Missionary Society of St Paul
Lecture delivered by Fr. Francis Ferriggi mssp in Australia, at the Maltese Community Center, 477 Royal Parade, Parkville for the Malta Historical Society, 17th June 1997.
THE SERVANT OF GOD, (MGR) JOSEPH DE PIRO (1877 - 1933)
FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARY SOCIETY OF ST. PAUL
The idea of this talk came to my mind when once, after one of the monthly lectures, the president asked me to talk about the work of the Congregation in Australia. I am not a historian but I accepted the invitation and at once decided to talk about the man who made all this possible, the Founder of the Missionary Society of St. Paul, Joseph De Piro.
Quite a number of us where born in Malta and know about it. Some know very little. Some know next to nothing. So I will start from there. Malta is a small island (the size of Philip Island) in the Mediterranean Sea, roughly 100 Km from Sicily and about 300 Km from Africa. We know that the oldest standing public place for worship in existence is in Malta. At one point Malta was inhabited by the Phoenicians, they by the Carthaginians and then the Romans took over. In 60 AD when Malta was a Roman colony, St. Paul was shipwrecked on the island. The writer to The Acts of the Apostles calls the inhabitants "Barbarians". That means that the people did not speak Greek, one of the main languages at that time. Professor Aquilina, I think, believes that the people spoke some sort of Semitic language. But there are no written documents of that time. In 870 AD the Arabs took over the island and again professor Aquilina believes that the old language died gradually. In 1090 AD Count Roger the Norman conquered the island and from that point onwards Malta became part of Sicily politically and so part of Europe. From 1530 to 1798 Malta was ruled by the Knights of St. John. Then the French ruled the island for just two years. Malta was an English Colony from 1800 until 1964.
This very simplistic history of Malta helps us to understand better the person we are to talk about today, Joseph De Piro, born in Imdina in 1877 when Malta was a British colony and when the British Empire was a world power.
THE DE PIRO FAMILY
The De Piro family is a noble family that went to Malta around the time of the Great Siege, that is 1565. But it is much, much older. This family went to Malta from Italy, from the cities of Pisa and Firenze (Florence). In Malta they had titles like Baron and Marquis conferred on them. This shows that they played some very important roles in the politics of the Island. They lived in Imdina but possessed land and buildings in Malta and in Florence. Joseph De Piro's father was called Alexander. His mother Ursula Agius Caruana. She was also noble by birth. Both were convinced Catholics. They fulfilled their religious duties. But they were deeply concerned about their social duties as Christians. So they were helped the poor, helped people in need and taught their children the value and nobility of manual work.
Imdina was very quiet city; before the Knights of St John built Valletta, it was the Capital city of the island. The Nobility lived there. Joseph De Piro was born in very rich and noble family when social position and titles of nobility meant so much. In the family there were seven boys and two girls.
Joseph De Piro: Early life and Priesthood.
Joseph was child number seven. He was born in 1877. All the children were given the best education available; Joseph first had home tutoring and then he passed the examination for the Lyceum. Apart from the intellectual education the children learnt some manual trade or trades; they had to give a helping hand in house chores although there were maids and servants in the home. The mother, Is-Sinjura Ursula, was a first class organizer. But she did not just give orders; she also did her share in the tasks undertaken. She also built a very Christian family; not simply in the traditional sense of going to church and praying but also in matters of social justice; they treated the people employed with them with the greatest fairness and they helped many poor beggars or people in need.
Joseph was first educated at home. Then he passed the Lyceum Examination. He did very well at school; he was also very gifted in the arts. He could have made a first class artist. He joined the Royal Militia for two years; there he was a part-time soldier and fulfilled his duties very conscientiously. Roll calls show that he hardly ever missed. He went to the University and started reading Law. He was preparing himself to become a lawyer or barrister. However on the 8 of May 1898, during a Novena to Our Lady of Pompeii at the Jesuits' Church, Joseph felt strong enough to decide to become a priest. He informed his mother of this decision - his father had already died. He made the necessary arrangements, talked to the bishop and some months later went to Rome. He stayed at the Capranica. In Rome he studied Philosophy and Theology. While studying in Rome, he wrote letters to a Maltese priest in Malta and he felt the call to do something for the missions, like founding a missionary society. He was also very much interested in the orphans and boys hit by poverty living at St. Joseph's orphanage, Hamrun. He was ordained priest before he had finished his third year of Theological studies. On the 15th of March 1920 he was ordained a priest. Soon after he came to Malta and sung his first solemn high mass on the 30th of March that same year. The Rector noted the following about him: "Joseph De Piro is naturally inclined to forgive always. He is very kind. He left behind him a much cherished memory in this College."
Sickness: (Tuberculosis) A time for reflection.
He had not completed his studies but obtained the necessary permission. He was thinking of finishing his studies and then studies further Canon Law. Yet his dreams were not to be fulfilled. Some months after he was ordained a priest he was diagnosed as suffering from tuberculosis - a very serious illness at that time. So the doctors suggested a long stay on the mountains. He went to Switzerland and stayed there from August 1902 to February 1904. During these months he did not just strengthen himself physically. For him it was a time of prayer, reflection and searching for God's will.
DE PIRO AND THE ORPHANS.
During his life, Joseph De Piro was assigned seven orphanages; for boys and for girls. I am not going to list them but I will speak at length about one, The Fra Diegu Institute for Girls at Hamrun. He was responsible for it from 1907 to 1933, the time of his death. During his busy life he never resigned from any of the orphanages although he resigned from other prestigious positions, as we shall see later.
His educational System.
His method or system of education was very simple and effective. He wanted children under his care to be better children, to receive sound formation which would serve well them when they were to leave the orphanage and love on their own. He never wanted children to be punished physically; not even to be abused verbally or shouted at. However this does not mean that he let things go by. He wished that children be corrected gently, showing them that they had erred, but that they were still lovable. Usually, after correcting a child, he would smile and offer a lolly. He was against unsupervised children and against laziness. He always appreciated the children's and the nuns' work and he showed his appreciation. He excused people's mistakes and was careful not to judge people's intentions. When people gave him something special, even during meals (like a very beautiful orange), he would say, "Well, let's give this to the children!" He wished and wanted the children to be happy and went to extremes to make them happy. All his means - and his family's - even houses, were used to help the poor. There were plays, holidays, games.
He organized at least two big lunches every year: Christmas and Easter and sometimes St. Joseph's, his patron saint. He organized outings at the family's property at Qrendi. He wanted children to learn not only academic subjects but other necessary trades or arts, like cooking, sewing, embroidery ('rakkmu'); for boys he insisted on trades such as printing, bookbinding, shoe-making. At St. Joseph's Boys' Orphanage (Gozo) he introduced a band which was very successful and is still in existence as the Ghajnsielem Band. Whenever he went abroad, he brought small gifts with him: like soap and perfume for girls. He held 'Prize days' and invited personalities at his Orphanages to be guests of honour. When children were sick he visited them in hospital and carried gifts with him, like oranges, for example.
One expects a priest to be interested in the spiritual welfare of those under his care. That was why he worked so hard. He taught them to have a fixed time of regular prayer. Every Thursday he spent an hour of Adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament with children. He wanted them to sing well in church and asked for a person learned in this matter to teach the children and the nun concerned. On special occasions he saw that there were priests to hear the children's and the nuns' confessions. He spoke of true and everlasting values-and he taught what he himself tried to live.
When Young Persons had to leave the Orphanage.
Our Founder was a rich man, he was noble by birth and he knew what earthly comfort was like. Yet he chose not only to help the poor, but also to live for the poor and to feel the pangs of poverty. He put his wealth and that of his family at the poor's and orphans' service. He begged from his mother and from his relatives. His mother used to call him, "Il-fqir tieghi!", "My poor son". When he was in need, he even went begging from his rich friends. On Thursdays he used to visit streets where his rich friends lived and paced up and down. Some say that was his way of asking for money. Probably it was very humiliating for him.
He involved his mother in his charitable works; she used to gather young women, even well-to-do women and they would sew liturgical vestments or do whatever was necessary and possible to help; She used to say, "These are my visits to the theatre and my films: working for the poor." Quite naturally, she also worked with the others. She also visited the orphanages and spent time talking to the girls who lived in the orphanage and she worked with them too.
Before passing on to another subject, I wish to emphasize the following points: He never resigned from any of the orphanages;
He did his best to advance every particular orphanage;
He was very gentle with those in charge and with the persons under his care;
He encouraged everybody to achieve the best one could;
He was interested in every person under his care.
HIS SENSE OF JUSTICE TOWARDS THOSE WHO WORKED WITH HIM.
Joseph De Piro had a great respect towards those who worked with him or those who were employed by him. When Fr. Joseph Spiteri was elected Assistant Superior, he told him to sign instead of him and state that he was assistant superior. He assigned another priest Fr. Gaetanus Bartolo to be responsible of the wages. So he explained everything in detail. Since wages were low, he used to put some extras money. He even handed a pension to ex-employees in need. He also used to visit the sick employees - either at home or at the hospital. In case of need, sometimes he even called a doctor. However he was always careful either not to humiliate the people involved; he would let others appear as if they were taking the lead.
HIS SENSE OF DUTY TOWARDS HIS COUNTRY: HIS PATRIOTISM.
The Seventh June Riots.
When Joseph De Piro decided to be a priest, his ideas was to serve God in whichever way he asked him. He was not after honors, titles or the lime-light. He was not after making a career in the worldly sense or of making money. I think most of us heard about the seventh June nineteen nineteen Riots; what is referred to as the "Sette Giugno". The Maltese people were striving for a better Constitution because they wanted to be masters of their destinies in their own country. At the National Assembly sitting on 25 February 1919, Monsignor Ignatius Panzavecchia suggested a motion calling for more autonomy in local problems. The session was adjourned for June 7, 1919. On that fateful day, the second sitting was in session. The meeting was held at "La Giovane Malta". There were big crowds in Valletta because many people were facing unemployment. The First World War was just over and the Empire did not need too many workers at the Dockyards as it needed during the war. The people were protesting because they felt they were treated unjustly. Some people became violent and attacked the premises of The "Malta Chronicle" and the English Club. The Maltese police did not try to control the situation. So the Lieutenant Governor called in the English soldiers to take charge. The soldiers fired at the people, many were hurt and four people died; two more died later because of inflicted wounds.
While all this was happening in the streets, the sitting of the National Assembly was in progress. Notary Salvatore Borg Olivier suggested a committee or deputation be chosen to form the draft of a constitution. Meanwhile an injured person was carried into the hall where the meeting was in progress and people started asking protection. The sitting was brought to a hasty end. Most people at the National Assembly left quietly because they sensed the explosive situation. Monsignor De Piro was asked to take charge. He and five other members formed a delegation. With great difficulty they took charge of the crowds and acted as mediators between the English authorities and the Maltese crowds. After negotiations, Barrister Caruana Gatto addressed the crowds and informed the angry people of the negotiations' results. First, that all the soldiers were to be called to their quarters and second, that those responsible were to be held accountable for their actions. Very slowly, the crowds dispersed.
On the 8th and on the 9th of June, there were further protests and some criminals took advantage of the situation; there was looting and property destroyed. Some people even tried to attack the Bishop's Palace at Valletta. Bishop Portelli and Monsignor De Piro faced the angry crowds and tried to calm the people and to reason with them.
1932: Senator in The Third Parliament (17 Oct 1932 - 23 Jul 1933)
At this time, De Piro was chosen as chaplain of the Third Parliament. On hearing the news, Bro Joseph Caruana MSSP who was in Abyssinia, wrote the following: "I have heard that you were elected Senator. Congratulations! In the "MALTA" I read that some rascals insulted you. I was very sad for you. I think they do not know you."
He was praised for being above party politics, for writing to help others and for not seeking his own interests. That is what "The Daily Malta Chronicle" said on the 19th Sept 1933 edition, two days after his death.
Mediator between Lord Gerald Strickland and the Church.
On the 27th April 1930, The Bishops of Malta and Gozo issued a pastoral letter saying, "It is a grave sin to vote for Lord Strickland, his candidates and those who side with him in his fight against ecclesiastical rights and discipline." Church authorities also condemned the newspapers "THE DAILY MALTA CHRONICLE" AND "IX-XEMX".
The British Government felt the Maltese were not free in the elections and the Constitution was suspended. This means that Malta returned to its pre 7th June 1919 political status.
During this 1930 - 1932 crisis, De Piro acted as intermediary. He met secretly with Lord Strickland several times. Very little is known about the meetings. He never said anything about it. One of our members told me, "He never said anything; he kept complete silence." In Maltese he told me "Qatt ma qabzitlu kelma", and "Fommu sieket".
After his death, "THE DAILY MALTA CHRONICLE", Lord Strickland's newspaper, said, "Peace was settled very quietly. There was none like him trusted by both sides. There was none like him who had the necessary qualities to accomplish this delicate mission."
This was another case where he sought the good of all involved: Church, State and all the individuals involved without making any personal claims for recognition.
HIS LOVE AND DEDICATION FOR THE CHURCH.
Joseph De Piro became a priest to serve the church and the people as a priest. He was a man for the people: he said mass, heard confessions even on days off, celebrated marriages, heard people's problems. However, in this section we will be speaking of this, the public positions he held in the church as an ecclesiastical figure.
Secretary to the Archbishop 1915 - 1918
Archbishop Caruana chose him as his secretary. He fulfilled this duty with his usual scrupulosity: everything in order, attention to detail, everything on time. During this time the Archbishop chose De Piro and other holy and experienced priests to organize meetings to help the newly-ordained young priests to settle down in their new and difficult vocation and profession. Records show his dedication to duty but we know very little else about him in this duty.
Rector of the Seminary 1918 - 1920.
The Archbishop asked him to be in charge of the Major Seminary, that is the institution where young men are trained to become priests. The priests who were seminarians under his care noted his fatherly kindness, his interest in those under his care, and his ability to correct gently.
In 1920 he wrote an eleven page letter to the Archbishop about the state of the seminary. In fact it was a detailed report. He spoke about the professors, combining truth and charity. He commented on the teaching of philosophy and theology and showed how teaching can be upgraded. He called for a resident spiritual director and confessor. He criticized the use of a certain book because the 1917 Code of Canon Law rendered it outdated.
Since there were financial problems, he said that if the problems faced were so great, it was better to close down the Seminary.
During the Summer Holidays, seminarians helped in liturgical functions in their parish church. Then, the parish priest had to write a report on the persons involved. But some parish priests wrote hasty reports for formality's sake. The Rector asked for more detailed and specific reports. The seminarians had some communal outings which were suppressed because of financial problems. The rector noted that seminarians turned indifferent and sometimes even hostile to each other since these celebrations were suppressed. He suggested that they be re-introduced.
On the 27th August 1920 Fr. De Piro handed in writing his resignation as rector of the Seminary. He said that he had to dedicate more time to the congregation he had founded, the Missionary Society of St. Paul.
Seeking Peace in the Gudja Parish 1922.
Those of us who were born in Malta and spent some years there, know how much pride and passion are involved in the parish church, the statue of the patron saint the committee in charge (il-partit tal-festa) and the village festa. In 1922 tempers flared up in the village of Gudja about some misunderstandings. The priest felt threatened and withheld daily mass, although masses were said on Sundays. Since no priests were available, the Archbishop asked Mgr. De Piro to take charge and to try to find a peaceful solution. He went there on the 13th of July and spent a month there. He and some members of the new congregation provided the necessary ecclesiastical services and worked hard to promote a message of peace. When the feast was over, he and the two members of the Society left Gudja. The people were grateful for what he did in their parish; they asked him to stay there; quite naturally, he could not because he had other duties.
JOSEPH DE PIRO AS FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARY SOCIETY OF SAINT PAUL.
Although De Piro was involved in many activities, his main accomplishment was the Missionary Society of Saint Paul. He had this dream since he was a seminarian in Rome. When he was convalescing on the Alps in Davos, he had more time to reflect, plan and pray.
Between the years 1904 and 1907 he was exercising his ministry at Qrendi while recuperating. At the same time in 1905 he started sharing his ideals with fellow priests. He thought that other priests might be interested. On the 16th January 1905 something strange happened to him. He was in Valletta with another priest. A beggar approached the two priests and asked for money. Fr. De Piro gave him some. The beggar thanked him in a very unusual way, saying, "May Saint Paul be with you". In his diary, Fr. De Piro noted this strange expression, more so since it came from a beggar.
Fr. De Piro was talking of "A Society of Missionaries". Other priests told him that they had had a similar idea and had tried, but they had failed. There were priests who told him that was an impossible idea, unless something miraculous happened. In his diary, De Piro noted, "At the moment there will be neither vows nor oaths. However we must be ready to submit to the divine will with the greatest generosity. This should be the word which urges us foreword, 'I will follow you wherever you go'. He felt the need for a community of future missionaries. At that time in Malta there was 'The Big Mission' and 'The Small Mission'. These consisted of groups of priests who visited parishes and spent some time preaching there. De Piro took part in these missions on different occasions. But he said that his ideas were different; he meant going to foreign countries.
In 1908 Archbishop Peter Pace blessed his dreams and encouraged him to find other priests with similar ideals. In 1909 De Piro drew a sketch of his society. He wrote, 'Aim of the (Little) Society (of Saint Paul) is that of forming missionaries and sending them wherever they are required'. In 1909 the Apostolic Visitor Monsignor Peter La Fontaine was in Malta. Together they discussed De Piro's ideals. He told De Piro to write a letter to the Pope and to get his Archbishop's written approval. La Fontaine then carried his letter with him to Rome and gave it to the Pope, at that time Pius X. In a letter dated 27 January 1910, the Pope blessed De Piro and his ideals. An his non existent companions. De Piro wrote a phrase which was to cause him much trouble. He wrote about "A Religious Society to form missionaries in a special way and above all to work in colonies of Maltese migrants". His love of Maltese migrants caused him much trouble; later he explained himself better but he never wavered from his ideas.
Finally, Fr. De Piro could see his dream taking shape. On the 12th of June 1910 the Archbishop of Malta blessed a small rented house in Imdina. And some days later, on the 30th of June 1910 two young men joined him, John Vella and Joseph Francis Caruana. John Vella was to become a priest and late to leave the Society while Joseph Francis Caruana was to become a lay-brother and to be the first missionary of the Society in Abyssinia/ Ethiopia.
In 1916 De Piro would explain himself better to Pope Benedict XV in these words, '…to form an Institute for foreign Missions and in a particular way for those Maltese who live far away from their island…' Our Founder is daring enough and points out that when he said that the Institute is 'for the Maltese, before everybody else', he wanted to exclude no one. Finally, in 1921 (14th of November) the Archbishop of Malta issued a Decree, "Auctoritate Nostra Ordinaria" (By Our Ordinary Authority) declared canonically erected the Pious Society (of Saint Paul the Apostle).
JUNE 1927 THE ABBBYSINIAN MISSION.
The Maltese Capuchin Friars had opened a mission in Abyssinia, what we now call Ethiopia. This particular mission was in what we now call Somalia. The person in charge of the Mission, Friar Angelo Mizzi OFM Capp asked De Piro to send him some Missionaries. The people available were few because there were few members. After the long and necessary negotiations De Piro could send one member, Brother Joseph Francis Caruana. De Piro had to say the following about Fra Guzepp, as he was known. "His name is Brother Joseph Francis Caruana. He is a member of the Society of Saint Paul. He is 36 years old. In him I see a deeply spiritual man; he is able to adapt himself very well to children. He is also an able infirmirian. Here I will be losing his help; but I undergo this sacrifice knowing with certainty that the Lord will not refrain from sending me others instead of him."
Brother Joseph left for Abyssinia in June 1927. He worked hard, helped and loved the people, was a man of prayer and died in that land in April 1975, aged 83 years. He never left that country - not even for a short holiday.
It was not De Piro's style to do things by halves. He kept constant contact by correspondence with Brother Joseph, encouraged him, was proud of him and praised him, sent him money. He also wrote to authorities concerned with this mission; he encouraged people to pray for this particular mission. It was present in his heart until he died. In 1933 De Piro was thinking of visiting Brother Joseph and having two new missionaries accompanying him. But this was not to happen. De Piro died on the 17th of September.
THE MOTHERHOUSE, SAINT AGATHA'S RABAT.
De Piro hired the first house in Imdina. Later, he moved to two other houses, also in Imdina. This shows that he had other plans. We have written records showing that since 1921 he was negotiating to acquire St. Agatha's chapel in Hal Bajjada, Rabat, and lands surrounding it where he could build a house for his own Institute. He spent fourteen years of constant worry, trouble, negotiations and forking out money until he could lay the foundation stone of what is now The Motherhouse, on 3 October 1932. This was a very solemn day. He wanted it to be a special occasion:
to thank all his benefactors publicly;
to show what had been achieved;
to encourage those working with him;
to encourage the few members in his congregation;
to encourage young men to become new members;
to make his congregation known;
above all to thank God and praise Him publicly for His faithfulness.
On the 30th June 1933 Archbishop Mauro Caruana blessed the first part of the new house. Finally, De Piro and his Congregation could say that they had a home of their own. There they could live together and work to fulfil their dreams. The new House meant that they now had a base for training future missionaries.
The new house probably saved the Society from extinction. Less than three months later, the Founder died suddenly.
HIS LOVE AND CARE FOR MIGRANTS.
De Piro was always interested in those who are poor, those who suffer, those who undergo some hardship or other. Early in his life as a priest he was interested in Maltese migrants. When he wrote his constitutions and when he presented himself to church authorities, he always said that he wanted a missionary congregation which also gives special care for Maltese Migrants. Church authorities in Rome told him, "You cannot have both; either one or the other". He was always firm on this point. Finally he got what he wanted.
When there was a mission in Tunis in 1922, De Piro went and gave a helping hand. And he also wrote about it in his publication "Almanacc". In the "Almanacc" he also gave news about Maltese priests working among Maltese migrants and dreamed of sending his spiritual sons in countries like Australia and America.
OTHER MISSIONARY VENTURES WHICH DE PIRO UNDERTOOK.
"L-ALMANACC TAL ISTITUT TAL MISSIONI"
De Piro started to publish this "Almanacc" every year from 1922. He published it for the last time in 1933, the year of his death. It was again published in 1934 and in 1936. The its publication ceased.
He himself wrote most of the articles - nearly all of them follow his style of writing. He published it to keep his benefactors informed of the progress of his small society. He wanted people to appreciate the gift of faith and to do their best to share it with others. He rightly believed that all Christians are called to spread the Gospel in one way or another. He wanted also his young companions to be on fire with the love of God and to be ready to share this live with fellow human beings. He also saw it a way of making his congregation known and recruiting new vocations. He also saw its publication as a way of holding himself accountable for the money received; every year he published names or at least initials against the amount give; every single donation however small was acknowledged and he prayed for all his benefactors; he acknowledged all the generosity around him.
THE MISSIONARY LABORATORY.
In 1927, together with his mother, De Piro founded the Missionary Laboratory; this was a practical way to collect money and to get people interested in the missions. As usual, his mother was an organizer and a hard worker. His mother suggested a "Muzew tas-Somalia", "A Somalian Museum". Friar Mizzi sent lots of exhibits and postcards to help the venture.
CO-FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARY SISTERS OF JESUS OF NAZARETH.
Miss Josephine Curmi had started to help some orphans and gathered some girls around her. This was in 1913. Joseph De Piro encouraged her, guided her and later suggested that she give a missionary character to her Institute. He also guided her in dealing with civil and ecclesiastical authorities. He also suggested that the two Societies work together. He also wrote official letters for Miss Curmi. He is considered as a Co-Founder by the sisters of Jesus of Nazareth.
OTHER VENTURES IN DE PIRO'S LIFE TO HELP THE POOR.
The Oratory, B'Kara.
In 1910 The Notary Michael Casolani built a chapel, classes for religious instruction and a playground so that the poor children of the area could play and at the same time grow up as practicing Christians. However he had difficulties in running it. Between 1910 and 1912 it was run by the Salesians, they named it "Domenico Savio Oratory". However they could not run it for lack of staff. The De la Salle Brothers tried their hand and ran it from 1912 to 1918. They also had to move out for the same reason. Fr. Michael Sammut took charge for some time although his strength was very weak. In 1925 Mr. Casolani wrote a letter to De Piro to take charge; he saw the ability of De Piro to deal with the poor children. In 1925 they started the negotiations and in 1927 Casolani donated the Oratory to De Piro and the Society. In this place the children of poor people could go to play and enjoy themselves; they received Christian instruction; they received the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession; they attended Mass; De Piro introduced also the theatre as another form of recreation. This recreational and educational activity is still going on there.
Saint Joseph's Home, Ghajnsielem, Gozo.
In 1924 - 1925 the Parish Priest and the Bishop of Gozo His Brace Bishop Michael Gonzi asked De Piro to take care of St. Joseph's Institute for Boys at Ghajnsielem. De Piro accepted this position as duty on himself and also on his Society. However he layed down his conditions. One of his conditions was that he would accept any boy who needed help irrespective of the money available; another important condition was that he wanted to be the director thus assuming all responsibility and the possibility of running it his own way. Together with members of his Society, De Piro did his very best for the children sheltered there and in due time they even had their own band.
Laboratory for poor girls, Valletta.
In 1927 De Piro was thinking about those girls who leave the orphanages as they had reached their eighteenth year. He was thinking of a place where these young women could work and get paid for their work. He looked for such a place in Valletta and he also wrote letters to people in authority. Finally he could start this project and named it "Sacred Heart Laboratory". He found a number of women ready to help him, amongst them a certain Marija Assunta Borg. She was a very zealous and hard working woman but it seems that she wanted to things run her own way and considered herself equal to De Piro. De Piro stood his ground gently but firmly. At one point in August 1931 De Piro and Borg declared officially and legally that The Laboratory for Poor Girls was dissolved. At that time it was probably unique and it also showed how De Piro had the welfare of the poor and defenseless at heart.
1911: FR JOSEPH DE PIRO GIVEN THE TITLE OF 'MONSIGNOR'.
As we said in the beginning, Joseph De Piro was noble by birth. He saw the priesthood as the noblest thing a man could achieve. For him the priesthood was to be like Jesus, to serve the poor, to heal wounds, to live like the poor. So for himself he chose poverty and humility as much as possible.
His mother felt that he deserved some sort of title and so she went to the chaplain of the Archbishop and expressed her wish. Things started happening…everything behind De Piro's back. The Chaplain wrote to Fr. De Piro after lots of behind the scene dealings. De Piro came to know of his mother's actions and told her that he was very sad and that he could not accept. He told her among other things, "I want to remain a simple priest. Without any other titles. The priesthood is the greatest honor for me". He wrote also tot he Archbishop's chaplain explaining gently that he had to decline the title. He wrote, "Do me also the favour of informing the Archbishop that the title offered me is unsuitable to me because of my work". It seems that his mother had second thoughts after her son's words and said something to the Archbishop's chaplain or the Archbishop himself. However the Archbishop had a completely different opinion. On the 19th January 1911, the Archbishop answered De Piro in the following way.
Dear Father Joseph,
You never sought neither high positions nor ranks. Receive, therefore this position as coming from the hands of God and accept it as an act of obedience to me. Leave the rest to the Lord. Just as the Lord began the holy work of the missions, so He himself will develop it and perfect it.
Yours sincerely, Dear Father Joseph,
WRITINGS AND SERMONS.
De Piro did not consider himself an orator or a writer. When he preached, he preached because a priest has to preach. He used a very simple of style of speaking to the people. Yet he spoke through his faith and from his heart. I dare say he also spoke to the heart of his listeners. His written sermons show a man with a very positive outlook on man, life, God, and God's mercy. He wrote quite a lot. Again his writings seem very simple. However they reveal the same characteristics: a man full of faith, gentleness, compassion, love of God and of neighbour. A passion for God, the Church, man and mission. However his writing is never sloppy or childish. It is just simple so that his readers / listeners could understand him clearly.
I hope you realize that our Founder was a very interesting man. This is a very brief and incomplete sketch. But it helps you understand how we came to Australia, for example. May this sketch encourage us to be better persons and more at peace with ourselves.
"I follow you wherever you go"