Jesus said: ‘The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life; they will never be lost and no one will ever steal them from me. The Father who gave them to me is greater than anyone, and no one can steal from the Father. The Father and I are one.’
It has often been said that the Servant of God did not dedicate enough time for his Society. On 12t September 1923 Fr Vincent Furci sj, was sent by the Archbishop Mauro Caruana, to report on the life of the members of the Society at the second house in Mdina. Furci sent his report to the Archbishop on the 16th of the same month. His comments were quite negative. Among other things he wrote that: “As it is the Society cannot survive and will certainly disappear unless something is done …. The main cause is the almost complete absence of the Founder; he must be completely dedicated to it.”
In 2006 a study was carried out to verify the truth of the above statement. The relevant documents in the archives were studied to determine how the Founder’s contributed to the growth of the Society. This study was published under the title of: ‘Can a woman forget her nursing child …?’ As the Church celebrates Vocations Sunday on the fourth Sunday of Easter, we can reflect on the ways the Servant of God promoted vocations to his Missionary Society.
Ms Beatrice Cremona says that “People pointed out that, as regards their education, the members of the Society lagged behind their foreign counterparts when they migrated to other countries. This does not mean that Uncle Giuseppe did provide education for the members, rather, I think that Uncle accepted young men who might have had a vocation, and then give offered them the necessary education. At this stage education was not compulsory in Malta.”
Fr Louis Gatt mssp said that the Founder spoke to prospective members about a variety of subjects – family, health, etc. The Servant of God emphasised the importance of education. In order to look after his own vocation, Gatt was asked to befriend boys who were called for the priesthood. The Founder also spoke about missions.
In order to encourage vocations to his Missionary Society, the Servant of God invited young men to spend time in the community in the second house of the Society. He also provided free education for prospective members.
‘The Servant of God did not organise regular meetings for young men who showed that they had a vocation.’
He offered financial help to prospective members.
“My son, Peter Paul Borda, used to go to the house of the Society at Mdina every Sunday morning and come back home in the evening. One day I visited De Piro and told him, “Look what happened …!” He told me: “Go, do not worry, this happened because your son is registered under your name and not mine; I still for his education.”
In the Almanac published by the Servant of God for 1927, he published vocational promotion material speaking about the role of the lay-brothers in the Society.
In June 1927, Joseph De Piro wrote a letter to Fr Angelo Mizzi ofmcap, informing him that he was preparing to send Br Joseph Caruana, a Brother Catechist, to work in his mission. Caruana was 36 years old, very spiritual, able to do a variety of jobs. He was good with children and was also a good nurse. The Servant of God informed Mzzi that he was going to miss Caruana, but, at the same time he was sure that God would pay him back by sending other vocations.
As regards Caruana’s travelling expenses, De Piro paid from his own pocket and then sorted out everything with the philanthropist Alphonse Maria Galea.
De Piro asked Mizzi to pray that the Lord would make it possible for him to send a priest to his mission.
De Piro gathered young men on a weekly basis to talk to them about the missions. He also met with prospective members individually.
Fr Dominic Coppola ofm, who for a time was a member of the Missionary Society of St Paul, said: “De Piro prepared the young men for the priesthood. This was the people’s opinion about De Piro’s Society.”
“Although De Piro did not know my Uncle, he greeted us in a warm and friendly manner. We spoke for some time and he made me a number of questions. His first question was whether I would be ready to work in mission lands overseas. He explained that this meant that I had to be ready to go to Africa or other countries to teach and convert people.”
“For some time I visited Joseph De Piro on my one; I was already attending St Aloysius College. After our first meeting De Piro had made the necessary arrangements for me to attend the college. Although he considered me as a member of the Society, I continued to live at home with my parents. I did not meet De Piro frequently and our meetings lasted between fifteen to twenty minutes. He never gave me any gifts or asked me to help him in anyway. He provided me with some literature to read, but I do not remember the contents. During our meetings De Piro spoke to me about various subjects.”
“The Servant of God spoke to me about my vocation. He wanted to be sure that anyone who became a member of the Society had a sign of a vocation. I can only speak about the group I belonged to, we all had a vocation, but because of difficult circumstances, some of us had to leave. As there were only a few members in the Society, the Founder could have been tempted to accept anyone into the Society. Yet he was careful to check that we had a vocation, and he only admitted those who showed these signs.”
“… we understood that the Servant of God paid for the daily needs of the members.”
“Besides the orphanages De Piro also had other ministries …. He visited the members weekly or at least fortnightly. He was available for anyone who wanted to speak with him. He gave great importance to the Society. I believe that his weekly visits were enough, as Fr Bugeja osa looked after the daily running of the house. We never complained that the Founder only visited us once weekly, nor did we expect to see him more often. Apart from visiting us, De Piro also had his duties as Canon of the Cathedral Chapter. When he was in Mdina he slept at the house of the Society.”
“The Servant of God communicated regularly with Fr Bugeja.”
“The Founder spoke to us about Br Joseph who was in Abyssinia. He sowed in us the thought of going to the overseas missions …. He prepared us for the sacrifice of the mission. Fr Mizzi, who worked in Abyssinia, used to come to talk to us about the mission.”
“De Piro spoke to us also about the vows. He explained to us charity, obedience, religious life, prayers, etc. One day he would speak about prayer and the next day about obedience, etc.”
“He joined us for spiritual reading. We read The Imitation of Christ, Preparation for Death, etc. He admired St Alphonse Maria de Liguori; we read his biography in the refectory. We did our the examination of conscience in silence .… When we were reading and during our meditation he felt it was his duty to join us, to encourage us.”
“He exhorted us to go to confession. Fr Albert ocarm was our special confessor. He was right for us.”
“He used to visit his mother, but he had his meals with us. This shows his detachment from his family and his attachment to the Society.”
Salvatore Schembri said: “De Prio was planning to change the entire structure of the Oratory and to make further extensions, but he did not have time to carry it out. He enlarged the original building and established an educational centre for the aspirants of his Society.”
“I believe he showed interest because he saw this as an occasion for his Society to go on spreading. Perhaps he also thought of finding vocations from Birkirkara. In fact, a number of people did join the Society.”
“At the Oratory De Piro opened an education centre for the young men who wanted to join his Society.”
“De Piro built about twelve rooms to start the education centre.”
In the issue of the Almanac for 1928, he again printed vocational promotion material about lay brothers.
Salvatore Schembri continued: “Two members, Fr Frangisk and Fr Augustine Grech, received the first two minor orders at the Oratory. The Founder desired that First Solemn High Mass be celebrated at the Oratory. Other members celebrated their First Solemn High Mass in other churches. De Piro wanted these two members to celebrate their First Solemn High Mass at the Oratory to encourage vocations.”
In the 1933 issue of the Almanac, he printed vocational promotion material about his Society.