreading in Malta among all classes of the
population, the social teachings of the Catholic Church and thus
paving the way for a sound christian democracy”.
On 28 January 1921 he also wrote that he wished, “… to see a dozen
study clubs at work…”
In these clubs Plater wished that the clergy would become conscious
of their paramount duty to know and instruct, and the laity to learn
and know, what the Catholic Church taught about the social question.
In Mdina there
seemed to be the wish to establish one of the Plater clubs. In fact
Albert Magri, secretary of the Unione Leoniana,
wrote toMgr De Piro telling him that in the meeting of the Unione,
held on 1 February (probably 1921) the Servant of God was nominated
as member of the sub committee of Mdina.
In the same letter Magri encouraged De Piro to accept becoming
It does not seem that the project of Fr
Plater grew up. Emmanuel Agius referred to it as “… a seed which
did not find fertile soil.”
His presence however, enhanced a healthy discussion on the social
- Member of the
Governing Board of the Malta War Memorial Hospital for Children
In a letter
written to him on 25 July 1922 by Dr Augustus Bartolo, the Servant
of God was told that in a general meeting of the Malta War Memorial
Hospital for Children he was unanimously chosen as a member of the
Governing Board of this Institution.
- Member of the
Special Committee of the British Empire Exhibition
A letter was
written by the Prime Minister of Malta, Mr Joseph Howard, on 27
September 1922 to Mgr De Piro telling him “… that His Excellency the
Governor has been pleased to approve of your appointment as a member
of the Special Committee to consider the question of the official
participation of Malta in the British Empire Exhibition of 1924.”
It was the duty of the Committee: “(1) to report what class of
exhibit should be sent to the Exhibition so that Malta may be
worthily represented; (2) to submit a list of intended exhibitors
and indicate the approximate space required by each exhibitor; and
(3) to ascertain under what conditions intending exhibitors would
In 1925, when the
Exhibition was over, the Servant of God was awarded a silver medal
and diploma for his contribution in the Committee.
Representative on the Committee of the Zammit Clapp Hospital
According to a
letter sent by the General Secretary of the Archdiocese of Malta,
Mgr E. Vassallo, to Mgr De Piro, Dean of the Metropolitan Chapter of
the Cathedral, the said Chapter was supposed to choose a canon who
could represent the Archbishop on the Committee of the Zammit Clapp
Hospital, St Julian’s, Malta.
From the several reminders Vassallo sent to the Cathedral Chapter
one can rightly conclude that this choice of a representative had to
be done each year.
On 28 January 1925 Canon Philip Muscat, Chancellor of the Cathedral
Chapter wrote to the General Secretary Vassallo and informed him
that De Piro had been confirmed representative of the Chapter on the
Zammit Clapp Committee even for that year.
Which meant that the Servant of God had already been representative
at least during the previous year. The last note we have in relation
to this representation is of 13 December 1930. This says that
Monsignor was confirmed as representative even for the following
year, that is for the year 1931.
representative on the organising committee for the visit of the Duke
and Duckess of York (1927)
On 17 June 1927
Prince Albert, Duke of York , the future King George VI, and his
wife, the Duchess, began an official visit to Malta. They had an
intensive programme to follow. This was prepared by a Committee
chosen specifically to organise this visit.
From a letter written by the Servant of God on 22 May 1927 to the
Secretary General of the Archdiocese, one can conclude that the
former was chosen by the Archbishop to represent him on this
Member of the Tourism
According to a
letter written to De Piro on 8 November 1927 by the secretary to the
Minister for Public Instruction, Monsignor was also chosen as member
of the Tourism Committee.
From the correspondence still preserved in the De Piro Archives we
know that this Committee mainly dealt with the establishment of a
group of tourist guides who could take care of visitors to the many
churches of Malta, epecially the Cathedral at Mdina and St John’s
CoCathedral in Valletta.
The members of the Committee were expected to draw a draft of the
regulations that were to be observed by these guides.
between the Church and Lord Gerard Strickland
comes to know that the Servant of God was so much involved in the
social life of our country, one may conclude that he was also active
in its political dimension. One may arrive all the more at the same
conclusion when one knows that the De Piros were quite involved in
politics in some one party or other. Monsignor might have had his
own personal convictions but he never expressed these same opinions
in public. It was because of this that he could serve as a mediator
between the Church and one of the primeministers of Malta, Lord
Gerald Strickland, during the years 1930-1932. It was to this
intervention that the Daily Malta Chronicle referred in an
appreciation published on 19 September, 1933:
Monsignor De Piro - A Tribute to his
... For a little more than a year ...
since the opening of the present Parliament ... he (Monsignor De
Piro) had, in addition to his manifold roles, yet another ... he was
one of the Archbishop’s representatives in the Senate ... a task we
are inclined to believe, he must have undertaken out of that sense
of duty and utter selflessness which were uppermost in his
character; for he fought shy of politics and kept away from the
political strife. Yet there has been a notable and quite recent
occasion, when he played a remarkable and beneficent part in the
political field, though he hardly figured in it at all. It was he,
in fact, who was mainly responsible, through his initiative, his
tact and particularly his sincerity and earnestness of purpose, for
putting an end to the unfortunate politico-religious dispute which
caused so much harm to the Island; it was he who restored the
relations between Church and State to their normal and traditional
state of peace and cordial cooperation. No one was better fitted for
the task ... no one enjoyed to a greater degree the confidence of
both sides, nor possessed the qualities that were necessary to
undertake the delicate mission and carry it to a happy conclusion.
Not for that alone, however, are we all in the Church and State
alike profoundly moved by his sudden and untimely death: we mourn in
him the loss of one who was indeed a pillar of both Church and
From the various persons interviewed by
Aloisius Aloisio we know that after many interventions, Monsignor
was once again an instrument of peace, this time between Strickland
and the Church.
Senator in the Third
One of the issues which caused most of
the trouble between Lord Strickland and the Church was the
participation of the clergy in Parliament. As had been just said
peace was acquired between Strcikland and the Church. But the
Archbishop held the right to have representatives in Parliament. In
fact when the Third Legislature was formed, on 17 October, 1932, His
Excellency nominated two Monsignori as members of the Senate; Mgr De
Piro was again one of the two.
death, the Daily Malta Chronicle commented about this other duty of
A little more than one
year ago, Mgr De Piro was entrusted with another duty besides the
others he had. He was chosen as one of the Archbishop’s
representatives in the Senate. We feel we can say that he accepted
only because he considered it his duty and on his part he never
sought his own interests. For him duty and dedication to others came
We know what were “the other duties” of De Piro! As
has already been
said he was Canon and Dean of
the Cathedral Chapter. He was also
Director of six ecclesiastical
charitable Institutes. Besides, the Servant of God had, in 1910,
founded the Missionary Society of St Paul which by 1932, had already
four communities in Malta and a mission in Abyssinia. Not to mention
the hundred and one other responsibilities and ministries.
Monsignor did not intervene too often in the Senate, only some three
times. “The dedication” mentioned above could be seen more in his
regular attendence, although his interventions, especially one, were
a very positive contribution to the social life of Malta and the
The connection of
De Piro with St. Joseph’s Institute, Santa Venera, from early on in
De Piro’s life has already been referred to.
Before he was ordained priest he had already made his wishes clear
to Archbishop Peter Pace; he wished to go and live there together
with the other two priests.
When still a seminarian he had sent donations to the Institute.
And once he spent one whole month at the Institute substituting Fr.
George Bugeja in the running of the Institute.
However it transpired that though working with six different
Institutes, this ministry of his was not to start at St Joseph’s,
In 1860 Fra Diegu
Bonanno, a Franciscan Minor, began providing shelter for those young
women who for one reason or another ended up on the Maltese streets,
often to the detriment of their reputation. This initiative had a
small beginning. In time however, this work began to grow. Fra Diegu
died on 4 May 1902.
His fellow Franciscans spent some time running the Institute, but
then had to leave, consigning it to the Diocese on 2 August 1907.
Archbishop Pace accepted the advice of Fr. George Bugeja, of St
Joseph’s Institute, about whom to place in charge of Fra Diegu
Institute. Bugeja had no hesitation in suggesting De Piro,
and the Archbishop took the cue, nominating him as Director of Fra
The Archbishop did
not choose the Servant of God only because of what Fr. George had
told him but as his Excellency declared in the nomination, also
because he had realised that Fr. Joseph was a good, diligent wise,
and active priest.
- Secretary of the
Committee of the Bishop’s Foundation for Bread to the Poor during
On 1 December 1916
the Archbishop of Malta, Mgr Mauro Caruana:
Desiderosi di recare qualche aiuto ai
poveri che formano la parte eletta del nostro gregge e che pei tempi
calamitosi che corrono, difficilmente possono procacciarsi il
necessario alla vita; abbiamo creduto di costituire un Comitato …
allo scopo di raccogliere fondi per poter coll’aiuto della divina
Providenza, allargare la distribuzione del pane dove se ne sente il
Mgr Joseph De Piro
was nominated secretary of this Committee.
In the same decree of foundation the Archbishop appealed to the
archpriets, parishpriests, curates, religious superiors and rectors
of churches to help the Committee with the collections of money.
In fact His Excellency ordered that in every church there would be a
collection specifically for this aim.
He even appealed to the rich individuals to help.
published in the La Diocesi: Bullettino Ufficiale Ecclesiastico
di Malta, almost each month, for 15 times, the lists of
benefactors who contributed towards the Fund.
- Director of
the Jesus of Nazareth Institute, Zejtun, Malta
In 1922, Mgr De Piro was assigned the
responsibility of the second ecclesiastical charitable Institute,
Jesus of Nazareth Institute, in Zejtun, Malta. The contacts with
Guzeppina Curmi, the Foundress of this Orphanage, had already been
established much earlier. In fact; even before 1913, Guzeppina
sought spiritual direction from Monsignor, and she continued to do
so even after opening the first and second houses in Zejtun. For a
time this contact was not maintained. It was then in 1922 that Madre
Curmi sought the Servant of God; she came with the proposal that he
become the director of the Institute which she and some of her
companions had at the house of Marquis Testaferrata Bonnici in
Zejtun. De Piro wrote these words to the Archbishop, “… la mia
direzione per l’Istituto Gesù Nazzareno, che io non accettaì, questa
volta, se non pel tramite di Vra Eccza …”
As the number of
children was increasing steadily Madre Curmi felt the need to build
a better Institute. After borrowing some money she bought a piece of
land near “San Girgor”, Zejtun, and in 1925 started the construction
With the laying of the foundation stone De Piro, though already
laden with a lot of other things, had to cater also for the many
demands arising from such an enterprise as building a new institute.
The many letters we have show how he had to deal with Government
departments, benefactors, and agents so as to propel the work. He
did this for no less than five years, when on 16 July 1930 the first
part of the building was inaugurated.
- Director of St
Joseph’s Institute, Santa Venera, Malta
After being for two years Rector of the
Major Seminary in Mdina, De Piro requested that he be relieved of
the post. He wished to dedicate himself more fully to the religious
missionary Society which he had founded a few years earlier.
In spite of the fact that Archbishop Mauro Caruana had acceded to
two years later his Excellency nominated the Servant of God to yet
another post, that of Director of St. Joseph Institute, Santa
This time De Piro did not even mention the Society. He accepted the
Archbishop’s request immediately. This meant that De Piro became
Director of St Joseph’s no less than 15 years after being first
nominated Director of Fra Diegu.
We have already noted how intimately De
Piro’s option for the poor was linked with St. Joseph’s,
Also, we have to keep in mind that this was not simply a personal
option, but even one for his prospective missionary Society. After
returning from Switzerland, he immediately tried to find priests who
could join him in the setting up of his society. To Fr Emmanuel
Vassallo, director of St Joseph’s, he even presented his project in
When writing about the scope of the Society, De Piro mentioned St
Joseph’s Home as one of the “Campi prossimi d’azione” for the
members of his Society.
This was to occur in reality a short time after De Piro’s nomination
to St. Joseph’s, since the Freres De La Salle who were running St
Joseph’s, were finding it difficult to continue doing so because of
lack of vocations.
When they left, De Piro called in the members of his Society to
- Director of St
Joseph’s Institute, Ghajnsielem, Gozo
Soon after the
setting up of St. Joseph’s Home, in Santa Venera, by Mgr Francesco
Bonnici, Bishop Pietro Pace, a Gozitan and a former Bishop of Gozo,
expressed his wish that a branch be opened in Malta’s Sister Island
to cater for its orphans and needy boys. Because of certain
difficulties that arose, this project never materialised.
Three years later, three Maltese men, most probably encouraged by
Archbishop Pace, tried to start a house where they could shelter
abandoned boys. Again, this other initiative never saw the light of
Another effort was done by Fr John Camilleri, one of the
parishpriests of Gozo. Knowing that the Freres De La Salle were
taking care of St Joseph’s, Malta, he invited them to start
something similar in Gozo. He seemed to have persuaded the Malta
Delegate of the Congregation. In fact the latter asked the Bishop of
Gozo, Mgr Giovanni Camilleri, to open a College for boys where the
Freres intended to impart a religious and civil education as well as
a solid and theoretical and practical instruction in arts and
trades. Bishop Camilleri who had been wishing to start something
similar blessed and approved the venture. Yet the problems seemed
too big to overcome and the project never materialised.
However the need
for a home for the Gozitan abandoned boys continued to be felt and
on 17 November 1923 the parish priests of Gozo drew up a notarial
contract whereby such an orphanage could be founded. For this end
they were to ask for a LM1000 subsidy from the government in return
for an undertaking to keep twenty orphans in the home which they
proposed to call the Diocesan-Parochial Orphanage and which was to
be sited at Ghajnsielem, Gozo.
This proposal was accepted by Mgr Michael Gonzi who in the meantime
had succeeded Peter Pace as Bishop of Gozo. The relevant foundation
decree was issued on 6 November 1924.
According to this
decree the home was to be known as Orfanatrofio Diocesano and
the civil government was not to interfere in any way in its running.
The officials responsible for its administration were to be chosen
by the parishpriests themselves subject to diocesan approval. The
bishop reserved the right to preside over the council of
administration and to vet all applications. In case the orphanage
should be forced to close down, all property was to pass to the
Bishop of Gozo.
As regards the
actual administration of the Home, the parishpriests were
unanimously of the opinion that it should be affiliated to St.
Joseph’s Home, Malta, which at that time had Mgr De Piro as its
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 Director of St. Joseph’s Home and Superior of
the Society of St. Paul, he wrote to the Archbishop of Malta, asking
for permission to let the Society take over the running of the
Orphanage in Gozo.
Official approval was granted on 9 February.
When Mgr Michael Gonzi chose De Piro to
initiate and direct the new Institute of St. Joseph at Ghajnsielem,
he issued a decree
which included a beautiful certificate about the Servant of God. In
this document De Piro is presented as a person who had, “… mani
Apart from this document there are
others which shed more light on De Piro. Since in the case of this
Institute, De Piro was not only the first Director but also the one
who moulded it into being, it stands to reason that it implied a lot
of work in order to organise the whole thing. Material in the De
Piro Archives indicates that he had to resort to Governmental aid
more than once.
Thus this man, who came from a wealthy family was now begging for
land, subsidies, and other things.
Director of the Home for babies and young children, Santa Venera,
As if four institutes were not enough,
De Piro’s dedication and interest for working with needy children
and youths led him to think of something new. His work especially at
St. Joseph’s, Sta. Venera, led him to realise the existent void in
the care of babies and very young children below the entry age at St
To make up for this he sought the Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth and
with their help, in 1925, opened a house for these little ones at
In this house children “… up to the age of seven, and exceptionally
up to the age of ten” were accepted.
- Director of
the Institute, St Francis de Paul, Birkirkara, Malta
In 1927 the Servant of God was chosen
as Director for the sixth Institute of charity, that of St Francis
de Paul, in Birkirkara, Malta.
There are very few documents about this Institute, but it seemed
that the biggest problem in relation to this Institute was for the
acquisition of an adequate house. Despite the increasing demands on
De Piro, he accepted this Institute and worked as hard as
he could during his lifetime in order to acquire a new building.
testamentary will and the Institutes
What has already been said well brings
out the link between De Piro and the ecclesiastical charitable
nstitutes. This is further confirmed in his will: in the orphanages
he did everything gratis.
Also, after declaring what he wanted to bequeath to the Society of
St. Paul, his mother, Archbishop Caruana, the Jesus of Nazareth
Sisters and “Dar Sant’Ursola” at Qrendi, in articles 8 and 9 of his
will the Servant of God bequeathed some things to the Institutes of
Fra Diegu, Jesus of Nazareth and St Francis de Paul.
- Director of the
Workshop or Laboratory for unemployed young women, Valletta
It seems that a certain Maria
Assunta Borg had originated the “Laboratorio delle
in order to provide a healthy environment for those girls who did
not have a family to care for them and who wanted to learn a trade
and get a living from it.
According to Borg, it was the Archbishop of Malta, Mgr Mauro
Caruana, who assigned the Servant of God to the direction of this
On his part Mgr De Piro never stopped thinking what could be done
for the Institutes entrusted to him. For this reason he would
change, arrange or build where needed. He also worked on bettering
the administrative systems of these Institutes. However his contact
with reality led him to see how some young ladies emerging from
these same Institutes, were finding no one to receive them and thus
ended up roaming about with some of them even seeking employment in
De Piro did not remain idle when faced with this reality; he did his
best to help these poor women. He thus accepted the Archbishop’s
assignment and embarked on this important project, the Laboratory.
The Workshop had a very difficult
beginning. Mgr De Piro had to work very hard to find a place for it.
The government was not very forthcoming.
However the main difficulties arose after the Laboratory was opened.
In fact we can say that this was a continual source of tension for
De Piro. He had to see from where to get the funds. At one point he
even went as far as organising a musical concert at the Royal
University, in Valletta.
Then he had to take care of the administration of the Project,
something which was even more difficult. To complicate matters the
person who was helping him was being given advice which went
diametrically opposite to his plans.
In the end the Laboratory had to be closed down!
- Director of
the Birkirkara Oratory
Birkirkara is one
of the oldest and most populous towns in Malta. There, early in the
twentieth century, an Oratory was built in its eastern part, to
cater for the christian formation of the sons of the people.
In 1910, Canon
Michael Sammut, a priest from Birkirkara, and Notary Michael L.
Casolani, obtained a plot of land for the building of a chapel.
It was Casolani who paid for its construction,
which was completed in four months and solemnly inaugurated on 31
Casolani had hoped that the Salesian Brothers would look after the
chapel and provide a religious and civil education for the people’s
children according to the methods of St John Bosco. In fact the
chapel was dedicated to Our Lady, Help of the Christians, patroness
of the Salesians.
A short time
after, an Oratory was built adjacent to the chapel. Again Casolani
paid for the building and, in accordance with his wishes, it was
entrusted to the Salesians who named it “Domenico Savio Oratory”.
When the Salesians
gave up the Oratory in 1912 due to a shortage of priests in their
congregation, the Freres De La Salle took over and renamed it after
St. John Baptist De La Salle.
But the Freres too had to give up responsibility of the Oratory
since they were finding it hard to get enough vocations.
For a number of
years the Oratory continued in its mission under the general
direction of its two founders.
On 15 December 1925 Casolani wrote to the Servant of God asking him
to take over the Oratory.
Although at that time De Piro had his hand full with his Society and
the various charitable institutions, and his physical condition was
giving him reason for concern,
he seriously considered taking over the Oratory for the Society of
St. Paul, asking Casolani for detailed information regarding all the
conditions he wanted to impose.
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
On its part the Society undertook to continue that spiritual welfare
that was already being performed and to accept responsibility 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.
concern of the Oratory was to educate the young poor children of the
The children had mass daily and were encouraged to go to confession
every Saturday. The main feasts observed by the Oratory were
Christmas and Our Lady, Help of Christians.
The Servant of God, however, did not neglect the physical and
intellectual development of the children. The catechists supervised
them as they played in the playground and produced modest theatrical
representations to bring out their hidden talents.
For the first few
years of the Society’s administration, De Piro was formally
considered the Superior of the Oratory. It was he who signed all
correspondence and other documents.
Monsignor had also
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, 1910.
Mgr De Piro also
had in mind the utilising of the Oratory as a sort of aspirandate
for those who wished to join the Society as either priests or
brother - catechists. This possibility was discussed during a
council meeting on 4 August 1928.
As the Founder said in the following meeting of 11 August, the
Birkirkara Oratory would serve as a kind of Training School, while
the novitiate proper would remain at Mdina or Hamrun (Santa Venera),
or at St. Agatha’s when this bui1ding would be completed.
It was planned that the Training School, which was dedicated to the
Assumption of Our Lady, would open towards the end of the at same
School was placed under the directorship of Fr Michael Callus. It
remained open for only six years, that is a few months after De
Piro’s death. But it has always been considered as intimately
connected with the early years of the Society in Birkirkara.
Not all charitable activities of Mgr De
Piro were so organised as presented above. It was not the first time
that the Servant of God helped families of members of his Society.
Also, a glance at the Petty Cash Books of St. Joseph’s, Sta. Venera,
would prove illuminating. One would find entries such as
“To.... ’s mother,” “To …’s father,” “To an unfortunate poor lady”,
“To a poor family”, or “Elemosina donated at the door”.
This latter entry is quite frequent and at times involved relatively
substantial amounts of money.
nother virtue which accompanied De
Piro’s virtue of charity was justice. De Piro sometimes increased
the wages of the employees. This is borne out with a look at the
registers Casa di San Giuseppe - Ist. Bonnici, Piccola
Cassa. At a time when government pensions were still inexistent
he gave a pension to those who finished working at St. Joseph’s
Institute. Also pensions were given to widows of such workers. The
same treatment was meted out to the teachers at the Cathedral
School, at Mdina.
- “The idea”
about De Piro’s period of the diaconate it was said that this was
the time when he had to decide whether to go to the “Accademia
Ecclesiastica” or to St Joseph’s
It was also said that he wanted to settle in the Institute in order
to be with other priests taking care of orphans.
But this was not the only reason. He himself also said that,
“Una delle ragioni che mi
inducevano di stabilirmi nella Casa di S. Giuseppe è stata la
seguente: ‘Perchè un sentimento interno mi dice, che Iddio da questo
istituto voglia formare a Malta, una Congregazione di Sacerdoti
sotto il Patrocinio di San Paolo, e così nel rendere stabile l’opera
a Malta, si diffonda anche all’estero’.”
This was the time when De Piro was
still at his studies, but had it not been for his spiritual
director, Padre Gualandi, who told him to stop thinking about this,
Joseph would have developed furthermore his “idea”.
Referring to De Piro’s Diary one finds
out that the Servant of God obeyed the advice of his spiritual
During the remaining months of his stay in Rome he dedicated himself
to his studies. Then, when he went for eighteen months in Davos,
Switzerland, to recuperate his health, he could do nothing because
he was too far away from Malta, where he intended to start his
The first person to whom De Piro said
something about his “idea” was Fr Emmanuel Vassallo, the then
director of St Joseph’s Institute, Malta. It was on 16 January 1905.
Vassallo did not discourage De Piro but at the same time the former
did not seem so enthusiastic about the project.
Yet the contacts between De Piro and Vassallo continued.
On 11 February 1905 Vassallo suggested to the Servant of God to put
down his “idea” in writing.
On 22 February 1905 De Piro wrote this in his Diary:
Trovandomi in Valletta
invece di mandare la lettera mi portaì dal Vassalli e gli dissi che
non intendevo scrivere ciò che mi aveva domandato, lo esortaì alla
preghiera e gli dissi che non l’avrei cercato più. Però circa due
giorni dopo aprendo lo ‘Chainion’ Comp. di Meditazione, mi ha fatto
cambiare l’idea, la meditazione sul vangelo della prossima domenica
Sexagesima. ‘Il buon pensiero è un seme che il Salvatore getta nell’
De Piro tried
twice to write down his “idea”, but was unsuccessful. The third time
he succedded in doing so.
At the same time he kept contact with Vassallo.
On 7 August 1905 Fr Joseph met the latter and gave him the project
Una società di Missionari - pel
presente non è facile il dire se debba essere regolare o secolare,
però se coll’aiuto di Dio e della Vergine si arriverà all’erezione
di corpo regolare, questo deve essere perfettamente tale e deve
cercare il modo ed i mezzi di tenere a se aggregati il Clero
Lo scopo principale, come indica
il nome della Società, consiste nelle Missioni estere.
Campi prossimi d’azione possono
La Casa di S. Giuseppe
Le colonnie di Maltesi
a bordo le corazzate etc.
Affidare la società al valido
patrocinio di S. Paolo, dal quale prenderà il nome.
Pel presente non fare voti ne
giuramenti, però dobbiamo essere disposti a secondare la Volontà
Divina con somma generosità. La nostra parola d’ordine deve essere,
‘Sequar te quocumque ieris’
Fare ogni anno gli Ezercizi
Spirituali di San Ignazio di Layola.
Incontrarci almeno una volta al
Incominciare la formazione di un
capitale per contribuzioni mensili.
In this meeting
Vassallo made some suggestions to De Piro amongst which that the
latter should meet Canon Francesco Bonnici, the Founder of St
Joseph’s Institute, Sta Venera.
The Servant of God tried to do this that same day but was
unsuccessful. It was on the 17 of that month that De Piro and
As regards this meeting, Fr Joseph wrote this in his Diary:
Sono stato dal
Canonico Bonnici e gli ho raccontato la facenda. Egli mi ha detto
che data l’indole del prete Maltese troppo attacato al paese natio;
se ben mi ricordo, qualificò la mia idea impossibile, qualora non
accadesse un fatto soprannaturale. Mi raccontò anche come aveva
lavorato ad una cosa simile e che non gli era riuscito soggiungendo,
‘forse non ero la persona destinata dalla Divina Provvidenza.’ Mi
consigliò di coltivare l’idea, che il Signore forse mi farà
incontrare con qualcheduno. Intanto mi esortò alla preghiera e di
non fare ulteriori passi, ripetendomi il detto del Padre Gualandi,
‘se son rose fioriranno.’
For De Piro
it seemed that for most of the year 1906 there was nothing worth
remembering; he did not write anything before the 18 November. On
that day he put down these words:
Trovandomi a Roma ed
occorrendo oggi la dedicazione delle Basiliche dei S.S. Apostoli
Pietro e Paolo, ho celebrato in San Pietro in Vaticano e proprio
sull’altare di S. Pietro. Ho applicato la messa in onore dei S.S.
Apostoli Pietro e Paolo pregando loro di farmi conoscere chiaramente
la volontà di Dio, ed aiutarmi a metterla in effetto.”
Returning to Malta
the Servant of God met again Vassallo who told him that he had met a
certain Mgr E. Debono, the director of the Pia Opera della Santa
Missione. The latter showed himself interested in De Piro’s
society, but from what Vassallo said, De Piro could see that Debono
did not understand the scope of the “idea”: Debono wished that the
Servant of God would join him in the Opera,
the aim of which was preaching in the
Maltese parishes. This activity of Debono had nothing to do with De
Piro’s missions ad gentes. Also, while Fr Joseph appreciated
Debono’s offer, he could not accept it because, “…essendo per
malattia inabile a predicare non ho avuto mai il coraggio di offrire
On 10 December of that year De Piro
communicated for the first time his “idea” with Fr George Bugeja of
St Joseph’s, Malta.
The year 1907 was a bit better. Fr
Joseph met Fr George Bugeja, the assistant director of St Joseph’s
Institute, Malta, and the latter promised his help. They talked of a
community of secular priests.
No vows were to be mentioned.
They even mentioned some names of possible companions and agreed to
invite them to join in.
The year after deacon John Mamo showed
interest in De Piro’s Congregation.
Yet, it was quite clear from the beginning that Mamo’s plans were
different from those of the Servant of God.
The year 1908 offered another hope for
Fr Joseph. Archbishop Peter Pace had been wishing to start preparing
priests to go to the missions. He therefore wrote to the Superior
General of the MillHill Fathers and asked him his advise about the
setting up of a missionary seminary. The Superior General answered
His Excellency on 30 May 1908 and offered him several advices.
Archbishop Pace passed on this letter to De Piro. The latter thought
this matched with his “idea”. He in fact asked the Archbishop
whether he wanted to start that seminary.
His Excellency’s answer was negative.
The Servant of God asked the Archbishop whether he wanted him to
abandon his original project.
Pace told De Piro that he was not to do so. Rather he had to try to
find priests to join him in the founding of the missionary Society.
On 26 January 1909 Fr Joseph tried to
persuade a certain Rev Prof. Barbara to join him, Bugeja and Mamo.
In the meeting there was mention of life in community.
Barbara agreed but could not leave his mother sick at home.
Therefore De Piro, Bugeja and Mamo remained alone even during 1909.
More than this, even Mamo and Bugeja seemed to have different ideas
from that of the Servant of God: while the three agreed on the
opening of a house for the teaching of catechism, De Piro on his own
formulated the scope and nature of his project in a draft copy of a
profession that was to be made by the members of the future
institute. After mentioning Our Lady and St Paul as the patron
saints of the Society he said that the members must be ready to go
wherever necessary. He also presented the Spiritual Exercises of St
Ignatius as the basis of the rules and constitutions of the future
In Nome del Padre, del Figliuolo e
dello Spirito Santo, Così sia.
Promettiamo innanzi a Dio, alla Beata
Vergine Assunta in Cielo ed a San Paolo Apostolo di formar parte
della Piccola Compagnia di San Paolo appena ottenuta l’opportuna
autorizzazione dalla Santa Sede.
Scopo della Compagnia è quello di
formare dei Missionarii ed inviarli ove occorrono.
La Compagnia considererà come proprio
il libro degli Esercizi Spirituali di S. Ignazio di Loyola dal quale
estrae le proprie regole e constituzioni.
On 2 November 1909 De Piro met Mgr
Peter La Fontaine at Fra Diegu Institute, Hamrun. La Fontaine had
gone there while he was on an Apostolic Visit to Malta.
Since this very first meeting La Fontaine encouraged the Servant of
God a lot. He invited Fr Joseph to write his petition to the Pope.
In the petition De Piro, Bugeja and Mamo presented a religious
institute. Its members were to be missionaries, first and foremost
for the Maltese migrants.
This petition was recommended by Archbishop Peter Pace himself.
The work among the Maltese migrants was
first referred to by De Piro in his Diary in order to explain his
“idea” mentioned on 7 August 1905.
In the Supplica just mentioned above the Maltese living abroad were
referred to again. The Servant of God believed that the Society was
going to be mainly ad gentes,
but he could not forget the many Maltese who were going abroad. La
Fontaine got the impression that this other aim was the main scope
of the Society.
De Piro, Bugeja and Mamo wanted to have
a house for the Congregation. In the petition sent to the
Archbishop, the Society was again presented as religious, its
members were to be missionaries, but first and foremost for the
The house was found. It was opened and blessed on 12 June 1910.
The first two members joined the Society on 30 June of the same
The Servant of God did not have much
support except from Bugeja and Mamo. In 1910, after the beginning of
the Society, even these left him.
Also, La Fontaine so much seemed to have given Pope Pius X a wrong
impression about the main scope of the Society that in the blessing
sent to De Piro, His Holiness blessed the Founder and the catechist
priests who were working in the Maltese colonies of Corfù and
In spite of this misunderstanding, Fr Joseph continuously emphasised
the ad gentes characteristic of the Society.
It was so much so that when the first member was nearing his
priestly ordination the Founder asked the Congregation of the
Sacraments for the titulo missionis.
The Society continued but not
without difficulties. What disheartened the Servant of God most was
the defection of some members who seemed promising, “Da
allora in poi ogni giorno ha avuto le sue fatiche e le sue
sofferenze, e se non mancarono dei disappunti e delle
umiliazioni, come la defezione di tre bravi studenti, che formavano
una vera speranza per l’Istituto…”
To balance this for a moment, John
Vella, one of the first two members of the Society, was ordained
presbyter on 20 September 1919.
The next step for De Piro was the
approval of the Society by the Maltese Hierarchy. He wrote the
petition on 10 March 1919.
This was accompanied by an information about the origin, development
and constitutions of the Society.
But Bishop Angelo Portelli, the Delegate Vicar General of Malta,
wanted the nulla osta from the Vatican in order to give the
diocesan approval to De Piro’s Society. Since the Servant of God was
presenting his Congregation as missionary, Portelli passed on the
material given him by De Piro and asked the consent of Propaganda
Cardinal William Van Rossum, the Prefect of the Congregation for the
missions, could not see clearly (1) whether De Piro’s Congregation
was in fact religious, and (2) whether the main aim of the Society
was work in ad gentes countries or among the Maltese
After some attemps at clarifications from the side of the Servant of
the Society was passed on to the Congregation for Religious.
This latter Congregation sent to Mgr Mauro Caruana, the Archbishop
of Malta, the nulla osta regarding the diocesan approval of
De Piro’s Society.
The canonical erection was dated 14 November 1921:
Viso supplici libello Nobis porrecto ab
Ill.mo et Rev.mo Dno’ Can.co’ Decano Josepho De Piro pro erectione
canonica Societatis ab ipso fundata sub titulo S. Pauli Apostoli et
pro adprobatione constitutionem, quibus ipsa Societas regenda est;
Viso fine ad quem tendit institutio
praedictae Societatis; Auctoritate Nostra ordinaria erigimus et
tamquam canonice erectam declaramus Piam Societatem de qua in
precibus, sub titulo S. Pauli Apostoli; sub statutis quae ipsis
precibus adjicuintur, quaeque in modum experimenti adprobamus,
injungentes oratori ut infra sex menses Nobis exhibeat per extensum
et modo exhaurienti et completo statuto seu constitutiones, quibus
supradicta Societas regenda est.
Datum in N. Palatio Archiepali
die 14 Novembris 1921
+ Maurus O.S.B. Arch.
Sac. P. Vella Mangion
Sac. P. Vella Mangion
- A lot of work in
Malta and for the Maltese migrants, but priority to the missions
activity was continuously the greatest ambition of De Piro for his
Society. In spite of the fact that the Congregation was already
doing much work in Malta and Gozo, especially in the Church’s
charitable institutes, and at the Oratory in
the Founder was still looking forward for the moment when he would
be able to send the first members to the missions. It was in 1927
that Br Joseph Caruana, one of the first two members of De Piro’s
Society, left Malta and went to Addis Abeba in Abbyssinia, or the
This was not enough for Mgr De
Piro; he himself wished to go to the missions. In fact he had
planned that he, together with another priest and two catechist
brothers of the Society, would go to Br Caruana to see what were the
possibilities for the Society to work more in that African country.
From a letter sent by Br Caruana himself, it can be concluded that
the Founder, together with the others, intended to reach Abbysinia
in September, 1933.
- The “Saint
Paul: Almanac of the Institute of the Missions”
De Piro’s Society
was the main contribution he offered in favour of the Church’s
missionary activity. But it was not the only one! In 1922 he started
publishing a yearly pamphlet called “Saint Paul: Almanac of the
Institute of the Missions”. In it the Servant of God published
extracts from Papal missionary encyclicals;
information about missionary activities of the universal church and
social and geographical information about the missionary world;
profiles of missionary models, both Maltese and
and original articles about some missionary aspect or other.
He continued publishing this Almanac until 1933. Although no one
article of the Almanac is signed we know that most of them were
written by the Servant of God himself.
(v) His sudden
Mgr De Piro’s desire to go to Abbysinia and plan for
the Society’s future there, had to give way to another completely
different event. It was 17 September, 1933. After the Servant of
God had led the procession of Our Lady of Sorrows in one of Malta’s
parishes, Hamrun, he felt sick while giving the Blessed Sacrament
benediction. He died that same day, late in the evening, at the
Central Hospital in Floriana, aged only fifty five.
De Piro’s love
for the underprivileged and for evangelisation
If one were to
analyse Appendix 4
one would find out that, during his lifetime, De Piro, gave to
society in general and the universal and local Church, at least
fifty two contributions. Some of these were minor services, which
committed the Servant of God only for a short while and consumed
very little of his mental and physical energies. As regards other
services De Piro dedicated a lot more time and energy. In the latter
group of ministries there were then two which dominated all the
others: (1) his love towards the underprivileged of any sort, and
(2) evangelisation, starting with “the evangelisation to the
faithful” in Malta, continuing with the “reevangelisation” or
“second evangelisation” or “new evangelisation” of the Maltese
abroad, and thirdly his efforts at “first evangelisation” or the
ad gentes missions.
These two services
of De Piro are to be considered as having been so important in his
(a) They occupied
most of his time. Many of his other activities implied only short
periods of time: eg., his being secretary to Archbishop Mauro
Caruana, his rectorship of the Major Seminary, his membership in
many committees, etc. On the contrary, the Servant of God dedicated
most of his time and all his energy for the underprivileged,
especially in the Church’s institutions, and in favour of
evangelisation, especially through the foundation and strengthening
of his Missionary Society.
(b) While he
carried on other duties he continued with the charitable activities
and his evangelisation.
(c) Whatever the
contribution, there were always reflected in it his love for the
underprivileged and/or evangelisation. Here are some examples:
In Qrendi, Malta, he went to
continue his convalescence and do some pastoral work. According to a
priest-witness, he evangelised to the priests of the nearby parishes
by organising ongoing formation meetings for them.
Especially because he was canon
of the Metropolitan Cathedral, De Piro was frequently invited for
liturgical and paraliturgical celebrations in the various Maltese
parishes. On these occasions he gave a lot of importance to
preaching: he thoroughly prepared the sermons or meditations - he
even wrote the whole sermon; he made it a point that he really
communicated with the listeners - in the written text which was
generally in Italian, he chose from beforehand the right Maltese
words and put them in brackets in the written sermon so that when
preaching he would use the right Malese word.
De Piro was very close to the
Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus. In fact their foundress,
Madre Margerita De Brincat called him “superior general and father.”
The assistance he gave these nuns was not so much because they were
religious, but rather because they were at Fra Diegu Institute, an
ecclesiastical charitable institute. Also in the “Saint Paul;
Almanac of the Institute of the Missions” the Servant of God
used to write short information about the missionary activity of
these nuns especially as regards their activity in Ethiopia.
The Servant of God objected to
his being made a canon of the Metropolitan Cathedral. His main
reason was that he did not want to scandalise the members of the
Society that was just starting. In the Constitutions of the Society
he ordered the members not to accept honours outside the Society;
he wanted them to be really near the poor.
De Piro helped Guzeppina Curmi
and her companions a lot to found the Congregation of the Missionary
Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth, but he did this in view of their main
aim: the Jesus of Nazareth charitable Institute. Also he “helped
them” introduce missionary activity as part of their charism in
The Servant of God was made
co-rector of Manresa House, Floriana, Malta. The only aim of the
House was the evangelisation of those who attended some retreat,
During the years of the First
World War, Monsignor was asked to give his share by being the
secretary of the Committee Fondo Vescovile per pane ai poveri
durante la Guerra (1914-1918).
This was obviously a charitable organisation!
In between 1915-1918 De Piro
very faithfully carried out all his responsibilities as secretary to
Archbishop Mauro Caruana.
At this same time he gave special attention to the demands of the
Maltese migrants and their chaplains.
He was nominated Rector of the
Major Seminary at Mdina, Malta. During these two years the Servant
of God practiced a lot of charity towards the seminarians who could
not pay their fees. He improved the material aspect of the life at
the Seminary. He practiced justice with teachers. He also improved
the ars dicendi or praedicandi.
De Piro made part of the
National Assembly (1919-1921). Through this he lived his love for
his fellow Maltese by the formulation of the draft constitution for
Malta, one which enabled the Maltese to have self government,
something lacking until 1921.
He intervened in the 7, 8, and 9
June 1919 riots. He did not enter in the long history of conflicts
between the British and the Maltese, but only at the moment when
injustice was being inflicted on the poor people.
He helped the Daughters of the
Sacred Heart to set up and strengthen their religious congregation.
The help he gave them was already a charity in itself. Then they
were founded to help in the education of the children of the poor.
The Servant of God was deputy of
the Archbishop in the Committee of the Peace Feasts at the end of
the First World War.
Obviously this was a charitable organisation.
Monsignor cooperated with the
Dame di Carità whose aim was “… di venire in aiuto a soccorrere
quei casi di indigenza rapportati alla stessa pel tramite unico
della Conferenza di San Vincenzo de Paoli di Notabile- Rabat”.
Therefore a charitable initiative again.
De Piro was the originator,
author and publisher of the “Saint Paul: Almanacc of the Insititue
of the Missions”.
This was quite obviously nothing but a missionary publication.
He was a member of the Governing
Board of the Malta War Memorial Hospital for Children.
Quite obviously charitable!
Mgr De Piro was director of St
Joseph’s Intitute, Malta.,
Home for babies, Santa Venera and St Francis de Paul Institute,
All these were charitable entities.
De Piro was
given St Dominic Savio Oratory, B’Kara, and became its director. He
accepted this building on condition that it continued catering for
the children of the common people.
In 1927 he
started the Society’s mission in Abyssinia. Quite missionary, of
director of the missionary Museum and Laboratory.
Two initiatives with which to support the Ethiopia mission.
of God was nominated director of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Laboratory. Another charitable initiative.
the St Joseph’s Band at St Joseph’s Institute, Ghajnsielem, Gozo.
Obviously another charitable activity.
made Senator in the Third Maltese Parliament. Here he did not
intervene a lot, only twice. The first one was when he was asked to
express his opinion when one of the senators, Notary Saviour Borg
Olivier, showed his conviction about inheritances left for
His other intervention
regarded the young girls who had just left some one of the
ecclesiastical charitable insititutes or who had no family to care
He was first
superior, of St Agatha’s Motherhouse, Rabat, Malta. If one were to
make reference to the speech of De Piro on the occasion of the
foundation stone of the Motherhouse, one would find out that the
scope of this House was to serve as a home for the formation of
(d) When De Piro
thought of the poor he thought at that same time of evangelisation,
and vice versa:
When he thought of going to St
Joseph’s Orphanage, Malta, he thought also that from that Home there
would come out a missionary society.
In several of the drafts of the
original constitutions of his missioanry Society he mentioned the
case di beneficenza as one of its main works.
In two of the charitable
institutes, St Joseph’s, Malta, and St Joseph’s, Gozo, he did in
fact introduce the members of his missionary Society to take care of
He continuously respected the
main aim of the Oratory at B’Kara: the care of poor children. At the
same time there he started the aspirandate for the prospective
members of his missionary Society.
While dedicating himself for St
Joseph’s Institute, Malta, there he initiated the novitiate for the
Brothers of his Society.
Introduction - Malta in the 19 and
early years of the 20 centuries
Archipelago consists of the Islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino, and
two other uninhabited islands, Comminotto and Filfla. Since Joseph
De Piro gave his share both in Malta and Gozo this thesis includes a
background regarding both these Islands: in the immediate pages the
information is about the first of the islands, Malta, while a
background about Gozo precedes the presentation of De Piro’s
ministry in this sister island.
The table down
here gives a clear picture of the population in Malta from 1842, the
year of the first census up to 1931:
The Socio - Economic Conditions
Up to the end of the rule of the Order
of the Knights of St John (1530 – 1798), Malta depended on Sicily
for its supply of grain. But the King of Sicily, Ferdinand II, had
prohibited the exportation of grain to Malta at a time when Sicily
enjoyed an abundant harvest. At the time of Napoleon’s rule (1798 –
1800) Malta enjoyed a temporary prosperity as a result of Napoleon’s
From 1813 onwards Malta began experiencing enormous economic
difficulties. We can say that Malta in the early part of the
nineteenth century had been reduced to indegence. This is best shown
by the subdivisions of Maltese society in the late 1840s. Two
thousand families belonged to the professional and land-owning
classes, a substantial number of whom experienced difficulties in
maintaining a decent standard of living. The wealthiest persons
included a few large landowners, some merchants’ families, and a
number of newcomers who shared trade with several British firms.
About 150 merchants, together with a few major industrialists and
retailers, were to represent the apex of Malta’s trading community.
In 1842 this community numbered about 5,000 and included numerous
shopkeepers, dairymen, bakers and the like. These probably earned a
little more than their friends and relatives in other occupations.
One can observe precious little difference between the conditions
and customs of unskilled labourers and those of the numerous
artisans on the Island. It was a current complaint, for example,
that numerous young tradesmen could never rise beyond the level of
unskilled labourers as they set out on their own far too soon, and
with little training. Likewise, one could hardly distinguish between
small farmers and agricultural labourers.
Taken as a whole the profit of the unskilled labourer and the less
able aristans in town and country areas is given as 3c for a full
day’s work in the 1830s. Women could add to this by weaving or
Industrial activity was low. The main form of employment was in the
agricultural, cotton, fishing and lace industries. In fact a study
of the history of the period shows that in the early part of the
nineteenth century, many rural women worked as spinners and weavers
in their homes, or as beaters and dyers of cotton at home or in
small manufacturing factories. Often they even gave a helping hand
in fields and on the farm.
The economic history of Malta
in most of the nineteenth and during the early years of the
twentieth centuries is a case study in economic backwardness. The
general atmosphere during these years deteriorated; social
conditions were poor, often verging on starvation.
Going a little deeper into the
socio-economic conditions of the days, we find that the economic and
social plight of Malta was very unstable. The needs of Malta’s
population were only satisfied in times of war and crises in the
Mediterranean. The considerable economic fluctuation of the Island
was determined mainly by Britain’s decision to avail itself of
Malta’s strategic position as a fortress from which the British navy
could continue to have control over the whole Mediterranean.
As a military base, Malta was thus
vulnerable to variations in defense spending. This problem was
enhanced by the fact that the Island lacked diversity in its
The Royal Commission of 1912 defined Malta’s economy as follows:
For centuries the
Maltese have never been a self-supporting community. Their own
agriculture, industries and commerce have never supported them. They
have always been able to rely on a large expenditure in the Island
revenues drawn from outside sources. This has by no means produced a
pauperized and parasitic population, but it has diverted industry
from production for internal consumption and external trade to work
for the Government and the foreign governing class. A sudden
withdrawal of the British fleet and garrison would reduce a large
section of the population to illness and starvation.
The considerable source of gains from
commercial vessels calling at the Grand Harbour was also cyclical
and subject to variations. This was caused not only as a result of
alternations in world trade, but also because of the changing
patterns of trade in the Mediterranean itself.
In 1880 Malta’s shipping activity was poor. It improved bit by bit
during the following ten years. Again, by 1891 fewer and fewer men
were getting employed at the port.
Unfortunately, Malta entered the twentieth century with a decline in
trade, a fall in government revenue and a rise in unemployment. This
led to widespread poverty. On 18 February 1893, “Malta Taghna”, a
local newspaper, synthesised the situation in this way, “The social
plight of our island is terrible, particularly that of tradesmen,
who besides not being regularly employed, are treated with
the extremest cruelty and harshness, particularly by the Government,
who is paying them much less than they deserve.”
By 1836, the misery of the Maltese was
also generally attributed to their lack of initiative and reckless
Governor Hastings and his secretary blamed the Maltese for their
lack of enterprise.
George Percy P. Badger, an early nineteenth century historian,
refers to “… their entire want of spirit of enterprise.”
The French consul in Malta in 1840 concurred that the Maltese were
more inclined to imitate others than to start things by themselves.
However, the official report of the Royal Commission blamed the
government for the poor state of affairs. The islanders were in a
most miserable condition, the educated among them were a mere
handful, the nobles were starving, the rest of the population fared
Another reason for the bad
situation in which many Maltese lived was created by the expensive
works many of which were carried out under pressure from the British
authorities, works that the income of the Island could not afford.
It was the taxation of the people that was to make good for these
projects! And the taxes came from the bread consumers; the meat had
a nominal taxation on it! And the majority of the Maltese consumed
mostly bread and not meat! This implied that there was great misery
among the poor for they were to pay most of the taxes. The Daily
Malta Chronicle had this to say:
Most of us before
coming to Malta were under the impression that it is thanks to the
expenditure of the rich, that the poor manage to battle with the
stern realities of an advanced state of civilization… The poor are
the real supporters of Malta, because they are the bread consumers
living as they do mostly on the bread obtained from the imported
wheat subjected to that tax of 10s (50c) a quarter from which is
derived the largest part of the revenue of Malta … The rich are the
consumers of meat, on which there is but a nominal duty.
The British Empire materialised some
projects that brought about some labour activity and therefore some
prosperity in Malta. A case in point was the building of two other
docks which were to be added to the one built in 1872.
Also, on 5 July 1901, the British Government, announced that the
navy needed the building of a breakwater at the entrance of the
Grand Harbour. These and similar activities involved a huge number
of workmen; there were 9,000 Maltese employed in naval
establishments. With this increase in labour one must mention also
the increase of wages.
Seeing all this
prosperity many Maltese young men married at a young age. This
brought with it such consequences as the investment in houses and an
increase in the population. The standard of living as a whole went
up. But once the projects mentioned above were finished many
employees were discharged. While the years 1901-1905 brought
prosperity, the years 1906-1913 spelled poverty. By 1911 the number
of Maltese employed with the Admiralty dropped from 9,000 to 5,000.
Also, because of the German naval programme, Britain strengthened
the Home fleet at the expense of Malta and the departures of units
from the Grand Harbour added to the Island’s difficulties. The table
here expains the situation better:
(including 12 large vessels)
(including only 3 large vessels)
It could be said that Malta passed
from prosperity to misery.
According to the Royal Commission of 1912: “…the wages of the
working classes in Malta are low, there is much unemployment, and it
is with great difficulty that they support life…”
When the construction work and the employment with the Admiralty
experienced the rundown, since the local industry had never been
developed, the Maltese turned to agriculture. While in 1910 there
were c.7,000 farmers, in the following years there were 15,200.
Facing such economic crises and the
negative influences on most of the Maltese, the people of the Island
reacted to poverty by begging. During this time, begging was
commonplace; both grown ups and children appear to grow in the
streets. But not only; some considered stealing as a solution.
Others relied on borrowing money or emigration.
In many ways the standard of living of
the 1870s and 1880s remained quite similar to that of the previous
The low standard of living of the Maltese was reflected in their
food. The staple food of a male labourer consisted of some
vegetables, a little cheese, few olives, pasta, and occasionally
fish or fruit. Women and children had less than half this quantity.
main item in the diet of the Maltese was bread. The 1836 Royal
Commissioners had reported that a field labourer ate 2 pounds of
bread a day. Francis Roswell, a British Commissioner investigating
the matter forty years later, concluded that in 1877 the same person
ate from 4 to 5 pounds a day.
the more recent days bread was made from a good quality wheat, but
the prices were double those of the 1830s.
Meat was a rare luxury. In 1842, John Davy remarked that in Gozo, “…
only one bullock was killed for the market, and that was sufficient
for the whole population, including a detachment of British troops
who used a considerable proportion of it.”
Even visitors to Malta from 1840 onwards agreed that both breakfast
and dinner were very poor. At the time, only the rich used to eat
meat while as already said the poor were the real supporters of
Malta, because they were the bread consumers living as they did
mostly on bread which was more highly taxed than meat. One
commentator points out that, in spite of such a poor diet, the
Maltese were a strong and healthy people.
- Housing conditions
The general slump in the standard of
living of the nineteenth century was registered by the Maltese not
only in their poor diet, but also in all other aspects of everyday
life. Coming to deal with habitation Thomas MacGill, writing in
1839, attested that the dwelling of the peasants seemed
Other visitors gave different accounts of these conditions.
The lower classes, which in the nineteenth century amounted to over
90% of the total population, had very bad housing conditions. A
typical rural habitation usually had two floors, the first
consisting of one or two rooms where the family frequently slept on
straw covering themselves with rags and sacks.
The ground floor was usually meant for the animals with a dung room
receiving all human and animal excreta, which was removed twice a
year to be spread as manure in the fields by the farmers.
Sewers were non-existent and there was
no running water supply. In the towns, the
situation was not much better. Some sort of water drainage was only
available in middle class houses which had troughs of porous stones.
Poor homes had open sinks. In 1885, a system of drains was installed
throughout the harbour area. This was carried out just in time. Two
years later, an outbreak of cholera killed 435 persons and would
have probably caused the death of thousands more in the overcrowded
parts of the Island had these sewers not been installed.
Only after the beginning of the twentieth century was the drainage
system extended to most of the villages; the remotest of them did
not get it before 1945.
An attempt was made to conduct the main
water supply to all parts of Malta. During Bouvarie’s governorship
(1836-1843) an aquaduct was built to bring water from Fawwara to
several parts of the Island. In 1856 the first borehole was dug. A
domestic water supply was introduced in 1890. Until then many people
had to make use of public water pumps and private wells.
Both in town and country, ventilation
was poor and ordinary houses possessed few windows.
The 1851 census gives a fair impression of Maltese household. It was
in fact reported that only 17% of dwellings were found to be filthy.
It appeared that the population of both town and country did their
best to keep their places of habitation clean.
George Percy Badger mentioned six
reasons for the bad state of the Maltese, the first one being
The worst cases of overcrowding were found in Valletta, the capital
city of Malta, and in Floriana, its suburb. In 1891 in Floriana
there were 1,249 persons living in 241 rooms, an average of 5.18
persons in one room. In Valletta the situation was not much better:
there were 4,571 persons in 885 rooms, an average of 5.17 persons in
Poverty was reflected also in clothing.
The family dressed in cheap, coarse local cotton – the man in a dark
blue shirt and trousers of fustian, supported by a cotton sash,
doubled and wound several times around the waist and on Sundays, a
sort of coat. Women dressed in a petticoat of black cotton with the
traditional headdress over all. The latter, made of black silk, was
often shared by all the women in the household, sometimes even by
Visitors were shocked meeting
people so ill dressed or in rags. Shoes were hardly ever used. In
fact, up to the late 1930s, it was still common to see town
and country people walking bare footed. Badger says that:
Country people had the
habit of putting on shoes before entering Valletta and taking them
off leaving. Nineteenth century visitors often mention the popular
story of one country woman who asked her companion who was going to
Valletta how long she had been using her pair of shoes. The answer
was that she had worn them since the time of the plague, 1813. ‘Oh!
replied the other, ‘mine are much older, for I have had them since
the blockade of the French, 1798.
The Maltese themselves were dirty in
habit, displaying a marked reluctance to wash.
As had been said already, the domestic water supply was only
introduced in 1890.
Because of this, personal cleanliness was still generally rare until
the introduction of bathrooms. It was only in the second and third
decades of the twentieth century that newly built houses began to
Before these years the houses with a bathroom were a rarity. In
such conditions, it was no wonder that many diseases spread and
frequently claimed numerous victims.
This had other repercussions on Maltese society, such as the death
of nearly 50% of the infants born every year.
In early twentieth century Malta
illiteracy was widespread and education of the general population
was non-existent. The snail’s pace in education was not only due to
the government’s miserliness in the education vote, but also to the
little interest shown initially by the Church and most important of
all, to the language problem.
The Maltese language, originally
Semitic with overtones of Romance, and an exception to the group
with a Latin alphabet, had no official literary form at that time.
Italian had been the official language from the time of the Knights,
and so Maltese had not developed and next to nothing was published
in this language.
It was in the 1920s and 1930s, however, that the knowledge of
English started to spread so consistently that eventually it even
The first elementary schools for the
people were opened in 1819. In 1831, apart from the University of
Valletta, to which the Lyceum or Secondary School was annexed, there
were two normal schools, one for boys and one for girls, supported
by voluntary contributions and by the local government.
At the nursery school children were taught folktales,
nursery rhymes, and prayers, but hardly anything else. The
Government Department for primary Schools was set up in 1840, but
the progress was so slow that by 1861, out of a population of
134,055, less than 8,000 males could read Italian and less than
4,000 could read English.
The low standard of living discouraged
parents from sending their boys to school. Boys were made to work at
a very early age in order to earn some money. The higher the cost of
living, the more this was liable to happen.
fared even worse.
The 1891 census reported that while 80% of males between the age of
40 and 50 could not read, 85% of females in the same age group were
illiterate. During this period there were also four main secondary
schools and a few small private ones. The Lyceum, which had 415
students in 1900, was by far the largest, while the girls’ grammar
school had a population of only 120. The University, which catered
almost exclusively for the well to do, had only 86 male students.
What follows shows the situation of the school attendance according
to the1903 Census of the Maltese Islands:
Children 5 to 9 years
Not in schools
Not in schools
Between 1908 and 1916 only 3,000
children followed a complete course of elementary education up to
To make matters in the field of
education worse, teachers were insufficiently trained and badly
paid, making the teaching profession unattractive to those who were
more qualified; many of these resorted to it only when no
education began to spread after the Second World War.
From the middle of the nineteenth
century, the Church authorities showed a great interest in
education, firstly, with the reform of studies in the Seminary of
Malta, and secondly, with the establishment of ecclesiastical
schools and colleges run by male and female religious orders.
The spread of poverty was best
reflected in the hordes of male and female beggars, roaming the
streets of towns, particularly Valletta. Beggars were an unpopular
sight with the British authorities and there were various attempts
to control them.
Penrose Julyan, a British commissioner, in 1880, noted that there
was too much charity in Malta.
In the 1850s,Valletta was described as a nest of beggars.
In the 1851 census, 1,452 persons were classed as aged and infirm
while 12,483 families, or 49 % of the population, were classified as
The situation remained pretty much the same in the early twentieth
- The government’s share in charity
Through the Committee for Charitable
institutions set up in 1825, the government of that time gave
monthly alms and donations. By 1836 this amounted to almost 10% of
the total annual vote for both Islands by.
By 1854, 2,018 persons received relief from public funds, while
1,524 were kept in charitable institutions at public expenses.
Commissioner Penrose argued that anyone who lived by daily labour in
1880 was considered to have a claim to grauitous medical assistance
The situation remained pretty much the same in the early twentieth
- The local Church’s share in
Faced with these very hard and poor
situations in many aspects of Maltese life during the nineteenth and
early years of the twentieth centuries, the local Church authorities
were concerned to teach social principles and to draw the rich and
the working classes together by reminding everyone of one’s duties
towards the other, and especially of the obigations of justice.
The Church even encouraged the faithful towards almsgiving. Mgr
Peter Pace, the Archbishop of Malta, in 1909, said this in one of
his Pastoral Letters:
Let us accept it as
true Christians and let us seek to compensate the dispensations
given by the Holy Fathers. This could be done by paying a visit to
the Blessed Sacrament at least once every week and by giving alms
according to our means to the poor of Jesus Christ, especially in
these times when we are witnessing nothing except misery due to the
general crisis in all the branches of commerce.
In another Letter published in
1910 Pace exhorted the Maltese by these words:
We recommend the usual
visit to the Blessed Sacrament in gratitude for the many graces
showered upon us; and also almsgiving according to one’s capacity to
the poor in our times. Let us remember that almsgiving is the living
expression of fraternal charity.
The Church itself helped even
materially towards the improvement of the economic situation of
Malta and Gozo. At the worst times, the Church increased her
contributions by donating half the proceeds from masses for the
repose of souls.
Besides the above mentioned means the
Church felt the duty to contribute to the betterment of the poor
classes through her charitable organizations such as hospitals,
homes for the aged and the poor, orphanages, crèches and industrial
This was done with the aim that the poor would rise above poverty
and wretchedness, and better their condition of life.
Since the nineteenth century,
the local Church had multiplied her efforts to open new homes where
a not inconsiderable number of less fortunate children could receive
a sound spiritual formation, coupled with a good primary and
technical education. According to the Blue Book of 1937 the Church
had these institutions for children:
Andrea Agius sj and Laurica Agius
St Peter and Paul
Bishop Vincenzo Labini
Good Shepherd Sisters
Fra Diegu Bonanno Ofm
Piccola Casa di S. Giuseppe
Mgr Isidor Formosa
Canon Francesco Bonnici
Mgr Isidor Formosa
Alphonse Maria Galea
Daughters of the Sacred Heart
Home for infants
Mgr G. De Piro
Gozo parish priests
St Francis de Paul
Jesus of Nazareth
Daughters of the Sacred Heart
Fr F. Grech op
Only 1 institute in the
eighteenth century; 6 in the nineteenth (all in the second half of
the century); and 8 in the first years of the twentieth.
Up to 1888 there were only the
institutes for girls. It was Mgr A. M. Buhagiar, the Apostolic
Administrator of Malta, who encouraged Mgr F. Bonnici to start an
institute for orphaned boys.
In 1937, 3 institutes were for
boys, 10 were for girls and 2 were for babies.
In all the institutes, with the
exception of those for babies, the children got all the aspects of
their formation, including the learning of a trade, within the
building of the institution.
The founders were: 4 diocesan
priests, 6 religious, and 6 lay persons.
No one of these institutes were
to be found in the north of Malta.
In all institutes, in 1937,
there were 1064 between babies, and boys and girls up to the age of
In sharp contrast with this social
involvement which was mainly based on charity, in 1902, local Church
authorities took a bold stand vis-à-vis the colonial Government on
the problem of taxation which was touching the pockets of the
people , especially the poorest members of society.
In fact Archbishop Pace, on behalf of the Maltese people,
sent a petition to King Edward VII, on the occasion of his visit to
Malta in January 1902, wherein he asked His Majesty “to reduce
In a letter dated January 3, 1902, the special representatives of
the Archbishop and the Chapter of the Cathedral presented the
following petition to the newly arrived Governor, Thomas Wallace:
The Archbishop of Malta and the Chapter
of this Cathedral Church find it necessary under the present
political emergency to present themselves in all humility at the
August Throne of your Majesty in the present political events, to
protest against … the imposition of the new taxes, which directly or
indirectly will impoverish the lower class of the population which
already was very poor in the country.
This type of social action on
the part of the Church was directly intended to bring about social
order among the Islanders and the bettement of the dignity of the
poor. A few years after, Mgr Joseph De Piro greatly supported this
movement of the Church both in Malta and in Gozo.
- De Piro’s share in charity
De Piro had a big
share in the Church’s contribution towards the poor and the needy.
He carried on this ministry (1) in an institutionalised way in
various organisations of the Church, (2) in a non-institutionalised
way through personal and at times spontaneous initiatives and (3) by
working for justice.
De Piro’s charity
was not limited to any particluar place, but he practised it first
and foremost in the ecclesiastical charitable institutes under his
care. Michael Louis Casolani, the originator and great benefactor of
St Dominic Savio Oratory, in Birkirkara, once wished to have a
meeting with the Servant of God. On 15 December 1925 the former
wrote to De Piro inviting him for such a meeting. In this letter
Casolani considered De Piro as synonymous with the institutes of
beneficence,“Sebbene non abbia avuto ancora il piacere di vederla,
mi si dice che Ella sia, da qualche tempo, ritornato dal Suo
viaggio, che spero esser stato proficero alla Sua salute
tanto preziosa per quanti hanno a cuore le opere di beneficenza in
queste nostre isole.”
(i) Director of
Fra Diegu Institute, Hamrun, Malta
From the time he was a seminarian in
Rome, Joseph De Piro had contacts with Fr Emmanuel Vassallo, the
director, and Fr George Bugeja, his assistant at St Joseph’s
Orphanage in Santa Venera, Malta. De Piro used to send them
donations for the boys living in that Institute.
In one occasion when De Piro even substituted Bugeja at the
Institute because Fr. George was abroad for about one
month ... and the Servant of God
was most successful.
This same contact with the Institute’s Assistant Director solved the
problem the Archbishop of Malta had about whom to choose for the
leadership of another orphanage, Fra Diegu Institute, at a time when
the Franciscans Minor could not continue administering it. When
Archbishop Peter Pace found himself faced with this difficulty he
talked to Fr George Bugeja of St Joseph’s, Malta, about it and the
latter immediately mentioned De Piro. His Excellency accepted this
proposal, and on 2 August 1907 nominated the Servant of God Director
of Fra Diegu Institute for girls:
Avendo i RR. PP.
Minori, per ordine del ‘Fra Diegu’ da essi con tanto zelo diretto, e
trasferito per atti pubblici a noi e nostri successori tutti i
diritti, azioni e pertinenze di detto Istituto; dovendo ora
provvedere il medesimo di un Direttore pio e solente, noi, a cui è
nota la prudenza di V. S., lo zelo e l’ attività, di buon cuore vi
nominiamo a tale ufficio con tutte le facoltà necessarie ed
opportune e siamo persuasi che diretto da Lei l’ Istituto ed
appoggiato dalla generosità dei fedeli, continuerà a fiorire coll’
assistenza delle benemerite Terziarie Francescane, le quali, animate
dallo spirito del loro Serafico Patriarca non risparmieranno fatica
di sorta, come fin ora han fatto per educare ed istruire le ragazze
in esso ricoverate, onde poter nella loro condizione guadagnare un
giorno l’onesto loro sostentamento.”
On that same day
the Servant of God was deputed and nominated administrator of the
Magna Curia Epale Melitem
Die 2 Augusti 1907
Attente deputatione Adm. Rev. Dni. Sac.
Josephi De Piro in Directorem Pii Instituti San. Francesci
Assisiensis, vulgo ‘Fra Diegu’ a quondam Fra Leidaco ex Ordine
Minorum fundati hodie ab Eccellmo ac Revmo Dno Archipiecopo Episcopo
Petro Pace facta per Litteras in Secreteria Asservatas … Sua Revma
diputavit atque nominavit prout deputat atque nominat in
Administratorum praefati Instituti eundem Adm, Rev. Dnum. Sac.
Josephum De Piro ... eidem tribuent omnes et singulas facultates
necessarias et opportunas.
Can Al Camillleri
- De Piro’s
dedication to Fra Diegu Institute
De Piro involved
himself wholeheartedly in the running of the Institute. At that time
he had no other official appointment. He visited the Orphanage
regularly and spent hours talking to the Sisters and the girls.
Sisters Consiglia Vassallo and Felicia Vella, two nuns who were at
Fra Diegu Institue at the time of De Piro said this about the
Director, “He used to visit the Institute three times a week,
Monday, Thursday and Saturday… Whenever he visited the Insitute, he
used to go around all the children on the place of work in order to
Cilia who was the superior at the time of the death of the Servant
of God, and Mother Cleophas Bondin, a teacher at Fra Diegu, said
almost the same things.
The Director kept
this regular contact even in later years when he was burdened with
many other responsabilities.
- A very humble
The Servant of God
was thirty years old when entrusted with the direction of Fra Diegu
Instititute. At first the Sisters of the Tertiary Franciscan Order,
who did the day to day work of the Institute, imagined that coming
from a distinguished Maltese family, Fr Joseph De Piro would be
aloof and difficult to approach. This notion was rapidly dispelled
as soon as De Piro encountered them for the first time. Indeed they
were surprised by his ability to mix with the young orphan girls, in
spite of the fact that this was his first such experience.
- A balanced
formator - loving but firm
Srs Giakkina Vella
and Eletta Sant emphasised the fact that the Director became even
popular with the girls who saw in him a loving father.
However he was also a firm administrator and his first concern was
that the girls should get a proper education. Rather than punishing
the girls, De Pir
o always made it a
point to explain what they had done wrong. He was strongly against
corporal punishment and he discouraged the Sisters from shouting at
the girls. Sr Pacifika Xuereb said that the Servant of God used to
tell the Sisters, “Never shout at the children and always be kind
and gentle with the kids. You will win them over. Keep them always
happy. Be patient with them…”
Sr Pacifika continued saying that:
Children in those days were a bit
naughty and whenever there used to be a girl who was up to some
mischief, Mother Superior used to bring her in front of Monsignor
and tell him, ‘Monsignor, I brought her in front of you so that you
correct her.’ ‘Yes, bring her in,’ he answered. Do not think that he
shouted at her! Not at all. He used to tell her some words in a
gentle way. He would warn her not to do it again and never punish
her for whatever she would have done. Even whenever he spoke to the
girls together about their behaviour, he never used harsh words.
Rather he used to tell them these sort of words, ‘Consider
yourselves lucky for being at the Insititue.’ Moreover he used to
give them something or else invite them for lunch.
Sr Xuereb also
said that at the same time De Piro insisted that the girls should be
closely watched over at all times and that they should not be left
guarantor for the Institute
Few people were
actually aware of the extent of De Piro’s regular financial help to
the Institute. Srs Consiglia Vassallo and Felice Vella said this,
“He loved the children a lot. He made huge sacrifices for them. He
used to go round collecting money for Fra Diegu Institute.”
Carmena Mallia, an
old girl of Fra Diegu Institute, confirmed this:
… because he was at
the same time kindness itself and was much devoted to us children.
In his capacity of Director, the Sisters of the Institute came to
him for all their needs and he was always ready to provide all they
required. He never ever mentioned where or how he obtained the
things which were asked of him and sometimes it was evident that it
was he himself who was the donor.
saying that once, during the hard days of the First World War, when
the general social condition severely affected the contributions of
the population, De Piro personally paid the bill for the bread
consumed at Fra Diegu’s Institute.
towards the benefactors
If De Piro
personally helped the Institute a lot, it was also quite obvious
that Fra Diegu depended a lot on benefactors. On his part the
Director invited these kind hearted people regularly to all
activities in the various institutes under his care. This was
attested to by Mother Cleophas Bondin who was a teacher at Fra Diegu
Institute at the time of De Piro, “He gave a lot of importance to
the benefactors of the Insititute. He used to organise fairs for the
Institute, and also recreative activities, and he used to invite
noble persons for them.”
De Piro did not
distinguish between donors; for him it was not the value of the
donation that mattered. Mother Pacifika Xuereb witnessed this:
Whenever Providence knocked at the door
or I spoke to him of any donation given, he would promptly write a
note of thanks to the donor. When the donation was not a big sum and
still he would want to write a ticket of thanks, I used to tell him,
‘Why are you sending him a note for such a small sum?’ ‘No,’ he used
to say, ‘Small things and big things are the same in God’s eyes. One
can give so much and another can give more, but they both have the
same merit. Always be grateful for whatever comes as a Providence.
- A holistic
- The learning of
In addition to
learning academic subjects, the girls were taught cooking, sewing,
embroidery and other practical subjects. De Piro personally used to
bring prizes for those who distinguished themselves in these
subjects. These prizes were often presented by some personality who
was invited for the occasion:
He also gave much
importance to the teaching of trades and crafts. Before he came to
Fra Diegu certain trades were already taught at the Institute, but
Mgr De Piro added other subjects to the list and brought about a
great improvement in their teaching.
It was not only
Monsignor who was interested in the trades. Members of his family
also used to make orders for work to be done for them at the
Institute. There was a first class dressmaker who taught the girls
this craft. The Franciscan Sisters who looked after the Institute,
and especially those among them who hailed from Gozo, taught us
lacemaking. At the end of the day Mgr De Piro would go round the
workshops and inspect carefully the work done during the day. He
also enjoyed taking visitors round the workshops to see the girls at
work. One particular visitor I remember was Lord Gerard Strickland
with whom Mgr De Piro was very friendly. The Director used to tell
us that Lord Strickland was a benefactor of our Institute.
- Care of the spiritual aspect
of the girls’ life
One of Monsignor’s
beliefs was that the girls should wear better dresses on Sundays as
these would make them realise that that day should be a special one.
Servant of God himself used to examine the young girls before their
First Holy Communion, to which he attached particular importance.
So much so that he personally saw to it that the girls were
suitably prepared to receive the First Holy Communion.
Carmena Mallia, the Servant of God had a deep eucharistic
I also remember how
careful Mgr De Piro was to attend regularly at the weekly adoration.
Before the Eucharistic Congress we used to have this weekly
adoration every Friday, but after the Congress we started holding it
on Thursdays and Mgr De Piro never failed to be with us. Moreover,
when on special feast days he would say Mass at Fra Diegu Institute
we were much impressed by the devotion with which he officiated. He
not only lived this devotion in his own life, but he also managed to
instill it in us, children.
Moreover Mgr De
Piro had a genuine and deep Marian spirituality which was evident
even in his administration of Fra Diegu Institute.
His love for the Virgin Mary made him place his complete trust in
her. He had a special affection for Our Lady of Pompei. Its feast
day is celebrated on 8 May, the day on which he had finally decided
on his priestly vocation.
For some years he celebrated the feast in the chapel of Fra Diegu
De Piro’s devotion
to Our Lady could be noticed all the year round. Whenever he came to
the Institute he never failed to kneel in front of the statue of Our
Lady and say three Hail Mary.
He was always praying whenever he found some free time. Indeed he
was always reciting the rosary.
The Director also
insisted that there should be a number of priests who visited the
Institute regularly in order to cater for the spiritual needs of the
- Recreation, an important
element in the girls’ upbringing
strongly believed in the importance of recreation as a means with
which to make the girls happy. He organised plays and outings and
games to gladden the young orphans’ lives. He wanted to make the
orphans’ existence in the Institute a happier one than they had
He had the girls of Fra Diegu so much at heart and he so much
believed in the importance of recreation that he remembered this
even while writing his will:
Lascio ancora a
titulo di prelegato all’Istituto Fra Diegu del Hamrun un titulo di
fondi pubblici, del valore di lire cento nominali, che attualmente
fruttifichi non meno di lire sterline quattro l’anno; il quale
interesse servirà per la ricreazione dell’Albero di Natale, alle
ragazze di detto Istituto ...”
- The Director’s
love for the families of the girls of Fra Diegu
also said that more than once Monsignor visited the families of the
“On many occasions he was called to the
deathbed of one or other of the parents of a girl, and he would go
to assist them in the last moments of their life. He also gave
financial aid to those families who needed it.”
- De Piro’s love
even for the old girls
The Servant of God
did not care for the girls only while they were at Fra Diegu. The
documents which are still in the De Piro Archives give proof of
this: the Director recommended several petitions written to the
Archbishop of Malta asking him for some benefit either for their
entry into religious life or to be married:
A Sua Eccza Revma
Mgr Dom mauro Caruana O.S.B.
Arcivescovo Vescovo di Malta
etc etc etc
Umile ricorso di Emmanuela Sant
ricoverata all’Istituto Fra Diego.
La ricorrente prostrata al bacio del
Sacro Anello umilmente espone:-
Che sentendosi vocata allo stato
Religioso ha fatto domanda alla Superiora Generale delle Terziarie
Franescane e venne accettata ed ammessa come postulante.
Che non avendo una sufficiente dote,
essendo molto povera, ha avanzato domanda alla Confraternita è
desiderosa di venire in suo soccorso coll’offerta di £5 dal Cumulo
Pietro Barbieri" qualora V. E. lo permettesse.
Pertanto la ricorrente fiduciosa sul
buon Cuore di Vostra Eccellenza, sempre pronto a soccorrere i
poveri, umilmente Le domanda a voler autorizzare detta Insigne
Confraternita al surreferito prelevamento e cosi sollecitare la Sua
E della grazia etc.
Presentato il di’ 4 Luglio 1919
Sac. P. Vella Mangion
1 Luglio 1919
Certifico che Emmanuela Sant di
quest’Istituto, è una giovane che da segni non dubbi di vocazione
allo Stato religioso. Essendo però molto povera, è meritevole di
essere aiutata per esser ammessa al Noviziato.
Canco. G. De Piro
Direttore dell’Ist., Fra Diegu
Another one says this:
Mgr G. De Piro nella
sua qualità di Direttore dell’Istituto San Fco. d’Assisi - Fra Diegu
- prostrato al bacio del Sacro Anello umilmente espone, che il fu
Sigr. Nicola Mamo, per Atti del Notaro Amabile Bezzina dell’11
Maggio 1907, lasciò trenta doti di maritaggio dell’ammonto di lire
sterline quindici (£15) l’una, da percepire una in ciascun anno
dalle ragazze ricorrente nell’Istituto Fra Diegu.
Che, salvo concorrenza, l’unica
condizione apporta nulla tavole di fondazione è che la ragazza
"fosse stata ivi (nell’Istituto Fra Diegu) ricoverata per almeno tre
Che la ragazza Caterina Calleia già
ricoverata nel detto Istituto dal 1907 al 1919 è sul punto di
collocarsi in oneste nozze, ed essendo priva di mezzi di fortuna
ricorre alla direzione di detto Istituto, domandando un soccorso;
Che l’Esecutore Testamentario, il
Signor Notaro Michael L. Casolani ritiene essere volontà del
testatore che la ragazza a cui fosse assequata tale dote doverse
essere "actu" ricoverate in detto Istituto; e perciò trova
difficolta di accedere alla richiesta del ricorrente in favore di
Che a parte, che questa volontà del
testatore non appare dalla tavola suddetta, il fidanzare una
ragazza, mentre ancora ricoverata, non è considerato prudente dal
ricorrente. Molto facilmente infatti può darsi il caso che la
ragazza dica di si, soltanto per liberarsi dalla vita dell’Istituto,
che ordinariamente incominciare a pesare a tutte quelle che crescono
Che per tranquillità di ascienza tanto
del Signor Esecutore Testamentario, quanto del ricorrente,
umilmente, lo stesso, domanda a Vra Eccza Revma, onde ottemperando
allo spirito della fondazione (la quale provvide pei casi di
conoscenza ed … "da deciderci dalla direzione dell’Istituto
coll’approvazione dell’Ordinario ossia del Vescovo pro tempore di
Malta") a voler asseguare alla ragazza povera a quà alcuna
dell’Istituto suddetto, Caterina, di questa dote dovuta nel 1915.
Che della grazia etc.
Mgr G. De Piro
Presentato dal ricorrente
il di 1 Luglio 1927
Can. P. Buttigieg
payment of these and other dowries, it was testified before the
Ecclesiastical Tribunal set up to hear the witnesses in the Diocesan
Porcess of the Cause of Canonisation of the Servant of God, Joseph
De Piro, that the Director helped even in other ways the girls who
had been at Fra Diegu at his time. Carmena Mallia said that:
His care for us was
not limited to our stay at the Institute but followed us even when
we came to leave. It pleased him to buy bales of cloth for making
clothes, and when we reached the age of fifteen he would tell the
Mother Superior to prepare a parcel with the clothes we needed when
we left the Institute, and to start putting aside a little money
regularly to be given to the girls at the time of their departure.
Helen Muscat, another old girl
of Fra Diegu, said that:
When he celebrated his
25 anniversary as director of Fra Diegu, he invited the old girls of
the Institute. In the speech he delivered on this occasion he showed
them that he was still their father, ‘If you would be in need of
anything come to me, do not hesitate. The fact that you have left
the Institute must not hinder you from coming’.
- De Piro, the
orderly Director … and a one who trusted God’s Providence
It has already been said that Fra Diegu
had become a Diocesan Institute.
Therefore, periodically the Archbishop’s Curia sent a trusted person
to examine the ledgers of the Institute. Alphonse Maria Galea,
himself a great Maltese philantropist,
was one of those who had been sent to verify the Institute’s books.
In one of his reports he put down these words:
A Sua Ecc. Illma &
Mgr Dom Mauro Caruana
Arciv. Vescovo di
In obbedienza al
mandato dell’E.V. Revma, ho esaminato io i libri degli otto anni di
amministrazione dell’Istituto "Fra Diegu" chiusi al 31 Dicembre
1915, ed i documenti relativi, e sono in grado di asserire di averli
trovati in perfetta regola. Ho pure esaminato i diversi Titoli di
Debito Pubblico nei quali furono impiegati il Lascito Hardman ed
altri Legati a favore del suddetto Istituto come pure i capitali
risultanti dalle due precedenti amministrazioni non che quello
formato per le economie del presente Direttore ed Amministratore
dell’Istituto, Monsignor Can. Don Giuseppe di Marchesi De Piro
d’Amico, durante i suddetti otto anni di sua gestione; e mentre
l’E.V. Revma m’ha offerta un’altra occasione di ammirare la
Providenza Divina, mi è grato di rilevare che coll’aiuto di Dio con
insistente affetto filiale implorato dall’Amministratore e con ferma
fiducia di esserne esaudito, non si potrebbe desiderare più ordinata
e diligente amministrazione. Posso inoltro asserire che i suddetti
Titoli di Debito Pubblico e il denaro in contante per le spese
giornaliere o altro bilancio fruttuante sono conservati in luogo
In ossequio al mio mandato devo però
notare che dalla copia d’un ricevo di lucri pel capitale del Lascito
Baynes presso l’Amministratore dei Beni Creditari del Marchese
Giuseppe Scicluna che mi fu mostrata potrebbe, come è formulata,
risultare qualche ambigiutà quanto all’impiego del capitale se cioè
il detto capitale si trovi a interesse presso l’Amministratore dei
Beni Creditari suddetti ovvero se l’interesse provenga dall’impiego
del capitale in Titoli di Debito Pubblico ivi menzionati. Di fatto,
all’Istituto Fra Diegu siamo pagando i lucri del capitale alla
ragione del 3% l’anno. chieste le opportune informazioni a Monsignor
De Piro e viste le circostanze del fatto, sembra evidente che non si
fosse potuto agire altrimenti, ne’ vi ha ragione di dubitare del
risultato finale a favore dell’Istituto stesso già tanto benficato
dal Inste Scicluna…
Interrogato Monsignor Can. De Piro
intorno al diritto di amministrazione che gli potrebbe spettare,
sono stato dal medesimo informato che egli ha sempre prestato
l’opera sua gratuitamente (gratis et amore Dei) e che non ha
intenzione alcuna di chiedere compensi per l’avvenire.
Con tutta riverenza, mi prostro al
bacio del Sacro Anello dell’E.V.R. e La prego di benedire il
Suo Devmo Figlio in G.C.
Sliema 10 Febbraio 1916
Presentata il 10 Giugno 1916
Sac. P. Vella Mangion
report Alphonse Maria Galea had this to say:
Per mandato dell’E.V. Revmo del 17
Gennaio 1920 ed in ossequio allo stesso, ho riveduto i Libri di
Amministrazione dell’ "Istituto Fra Diegu" (Hamrun) chiusi al 31
Dicembre 1919, tenuti dallo Illmo & Revmo Mgr Can. G. De Piro
Navarra, Direttore dello stesso, nei quattro anni, successivi alla
sua antecedente ammininstrazione, cioè dal 1916 al 1919, e li ho
trovati in piena regola e corredati dei documenti giustificativi, e
ben tenuti, come a buon Amministratore si addice ...Registri
dimostrano un attivo in cassa al 31 dicembre 1919 di stg.701.6.0
L’apposito registro per capitali
impiegati in Titoli di Fondi Pubblici o a lucro presso le Banche,
suggerito nella Relazione del 10 Febbraio 1916 e ordinato con
venerato decreto dell’E.V. Revma, è stato debitamente aperto dal
Revmo Direttore. Esso dimostra il regolare incasso di dividendi e di
lucri dovuti come poi si trovano accreditati nel LiBr di
Amministrazione alle date ivi indicate, meno certamente quei
dividendi che per ragioni di guerra si trovano momentaneamente
sospesi. In ciascun conto aperto in questo registro si trova
indicata la provenienza del relativo capitale e il suo impiego, ed a
ciascuno di essi vi ho adesso apposta la mia firma in qualità di
Mgr Can. De Piro Navarra molto
generosamente rinunzia al proprio diritto di economia a favore
dell’"Istituto Fra Diegu" che egli amministra con tanta carità ed
I conti di Introito ed Esito dimostrano
il favore del pubblico verso l’Istituto e verso che degnamente
l’amministra, poichè quantunque ci troviamo in piena crisi
finanziaria, i due conti … a bilanciarsi senza alterare le assi di
proprietà dell’Isituto medesimo; ed è dir molto.
Prostrato al bacio del Sacro Anello
dell’E.V. Revma Devmo figlio in G.C.
A. M. Galea
Presentato dal ricorente
il di’ 8 Marzo 1920.
Sac. P. Vella Mangion
of the Jesus of Nazareth Institute, Zejtun, Malta
Curmi, a spinster, was born in Valletta on 15 October 1864. At about
the age of five she was taken by her family to Zejtun, a town to the
south of Malta, where her father was nominated mayor by the British
In 1895, moved by the miserable situation of many poor and
orphaned children, Curmi started helping them by the teaching of
In 1913 she also invited a group of young women to join her, and
with them initiated a religious congregation in order to take care
of those same poor children.
After passing from one house to another
Guzeppina Curmi borrowed some money and in 1925 started the
building of a new home, the Jesus of Nazareth Institute.
This was officially opened and blessed by the Archbishop of
Malta, Mgr Mauro Caruana, on 16 July 1930.
Mgr De Piro helped
Maria Guzeppina Curmi a lot. He was her spirtitual director from
1913 and for some years later.
Then, Curmi herself asked the Servant of God his help in the
foundation of her religious congregation the “Missionary Sisters of
Jesus of Nazareth”.
But according to the letter written by the Servant of God to
Archbishop Caruana, on 21 May 1933, it was His Excellency who had
nominated De Piro Director of the Orphange known as Jesus of
It is this third contribution of De Piro to Guzeppina Curmi that is
going to be dealt with here.
- De Piro, the
Director of the Orphanage
In 1922, following
the death of Fr Paul Zammit, the Institute’s first director, Curmi
wrote to the Servant of God asking him to take over its running.
De Piro accepted, not because of Curmi’s petition, but because
of the Archbishop’s request.
Curmi let herself
be guided completely by De Piro in all matters pertaining to the
In 1925 Guzeppina had obtained the Archbishop’s permission to
borrow money to buy land on which to build a bigger Institute, one
that was to accommodate 150 orphaned and homeless girls.
De Piro assumed responsibility of the project, the first stone of
which was laid that same year.
He kept a careful record detailing all expenses. These were so great
that all building activity soon came to a temporary halt. The basic
section of the new Institute was only finished in1930. On the
inauguration day De Piro delivered this speech:
Quanto più dura è stata la fatica al
raggiungimento di un obiettivo, tanto più è grato il possesso dello
stesso. Ed è perciò che oggi, con una naturale grande sodisfazione,
tanto propria come anche della Signa Giuseppina Curmi e delle sue
coadiutrici; nonchè di tutte le buone fanciulle, quà radunate, e
protette dal manto di N.S. Gesù Nazzareno; mi è concesso di
dirigermi, per la prima volta, a Vra Eccza entro queste nuove
pareti, per invitarla ad invocare sopra le stesse le più elette
celesti benedizioni secondo il rito della nostra santa ed amata
madre la Chiesa.
Dal giorno, infatti, in cui la
benedizione del cielo è scesa, per ministero di V. E., sulla prima
pietra, sono trascorsi ben oltre cinque anni - cinque anni colmi di
ansie e di consolazioni, non disgiunte dai sensi di lode e di fede
verso la Divina Provvidenza - Venne infatti dato inizio a questa
quantunque incompleta, ma vasta fabbrica coi fogli del registro,
insin dal primo ancora in bianco - niente vi era scritto! e
quantunque non era da recar meraviglia, purtuttavia fu con una forte
stretta al cuore, se fummo costretti a veder fermato ciò che era
cominciato con tanta vitalità - ma il sacrificio doveva dare il suo
frutto ed il niente del registro accompagnato da un fisso sguardo in
alto divenne qualcosa, e dopo una sosta, lunga e breve allo stesso
tempo, il campanio degli atrezzi risuonò di nuovo attorno alle basi
gia quasi tutte delineate. A questa ripresa ci sembrava essere stati
meno temerari perchè la prima pagina del nostro liBr segnava un
attiva di settanta sterline, ma subito ci accorgemmo che non eravamo
piu savi di prima, - il Signore infatti ci moveva ad un termine che
doveva eccedere il valore di lire sterline quattromila - Ma ora che
il passato venne superato, godiamo! perchè non ci resta che di
lodare l’azione divina, che prevenne ed accompagnò l’umile, se non
inutile, opera nostra
A questo punto mi permetterà di
presentare ai nostri benefattori, strumenti docili nelle mani di
Dio, i sensi più profondi ed intensi della nostra gratitudine per
l’aiuto direi spontaneo ed inspirato, col quale vennero a nostro
soccorso per questo primo compimento di un opera da tutti e sempre
ammessa come eminentemente sociale e cristiana. Tante erano le
industrie del soccorso, da farci spesso sentire la verità, che molte
e molte sono le vie della Provvidenza, ma ciò che più rifulse e
maggiormente glorificò Iddio, e sarà al certo di conforto a V.E. è
la modestia, tutta quanta evangelica, colla quale, al par di messi
celesti, ci avvicinavano; non mancarono infatti dei casi in cui
appena noi potevamo venire a conoscenza della mano benefica. Da
parte nostra corrispondemmo coll’alzare la nostra debole ed umile
voce all’Altissimo per ripagarli del centuplo promesso, ed oggi a
soddisfare meglio questo dovere, osiamo sempre a nome di tutto
l’Istituto, umiliare a V.E. la supplica di ricordare questi nostri
buoni benefattori e benefattrici; mentre per le Sue sacre mani, Gesù
Ostia verrà immolato al Padre Celeste, per la prima volta, entro
questo sacro recinto.
L’odierna sacra e cara ceremonia forma
una prima tappa del cammino che ancora ci rimane, essa è una dolce e
soave oasi che ci rinnova la lena per riprendere il viaggio, essa è
il primo pianerottolo di una scala ben più alta; ma il cuore ...
maggiormente disposto dei nostri cari benefattori e benfattrici, ma
la graziosa presenza di Vra Eccza, che nel preconizzarci nuovi
favori ci unisce al vicario di Cristo in terra, ma la comunicazione
colla magione celeste, che Vra Eccza sta per darci e lasciarci; sono
tutte .... che danno certezza in fondo al nostro cuore di arrivare
al termine del nostro viaggio, e di sa lire in cima alla vetta
assegnataci dal Divin Volere.
A nome proprio, a nome della Signa
Giuseppina Curmi e sue codiutrici compio il dolce ed onorifico
dovere di invitarla all’adempimento di un’azione che la rende,
ognior più simile al santo di cui degnamente porta il nome -
Eccellenza; La invito a benedire questi nuovi locali intesi a
ricevere l’Opera di Gesu Nazareno per ragazze povere ed orfane.
Mgr G De Piro
In a report to the Archbishop,
the De Piro explained what his work had been in association with the
Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth. He noted in detail the charitable work
the Sisters were accomplishing with generosity and self-denial, and
mentioned what his future projects for them were:
Il Canco Decano Giuseppe De Piro,
prostrato all’bacio del Sacro Anello, umilmente espone : che egli
trovasi alla direzione degli Istituti Gesu Nazzareno di Zeitun e San
Francesco di Paula di Birchircara, del Laboratorio Sacro Cuore di
Gesu di Valletta, e della Sezione Infantile della Casa di San
Giuseppe a Hamrun; tutte Case indipendenti l’una dall’altra, ma che
tutte mirano a porgere una mano paterna ora all’infanzia di ambo i
sessi, ora a ragazze povere ed orfane, ed ora a ragazze disoccupate;
e si prevede che in futuro potrà essere estesa l’opera a favore di
povere vedove e di poveri vecchi, in modo pero ausiliare per quanto
possibile dell’opera principale surriferita;
Che in detta Casa di Beneficenza al
presente l’Ore è coadiuvato da Signore e Signorine che si danno al
bene di queste opere con tutta generosita ed abnegazione;
Che pero estendosi in dimensione tali
opere e dovendo provvedere alla loro stabilita si sente impellente
il bisogno di aver le stesse provedute e corredate da un personale
costituito in un corpo ben organizzato;
Che all’Istituto Gesu Nazzareno di
Zeitun, aperto dalla generosita della Signa Giuseppina Curmi,
l’Oratore a gia da tempo ravvisato nelle Signe coadiutrici con a
capo la Curmi il nucleo della divina provvidenza destinato a dar
principio alla detta istituzione, tanto che insin dal 30 luglio 1925
ha considerato opportuno in Domino a far loro firmare
l’accompagnante dichiarazione, e che ripristinata la sezzione
infantile della Casa di San Giuseppe, assunse due delle firmatarie
pel maneggio interno della stessa;
Che l’Oratore quantunque ravvisa insin
da ora la forza e l’importanza che verrà ad acquistare questa
Istituzione, pure pel presente, non osa domandare l’erezione a cui
accenna il Can. 492 del Codice di D.C.; ma umilmente domanda a Vra
Eccza a voler benignarsi di erigere le Signorine firmatarie di detta
dichiarazione in “sodalizio” a norma del Can. 707;
Che detto sodalizio verrà conosciuto
dal nome di “Missionarie di Gesu Nazzareno”; che per statuto proprio
in quanto e per quanto sono loro adattabili avranno le Regole della
Compagnia di San Paolo già da Vra Eccza. Revma. approvate con Vento.
Decreto del 18 marzo 1924; che per abito le consodali porteranno una
tunica di lana cremesi oscura con fascia della stessa stoffa e
colore alla quale verrà raccomandata la corona del Rosario della
B.V. uno scapolare e velo di lana bianca per dentro casa e velo e
cappa di lana di colore ozzurre oscuro per fuori di casa; una
medaglia d’argento coll’effigie di Gesu Nazzareno da un lato e con
quella della Vergina Assunta dall’altro, raccomandata al collo da un
cordoncino del colore della tunica per le coriste e del colore del
velo per le converse;
Che le difficolta che potranno in
principio insorgere nell’applicazione di dette regole al Sodalizio e
nella conseguente formazione di uno Statuto proprio verranno sciolte
e decise in Domino, dall’Oratore, coll’approvazione dell’Ordinario.
Che della grazia ecc.
Canco Dec. G. De Piro.
In his 1932 will, De Piro felt
urged to leave the following recommendations to the future directors
of the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth,
“Raccomando intanto ai miei successori, nelle varie direzioni
di usare ogni premura per conservare la missione sociale di dette
pie opere quale intesa nei primordi delle varie fondazioni cioè a
favore di ragazze povere, orfane e pericolanti ed in alcuni casi in
riparo all’onore del prossimo.”
- His charity,
the virtue that showed most
Sister Maria Pia
Caruana was one of the ladies who joined Guzeppina Curmi when she
started gathering girls in Zejtun, Malta. She then also joined the
Missionary Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth. On 3 February 1987 she gave
testimony before the Ecclesiastical Tribunal about De Piro’s
I remember that he was a man whose joy
it was to help others.”
The Ecclesiastical Tribunal
interrogated Caruana again in 1989. On 12 June of that year she
referred again to De Piro’s charity and presented an example related
The Servant of God, came from a family
of barons. However he was not proud of this. On the contrary he
worked hard for the poor. When he went to visit his mother, she
used to say, “My poor man is coming.” This, is what we had been
told. He had opened a branch for us near St. Joseph’s Institute so
that we might be able to have in our care baby boys until they were
of the required age to be admitted to St. Joseph’s.
- His visits to
the Jesus of Nazareth Institute
In her testimony of 5 June 1989 Sister
Maria Pia Caruana said that the Director visited them once a month.
This was confirmed on 3 February 1987, 17 February 1992 and 2
March 1992 by Sr Scolastica Pace who had joined the Orphanage as a
girl of nine, in 1921, and then became a member of Curmi’s religious
- Did not talk
frequently to the girls
In her testimony
of 17 February 1992 Sr Scolastica said more than once that the
Director did not talk to them.
She said the same in her 1992 witnessing.
But on the same testifying occasions, Pace added that it was the
nuns who did not allow the girls to talk to the Director:
Those who were in charge of us kept us
In the new home there was Madre Teresa
who, among other things, used to tell me to fry hazelnuts for him. I
wished to give them to him myself, but she would not let me. In fact
they did not let us approach him.
We children were not allowed to
approach Mgr De Piro. I do not think that this was Monsignor’s will.
Miss Vincenza Degabriele was very strict with us; she would not
allow us approach him or talk to him. This produced in us, girls, a
fear of Mgr De Piro, or better, of Miss Vincenza, which, however,
psychologically, became a fear of Mgr De Piro himself. Therefore
when I say that Mgr De Piro was “a very serious person”, I do not
mean that he was proud, or nervous, or that he never smiled, but I
am only giving my impression of him, caused in me primarily by Miss
Vincenza’s attitude. For my part, I wished very much to be able to
talk to him, and felt a spiritual attraction towards him.
- But he was gentle
and kind with the girls … and enjoyed their company
This was confirmed by Pace herself, “…
he spoke to me gently and kindly. He allowed me to talk freely”:
We attended Mass at St. Joseph’s
Institute every year on the 19 March. This was in the morning. Then,
on some date near the 19 March, in the evening, he came to our
Institute at Zejtun, where our Congregation prepared a concert for
the occasion. We did this because he was our Director, and it was a
way of expressing our gratitude ... Mgr De Piro was seen to be happy
on the occasion.
During the visits
De Piro made to the Jesus of Nazareth Institute, Sr Maria Pia
Caruana noticed that the Servant of God did not talk too much.
At the same time
Caruana elaborated on this:
… when he was at
Valletta one did not expect to be greeted by him because he had
always his eyes bent to the ground. I think that he did this more as
mortification than because he feared people, for he was very
friendly. Once my mother told me that he boarded the bus and went to
sit near her and tried to encourage her to come as usual for the
bazaar held in aid of our Institute.
- The poor and
Another virtue brought out in
some detail by Sr Caruana was De Piro’s humility:
The Servant of God came from a family
of barons. However he was not proud of this. On the contrary he
worked hard for the poor. When he went to visit his mother, she
used to say, ‘My poor man is coming.’ This, is what we had been
told. I know that his clothes were smart but with no difference
from other priests. When he visited us he did not wear Monsignor’s
clothes. He traveled by cab or by route bus with others. When we put
up a bazaar to build the Institute he himself gave a helping hand,
spoke to everyone, and at times bought things from there. Once I
remember there was his mother selling articles at the bazaar and he
bought a dress for the children from her. She wanted to give it to
him free of charge, but he insisted on paying as he in fact did. He
was a humble person. He was not particular about food and ate what
we prepared for him. As regards money, I think he was careful how to
use it; I do not think that he used it carelessly although he was
always ready to give generously. I remember we used to go to beg
alms at St. Paul’s Bay and Mellieha. To lessen the problem of daily
transport, the Marchioness Marija of the ‘Bon Kunsill’, Zejtun, used
to let us stay for a whole week at her house in St. Paul’s Bay. One
summer she could not let us use it and M. Teresa told the Servant of
God, about this. He made arrangements for us with his Brother Fr
Santin who received us in his house and we did not lack anything.
- Holistic care
of the girls
The words of Sister Maria Pia
Caruana are quite clear about this, “Mgr De Piro took great care of
the children’s health both physically and spiritually.”
- Physical health
to De Piro’s attention to the physical health of the inmates of the
Jesus of Nazareth Institute, “… he asked the Madre to send a Sister
to train as a nurse. The Madre sent me… I also remember that we had
a girl who always had fever and he took care to take her to another
place for a change of air. In fact she was healed.”
Sr Scolastica Pace was not
happy at all with the food at the Institute, “When I entered
the Institute, the food was very poor, and it was not hygienic.
Things remained the same.”
As regards the hygiene Sr Pace said
that “… cleanliness was fairly good”.
Sr Pace was satisfied with the clothes
they had, “Our clothes, especially what we wore outdoors, were not
was sufficient, though in winter we suffered cold. The clothes used
in the Institute were not comfortable, especially our shoes. The
clothes we used outside the Institute were very neat.”
Again Sr Scolastica Pace was not happy
with the schooling that was given at the Institute, “Teaching was of
a low standard. Also, when De Piro took over there was no change.”
Five years after
the above testimony, Pace corrected a bit her previous witnessing,
“At the Institute we received just rudimentary education. Sisters
Pia and Maura taught us some simple arithmetic, a little Maltese and
Italian. Later, when I was about twelve, three sisters, Asphar by
surname, took over our education and there was great progress.”
And Asphar went to the Institute at the time of De Piro!
Sr Pace referred
to a particular craft which was encouraged by the Servant of God at
the Institute, “… he was very interested in gold embroidery on
sacred vestments. It was he who told us how to appreciate it.”
Pace also said that, “… three sisters, Asphar by surname, took over
… and there was great progress. They taught us …handicrafts …”
Sr Scolastica made two
declarations about the Director’s attitude towards stage acting and
We had our recreation
and also some activities. Once the Madre wrote to De Piro asking for
the construction of a stage on which the children could recite. He
did not agree and told her that, if they had a stage, the children
would go for it when they grew up. Also, once a six year old girl
began to dance. De Piro was not at all pleased.
Mgr De Piro was
against dancing and the use of the stage. According to what Madre
Tereza Degabriele said this was for fear that these children would
take to a life in cabarets when they grow up.
- He did encourage feasting
Sr Scolastica herself confirmed this,
“On the 19 March, feast of St. Joseph, we liked to celebrate the day
as he was named Guzeppi. On this occassion we also made some brief
recitation. He appreciated this a lot and appeared to enjoy it very
Sr Maria Pia Caruana emphasised
Monsignor’s efforts to make the girls happy:
He was kind-hearted;
he loved to make people happy. Once returning from abroad, he
brought the children large silk handkerchiefs. On the feast of St.
Catherine he used to bring nougat for us and for the children. On
Maundy Thursday he brought us the ring-loaf that was given to the
Monsignors. The children were much pleased with the handkerchiefs.
They were shouting: ‘See how much the Padre loves us. See what he
has brought us!’ The Servant of God hated to see people sad. This
was his nature.
- The spiritual aspect
Neither Sr Maria Pia Caruana,
nor Sr Scolastica Pace, nor Sr Cecilia Abdilla mentioned the care of
the girls’ spiritual aspect by De Piro.
- Preparation for their future
Scolastica’s testimony is negative in this regard, “We were not
prepared for life outside the Institute.”
- Discipline and corrections
In 1987 Sr Pace
testified that at the Institute the girls were treated in a harsh
manner, “Discipline in the Institute was very rough.”
On 16 March 1992 the same Sr Scolastica
said that as time passed by there was a great improvement, “I note,
however, that as time passed only one of the sisters continued to
Sr Maria Pia Caruana confirmed that the Servant of God did
correct when it was necessary, “When it was necessary he also
But Sr Caruana also referred to De Piro’s
own way of correcting,
“Once he saw me, Sr Pia, shouting at a
girl. He immediately told me, ‘Oh, be gentle with the girls.’ ‘It is
useless to tell them anything,’ I answered him. ‘And we tell them
continuously! Imagine we do not tell them,’ he replied.”
Sr Pia continued saying that:
Even in his
corrections he was calm, though he would always correct anyone if
there was need to do it. For example, I remember that on one
occassion he drew my attention to something, for which I tried to
apologise; but he replied: ‘Tiskuzax ruhek’ (Don’t apologise). All
the sisters thought highly of him because of this.
In her testimony of 12 June
1989 Sr Caruana confirmed what she had said before, “I never
saw him scolding or getting angry with the children. On the other
hand he showed disapproval when once I beat one of them.”
The same Caruana mentioned another time
the Director’s way of correcting, “What I remember is that he let
the girl depart and then he said to me: ‘Not like that, not like
that! Children are to be treated gently!’ He did not say this
angrily but gently.”
Sr Scolastica Pace had another
impression of De Piro’s way of correcting:
Once the Padre gave a reception for
Cassar Torreggiani as the latter had given the Sisters the land for
the Institute. I had to read to him an address in Italian. Before
the reception De Piro wanted to hear me. While I was trying to read
it I made a mistake and he corrected me. I feel that the way he did
this was wrong; he seemed to mimic me. So much so that I was
humiliated and even cried. Nor did I want to read the speech. At the
reception I read it only out of obedience. Again when I finished he
didn’t even congratulate me. I think he did this to try me.
On another occasion Sr Pace
herself seemed to want to balance a bit what she had said before,
“It was Madre Tereza Degabriele who told me to prepare the
address for the occasion. I was left alone to prepare the address,
which was in Italian. It was only Mgr De Piro who helped me, but I
do not know the reason for this.”
of St. Joseph’s Home, Sta. Venera, Malta
It has already
been said that in Malta, up to 1888, there were only ecclesiastical
charitable institutes for girls. It was
Mgr A.M. Buhagiar, the Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese,
who asked Mgr Francesco Bonnici to start an institute for orphaned
In fact St. Joseph’s
Home, Malta, was founded in 1888 by Mgr Bonnici to accept orphaned
boys. From its origins in a rented house near Tas-Samra Chapel,
Hamrun, Malta, it moved in 1893 to larger premises, which up to 1919
lay in the limits of Hamrun before it became part of the Parish of
St. Venera, Malta. In order to give the proper care to the boys, Mgr
Bonnici soon involved other priests in his work. In 1898 Bonnici had
to leave the leadership of the Orphanage due to health reasons.
Mgr Bonnici’s departure almost caused the Orphanage to close
down until a new priest-director, Fr Emmanuel Vassallo, was found to
take charge of it. Vassallo was assisted by another priest, Fr
- De Piro’s
initial involvement at St Joseph’s, Malta
As De Piro himself
wrote in his Diary, he had felt the desire to join Mgr Bonnici since
his very first year at the Capranica College, in Rome (1898-1899).
In 1899, during his first summer holidays in Malta, De Piro went to
St Joseph’s to give some message to Fr Emmanuel Vassallo from the
Capranica. There he met Vassallo for the first time and a bond of
friendship was forged between them.
The Servant of God
did his best to help the Home even while he was studying in Rome.
From there he kept a regular correspondence with the priests in
charge of the Institute.
The Home depended almost entirely on voluntary charity for its
running. Joseph, although still a seminarian, more than once sent
donations to the Institute.
There was such a bond between St Joseph’s and De Piro that when all
the Brothers of Charity, whose Congregation had been founded to
provide help in looking after the boys,
had left the Institute,
Vassallo placed high hopes in the young Joseph who would one day
return as a priest to assist him at St Joseph’s.
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.
Still, he was for a long time afraid that he would be forced to
accept the diplomatic career.
Also, at that time De Piro was quite worried about his state of
health which could have even stopped him from realising his dream.
Then when Fr Joseph eventually returned from Switzerland to Malta in
1904, he failed to get the invitation to go and live in the
Institute as he had hoped so fervently. At that time Fr George
Bugeja had taken over as Director,
following the resignation of Fr Emmanuel Vassallo. Bugeja was to
dedicate himself fully to St. Joseph’s Home and the House
experienced a number of positive reforms during his time.
Until 1907, when
he was appointed Director of Fra Diegu Institute,
De Piro carried out his pastoral ministry in Qrendi.
During this time he did not forget his project of setting up a
congregation of priests who wou1d, amongst other tasks, have the
responsibility of running St Joseph’s Orphanage, in Santa Venera.
Events were however to prove that De Piro’s noble mission was not
destined to see light of day within that Institute! Though Fr George
Bugeja was to help him in the setting up of the Society of St. Paul,
Bugeja never formally asked the Congregation to use St Joseph’s
De Piro and Bugeja remained close friends and the Servant of God
must have made it quite clear to the other priest that he would give
all the assistance he could. Indeed one of the new Society’s aims
was to 1ook after St Joseph’s Institute.
Between 1905 and
1922 the Brothers of the Christian Schools, known as the Freres De
La Salle were asked to provide a helping hand in the education of
the boys at St Joseph’s.
Eventually the members of the Society of St. Paul started replacing
the Freres whenever these left the Institute for a few days to
attend some spiritual retreat. This activity helped to draw the
Society and St. Joseph’s Home even nearer to each other, while Fr
George Bugeja never failed to show his deep and sincere gratitude
for the part played by the Society’s members:
Sia ringraziato il Singore. La Santa
Missione dei figli di S. Paolo è terminata e speriamo che abbia dato
buon esito tanto ai nostri piccoli come agli stessi missionari; il
certo è che la S. Congregazione di S. Paolo abbia usato un vero atto
di carità, permettendo ai Fratelli addetti alla Casa su menzionata
di ritirarsi per otto giorni in S. Esercizi Spirituali e cosi’
potranno servir con più perfezione il Signore. I tre membri della
Congregazione si son diportati molto bene e spero gran bene da essi.
Si son diportati molto bene e spero mostrate tutti e tre di buona
volontà di servir Iddio e il prossimo e di più son pieni di zelo e
di ottime intenzioni di sacrificarsi intieramente pel bene altrui.
Perciò, caro Monsignore, preghiamo il Signore e facciamo pregare che
questi santi disposizioni non vengano mai meno anzi che siano
maggiori e da parte mia auguro a tutta la S. Congregazione e di più
al suo fondatore il Paradiso, ma prima tribolazioni, sofferenze e
sacrifici poichè tale e stata la vita di nostro Signore e di tutti i
Santi. Come tenue retribuzione accludo due sterline in favore della
sua S. Casa con tutto amore e stima mi firmo.
- De Piro, the
fourth Director of the Institute
Fr George Bugeja
died suddenly on 23 November 1922 while saying Mass at St Joseph’s
Institute. That same day, De Piro was nominated by Archbishop Mauro
Caruana to take over the administration of the Home.
On 27 August 1920 the Servant of God had written to the
Archbishop of Malta asking to be exhonerated from the rectorship of
the Major Seminary. This he did “…per poter consecrarsi allo
sviluppo dell’opera suddetta (the Istituto per le Misioni Estere)”
When De Piro received the nomination for the direction of St
Joseph’s Institute he did not mention his involvement in his
Society’s development; he accepted the nomination and became the
director of the third ecclesiastical charitable Institute.
- At St Joseph’s
with the members of his Society
It has been said
that De Piro since his seminary days in Rome, had helped St Joseph’s
When the Freres De La Salle were helping in the Institute and they
wanted to go for their annual retreat, Mgr De Piro sent the members
of his Society to substitute the Brothers.
This was only the beginning of the long service which the members of
De Piro’s Society were to give at St Joseph’s; when the Freres, in
1922, could not help at the Insitute anymore, the Director
introduced the members of his Society at St Joseph’s.
- What had been
the situation at St Joseph’s before De Piro took over
Zammit, a Maltese medical doctor, a member of parliament, a cabinet
minister and also one of Malta’s ambassadors to the Holy See, knew
the Servant of God quite well because his father was a close friend
of De Piro. As regards St Joseph’s Home before De Piro went there,
Cachia Zammit was told this by his father:
… Mgr De Piro took over from Fr. George
Bugeja. During the time Fr. Bugeja was Director, who otherwise was a
very holy priest, at the Institute there was a great lack of
discipline. It was his idea that the important thing was to take a
boy into the Institute, there offer him food and a place where to
sleep and offer him spiritual help also. The result of this was that
children there did what they liked. Besides, there was a lack of
- Who were the
boys at the Institute
On 6 June 1923 Mgr
Mauro Caruana, the Archbishop of Malta, wrote to the Superior of the
Freres De La Salle about the retirement of these Brothers from St
Joseph’s Home, where they had been since 1905. In this letter His
Excellency referred to the Institute as, “… istituto per ragazzi
poveri ed abbandonati …”
mentioned Cachia Zammit said this about the boys of the Institute:
The children at St.
Joseph’s Institute were boys. They were from the worst strata of
society. They were difficult cases. When boys were accepted there
were the problems of cleanliness, moral problems, social problems,
background of broken families, and other problems. At that time
there was only another Institute for boys run by the Salesians,
where there were many formalities for acceptance. After all this
Institute depended on the government. Mgr De Piro accepted all,
even those not accepted by the Institute run by the Salesians.
The same Cachia
Zammit said also this about the boys, “… these children, besides
being poor, were, in many cases, dirty and infested with insects…”
- How many boys
at the Institute
Dr Cachia Zammit
also testified that, “There
were many children, at least about 80 (my family took care to buy 80
presents), but I cannot say how many.”
Nazzareno Attard, who was at the Institute from 1928 up to 1933,
was more sure than Cachia Zammit about the number of inmates at St
Joseph’s Home, “…the 150 children of the Institute…”
Br Venanz Galea, an old boy of the Institute and afterwards even a
member of De Piro’s Society, mentioned
De Piro himself once wrote that in 1928 there were 134 boys at St
- De Piro was
already quite busy when he took over St Joseph’s
lived in Mdina since early childhood and his family house was quite
near to the De Piro Family Palace. When grown up, George was also
employed as a bookbinding instructor and a teacher at St Joseph’s
Home. Because of all this George knew quite well that the Servant of
God was already very busy when in 1922 he was nominated by
Archbishop Caruana for the direction of St Joseph’s Institute:
Later, when I was employed at St.
Joseph’s Institute, I came to know that after he had spent some time
abroad, and after some time at Qrendi, he was made Director of
various institutes. During this time his family lived in Mdina and I
remember people saying that he used to come up to Mdina only to
discharge his canonical duties at the Cathedral. But later, when he
had founded his own Society he would come up regularly every day.
was accepted as an inmate at St Joseph’s by De Piro himself. The
former mentioned some of the institutes directed by the Servant of
Besides St. Joseph’s
Institute, Mgr De Piro had also under his care the Institute of Fra
Diegu for girls and the Institute of the Nazzarene of Zejtun.
Besides these, I believe he had others in Malta, but I cannot give
details. He also had St. Joseph’s Institute in Gozo.
The above information
was corroborated by several other witnesses.
- Because of the
above, the direction of St Joseph’s was not an easy job at all
Joseph’s was not in a very encouraging situation and De Piro was
already more than burdened by work when he took over the Institute,
it was not easy at all for him to direct it the way he wished.
Cachia Zammit referred again to what his father used to say, “My
father referred principally to the troubles Mgr De Piro had to run
the institutes, especially St. Joseph’s. The number of children and
their problems, the lack of funds, etc.”
- In fact all this
and many other duties made De Piro very busy and often tired
Obviously such a
hectic life made De Piro tired and unable to give his best for St
Joseph’s. Attard, as other boys at the Institute, noticed that the
Director very often did not have the necessary rest he needed,
“… We would meet him every morning. He
liked to say Mass at 5.50 a.m,
before the boys came in, at the side altar on the right hand side of
the chapel of St. Joseph… Here I would say that even at that hour
Mgr De Piro showed from his bearing that he was a tired man...”
Some time after, Attard
explained what he meant when he said that the Director was often
When I say ‘tired’ I mean that nearly
everyday we used to see Mgr De Piro tired. Lack of concentration in
the Mass was not frequent, but often enough for us to notice it. His
tiredness was not that of a person still half asleep, nor was it the
tiredness of a sick man. We children had reached the conclusion that
Mgr De Piro would have gone to bed late at night because of the
amount of work he used to have, and therefore in the morning he was
already tired because he had not enough rest.
- De Piro could
not be all the time present at the Institute
did not say only that De Piro was frequently tired because of his
many duties. He also emphasised the fact that his many other
responsibilities kept him back from being a lot at the Institute,
“The Director was not often present at the Institute, except at
certain times of the day.”
Some time after,
the same Nazzareno Attard clarified a bit what he had said some two
Mgr De Piro was at the
Institute every day, but not all the time. I saw him say Mass when
we went down at 5.40 am, which meant that he would have slept at the
Institute. We did not know at what time in the morning he went out.
I remember that Mgr De Piro came down for the meals with the members
… and they used to have meals in a refectory apart. In the evening
he used to come late…In the afternoon he used to go round the
- Yet, De Piro
was synonymous with St Joseph’s
Dr Cachia Zammit
was not at St Joseph’s as much as Nazzareno Attard but his father’s
relationship with De Piro made it possible for Cachia Zammit to know
a lot about the Servant of God. In spite of the Institute’s poor
situation at the beginning of De Piro’s administration and the
Director’s difficulty to be continuously present there, Cachia
Zammit said that, “in my opinion, at St. Joseph’s Institute, Mgr De
Piro was everything. He was not just an administrator, or
supervisor. He was the heart of the place. He lived there and looked
after everything. One cannot separate Mgr De Piro from St. Joseph’s
- De Piro’s relationship with the boys
continuously gave the impression that the Servant of God did not
talk or joke too much with the boys, “… he was always very grave and
he did not encourage too much familiarity.”
“ ‘We used to meet…’ in the sense that we used to see him
and not in the sense that Mgr De Piro used to talk to us. I do not
remember that he assembled us except on New Year’s Day and, perhaps,
on the feast of St. Joseph.”
“He would not talk to us, but he used to pass by with a certain
seriousness that would not allow any familiarities.”
Br Felix Muscat was one of the
first members of De Piro’s Society, but before he entered the
Society he was also at St Joseph’s. He corroborated what was said by
“I kept my contact with Mgr De Piro
only through St. Joseph’s. I entered this home when I was about
eleven years old. My first impressions here were that he was a very
serious person; he never encouraged familiarity…”
Another old boy of
St Joseph’s and one of the first members of the Piccola Società San
Paolo, Br Venanz Galea, had the same impression about De Piro, “All
the children were rather shy of the Director; he was very serious
and rarely did he smile.”
- But he was
never one to be afraid of
But Attard clarifies what he
meant by the above, “…yet he was a very kind hearted man. We
were never afraid of him. We would watch out for his coming, but
this was only because he was a disciplinarian.”
Attard continued saying:
When I entered the
Institute, I found myself in a completely new situation and it was
natural that I was scared. However, the way I heard him speak to Fra
Santi, the fact that he spoke to me and showed interest in me, made
me drop the fear I had from that very first meeting. Fear changed
into reverence and respect. All the children felt this towards the
“Padre”, as we used to call Mgr De Piro.
By the word ‘…
slowly …’ I mean that Mgr De Piro passed along with some other
priest without any hurry. We were not afraid of him. We respected
him as the Superior of the Home.
Mgr De Piro was not
serious in the sense that he was unfriendly, but in the sense that
he wanted punctuality and exactness.
Even in this regard Br Felix agreed
with Attard, “… but at the same time he showed great kindness to us
Br Venanz Galea
agreed with Attard and Muscat; he did not want to let one get the
impression that the Director was a person to be afraid of, “At the
same time we were not afraid of him.”
Zammit confirmed Attard’s, Muscat’s and Galea’s impressions:
I never saw Mgr De Piro angry, nor even
heard others say that he was angry with the children. But I refer
also to what I said at the beginning of this session; children
obeyed him and loved him. On his part, Mgr De Piro took personal
care of the children and their needs. I know from my father that Mgr
De Piro passed a lot of time talking to the children at St. Joseph’s
Institute about their difficulties and problems.
- Because he was
De Piro never
wanted any preferential treatment. George Wilson said that the
Servant of God insisted on sharing the common food available, “He
was humble and used to eat the same food as that of the children of
- When correcting
the boys De Piro still showed them his love and kindness
Br Felix Muscat
noticed the Director’s kindness when the latter corrected a boy:
He showed this
kindness when, for example, someone of us did something wrong. He
never shouted and whenever he warned us he never did this with
anger. I remember he asked us to recite an “Ave Marija”, whilst
trying to explain to us what we had done wrong … I remember that I
realized how kind he was when I became a member of the Society and
had children in my care. Often I went to him to let him know how
upset I was about some boy. Straightaway he pointed out that it was
patience that helped us with children.
Br Venanz Galea referred to a
particular moment when the Servant of God corrected the boys at St
When the children were in the chapel,
the Director liked to speak to them, especially about some
corrections. He had another habit; several times, before going to
sleep, he went to visit all the boarders (and at that time there
were about 140 children at St. Joseph’s) and see the children.
Probably this would be the occasion for the prefect to inform the
Director about some misbehaviour of a child. De Piro, whilst heeding
what was said, always showed kindness to the child who had
misbehaved. All the children were rather shy of the Director; he was
very serious and rarely did he smile. At the same time we were not
afraid of him. At times some child was naughty and the Brother
prefect reported him to the Monsignor. De Piro would send for the
child in his room, made him kneel, told him not to repeat and to say
the “Hail Mary.” That was all. He never caned the children. Nor did
he allow the prefects to do so. He loved the children a lot.
confirmed what the others said, “When he talked to us he exhorted us
to be good. He talked calmly and seriously and it was easy for us
to follow what he was saying. He talked to us only on these
Attard narrated a particular incident which happened to him:
Once, accidentally, I was late and did
not return to the Institute for the night because the one who was to
pick me up did not take me back. On that occasion the Monsignor was
really angry and said again and again that the regulations were
there to be obeyed. He added that it was a case when he could send
me away from the Institute. However, his anger did not last, he did
not loose control of himself and afterwards the incident was not
mentioned again. I never saw the Monsignor in this state before,
neither with me nor with anyone else.
- In this
environment De Piro helped the holistic growth of the boys
In 1928, St
Joseph’s Home, Malta, reprinted a book that had been already
published in 1890. It was called “The Greatness of the Glorious
Patriarch, St Joseph”. In the introduction to the 1928 edition, the
Servant of God put these words:
… in Hamrun there is
an Institute founded by Canon Bonnici the name of which is St
Joseph’s Home. The aim of this Institute is to gather the orphaned
and poor boys in order to form them in the fear of God and teach
them a trade so that they can get a living for themselves when they
- The spiritual care
When testifying in
front of the Ecclesiastical Tribunal in the Cause of Canonisation of
De Piro, Dr Cachia Zammit gave an overview of the spirituality
imparted by the Servant of God at St Joseph’s: “Mgr De Piro was a
very spiritual person himself, and because of this, he worked hard
to give a spiritual basis to all his work. There were times of
prayer at St. Joseph’s Institute. But more than that, there was a
spiritual change for the better.”
In his testimony
given to the Ecclesiastical Tribunal Br Felix Muscat presented the
acts of piety the boys practiced at St Joseph’s Insitute at the time
of the Servant of God,
“Mgr De Piro saw to it that we children
had a good formation. He did not often say Mass for us but obviously
we heard Mass everyday. At about 11.30 am we went to chapel to pray
for the ‘buona morte’.
In the evening we again met in the chapel for Rosary and Sacramental
While Br Felix
said that the Director did not hear their confessions,
Nazzareno Attard said the opposite,
“When his Mass was over, and until the
children’s Mass began, the Director would sit hearing our
confessions and many of us used to go to confession to him. He
always heard our confessions quietly, calmly and with gentleness and
understanding, and he invariably gave the same penance, three Hail
stressed the fact that they had the continuous service of other
Mgr De Piro was always
available whenever we wanted to confess. I said, ‘he liked’, because
I noticed that he was always ready to hear our confession. He
treated us gently and spoke to us calmly. He used to be very
attentive while hearing confession. He would say a word of good
advice and explain to us how to live a better life. He did not
resort to fear. All this I can say from my personal experience
because I used to confess to him. We were about a dozen who used to
go to him for confession. No one of us would complain. We had the
opportunity to choose another confessor; confessors regularly
attended on Saturdays (among them Mgr George Preca).
I felt more at ease to confess to Mgr De Piro.”
In his testimony
to the Ecclesiastical Tribunal Nazzareno Attard also mentioned other
spiritual activities besides confessions, “The prayer of the ‘Buona
morte’ was said everyday. It was a prayer for the benefactors who
were dying at the moment. I found it there and it had existed before
Mgr De Piro became Director. Besides, Rosary was always recited
before the statue of St. Joseph. I do not know how this custom
originated or how it ceased.”
Attard also said that:
I do not remember that we used to have
spiritual exercises during Lent or the other celebrations mentioned
in the question.
I repeat, I could not go out
and therefore I do not know if my mates attended somewhere else.
However, I remember that we used to have the Altar of Repose at the
Institute and we did ‘the seven visits’ there. I used to participate
Nazzareno Attard did not
present a nice picture of the situation of food at the Institute:
Food and clothing were somewhat on the
short side and this told on us. In the evening we usually had only
tea and a piece of bread. On Thursdays and Sundays we had some meat
in gravy, and some potatoes. This meat would be goat’s meat, as
likely as not, which was collected free of charge from the abattoir.
On these two days we also had a sweet as dessert, but on the other
days of the week food was less plentiful. I remember how Brother
Jerome loved going into the boy’s refectory with a big basket full
of bread and how he would tell us that we might take two pieces but
woe to the boy who threw away any piece. It therefore became usual
for us to take two pieces and when we could not manage to eat all of
it, to smuggle out the piece left over which we would hide on a
window sill or in some odd corner. It sometimes happened that during
playtime we would feel hungry and we would then help each other to
climb up to the windowsills to look for odd pieces of bread. Even
though any such pieces of bread may have been lying there for some
time and possibly covered with dust we collected them just the same.
We rinsed the bread under the tap and ate it soaked with water. This
happened often during the evening because we had nothing at all to
eat between lunch and dinner. It was more or less the same in the
morning, the only difference being that the youngest boys received a
piece of bread. Sometimes these pieces of bread we salvaged from
their hiding places we would somehow toast by placing them on a part
or other of certain machines which parts became redhot while the
machine was running.
However, Attard himself admitted that
notwithstanding this poor situation, at the Institute it was far
better than at home, “I must admit however that in spite of all
this, things were much better at the Institute than they were at
Even three years after
depositing the above testimony, Attard said the same thing, and he
added that this was the opinion of other boys:
I should add however, that food and
life at the Institute, in my case, were much better than what I had
received at home. The way the other children spoke, from the very
first moment I entered the Institute, showed that this was their
opinion as well. I cannot say if, in normal families, food was
better and more abundant or not.
Br Felix Muscat agreed with
Attard as regards the poor situation of food at St Joseph’s, but
added that the Director did his best to keep the boys healthy:
As regards food, I
cannot say that we suffered hunger, but at the same time we did not
have more than the necessary. De Piro did not like innovations, not
even in food. I should think that he was so cautious about food and
clothing because he was afraid of a shortage of money. That is why
he was reluctant to introduce new things. It is to be remembered
that at that time his intention was to enlarge the Institute.
It is to be noted that he was careful not only about the boys but
also about himself; he lived a poor man. His clothes were made of
the same material as that of the children’s clothes. Again, he
wished that the children were better. When he went abroad he did his
best to bring them, for example, some crate of the best olive oil.
He used to say that oil shows in the face. In a few words when he
was careful with money he did not do this out of stinginess but
because he was aware that money was limited or to avoid wastage, or
to train the boys to live frugally and disciplined.
Br Venanz Galea was more
positive than Muscat and added that De Piro improved the situation
he found when he took over in 1922:
De Piro made
arrangements with the cook regarding the food for the priests and
Brothers whilst Br Jerome was in charge of the food for the
children. However, this does not mean that the Director did not care
about the food of the children. On the contrary he was very careful
to see that they had enough good food. Once he said that olive oil
was very nutritious for children and he ordered to have it in stock.
Food was abundant. Before De Piro went to St. Joseph’s it was said
that there had been little food.
George Wilson, the
bookbinding instructor at St Joseph’s, confirmed Galea’s
Before he came to St.
Joseph’s, the general sitituation there left much to be desired. The
boys’ evening meal, for instance, was very meagre indeed. This was
because Fr George Bugeja, De Piro’s predecessor, was of the opinion
that as the boys there came from poor families, they would not have
any fine foods when leaving the Institute. Therefore Bugeja was
against having good food served to the boys so that they would not
miss it (and suffer more) when they left. I can say that Mgr De Piro
changed all this. He improved the quality of the food and conditions
in the dining room.
Muscat, and Galea, Dr Cachia Zammit was never an inmate of St
Joseph’s. Rather he came from a well to do family and therefore he
undoubtedly enjoyed good food at home. Yet he said this about the
food at the Institute:
I take the opportunity to say that the
food at St. Joseph’s Institute, which was prepared by a Lay Brother,
compared well with food at home. Whenever I had occasion to eat
there, I remember that I made positive comments to my father,
telling him ‘The food at the Institute was good’, meaning that it
compared well with food at home. I liked it.
referred to those who provided their food:
Food varied in
quantity as well as in quality ... I do not know if Mgr De Piro knew
about the situation. The food did not vary whether Mgr De Piro was
present or not. The food was given to us by benefactors, either as
food (meat, fruit etc.) or in money; the greater the number of
benefactors the better was the food, both in quality and in
quantity. Food and other donations from the benefactors used to be
consumed by us children.
clothing Nazzareno Attard said almost the same thing as for food:
The boys’ clothing was
poor and of a coarse material, both underwear and outerwear, being
made of Malta weave. On this subject of clothing I would add
something else. I remember that when I first came to St. Joseph’s,
those boys who did not have any footwear at all when they were
admitted to the Institute, had a pair of sandals given to them.
After Mass these boys had to take off their sandals and put them
away in their compartment in the dormitory. Those boys who brought
their own sandals with them from their home were allowed to keep
at St Joseph’s, Malta, was confirmed by Br Felix Muscat,
“At times there were boys who were barefooted.”
Attard wanted to be just in his presentation, “I must say however
that this was the case at the time when I first went to St.
Joseph’s. Things began changing for the better after two years or
- In sickness
Br Felix Muscat
referred to De Piro’s kindness in sickness:
He showed his kindness with us not only
in correction or food. When someone was sick Monsignor did his best
to give him all the attention needed. He was a very busy man and yet
he always found the time to come to see us when sick. He would ask
us if we had all the things we needed and if he could be of any
service to us.
- The academic aspect
gave a detailed picture of the academic aspect at St Joseph’s:
We boys received our
schooling at the Institute, where a total of four classes catered
for our needs. The first two classes were for boys who had not yet
started learning a trade while the other two classes were for the
boys who had already started the trade classes. In the first two
classes the boys attended school both in the morning and in the
afternoon. When they came to the third class the boys had to choose
the trade they wanted to learn and they applied themselves to this
in the morning in the workshops, while in the afternoon or evening
they received their schooling. When they came to the fourth stage
the boys worked morning and afternoon in the workshops, and attended
evening class from five to six o’clock. We were taught arithmetic,
English, Italian and Maltese. Our teachers did not belong to the
staff of the Institute but came there only to give us lessons.
On 18 June 1990 Attard added
some other details to what he had said on 16 May 1987:
When I entered the
Institute, the school was already there; I do not know if it was
started by the Monsignor or not. There were four classes; three of
the teachers were laymen. They were paid but I do not know how much.
We used to learn Religion, Italian, English and Arithmetic. Prizes
were given not only for progress but also for conduct of all the
children of the Institute. On the prize day the children took part
in various activities. There were various guests, sometimes
including the Bishop or the Governor. There used to be even Mr.
Alphonse Maria Galea, a friend of Monsignor and a benefactor.
Br Felix Muscat
said almost the same things as Attard:
At St. Joseph’s we had
lessons. Our teachers did not belong to the Institute. At times when
these did not turn up, the Brothers would replace them. To stimulate
our interest in the school, De Piro organized a prize day once a
year. Even outsiders were invited for this occasion.
Attard continued by emphasising
the fact that school was compulsory, at a time when in the rest of
Malta this was not so, and that the boys remained on the premises
for their schooling:
School was compulsory,
although at that time on the part of the state it was not
compulsory. Also, we did not go to other places for our schooling. I
do not know why we didn’t go for lessons to other schools, but at
the Institute we had the necessary schooling. We did not mix with
On 15 July 1991 Cachia Zammit did not
say anything different from the others,
but on 5 August 1991 he emphasised the
fact that the Director improved the education system,
“He improved those things that
were good. He gave a great incentive to education. I myself could
notice, in general terms, that great progress was made.”
George Wilson explained as
follows De Piro’s interest in schooling:
He insisted on the
boys getting good schooling and he engaged qualified teachers for
them. This was not necessary before Mgr De Piro became Director at
St. Joseph’s because the De La Salle Brothers were present then, and
they taught the boys themselves. But after Mgr De Piro took over,
the Brothers left for some reason unknown to me and he then took
responsability for the boys’ schooling. He also held a prize giving
cermony every year.
Br Venanz Galea’s
testimony resembles almost word by word that of Attard only that the
former was more specific about who the teachers were:
As regards the school
timetable, there were two sessions, one in the morning and another
one in the afternoon. The younger children attended the morning
session. As these were still young they did not do any work and were
therefore free to attend lessons. The older ones, on the other hand,
took a trade, and as they had to work in the mornings, they could
not attend the morning classes. Instead, they went for the evening
session. In the morning the teachers were Brs. Santi, Karmenu and
Glormu, together with Mr. George Wilson. For the evening classes the
Director brought an outsider to teach.
On 28 May 1990 Nazzareno Attard added
something else to what he had already said in 1987, “I do not know
if it was possible for one to continue his schooling, but I know of
some who went on with their studies.”
- The trades
presented himself as having been a bookbinding instructor at St
This already indicated that at the Institute there was at least the
teaching of this trade. Nazzareno Attard indicated that there were
more than one trade taught at the Institute, “There were workshops
where trades were taught…”
In the Tribunal session of 28 May 1990 Nazzareno was still more
elaborate about the trades:
When I was admitted to St. Joseph’s
Institute, the following trades were taught: carpentry, tailoring,
shoemaking, printing, book-binding, typography and other items
connected with the printing press.
I do not know if these trades were
introduced by Mgr De Piro or if they had been already there before
his coming. At the time of the Monsignor no other trades, besides
these, were introduced. Before we started to learn a trade, we had
two years of schooling. In the third year we started learning a
trade together with the school. If it happened that too large a
number chose the same trade, then the Brother in charge would
suggest to us other trades so that there would be a certain balance.
In the fourth year, schooling was almost put aside completely; we
used to have only one hour of school daily, just not to forget what
we had learnt.
To be more exact I would like to add
that in the last years of his life Mgr De Piro might have introduced
also the trade of electrician. I am certain that immediately after
the death of the Monsignor I was considering to start learning this
trade, and I did not do so because I was soon to leave; I left on 12
To teach these trades there were some
laymen who were employed as instructors ... I believe that the
Institute paid these instructors £1 a week. I cannot assess the
ability of these instructors nor can I say if Mgr De Piro organized
things in a better way.
All those who so desired could learn a
trade... These trades were of benefit to us because they prepared
us for life. Besides, they also provided an income for the
Institute, especially the printing press and the ancillary trades.
Also the shoemakers did work for outsiders. The tailors
did work for the children of the Institute. Also the carpenters did
work ‘on order’.
Dr Cachia Zammit
mentioned the same aims referred to by Attard, namely that the
learning of trades guaranteed a future living for the boys.
George Wilson emphasised the fact that the Director was very
interested in the boys and their learning a trade,
“During working hours he would go round to see the boys working,
showing appreciation of their work and encouraging them in what they
did. I frequently accompanied the Director in these inspection
- The music band
In his testimony
of 16 May 1987 Nazzareno Attard provided a lot of information about
the St Joseph’s Music Band. From what he said in his testimony it
is quite clear that he himself was a member of the Music Band:
The Monsignor gave
every consideration and every encouragement to the Band of the
Institute. Every boy was free to join the Band, but the Director saw
to it that those who opted to join had certain incentives. For one
thing we who belonged to the Band received more pocket money than
the other boys and we also had more money to spend on the Patron
Saint’s feastday. Moreover, belonging to the Band also gave us the
opportunity to visit many villages and towns.
indicate that the Music Band was not limited only to the Institute
but performed in various parts of Malta! In the testimony he gave on
4 June 1990 Attard even mentioned some specific places which the
Band visited, “I remember various Brothers among them Br. Venanz,
who took care of the Oratory. At times we went with the Band to play
there. I also remember the laying of the foundation stone of the
Motherhouse of Saint Agatha in Rabat …”
In fact on 28 May 1990 Attard said that, “We often went to perform
programmes for the parish feasts and other occasions.”
Attard also said, “I also know that Mgr De Piro had under his care
an Institute in Gozo. Once we went to play there…”
In his 28 May 1990
testimony Attard gave more information about the band:
When I entered, the St. Joseph
Institute Band had the best bandmasters. First there was Anton
Muscat Azzopardi to be followed later by Joseph Abela Scolaro. It
was not open for all, but only for those who showed that they wanted
to take music seriously. Teaching was done with great assiduity and
seriousness. We were at least 34 members from the Institute only.
Besides these, there used to be also some old boys of the Institute.
We also used to teach each other. We had an additional distinctive
mark on the uniform of the Institute. The Band of the Institute was
one of the best.
When I entered the Institute the band
was already there, and therefore I do not know whether it was the
Monsignor who introduced it.
- Money saving
It was only Nazareno Attard who
referred to this other aspect in the boys’ upbringing, “We did not
receive direct remuneration, but money was saved for us and this
was given to us, together with a suit, when we left the Institute.”
Attard’s words are
quite clear and exhaustive about De Piro’s attention for this aspect
in the boys’ life:
The Director also gave due importance
to recreation, games and the proper use of free time, and he saw to
it that this was given practical recognition. In fact we often had
theatricals at the Institute where we also had a hall for indoor
Once I find myself talking about this
subject of recreation I would like to give details of our annual
programme in this regard. We boys always looked forward to the next
holiday on the calendar. The first feast of the year was obviously
New Year’s Day when, after the recitation of the prayer for the
subscribers in the ‘Buona Morte’ Mgr De Piro would lead us to the
hall on the upper floor where he would first talk to us for ten
minutes or so on the significance of the feast we were celebrating.
After that he always gave us gifts. After New Year’s Day we would
begin waiting for Carnival. There was a reason after this. During
Carnival each one of us received a bag of sweets almonds and sugar
almonds. The next event after Carnival was Easter when every boy
would have a figolla (typical Maltese cake with almond paste
filling). After Easter there came summer, the season for swimming.
While during the winter months we were taken to the Stadium Ground
to watch football matches, during the summer months we were often
taken to the beach for a swim at Ta’ Xbiex or Sa Maison. But the
season was inaugurated by an event known among us as ‘the outing of
is-Sur Alphonse Maria Galea’. For this outing all the boys packed
some thirty or so ‘karrozzini’ or cabs and went to Birzebbugia. We
took our band instruments with us which we played along the way. As
soon as we arrived at Birzebbugia we would deposit our instruments
and other possesions at the house of is-Sur Alphonse and make haste
to the beach where we would spend the next four hours or so swimming
and enjoying ourselves on the beach. We would then go back to the
house where we ate our lunch in the shade of a big tree. The outing
ended up with the distribution of toys to all of us.
The next holiday on the list was the
feast of St. Joseph which was celebrated at the Institute. This was
one of the greatest feasts for us, not only because the refectory
was decorated and made to look at its best by Brother Venanz Galea,
or because we had good and tasty meals, but for various other
reasons. In the morning we attended the High Mass at which Mgr De
Piro generally presided. In the afternoon we had Solemn Vespers and
a procession with the Saint’s statue escorted by the Band of the
Institute. After the Eucharistic Blessing all of us would make our
way to the courtyard to enjoy ourselves at a grand fair which was an
annual event. On this occasion every boy received one shilling. We
Band members had an extra shilling. Along with the money we were
also given six fireworks to let off at the appropriate moment. The
feast would come to an end with a display of ‘catherine wheels’ and
When summer was over we would begin
counting the days till St. Martin’s Day, when every boy would be
presented with a bag of almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts,
dates, figs and St. Martin’s loaves.
After St. Martin we would start
preparing for Christmas. This was the last feast of the year for us.
On Christmas Eve we were allowed to play until ll.00 pm. After the
games we would don our uniform and proceed to the chapel for
midnight Mass. As soon as Mass was over we would all hasten to the
refectory where we were given hot cocoa, honey rings, sponge cakes
and date-cakes. On this occasion old boys would be present to share
with us the joys of Christmas.
I felt I had to mention these feasts
because in spite of the fact that those years (1928-1934) were a
lean period for Malta because there was a shortage of many things,
including foodstuffs, clothing and other items, the holidays and
festivities I mentioned were always faithfully observed. This was
precisely the period when the Director of the Institute was Mgr G.
On 18 June 1990
Attard explained more what he had said on 16 May 1987, “The Stadium
I mentioned was the one at Gzira, Malta. The owner used to invite
the children of the Institute every Sunday for the football
matches. Even at the Institute we used to play football between us,
workshop vs. workshop. Mgr De Piro could see us and at times watched
us from near his room, which was on the first floor. We also held
On 25 June
1990 Nazzareno added some other information:
Usually we used to go to the beach once
a week, on Sundays. We, the members of the Band used to go on a
weekday. We used to go at about 3.00 and return to the Institute at
about 7.00 in the evening. The beach we went to was suitable and not
crowded. Mgr De Piro did not use to come with us. It was the
Brothers who used to look after us. We used to be only children from
St. Joseph’s Institute. The boys used to walk to the beach, but I,
owing to a defect in my legs, used to ride.
We used to go to “Ta’ Xbiex” or “Sa
Maison”, apart from the occasion that I shall mention later on.
The ‘outing of is-Sur Fons’ was held
when the weather changed and hot days began, ie., in May. We used to
be children of St. Joseph’s Institute only. However, the trade
instructors used to come with us. Mr. Alphonse Maria Galea
defrayed all the expenses (including the food) of this outing.
Besides swimming, we used to have other activities including band
playing. Prizes were given. For this outing Mgr De Piro was present
In his testimony
Br Felix Muscat was much shorter than Attard but emphasised again
the importance Monsignor put on this aspect. He mentioned the daily
recreation, swimming in summer, carnival merry making at the
Institute, and film shows.
On 10 June 1991 Dr
Alexander Cachia Zammit referred to the feast that was celebrated on
Ascension Day by Mr Alphonse Maria Galea at Birzebbugia for the
Then, on 15 July
1991 Cachia Zammit made the all inclusive affirmation about De
Piro’s attitude towards recreation, “I noticed that Mgr De
Piro knew how to take care of, make happy, recreate, etc., the
- The boys’ relationship with
Brs Felix Muscat and Venanz
Galea said nothing about the boys’ relationship with their families.
Nazzareno Attard was the only old boy to testify about it:
In fact we were
allowed to go home once a year, not necessarily on the occasion of
the feast of the Parish. It was a rule. I do not know the reason
behind it, but it applied to all the children without any exception.
It never occurred to us children to ask for a change in the
organization of the Institute. Our families were allowed to come to
see us whenever they liked, provided they were prudent as regards
the time of their visit.
- Reinsertion of the boys in
normal life after leaving the Institute
It was Dr Cachia Zammit who
gave details about this essential phase in the boys’ life:
Mgr De Piro ascertained himself, as far
as possible, that the families of the young men who left St.
Joseph’s Institute were able to accept them back. (The girls, who
were not otherwise settled, remained in their institute). Otherwise,
Mgr De Piro himself saw to it that these young men found a good
family. He also helped them find a job and settle in life. He either
did this himself, or through others. I also know from personal
experience …that Mgr De Piro followed up those who left the
I cannot say what percentage had their
own good family ready to accept them back.
As for jobs, Mgr De Piro tried first to
find a job according to the trade the lad had learnt. If he failed,
he tried to find some other job compatible with the character,
capabilities, etc., of the boy concerned. Those who employed these
young men were glad to employ them since they already knew the trade
and had a sound formation. By the way, the children who left St.
Joseph’s Institute, not only did not suffer from any stigma because
of their social condition, but they were easily and happily accepted
in society; they did not find it difficult to be accepted for work,
or to marry.
When I said that Mgr De Piro followed
up those who left the Institute, I meant that he did this in order
to see that things were going on well. I cannot say whether he
himself sought them out intentionally, or took the opportunity
whenever it presented itself. But surely, in the case I mentioned
above, Mgr De Piro himself asked for the Tabone Brothers.
These families were morally good
families, who could help these young men, and they were families in
which these young people could find their place. Mgr De Piro himself
saw to these things. I never heard that it resulted that the choice
made by Mgr De Piro misfired, and I feel that I was in such a
position that, if anything like that had happened, I would have
heard about it, at least from my father.
In finding jobs, I must think that
considering Mgr De Piro’s character … the Servant of God tried to
find conditions of work that were good, according to the standards
of those times.
- The end result
Nazzareno Attard had this to say about
the boys who cooperated with the formation system as St Joseph’s,
Malta, “Those who were willing had every opportunity at the
Institute to leave as mature, responsible persons, capable of
These are the words of
one who had been at the Institute and who had benefited from the
years spent there!
- De Piro was
testified at the Ecclesiastical Tribunal confirmed that the Director
was not alone in his taking care of the boys at St Joseph’s
Institute, Malta. There was mention of the Brothers or the members
of his Society,
and old boys who after leaving the Institute went there to give a
- To these De Piro delegated
During the years
he spent at St Joseph’s, Malta, Nazzareno Attard could notice that
the Director delegated the various responsibilities related to the
administration of the Institute, “I know that work at St. Joseph’s
Institute was well organized and everyone knew who was responsible
- But demanded accountability
Fr Joseph Spiteri
was De Piro’s assistant at St Joseph’s Insitute.
The Director seems to have trusted this member of his Society a
but at the same time the Servant of God wanted Spiteri to be
accountable. He presented him a three page instruction list, amongst
which there was a clause to the effect that the Assistant Director
should give the Director a weekly report.
- And dignity
instructions given to Fr Spiteri, De Piro included a note about his
relationship with the boys, “… coi ragazzi mantenga la sua dignità.”
Together with an
organised good staff, De Piro also had other sources of support
- His own family
Cachia Zammit who was rather close to the De Piro family considered
the Director’s family itself as a main source for Monsignor’s
goodness and kindheartedness:
I cannot say for sure why Mgr De Piro’s
behaviour with the children of the Institutes was as I described
above. But I can say that he treated children from the Institutes as
he treated me, and as he treated the child I mentioned above, whom
my father employed. In my opinion, his family background was such
that he grew up as a good and kindhearted person.
- Especially his own mother
The process of
entry of Nazzareno Attard at St Joseph’s shows quite clearly that
there was at least once when the mother of the Servant of God helped
him in the running of the Institute:
Mrs. Ursula was the
mother of the Servant of God, Mgr De Piro. My mother had not talked
to the Servant of God, although at times he was in Qrendi. I do not
know why. Perhaps because my mother thought that Mgr De Piro left
certain things in his mother’s hand. I am certain that Mgr De Piro
(and his mother as well) observed the Institute’s regulations
regarding the admissions of the boys. Preferences were not made. And
when I was at the Institute I never heard any complaints about this.
My family never had
contacts with De Piro’s family. Mgr De Piro was not dominated or led
by his mother, but, in my opinion, he respected her word. Also, in
my case, it is clear that Mrs Ursula had talked to her son about my
case, but Mgr De Piro still followed the regulations. I never
noticed or heard that Mgr De Piro was led by his mother or that she
tried to dominate him. I do not know other details.
- The benefactors
also mentioned the benefactors as a source of sustenance for the
“I do not know if Mgr De Piro used to
beg alms or not for our needs, but I am sure that he kept certain
contacts, e.g. with Mr. Alphonse Maria Galea…, through whom we
children of the Institutes benefited a lot.”
Even Cachia Zammit
referred to this great help to St Joseph’s:
Besides, there was a
man who toured the whole of Malta, collecting alms for St. Joseph’s
Institute. People helped St. Joseph’s Institute quite willingly,
since all knew that the children there were very poor, and they had
no income. Besides, there were various other benefactors, like Mr.
Alphonse Maria Galea. For example, there were those who aided this
Institute and others, by giving a chance to these children to take a
holiday at the seaside in summer. The Bishop, Mgr Caruana, was one
of the benefactors.
- Himself a benefactor of the
Dr Cachia Zammit
was quite clear about this, “He gave all his wealth to the
Institute ... It is true that Mr Alphonse helped St. Joseph’s
Institute, but the same Mr. Alphonse said that De Piro made most of
- More than anything else he
believed in Providence
mentioned several activities which helped the Director get the money
needed for the Institute. At the same time he referred also to De
Piro’s faith in Providence:
The Brothers warned us
not to waste the food, which, they reminded us, was given to us by
benefactors. When I was young I never noticed if Mgr De Piro trusted
in Divine Providence or not, but today that I am older I can better
appreciate the goodness, the calmness, etc., of Mgr De Piro in spite
of the great responsibility he had, of the 150 children of the
Institute, besides the Brothers, the instructors, etc. I learnt
from the collectors of the ‘Buona Morte’, of De Piro’s time, that he
insisted that they should collect the monthly fee. I also mentioned
the fun fair.
Cachia Zammit shared a personal experience which showed De Piro’s
faith in Providence:
On one of these
occasions, probably that of 1930, my mother had invited Mr.
Alphonse, De Piro and Mother Curmi to our house for dinner (the
children were outside enjoying themselves). On that occasion my
mother was worried because she saw that there was not enough food.
She told Mr. Alphonse about this since he was our neighbor. The
Monsignor soon realised what was the problem and the common
preoccupation. He intervened there and then and told mum: “God’s
providence is very great.” He said this because he truly believed in
God’s providence, especially in the Institutes. In fact there was
enough food to go round.
The same Cachia
Zammit mentioned the faith of the Servant of God in divine
providence another time, “It was natural for Mgr De Piro to trust in
God’s providence. And he had to, since he had to take care of
institutes, which depended totally on providence. His friend and
great collaborator, Mr. Alphonse Maria Galea, himself had a great
trust in providence, and this surely influenced also Mgr De Piro.”
- With all these
De Piro worked miracles
Dr Cachia Zammit
tried to be objective and balanced in his judgement as regards De
One of the institutes he directed was
St. Joseph’s Institute in Hamrun. Although his way of running this
Institute was not perfect, he worked miracles in running it. As the
government helped the Institute, it had the right to admit
children. These were not always the best and they therefore
sometimes caused many problems. However, he could manage, and in
fact succeeded in running the Institute.
- De Piro planned to send St
Joseph’s boys to the USA
Fr George Bugeja
was the director of St Joseph’s, Malta, from 1905 until his death on
23 November 1922. The Maltese who lived in the USA did not know
immediately about his death and for this reason one of them,
Costantino Gatt, wrote to him on 4 December 1922. In this letter
Gatt sent Fr Bugeja the details about a money collection that was
done in San Francisco, California, for the Institute. In this letter
Gatt also made a proposal to Fr Bugeja: the Maltese of California
were ready to welcome the eldest boys of St Joseph’s if these wanted
to go to the USA to work there.
Obviously this letter arrived when Bugeja was already dead.
Therefore it was Mgr De Piro, the new Director, who handled this
offer. In fact, besides the care of the daily life of the Institute,
one of the first projects of the Servant of God was the attempt to
send the eldest boys of St Joseph’s to the USA.
De Piro gathered
together the eldest boys of the Institute and discussed the project
with them. These agreed and accepted the offer.
But for these boys of St Joseph’s there was the problem of
money, because to go to the USA the fare was rather expensive.
Therefore the Director wrote to Malta’s Prime Minister and asked
him about the possibility of having some governmental financial aid
for the boys.
We do not know whether the Prime Minister answered De Piro’s letter
or not. What we know is that the project did not materialise.
- He enlarged the building of
enterprise was undoubtedly the building of new extensions of the
Institute. Br Felix Muscat referred to this initiative of the
Director when dealing with the subject of the expenditure of money,
“That is why he was reluctant to introduce new things. It is to be
remembered that at that time his intention was to enlarge the
Nazzareno Attard entered the
Institute in 1928. He said that others told him what De Piro had
done before he himself was admitted to St Joseph’s, Malta, “I
learnt from other people who worked at St. Joseph’s Institute that
at the time of Mgr De Piro there was also improvement in the
- He provided a house for
By 1930 Mgr De
Piro was more than busy with the ecclesiastical charitable
institutes, but the charity of the Servant of God did not have
limits. In 1930 he wrote to the Archbishop of Malta showing his
concern about the fact that time was passing quickly and he had done
nothing about the building of a new extension of St Joseph’s where
he could shelter the babies.
Nazzareno Attard referred to another house, very near to St
Joseph’s, which the Director had opened in 1925 with the same aim:
Younger children were
kept in another Institute, a short distance from the Institute of
St Joseph. It was in the care of nuns helped by some laywomen, but I
do not remember to which Congregation they belonged. It seemed that
there was a connection between this Home and that of St. Joseph’s
Institute, because children were automatically transferred from
this Home to St. Joseph’s.
- No limits for
Dr Cachia Zammit
mentioned a case where De Piro showed that there were no limits for
As regards the case of the children I
insist that he did his utmost, so much so that my father said that
he knew about four unfortunate boys who lived like animals; they had
no food or clothes and much less care of their souls. This was so
because their mother had died and their father was busy with his
work at St. Lucian’s Tower. My father informed Mr. Alphonse about
them. The latter approached Mgr De Piro and asked him to keep them
at St. Joseph’s. In fact Mgr De Piro without hesitation accepted
three of them in the Institute and took care of them; the fourth one
was in the care of my father.
The same Cachia
Zammit added that, “Through his work in the Institutes, Mgr
De Piro came in contact with the families of these children.
Reference can be made to the case of the Tabone family I mentioned
above. Besides, Mgr De Piro was a person who never shirked the
chances of helping families in their material and social needs.”
- De Piro was always in
solidarity with the boys
could go into detail as regards De Piro’s behaviour because he did
several jobs at St Joseph’s, “Every
now and again I used to do the cooking at the Institute, and I can
say that Mgr De Piro took the same food the boys had without any
difference whatsoever, because he wanted to have absolutely the same
treatment they had in all respects.”
- The Director was in contact
even with the families of the boys
Alexander Cachia Zammit said
that through the boys of the Institute the Director maintained
contact even with their families, “Through his work in
the institutes Mgr De Piro came into contact with the families of
these children. As an example one can refer to the case of the
Tabone family I mentioned above. Besides, Mgr De Piro was a person
who never shirked the chances of helping families in their material
and social needs.”
- De Piro helped the employees
of the Institute
As an employee at
St Joseph’s, Malta, George Wilson could analyse even Monsignor’s
relationship with the employees of the Institute. But not only; he
noticed that De Piro was in touch with the situation of the
employees’ families and he often gave them a helping hand in their
… he helped in various ways whole
families who were in need of financial aid. To mention one
particular case, I know that out of his own pocket he paid the wife
of a certain Karmenu Abela her husband’s wages because he (the
husband) was out of work and a patient at the Connaught Hospital.
This I heard from Mrs. Abela herself who also told me that he
actually used to give her something more than her husband’s usual
pay. Fr. Joseph Spiteri, who was Mgr De Piro’s assistant, told us
that the Monsignor would hand the employees at the Institute their
wages. Spiteri also said that the Director did this so that if any
of them needed any extra money he would provide what was needed
himself without anybody knowing how much and what he gave in
He thought nothing of visiting any of
the employees who happened to be ill, and I myself have heard him
say that he was on his way to visit one or another. Not only this,
but according to the members of the families of these employees, he
would find out if they were in need of help which he then did his
best to provide. If circumstances so reqiuired he would see that
they had the services of the doctor. The lay Brother used to say
that the Monsignor never had a pair of shoes repaired, because he
would always give his shoes to some poor man before any repairs were
- De Piro prepared the boys
an old boy of St Joseph’s could confirm from experience that, “Those
who were willing had every opportunity at the Institute to leave as
mature, responsible persons, capable of facing life.”
- “An internal
feeling tells me that God, from this Institute, wants to form in
Malta a Congregation of priests under the patronage of Saint Paul…”
Although Nazzareno Attard lived
at St Joseph’s for some five years he did not seem to be close to
the Piccola Società San Paolo which had its main House not at the
Institute but in Mdina, Malta. Because of this he did not know from
where the Founder was recruiting vocations for his Society. What he
was sure of was that the Director never pestered the boys of St
Joseph’s to join his Congregation, “I do not know the number
of the members. Nor do I know where the vocations came from. I do
not remember that Mgr De Piro ever tried to persuade us to choose
the religious life; his contacts with us were few.”
Br Felix Muscat, who after
being an inmate at St Joseph’s, joined the Society of De Piro, was
more informed about this:
The Padre, this is how the members of
the Society referred to him, greatly desired that some of the boys
of St. Joseph would join him. At the same time it was not often that
he brought the subject with us. Even less was his insistence that we
should become members. At the same time he often asked the Brothers
of the Society whether there was any one who wished to join. He
encouraged these to help those boys who had the vocation (The
Brothers were entrusted with the youths who seemed to be promising.
In fact, I remember that, when I made the profession, I took care of
those youths for a considerable time). As regards myself I always
had the missions at heart. I remember that I had spoken about this
to Br. Guzepp who at that time was at St. Joseph’s. Br. Guzepp
informed the Padre. I still remember when I met him, and he asked me
what was my vocation. I told him that I wished to become a lay
brother and added that my mother wished me to become a priest. He
was so much interested in this that he sent for my mother to speak
to her. I remember that he told her these words: “I am a priest and
he helps me. We are together in this, we do the same work. Our Rule
says this: ‘The priest and the brother work together.’ He will be of
great help to the priest.”
I did not join the Society
straightaway. I kept contact with Br. Guzepp who took care of the
boys who wished to join the Society. This Brother helped me to meet
the Padre by sending me to clean his room. Monsignor, seeing me so
interested and keen on my work, was encouraged to accept me. At such
times he would start talking to me about the vocation.
Br Venanz Galea was another boy
who passed from St Joseph’s to De Piro’s Society. Galea said that:
… he (De Piro) paid
special attention to those children who were inclined to join the
Society that he founded; he took great care of them. He liked to
call these to his room, either alone or together, and spent some
time talking to them. At times he took them together to the house at
Mdina, where there were already the first members, for some feast,
like, for example, the feast of St. Paul. Besides the service, the
Founder liked to give them something to make them happy. He had even
founded what was known as the Congregation of St. Aloysius. Several
boys belonged to it, but it was mostly intended for those children
who were interested in his Society.. For these he had a medallion
made, and they had frequent meetings. Br. Guzepp Caruana was in
charge of them. In these meetings the Brother spoke to them about
various matters, including the Society. Sometimes also the Founder
went to talk to them. The St Aloysius Congregation was a kind of
society in which Br. Guzepp could spot children who later on would
become members of the Society. Whenever he found a boy who
was inclined to join, the Brother soon presented him to the Founder
so that he might get to know him better.
I was one who had the
wish to join the Society. In 1925 De Piro suggested that Br Guzepp
should send me with Father Michael Callus to Gozo, where he was in
charge of the Institute of St Joseph. At that time I was about 14
years old. I wasn’t even an aspirant. Although I was still very
young I went to Gozo.I was sent there just before the opening of
this Institute and specifically to help with the preparations for
of St Joseph’s Home, Ghajnsielem, Gozo
- Gozo : an introduction
The Island of Gozo
makes part of the Maltese Archipelago. Because of this it may be
thought that what has already been said about the socio- economic
situation of the Island of Malta can automatically be applied to
Gozo. The reality is not completely so; the two Islands, with some 8
kilometers of sea between them, experienced a bit of a different
fate in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. If the
socio-economic situation during these years was generally not good
in the case of Malta, for many of those years and in many aspects it
was still worse as regards Gozo. Because of this it is important
here to have at least a look at the Gozitan reality in these years
in order to understand better De Piro’ s contribution to this Island
and Diocese when he accepted to start, and then direct, St Joseph’s
- The population
Just before 1837
In late 1837
(346 Gozitans perish in epidemic)
(year of first census)
(slow economic recovery)
Lacroix, writing at about the year 1835, also noted that “… the
population has sensibly increased in spite of misery and
- Standard of living
It is impossible
to say how many lived below or above the normal standard of living.
The table below gives an idea of the reality according to the 1861
Occupations in Gozo
Standard of living
of the population
Government employees, and
of the priests
Fared equally well.
Majority of land owners, and
belonging to professional, and commercial classes
In the middle of
the nineteenth century the British Government sent to Malta, one of
the British colonies, a Royal Commission to study the situation on
the Island and present a report. Some of its words revealed the
extreme state of impoverishment of the people living at that time:
“In Gozo, when there is a want of field-work, about one sixth of the
population is reduced to begging”.
- The public health system
it is enough to quote what has been written on 19 September 1903 by
“A voice from Gozo” in one of the Maltese daily newspapers:
A correspondent writes that there is
urgent necessity for more esxtensive medical assistance in the
Island of Gozo which is at present insufficiently furnished with
Civilian Medical Officers, more especially during the summer months
where there is a great deal of fever, enteric, etc., prevalent.
Casal Nadur (which includes Casal Kala and Ghainsielem) is mentioned
as an instance in which district there is no medical assistance
available in cases of urgent necessity. When a doctor is required, a
telephone message has to be sent to Citta` Vittoria, and great
delay, which is unavoidable, is the result, as there is long
distance to cover and the doctor may possibly be engaged elsewhere,
and even when obtained it is always at great expense, behond the
means of poor people. At present the arrangements are that the
doctor of Casal Caccia arrives late in the evening on Tuesdays and
Fridays, and leaves early on Wednesdays and Saturdays, which means a
very short stay for such large villages, the population of which is
very scattered. This causes an extra expense and personal
inconvenience which might be remedied by the government establishing
a resident medical officer in these villages, which should be
compelled to actually reside there and provide a substitute in case
of unavoidable absence, that the district would never be left
without an available medical attendant.
Several visitors from the Sister Island
who have been residing here during the summer months, have
complained of their inability to procure medical assistance when
required. A resident medical officer is claimed for Nadur, Kala, and
Ghainsielem in preference to other districts, because of their
having the largest population according to the last census.
- The Institute
at Ghajnsielem, Gozo
It has been said
that the economic situation in Malta and Gozo had been bad in most
of the nineteenth century. During many of the first years of the
twentieth century, things, sometimes, though very slowly, changed a
bit for the better.
Still, there was a good number of children who needed immediate
help. Michael Ciangura who was the 17th boy to enter St
Joseph’s Institute, Gozo
was asked to testify in the 1987 Tribunal sessions. Though in a very
few words, he indicated that in his childhood the situation was very
Peter Camilleri was the 23rd boy to enter St Joseph’s,
Gozo. He presented his childhood days as a time of scarcity.
Loreto Rapa, the 3rd boy to enter the Institute was more
explicit, “When I was still a small boy there were many poor and
- The attempts by the bishops
parishpriests felt the responsibility to open some house or
institute in order to gather the boys in it.
There had already been one; it was the Saints Peter and Paul
Conservatory. It had been built by Bishop Vincenzo Labini in 1789.
But this was for girls; there was no such home for boys, yet. A
hundred years after the opening of the Conservatory, the Bishop of
Gozo, Mgr Peter Paul Pace tried to open an institute
for boys. He therefore asked the help of Mgr Francesco
Bonnici, the founder of St Joseph’s Institute, Malta. But the plan
failed because Bonnici could not handle two institutes at the same
There were several
attempts after the one of Mgr Pace, but again they all failed.
The reasons for this lack of success were various: it was not easy
to find a place where to gather together the boys. There had to be a
lot of money to run it. But the main problem was the direction of
the institute. The Church in Gozo asked the Freres De La Salle to
run the projected institute. The offer was made to them in 1908. At
first the Brothers accepted, but in fact they never went to Gozo.
- The Gozo parishpriests
sought the help of De Piro
In 1920 the Gozo
parishpriests took over from the Bishop.
They found an adequate house and succeeded in getting some money
from the government.
On 17 November 1923 the parishpriests signed a notary contract with
which they bound themselves to set up a boys’ institute.
Since they were convinced that the failure of the previous attemps
was because of the lack of an adequate director they decided to
invite Mgr Joseph De Piro to be the first director,
who at that time was the director of another three institutes in
Malta: Fra Diegu, Jesus of Nazareth and St Joseph, Malta. On 25
December 1924, Fr Joseph Hili, the parishpriest of Fontana, Gozo,
wrote to the Servant of God in the name of all the other
parishpriests and offered him the direction of the Gozo Institute.
For some reason or other De Piro did not answer that letter.
Therefore Hili wrote to Monsignor again on 7 January 1925.
This time De Piro answered the letter on the 31 of the same month:
he wanted to know things more clearly.
Hili wrote to Monsignor on 3 February 1925, giving him more
- A branch of St Joseph’s,
Malta, to be led by the Society of De Piro
De Piro decided to
accept. He wrote to the Archbishop of Malta, Mauro Caruana, and told
him about the request made to him by the Gozo parishpriests:
Il Canco. Decano Giuseppe De Piro nella
sua duplice qualità di Superiore della Casa di San Giuseppe -
ist. Bonnici - e
della Compangnia di San Paolo, prostrato al bacio del Sacro Anello,
umilmente espone a Vra. Eccza. che per tra del Secretario del
Parrocato Gozitano, gli veniva ultimamente significato che tanto
Monsignor Vescovo, quanto tutti i Parroci di Gozo, consci della
necessità desideravano istituire in diocesi un
orfanatrofio e che
accoglie vero con piacere l’idea di aver diramata a Gozo, una
sezione della Casa di San Giuseppe di Hamrun.
Che la diramazione di una sezione al
Gozo della Casa di San Giuseppe ere già un desiderato di Mgr Arciv.
Vescovo P.Pace di f.m.; e se allora per una ragione o l’altra non si
era riuscito ad effettuarla, le circostanze odierne persuadono
diversamente. La prosperità infatti della Casa di San Giuseppe a
lato dello sviluppo della Compagnia di San Paolo che la maneggia, la
premura del nuovo Vescovo Mgr Gonzi la disposizione dei Parroci a
spallegiare l’opera, l’azione già dagli stessi spiegata in favore,
il concorso del Governo Civile coll’assegno di mille lire sterline,
tutto contribuisce ad infondere coraggio di por mano all’impresa.
Che l’Or… e pertanto, fidandosi sempre
nell’aiuto della Divina Provvidenza, osa umiliare a Vra. Eccza.
Revma. la domanda di autorizzarlo ad iniziare l’istituzione di
questa … diramazione sotto il nome di "Casa di San Giuseppe" -
Che della grazia etc.
Presentato dal ricorrente il di 3
(f) Sac. Ant. Galea
One can notice
that in the above letter the Servant of God insisted that the future
Institute had to be a branch of St Joseph’s, Malta, and not a
separate one. Also, De Piro mentioned his Society. Without doubt the
Founder was anticipating the introduction of its members in the Gozo
Home. De Piro’s petition was accepted by the Archbishop on 3
February 1925. Mgr Caruana approved the affiliation of the Gozo
Institute with that of Malta, but he also told the Servant of God to
deal the matter with the Bishop of Gozo, “Approviamo purchè l’Ore si
metta in relazione all’Eccza Vescovo di Gozo”
De Piro went to
Gozo to discuss the matter both with Bishop Michael Gonzi and with
the parishpriests. On that day the Servant of God asked His
Excellency for the statutes. These were sent to him on 17 February
of that same year.
Through this latter document De Piro realised that on
6 November 1924 the statutes had already been written and
these determined the direction of the Institute.
This, De Piro did not know before the meeting with the Bishop and
the parishpriests. Also, in the letter of 17 February 1925, Bishop
Gonzi told the Servant of God that Archbishop Caruana had to rewrite
De Piro did not want any interference from the side of the Gozo
hierarchy in the administration of the Institute
De Piro did not
accept the “Fundamental Statutes”and Gonzi’s other words written to
him on 17 February. In fact on the 24 of that same month he told
Gozo’s Bishop that the latter had to say only what would happen to
the new Institute in case it would not remain affiliated to the one
in Malta and in case the Society of St Paul were not to remain in
charge of it.
A quick look at the Statutes helps one understand the objections of
the Servant of God:
Nos, Michael Gonzi, Dei et Apostolicae
Sedis Gratia Episcopus Gaudisiensis Eidem Sanctae Sedi Immediate
Attentis expositis in supplici libello
in Nostra Curia porrecto nomine Archipresbyterorum et Parochorum
Nostrae Dioecesis, qui adprobationem et canonicam erectionem
orphanotrophii ab ipsis erigendi, in quo recipi, ali et nutriri
debeant pauperes pueri orphani, petunt; itemque auctoritatem a
Gubernio Civili summam libellarum sterlingarum mille in subsidium
dicti orphanatrophii promissam acceptandi;
Viso exemplari contractus ab iisdem
Admodum Reverendis Dominis initi coram notario publico Dno. Josepho
Camilleri sub die 17 Novembris anni 1923, quo se obligant ad
recipiendos necnon alendos viginti quatuor pueros pauperes orphanos
e Nostra Dioecesi;
Visis aliis de iure vivendis;
Nos, qui curam specialem pauperem
habere debemus, matura deliberazione praemissa, Christi nomine
invocato, auctoritate Nostra ordinaria, tenore praesentis decreti,
dictum orphanatrophium pro pauperibus pueris vel orphanis
recipiendis alendis et nutriendis, fundamus et erigimus et pro
fundato et erecto haber volumus, subconditionibus in subnexis
statutis fundamentalibus expressis.
Tenore praeterea presentis decreti
dictis Archipresbyteris et Parochis auctoritatem facimus a Gubernio
Civili promissam summam libellarum sterlingarum mille acceptandi pro
erectione ac dote dicti orphanotrophii.
Et ita auctoritate qua supra, et iure
quo possumus et debemus, erigimus et praesens nostrum decretum
erectionis in actis Nostrae Curiae et in archivio orphanatrophii
canstruendo servari mandamus.
DATUM VICTORIAE IN AEDIBUS NOSTRIS
DIE SEXTA NOVEMBRIS ANNI MXMXXIV
+ Michael, Episcopus Gaudisien
L’orfanatrofio suddetto sarà
appellato "Orfanatrofio Diocesano" e sarà la dipendenza del Vescovo
di Gozo "pro tempore".
Il Governo Civile non avrà in
detto Orfanatrofio nessuna ingerenza fuorchè quella di invigilare
sull’osservanza dell’articolo del contratto del 17 Novembre 1923 già
sopra menzionato, cioè chè per lo spazio di anni computabili da un
giorno di fissarsi siano ricoverati e mantenuti nell’ orfanatrofio
Se un giorno detto orfanatrofio
verrà a chiudersi, tutti i beni mobili ed immobili appartenenti allo
stesso, passeranno nelle mani del Vescovo di Gozo pro tempore, il
quale ne disporrà pei bisogni della Diocesi.
Tutti gli ufficiali
dell’orfanatrofio saranno scelti dai M.R. Arcipreti a Parroci ed
approvati dal Vescovo pro tempore.
L’ammisione dei ragazzi si far’
dietro ricorso presentato al Vescovo, il quale lo passerà ai
M.M.R.R. Signori sopra menzionati o a chi ne farà le veci per
l’approvazzione o meno.
Il Vescovo avrà il diritto di
presiedere tutte le adunanze dei R.R. Parroci o di chi ne farà le
veci nel governo dell’Istituto per se o per mezzo di un suo
Vogliamo ed ordiniamo che i
sopradetti statuti fondamentali siano esattamente osservati,
riservando a Noi ed ai nostri successor facoltà di accrescerli,
moderarli e variarli secondo che guidichereremo espediente pel bene
di detto Istituto.
DATO DAL NOSTRO PALAZZO VESCOVILE,
QUESTO DI 6 NOVEMBRE 1924
+ Michael, Vescovo di Gozo
Joseph’s Institute, Gozo, was being promoted more by the
parishpriests than by Bishop Gonzi. Were it not so things would have
stopped completely, because until then His Excellency did not seem
willing to change his mind while the parishpriests were ready to
sacrifice everything in order to accommodate De Piro, something
which even the Bishop accepted in the end.
On 4 March 1925
Parishpriest Hili met Mgr De Piro at Fra Diegu Institute, Malta, and
assured him of this. Also, on the 16 of the same month Hili wrote to
Monsignor and told him about the money that was given them by the
Government. He also reassured him that from their side the Bishop
and the parishpriests did not want to create any difficulties for
the first Director of the Institute.
On 21 March 1925,
the Servant of God sent Hili a very important letter where he
repeated his previous convictions and presented some other
objections for the original statutes:
21 Marzo 1925
Casa di San Giuseppe
Hamrun - Malta.
Molto Revdo Signor Parroco,
Ho ricevuto la sua del 16 corrente. Non
posso nascondere la mia gioconda sorpresa tenuto infatti già prima
in mia cognizione lo sbanco dell’assegno intero all’avviamento
dell’Orfanatrofio e lo sbanco di cui Ella ora mi scrive, senz’altro
doveva conchiudere che le trattative erano tra di noi del tutto
interrotte e solo aspettava un breve accenno di Mgr Vescovo Gonzi
dichiarandomi il fatto. Ma grazie a San Giuseppe non era cosi’;
tanto però fu la confusione in cui mi son trovato che ho dovuto
fermarmi e tornare indietro per trovare a che punto stavano le cose.
Tralascio, per brevità la narrativa della genesi e sviluppo
dell’idea di aver un orfanatrofio a Gozo; e solo mi preme rilevare
che dall’esame di tutti i fogli passati tra di noi dal Dicembre u.s.
mi risultò che effettivamente ci troviamo di fronte a tre distinti
progetti sviluppati talmente insieme che mi impedivano di veder
chiaro, e perciò anche di poter rispondere alla sua pregma. già
sopra menzionata. Ecco pertanto i tre progetti.
Diramazione (Branch) a Gozo di
una sezione della Casa di San Giuseppe di Hamrun-Malta-Istituto
Unione della Casa di San
Giuseppe di Malta all’orfanatrofio Vescovile di Gozo già
canonicamente eretto con appositi statuti.
Messa in opera dell’Orfanatrofio
Vescovile di Gozo già canonicamente eretto, come sopra,
indipendentemente dalla Casa di San Giuseppe di Malta.
Il primo è il progetto più antico,
suggerito a Don Giorgio, buon’anima, da Mgr Pace di f.m. E tengo quà
a dichiarare che i miei affiatamenti avuti a tempo vergine col Rev.
Attard e col Parroco di C.Caccia erano sempre importanti a base di
questa progettata Branch. Cosi’ anche durante l’attuale
corrispondenza mi sono sempre guidato da questa idea preconcetta.
Ora se si vuole abbracciare questo progetto reso oggi effettuabile
col permesso accordatomi da Mgr Vescovo Caruana, non si ha da fare
altro che prendere le vedute da me già spiegate nella lettera a Mgr
Vescovo Gonzi del.......
Il secondo progetto lo deduco oggi
abbastanza chiaramente da tutte le lettere di V.S. ed anche da
quella di Mgr Gonzi del Febbraio u.s. Esso è ben diverso dal primo
tanto che lo stesso Mgr Gonzi mi suggeriva di riformare il mio
ricorso a Mgr Caruana e conseguentemente il relativo decreto. Ora
independentemente da quello che avrebbe fatto in questo caso
MgrCaruana; l’unione coinvolta in questo progetto; richiede ancora e
prima di tutto, la spiegazione dei limiti per quanto riguarda la
parte economica. E quantumque una tale delimitazione non è ancota da
me ben concepita, purtuttavia, da quel che posso prevedire, non
nascondo il timore, di essere trascinati ad intavolare dei dettagli
che possono muovere certe suscettibilità poco conformi ai sentimenti
di carità e di fiducia nella Divina Provvidenza a cui deve
inspirarsi la contemplata opera di beneficenza. Aggiunga, che perciò
che riguarda la parte direttiva già improntata negli statuti, essa è
troppo eterogenea allo spirito ed alla pratica che governa la Casa
di San Giuseppe;- e non puo essere riguardata con favore prevedendo
le difficoltà in cui verrà immancabilmente a trovarsi il personale
addetto alla cura dell’Orfanatrofio di Gozo; e lo stato di passività
in cui lo stesso verrà immerso a conto della prosperità dell’Opera.
Il terzo progetto, il quale finchè io
sappia già stava per essere messo in opera, però riguardarmi come
Capo di questa piccola Congregazione nascente di Missionarii,ed
allora bisogna ancora iniziare le trattative a base sempri di
un’autonomia interna tanto direttiva che economica. Può anche
riguardarmi personalmente ed allora tutto può da ora e con piacere a
servizio di Mgr Vescovo di Gozo l’esperienza da me finora acquistata
nel maneggio di simili Case di Beneficenza.
Nella speranza che queste mie brevi
note abbiano a dilucidare l’orizzonte e far adito, come dice Lei,
alla Maggior gloria di Dio, al trionfo a San Giuseppe ed al bene
delle piccole anime dei ragazzi poveri ...
La prego umiliare i miei profondi
ossequii a Mgr Diocesano i miei sensi di considerazione ai suoi
colleghi ed Ella gradisca i miei distinti saluti mentremi raffirmo
De Piro’s letter
was received by Parishpriest Hili on 25 March 1925. The latter
answered it on the same day.
discussions were then held with Mgr Gonzi. Through these, De Piro
was informed about the positive decisions that were already taken.
Together they saw what remained to be done.
De Piro still
insisted on the affiliation of the Gozo Orphanage with St. Joseph’s
Home in Malta and the autonomy of its administration. He wanted to
obtain the same conditions as those for St. Joseph’s Home, Malta,
because he wanted his Society to look after the Gozo Institute. 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. He even disagreed
with the condition of the numerus clausus of the entrants as
laid down in Gonzi’s foundation decree because, to his mind, that
was a sign of mistrust in Divine Providence; for the Servant of God
the original Statutes lacked a sense of charity.
De Piro and Gonzi
eventually met towards the beginning of April.
On the 18 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 Mgr De Piro. Only one condition was stipulated,
namely that should the Gozo Branch of St. Joseph’s Home secede from
St Joseph’s in Malta, all its rights and property would pass on to
the Bishop of Gozo. Here are the new statutes or the decree of
affiliation of the Gozo Institute with the Malta one:
Per grazia di Dio e della S. Sede
Vescovo di Gozo
alla medesima S.Sede immediatamente
Vista la supplica presentata dal Revmo.
Monsignore Can. Decano Giuseppe De Piro Navarra nella sua duplice
qualità di Superiore della casa di San Giuseppe di Hamrun - Istituto
Bonnici - e di Superiore della Compangia di San Paolo, nella Gran
Curia Vescovile di Malta allo scopo di ottenere dal Revmo. Ordinario
di Malta l’autorizzazione per una diramazione della suddetta Casa di
San Giuseppe al Gozo.
Visto il relativo decreto emanato da
Sua E. Revma. Mgr Mauro Caruana Arcivescovo - Vescovo di Malta che
autorizza il prelodato Monsignore De Piro ad effetuare la su
Attesochè noi abbiamo già con Nostro
decreto del 6 Novembre 1924 canonicamente eretto un Orfanatrofio
nella Nostra Diocesi di Gozo sotto il nome di Orfanotrofio Diocesano
ed abbiamo col citato Nostro decreto dato ad esso gli Statuti
Fondamentali, riservando a Noi ed ai Nostri Successori la facoltà di
accrescerli moderarli e variarli;
Attesochè Ci pare più facile lo
sviluppo di detto Orfanatrofio se unito alla suddetta Casa di S.
Giuseppe ed affidato a mani esperte;
Colla presente Noi, previo il parere
del Nostro Parrocato, affidiamo al prelodato (Superiore) della Casa
di S. Giuseppe e della Compagnia di S. Paolo l’orfanatrofio
Diocesano di Gozo, trasferendo nella persona del prelodato
Monsignore nella sua duplice veste già menzionate tutti i diritti e
tutti gli obblighi che spettavano a Noi ed al Nostro Parrocato, in
vigore del Nostro decreto sopra citato e dei contratti publicati
presso il notaro G. Camilleri in data del 17 novembre 1924 e del 5
Marzo 1925 rispettivamente, con questo però che, se per caso la
sezione del Gozo della Casa di San Giuseppe cessi di formar parte
della casa di San Giuseppe o non resti più sotto la cura della
Compagnia di San Paolo, i diritti acquistati di proprietà di detta
sezione debbano passare nelle mani del Vescovo di Gozo pro tempore.
Dato dal Nostro Palazzo Vescovile
Vittoria, Gozo il di’ 18 Aprile 1925
(Fto.) Michael Vescovo di Gozo
18 Aprile 1925
De Piro continued
emphasising the affiliation of the Gozo Institute with the Malta
one. After indicating it in his very first contact with Malta’s
Archbishop, and then with the Bishop and the parishpriests of Gozo,
he referred to it even in the addresses he made to Governor Congreve
and Bishop Gonzi on 21 May 1925, or in the opening ceremony of the
And it seemed he wanted to continue emphasising it all along
his life. Infact in 1928, St Joseph’s Home, Malta, reprinted a book
that had been already published in 1890. It was called “The
Greatness of the Glorious Patriarch, St Joseph”. In the introduction
to the 1928 edition, the Servant of God put these words:
I remind those who are devoted to St
Joseph, and therefore those who love their neighbour, that in Hamrun
there is an Institute founded by Canon Bonnici the name of which is
St Joseph’s Home. The aim of this Institute is to gather the
orphaned and poor boys in order to form them in the fear of God and
teach them a trade so that they can get a living for themselves when
they grow up. In this Institute besides the Gozo section where there
are 23 boys, and the infants’ section where there are 25 boys under
the age of seven, there are 134 boys. Because of this one can
imagine how much is needed your help.
of St Joseph’s Institute, Gozo
De Piro was
greatly safisfied with the developments. According to Br Venanz
Galea, who at the time of the opening of St Joseph’s, Gozo, was
still a boy of 14,
De Piro went to Gozo some time before the inauguration and took
Galea himself to help in the preparations. Since the house was in a
the Director even asked the help of some boys from Ghajnsielem,
Gozo, to clean it and put it in order.
His first wish was
to have a private inauguration ceremony that was to be held on 8
May, a date so precious to him.
However on 25 April 1925, as De Piro was about to retire to his room
on the first floor of the Orphanage in Gozo, 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. Still for some
days he could not stand up.
This incident was interpreted by some as the work of the devil.
The Servant of God himself considered it like this.
this setback with humour and resignation, but the inauguration had
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 Gozo Cathedral
On that day the Servant of God delivered two speeches, one in
English to Governor Congreve and another one in Italian to Bishop
Gonzi. The one to the Governor was read first:
It is a great honour to me to have to
welcome Your Excellency here in Gozo. I am not a Gozitan myself ,
but my relations in the past with Gozo and the Gozitans in
connection with the management of the Casa di San Giuseppe of
Hamrun, my intercourse with His Lordship the Bishop of Gozo and the
Parishpriests of this Diocese regarding the foundation of this
Orphanage, my long stay in Gozo to get cured from the wounds I
received in a mishap I met within this house, all gave me the
opportunity of knowing better the people of this Island and of
learning to appreciate their good qualities, foremost among which
their hospitality. Consequently I feel entitled to welcome Y.E. also
in the name of all the people here gathered this afternoon to
witness with joy the opening of this Orphanage and the realisation
of their long cherished desire.
The opening of this new branch of the
Casa San Giuseppe of Hamrun was to take place in a rather private
manner, without the festival array we see around us. My unexpected
long stay here however and the postponement of the ceremony to
Ascension Day gave an opportunity to the enthusiasm with which this
Branch has been received here, to manifest itself externally, and I
was repeatedly asked to have a more solemn ceremony on the occasion
of the opening of this Branch. And what was meant to be a private
ceremony gradually rose to be the public and solemn ceremony we are
assisting at; and while before we did not dare to take the liberty
of asking Your Excellency to be present, it seemed to us after a
great fault on our part, if we ommited to communicate to Y.E. the
event not only but also if we ommitted to invite you - the
Representative of our beloved King- to honour us with your presence
together with His Lordship the Bishop of Gozo.
To those here present who know the Casa
San Giuseppe of Hamrun and what is going on therein, it will be easy
to understand what our work in this Branch will be like. Together
with a sound and practical knowledge of Religion the boys here
sheltered will receive an elementary literary instruction and the
knowledge of a trade. The education they receive here will enable
them, when grown up, they leave this place, to find work and earn
their bread and occupy with honour a place in society; and
ordinarily the good qualities, that develop in them while here, will
gain for them the sympathy of others, be they masters or equals, not
only in these Islands but also in far distant countries, where our
people go in search of work and food.
In thanking you most heartily for your
kindness in honouring us on this occasion, I ask you to declare this
Branch of the Casa San Giuseppe open.
Then followed the
address to Bishop Michael Gonzi:
Terminate le pratiche burocratiche
relative all’istituzione di un Orfanatrofio a Gozo, istituzione
tanto a coure di V. Eccza., e che nella storia formerà la prima
pietra migliaria del suo futuro benefico Episcopato. Era nostro
primo dovere di fissare il giorno dell’apertura di questa Casa,
intesa ad accogliere ragazzi poveri ed abbandonati e proclivi qual
sempre siamo E. R. ad onorarla ed esternarle il culto che
conserviamo in cuor nostro verso la Sua Venerata Persona, preso in
mano il calendario, la nostra attenzione in sull’istante venne
attirata sul giorno della Chiesa dedicato all’apparizione
dell’Arcangelo san Michael, e qual dolce sorpresa non fu per noi la
coincidenza del giorno universalmente conosciuto per la Supplica
meridiana alla Vergine di Pompei. Ma il Signore, pur accogliendo la
nostra buona intenzione, prendeva questa volta sotto la Sua
immediata protezione l’odierna occorrenza, forse per renderci sempre
più perseveranti nel tenere in alto fisso il nostro sguardo ed anche
il nostro cuore. Ed eccoci al giorno provvidenziale. In mezzo alla
gioia che in questo momento solenne copre il viso di tutti, ci
sentiamo oltremodo contenti che spetta a noi l’onorevole ufficio di
salutarla per la prima volta in questo luogo che dal saluto prende
il nome – Salve a Lei o Presule da Dio benedetto; con me La saluta
la Casa di San Giuseppe di Malta; con me La saluta il piccolo gregge
di Missionari, che con questo ricovero sente aprirsi a coprirlo e
proteggerlo l’ala destra di un altro angelo – Salve a Lei, con me La
saluta tutta questa accolta di persone disinte, vuoi del clero che
del laicato. Con me La saluta tutto questo popolo festante, qui
accorso da Gozo non solo ma anche da Malta ad assistere
all’invocazione delle celesti benedizioni su questi umili inizi –
Salve a Lei, con me La salutano I tre orfanelli, che nella loro
sfortuna di essere I primi ad esser accolti e beneficati.
Viene detto che l’ingratitudine è un
peccato tanto grande, che nessun legislatore umano abbia mai trovato
una pena condegna, ma che questa è riservata unicamente al
Legislatore eterno. E non sia mai’ che noi su questo foglio
omettessimo l’espressione del sentimento contrario. Vivissime grazie
pertanto siano rese dinanzi a tutti a V.E. per la generosità ed
abnegazione con cui accolse nella sua Diocesi questa nuova sezione
della Casa di san Giuseppe di Hamrun. L’azione nobile spiegata verso
di noi, sarà per noi e pei nostri successori di edificazione, non
solo ma anche uno sprone continuo a corrispondere “ totis viribus”
allo sviluppo e completo stabilimento di questo Orfanatrofio.
Permetta, eccellenza, di approfittarmi di questa carta per inviare
ai benemeriti membri componenti il Governo di queste Isole nonche
delle due Camere pel sussidio finanziario assegnato a quest’opera
nascente. Ad essi in corrispondenza diamo l’assicurazione che nel
nostro intento, anzi è una nostra intima convinzione di
oltrepassare, “Deo adiuvante”, i limiti delle condizioni tanto
percio che riguarda il numero degli alunni. Vadano le nostre grazie
a Mgr Arcivescovo Vescovo di Malta per il favore con cui accolse la
nostra domanda ad estendere a Gozo l’opera della Casa di Hamrun.
Grazie anche siano date ai Parroci di questa Diocesi, che occupando
degnamente il loro ufficio compressare la necessità, ed affianco il
loro amato Pastore lavorarono senza lena, per aver la via da ogni
ostacolo sgombrato e cosi’ ‘quam primum’ istituita l’opera, che oggi
con nostra e loro soddisfazione rileviamo esser fatto compiuto. I
nostri sensi di riconoscenza giungano all’orecchio di un numero
discreto di benefattori che quale schiame di api, qui’ si aggirano
attorno a noi, studiando il modo di opportarci e cera e miele per
rendere ques’arnia sempre più atta ad avvantaggiare i poveri ragazzi
L’Orfanatrofio di Gozo anche in questa
modalità ha formato per anni il desiderato di molti e sentiamo di
compire un dovere nel mandare il nostro saluto all’anima buona di
Mgr Vescovo Pace, all’anima del nostro predecessore Don Giorgio
Bugeja ed a tutti quelli, che prima di noi vagheggiarono l’idea di
aver a Gozo un Orfanatrofio. Ed Ella, Eccellenza, gradisca le nostre
più sentite congratulazioni per essere da Dio scelto ad inaugurare
l’opera, quantunque il suo principio si presenta ai nostri occhi
piccolo e povero.
Fedeli al savio principio del santo
Curato di Ars che “Il bene non fa chiasso ed il chiasso non fa bene”
colla E. Revma eravamo d’intesa di evitare ogni pompa ed ogni
solennità e di dare invece a quest’opera un inizio umile e modesto,
quale che fu quello del magnifico odierno, sempre crescente
organismo, imminentemente benefattore dell’umanità – la Chiesa di
Gesù Cristo – ed infatti il nostro divisamento era punto
impossibile, perche se l’opera della quale tocchiamo il principio
era conosciuta per necessità di cose dal numero ristretto di persone
che investono l’Autorità vuoi ecclesiastica che civile, purtuttavia
essa era ancora quasi del tutto ignorata, non solo a Malta, ma vuoi
anche a Gozo stesso. Ecco il momento propizio al nemico di ogni
bene, approfittandosi del nostro intento e maliziosamente secondando
lo stesso, divisò di seppellire, tra le macerie,la opera anche
prima, direi che fosse nata,e cosi impedire perfino un grido
infantile ad una piccola batteria che veniva costruita contro il suo
campo. Ma viva a Dio che innanzi a Lui umiltà non significa
distruzione; la parte comica della diabolica manovra superò la parte
tragica, ed il sentimento di riconoscenza che occupò il nostro cuore
in sull’istante traboccò nel canto triplice dell’Inno Eucaristico.
Priva ancora l’opera di tante cose non
recherà meraviglie ad alcuno se essa difetti anche di campane, che
in questa occorrenza ci avrebbero tanto aiutato particolarmente ad
ossequiare l’Eccellenza Vostra. Ma Provvidenza di Dio, il suono di
tegole e lastre di pietra nostrale, che dolcemente l’una contro
l’altra battevano, mentr’ io con loro in fondo sdrucciolava, è
rimasto vivo alle mie orecchie non solo, ma pervenne a quelle di
altri parecchi, che qui oggi tutti raccolse in gran numero, meglio
forse e che non avrebbe fatto un doppione di un formidabile
L’uomo propone e Dio dispone. Noi
avevamo proposto di aver una benedizione direi quasi privata e iddio
volgendo in bene il male tutto mirabilmente dispone perchè la
cerimonia, relattivamente ai preparati vi riuscisse splendida,
magnifica e popolare forse più di qualsiasi altra del genere.
Coll’augurio di un rapido sviluppo e di
ogni migliore prosperità nell’opera, che vede la luce sotto gli
auspicii del Partiarca San Giuseppe pongo termine al mio indirizzo,
mentre La prego a voler degnarsi di benedire e di invitare tutti i
presenti a vociare alla stessa un fervido “evviva”.
On that same day
the first three boys were accepted in the Home,
and soon their number began to increase.
The Servant of God 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 £1000. 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.
official superior of St Joseph’s Institute, Gozo, was the Servant of
God, the person chosen by Monsignor De Piro to administer the Home
was Fr Michael Callus, one of the first priests to be ordained from
within the Society of St Paul.
Some time later Fr Karm Azzopardi, another priest of the Society,
Mgr De Piro always kept in mind the particular needs of the Gozo
Home and regularly sent all possible help.
- The admission
of the boys at St Joseph’s, Gozo
said that he had been the 23 boy to be admitted in the Institute.
Loreto Rapa who had been one of the first
three boys to enter St Joseph’s, said that only 21 boys were
that was the number of beds in the dormitory”.
And he gave other information:
Those who wished to
have their children admitted at the Institute came to talk to the
Superior. In the absence of the Servant of God, they used to see Fr.
Michael Callus, but when Mgr De Piro was there, it was he who
received them. There were cases when it seemed to Fr. Michael that
it would be better if they spoke to Monsignor and so he left the
parents waiting until the Servant of God came to Gozo. There was a
waiting list of the children who wished to be admitted, but there
were no vacant places. Then, when someone got fed up or left another
one immediately took his place. In my time there were five who left,
certainly not because of some fault of the administration of the
- The Director,
a very busy man
In his 1987
testimony, Michael Ciangura, an old boy of St Joseph’s, Gozo,
indicated that at the time of the direction of the Gozo Institute,
the Servant of God was busy with several other responsibilities.
Loreto Rapa was more explicit:
When he came, he would leave his other
commitments in Malta, which commitments were not few. In fact he was
responsible for about four Institutes. The largest was St.
Joseph’s, in Hamrun, which had about 100 children. Besides these
commitments De Piro was also involved in the political life as a
member of the Senate, and in some mediations.
confirm that the old boys knew about De Piro’s involvement in the
direction of several other ecclesiastical charitable institutes.
- De Piro’s
visits to St Joseph’s, Gozo
Carmelo Gauci, a cook at St Joseph’s, the Director did not visit the
Institute frequently, “When I was there Mgr De Piro did not come
often. He might have gone more often before 1928, but after this
date he would visit the place three or four times a year.”
In 1987 Loreto Rapa did not agree with Gauci, “… he often came to
On 11 September 1990 Rapa was more explicit, “The Monsignor did not
come to Gozo regularly; roughly he came once or twice every two
Michael Ciangura, Peter Camilleri and Philip Gatt, all old boys of
St Joseph’s, agreed that the Director visited the Institute once a
Camilleri and Gatt said that when the Servant of God went to St
Joseph’s he stayed two or three days.
Loreto Rapa said that De Piro stayed much more, even a
though afterwards he mentioned the same number of days as the