On the way to Jerusalem Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered one of the villages, ten lepers came to meet him. They stood some way off and called to him, ‘Jesus! Master! Take pity on us.’ When he saw them he said, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ Now as they were going away they were cleansed. Finding himself cured, one of them turned back praising God at the top of his voice and threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. The man was a Samaritan. This made Jesus say, ‘Were not all ten made clean? The other nine, where are they? It seems that no one has come back to give praise to God, except this foreigner.’ And he said to the man, ‘Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.’
In this Sunday’s gospel reading, Luke is speaking about the law and the spirit and about gratitude and appreciation.
De Piro’s gratitude and appreciation
Gratitude and appreciation were two very dear virtues for the Servant of God Joseph De Piro. In his speech addressed to Bishop Gonzi, Bishop of Gozo, at the opening and blessing of St Joseph’s Orphanage, Gozo, he said, “It is said that ingratitude is such grave a sin that no human legislator has as yet found a fitting punishment for it – it is reserved for the Eternal Legislator.’
These two virtues were among those that helped De Piro live and work in unity with others. Gratitude helped him recognise and appreciate what was done to him personally. When Helen Muscat, an old girl of Fra Diegu Orphanage, was getting married, she asked the Servant of God to bless her wedding. On her wedding day he told her, “I am so happy that I have come here. Old girls have never invited me to bless their wedding; this is the first wedding I have ever celebrated for an old girl.” Sr Consiglia Vassallo and Sr Felice Vella, who worked at Fra Diegu Orphanage, said that, “On the 25th anniversary as director of the orphanage he was given some lace for his alb as a gift. With great simplicity he put it on to show how much he appreciated it.”
During De Piro’s two years as rector of the Maltese Major Seminary, the seminarians used to organise some small feast in his honour for his birthday or saint’s name day. The members of his Society and the orphanages under his care also organised similar celebrations. On these occasions, he always showed great appreciation for what was done in his honour.
Joseph De Piro’s virtue of gratitude helped him appreciate and recognise the efforts made by others who had tried to initiate similar projects before him. During the inaugural speech at the opening of St Joseph’s Orphanage, Gozo, the Servant of God mentioned Bishop Peter Pace, Bishop of Gozo, Fr George Bugeja of St Joseph’s Orphanage, Malta, and all those who had wished to open an orphanage in Gozo before him. In the short speech to greet Archbishop Peter Pace at the blessing and opening ceremony of the first house of his Society, the Servant of God spoke at length about Mgr Francis Bonnici and Mgr Emmanuel Debono who had tried to start a similar Society before him.
De Piro expressed his gratitude to the founders of the orphanages under his care. He left money in his will for a mass to be said annually on the 13th January for the repose of Fra Diegu Bonanno, Founder of the girls’ orphanage in Hamrun. In the speech at the opening of the new Jesus of Nazareth Orphanage, the Servant of God expressed his satisfaction for the progress done on the building and mentioned the satisfaction of Ms Guzeppina Curmi, Foundress of the orphanage. In the welcome speech to Bishop Gonzi at the opening of the St Joseph’s Orphanage, Gozo, De Piro expressed his appreciation and gratitude for the efforts of by the parish priests of the Gozo diocese to start the orphanage.
De Piro was also grateful to his successors in the direction of the Fra Diegu Orphanage and mentioned them in his will. He also included the priests who had given, were giving or were to give their energy at this orphanage. He also thanked the religious sisters in charge of the daily running of the orphanage. At the opening of the Jesus of Nazareth Orphanage, De Piro the part played by the co-operators of the Foundress, and in a report to Archbishop Caruana about this orphanage, he listed the services he had organised in favour of the poor and needy girls. De Piro pointed out that there were women who were helping him generously and with a great sacrifice.
De Piro appreciated especially the support of the benefactors who helped him in his different apostolates. Mother Cleophas Bondin mentioned the gratitude of the Director in relation to the benefactors of Fra Diegu Orphanage, ‘He greatly apreciated the benefactors of the orphanage; he organised fairs and other activities to which he invited the nobility.’
At the opening of Jesus of Nazareth Orphanage, the Servant of God spoke about the benefactors, ‘Allow me to thank our benefactors, docile instruments in God’s hands. With their spontaneous and inspired action, they made it possible for this first phase of this social and Christian institution to be completed. We have received a great amount of help. This underlines the meaning of the saying that ‘the roads of Providence are numerous.’ What glorifies God immensely – and Your Grace will be pleased and consoled to hear – was the evangelical modesty with which this help arrived, as if brought by angels. There were in fact instances when we did not know the identity of the benefactor. We could only humbly invoke the Almighty to repay them with the promised hundredfold. On this occasion, to better satisfy our duty, in the name of the whole orphanage, we ask you to remember these benefactors while celebrating Mass for the first time in this building.’
Similarly, Loreto Rapa spoke about to the De Piro’s appreciation of the benefactors of St Joseph’s Orphanage, Gozo. Concetta Sciberras, whose family had helped this orphanage, said that the Servant of God, ‘welcomed us and was very pleased with our presence. He said that the orphanage owed its existence to us. He expressed great appreciation for our work in favour of the orphanage.’
In his speech at the opening of the Gozo orphanage, De Piro said, ‘May our sense of gratitude reach the ears of a number of benefactors who have discretely helped this work. Like a swarm of bees they have constantly encircled us, finding diverse ways to help us, providing us with wax and honey to make this hive ever more suitable for these poor boys from Gozo.’
The Servant of God expressed his gratitude to the benefactors of his Society by publishing their names in the ‘Saint Paul: Almanac of the Institute of the Missions.’ He also, at times, published some information about contributions donated for the mission of the Society in Abyssinia.
In showing his gratitude towards the benefactors of the orphanages under his care, De Piro did not discriminate between the big and small contributors. Mother Pacifica Xuereb, from Fra Diegu Orphanage, said that ‘Whenever Providence knocked at the door, or I spoke to him of any donation received, he would promptly write a note of thanks to the donor. When the donation was a small amount of money, he still wrote a note of thanks. I used to tell him, ‘Why are you sending a thank you note for such a small amount?’ He answered, ‘No, small things and big things are all the same in God’s eyes. One can give this much and another can give more, but they have both the same merit. Always be grateful for whatever comes as Providence.’
The Servant of God was grateful for the support and backing afforded him in his apostolate by the Church’s authorities. At the opening ceremony of the Jesus of Nazareth Orphanage, he spoke of the support received from Archbishop Caruana. At the opening of St Joseph’s Orphanage, Gozo, he showed his gratitude to the Bishop of Gozo for his efforts towards the opening of the orphanage. He told Bishop Gonzi: ‘Many heartfelt thanks to you for the generosity and self-denial with which you welcomed in your diocese a branch of St Joseph’s Home of Hamrun. The way you treated us will remain, for my successors and for me, an example. It will continuously simulate us to put all our energy to develop and complete this orphanage.’ De Piro also thanked the Bishop of Malta for allowing an extension of the Maltese orphanage to be opened in Gozo.
De Piro expressed his appreciation to the civil authorities for their support in the opening of the orphanage in Gozo. He thanked ‘the members of the Government of these islands, and those of the two Houses of Parliament, for the financial aid given to this nascent orphanage.’ On this occasion De Piro also address the Governor General, whom he had asked to officially declare the orphanage open. He also thanked the Governor General for his support for this project. De Piro always showed his appreciation each time he wrote to the civil authorities with some request. After making his request in favour of St Joseph’s Orphanage, the Birkirkara Oratory or his Society, he always thanked those who had helped him.
We presented De Piro as a realistic, down to earth person. When he was pushing forward one or another of his projects, he never forgot what still had to be done, yet his virtue of gratitude helped him appreciate what had been accomplished. The Servant of God worked hard to see the first part of the new Jesus of Nazareth Orphanage ready. In 1930, there was still more to be done, yet he appreciated what had been achieved. ‘Today’s sacred and treasured ceremony is the first step in a journey still ahead of us. It is a sweet oasis that renews our determination to continue the journey. It is the first step in a steep staircase.’
Joseph De Piro was doubtlessly grateful firstly to God and Divine Providence. He had been reflecting about his priestly vocation since he was 14 years of age. For some years he had stopped thinking about it, until he decided to write down his reasons in favour and against his vocation. In one of the reasons in favour, he expresses his gratitude to the suffering love of Jesus Christ, ‘My desire to offer myself totally to God, we who suffered so much for my sins.’
De Piro often preached about his gratitude towards God and the divine love. He does this very explicitly in his sermons about the Incarnation, the Eucharist and the Sacred Heart, which are a continuous expression of his acknowledgement of God’s love. In his other sermons, the Servant of God spoke about other topics, but even here he often he explicated his acknowledgement of the divine love. In the ‘Saint Paul: Almanac of the Institute of the Missions,’ De Piro published an article called ‘Treasures.’ Here he reminded his readers about some of the gifts granted us by God: our faith, our fatherland and the virtue of charity. In relation to charity he wrote, ‘Charity is a treasure above all treasures; it is the queen of all virtues, the fullness of perfection, God himself. And who is like God? Man’s first and greatest obligation is to love, primarily, the great God our Lord. We owe Him all that we are and all that we have.’
In the first entry of his ‘Diary,’ Joseph De Piro wrote that he wished to take up residence at St Joseph’s Orphanage, Malta, when he returned home after his priestly ordination. In a second entry he again mentioned the orphanage, this time in relation to the Society he wanted to start. Here he notes that the idea of the new Society was not his, but God’s project, ‘God wishes to start a new Society from this orphanage.’
In his correspondence with both local and Vatican Church authorities, De Piro repeatedly expressed his gratitude to God for his help for the members of his Society and for himself. In a brief note written on 22 August 1916, De Piro wrote, ‘Divine Providence did not fail to soothe us in our troubles, by giving us sweet consolations among our setbacks.’ He often used expressions like, ‘thanks to God,’ ‘I thank Divine Providence.’
Francis Scerri, a lay catechist at the Birkirkara Oratory, witnessed to De Piro’s acknowledgement of God’s help in his life, ‘When he finished something, he went to the chapel to pray.’
De Piro’s acknowledgement of God’s action in the life of the Society is expressed when he quotes Psalm 127 (126) at the beginning of each one of the three sections of his constitutions, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.”