Monsignor De Piro

 

MONS JOSEPH DE PIRO: A BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

Monsignor Joseph De Piro was born in Mdina on November 2, 1877, of the nobles Alexander De Piro and Ursula Agius. He was the seventh of nine children. Joseph received his first education privately at home, and then attended the Lyceum in Valletta where he distinguished himself in art. After taking his Matriculation examinations, he began his laws studies in 1897.

Monsignor Joseph De Piro

Young Joseph never completed his course. On May 8, 1898, the day when university undergraduates used to pay homage to Our Lady of Pompey venerated in the Jesuits’ Church just opposite the old university, Joseph felt clearly he had to change his life course. During this particular religious celebration he understood that his true calling was to become a priest. And so, later on that same year, he went to Rome to begin  his priestly studies, and joined the Capranica College, attached to the Gregorian University.

Because of his precarious health, Joseph was granted permission to be ordained priest before he had actually finished his studies. He received Holy Orders in 1902, but when he returned to Rome to pursue his studies, his frail health forced him to stop, and instead he had to proceed to a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland, to receive the necessary cure for his weak lungs. His diary records that Fr Joseph lived through his Swiss sojourn in profound isolation, and not just in the physical sense. For a number of years, the young priest had been harbouring the dream of founding a congregation of missionaries, but all alone in that sanatorium enclosed by the Swiss Alps, he only had his dream to accompany him, and a dream, which in that particular moment, seemed so distant. That same diary entry states that enveloped in that sense of utter isolation, Joseph felt that he could only find strength in prayer; and he added: “…and I prayed, and prayed, and prayed.”

Fr Joseph returned to Malta from Switzerland in 1904, and took up his first priestly duties in the village of Qrendi where his family had a sort of country mansion and which, incidentally, is still standing today. He served the people of Qrendi till 1907, when the then bishop Pace asked him to become the Director of Fra Diegu Institute in Hamrun. Soon, his responsibilities as Director extended to four other institutes – St Joseph’s in Santa Venera, The Gesu Nazzarenu Home for girls in Zejtun, St Francis de Paule in B’Kara, and St Joseph’s in Ghajnsielem, Gozo. Bishop Pace asked him, too, to become the Dean of the Mdina Cathedral Metropolitan Chapter, with its added share of responsibilities. And, in addition, the next bishop, Monsignor Maurus Caruana O.S.B., designated him as his personal secretary. Ten years later, the same archbishop asked him to add yet another portfolio, and the now Monsignor De Piro became the Rector of the major seminary, a post that entailed the direct responsibility for the formation of those preparing to become diocesan priests.

Moreover, as he was blessed with a richly endowed personality, and particularly blessed with a deep sense of discretion, he was nominated by his ecclesiastical authorities to sit on the Maltese National Assembly between 1918 and 1921, which was entrusted to draw up a constitution for Malta. Mons De Piro played a major, if unobtrusive, role during the Sette Giugno riots in order to help pacify the tense situation that was created between the Maltese and the British authorities. During 1932 and 1933 he also represented the Maltese Church as one of its senators in the third Maltese Parliament. And, once again, in his characteristic discreet manner, he was likewise instrumental in bridging the rift that had developed between the Maltese Church and Lord Strickland.

Immersed in a life that inundated him with myriad responsibilities, Mons De Piro never let go of HIS dream. True, he never refused a request from his ecclesiastical superiors, but since his dream was not his own but what he felt was God’s call for him, he somehow managed to find the time and the energy to embark on founding his missionary congregation – what was to become the Missionary Society of St Paul. The isolation he felt in the Swiss Alps must now have been paralleled by the little or no time he could possibly dedicate to his congregation since these same myriad diocesan responsibilities encroached upon all areas of his life. But there is no stopping anything that truly originates from God.

In 1910, on June 30, he accepted the first two members of his congregation, and the first MSSP community started its life in a very modest house in Celsi Street, Mdina. In 1931 work started on St Agatha’s, which was to become the Motherhouse of the Missionary Society of St Paul. The new residence was to welcome its first community in 1933. Mons De Piro died on September 17 of the same year…but true to his beliefs as stated in his diary entries, his fledgling MSSP was only to flourish after his death. The founder himself in 1927 assigned the first missionary to Ethiopia; and  Brother Joseph Caruana remained there till his death 45 years later, refusing ever to return to Malta even on holiday. In the wake of the massive emigration by the Maltese to Australia after the Second World War, the first MSSP missionaries arrived in Melbourne in 1948. Then in 1959  they followed the Maltese once again, this time to the USA, in Detroit. In 1968, the Peru Mission was started, followed by the Pakistani mission in 1981. The MSSP opened their mission in Manila, in the Philippines, in  January, 1999. It is here,in a missionary land, that now, future MSSP missionaries are to finish their priestly studies and training before receiving their missionary assignment. And finally, in 2000, the MSSP took over the Maltese church in Tronto, Canada, from the Maltese Franciscans.