Jesus entered Jericho and was going through the town when a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance; he was one of the senior tax collectors and a wealthy man. He was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was, but he was too short and could not see him for the crowd; so he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was to pass that way. When Jesus reached the spot he looked up and spoke to him: ‘Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.’ And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully. They all complained when they saw what was happening. ‘He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house’ they said. But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord, ‘Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost.’
Joseph De Piro’s union with God educated him in love, formed him in his giving himself to his underprivileged brothers and sisters and those who needed to be evangelised. His relationship with God was the school that taught him who to address and what, how, when and where to give. De Piro was the humble and faithful ambassador of God who is love.
Having tried to discover God’s will for him, De Piro did his best to live it
In the discernment exercise to discover God’s will for him with regards to his vocation to the priesthood, De Piro shows that he was not happy with only discovering God’s will for him, but was prompt to obey it. ‘The day 8 of May 1898, after a novena to the Our Lady of Pompeii, I found the strength to decide for the better, that is, for priesthood.’
The Servant of God understood the priesthood as a way to give of himself to the brothers and sisters in need. In a letter Joseph sent to his mother on 23 February 1899, Joseph said that he wished to discover God’s will and to live it.
De Piro discovered God’s will through his superiors and through them, he felt assured that he was living the divine will. It has been noted that Joseph desired, on his return to Malta after his ordination, to dedicate himself to the poor orphans of St Joseph’s Home. Due to his ill health, when he eventually returned to Malta in 1904, De Piro had to stay for almost three years in the Maltese village of Qrendi, where his family had a summer residence. In 1907 the Bishop of Malta appointed De Piro as Director of Fra Diegu Orphanage, an orphanage for girls. Fifteen years later he was given the administration of another girls’ orphanage, Jesus of Nazareth, Zejtun. Neither of these ministries fitted De Piro’s plans, yet he accepted and obeyed God’s will.
Late in 1922, twenty years after his ordination to the priesthood, the priest in charge of St Joseph’s Orphanage died suddenly. It was only then that Joseph De Piro was appointed director at this orphanage.
When he was working towards the foundation of the orphanage in Gozo, the Servant of God could rely on two sources to assure him that what he was carrying out God’s will. Parish priest Joseph Hili, who spoke to him in the name of the Bishop of Gozo, and the other parish priests, who together requested De Piro to start and direct an orphanage for boys in their diocese. Moreover, before accepting this ministry, De Piro sought the permission of the Bishop of Malta.
As director of St Joseph’s Orphanage, Malta, the Servant of God felt the need to open a residence for male babies and young children. He was convinced of the urgent need for such a residence. In a letter he wrote to Archbishop Caruana, De Piro expressed his disappointment at the procrastination for the approval of this project. Yet he was not prepared to act without the necessary permission had been granted.
When Joseph De Piro was made Canon of the Metropolitan Cathedral Chapter, the Archbishop was seen to be the one to assure him that this was according to God’s will for him. When Joseph learnt that he was being nominated as Canon of the Chapter, he immediately expressed his reluctance. He informed his mother, the dean of the Chapter and the Archbishop that he was not happy with this decision. The Servant of God only accepted when the Archbishop assured him that by his obedience he was following God’s will.
The role of Canon of the Cathedral Chapter brought with it several other responsibilities, one of which was to be a member of the Maltese National Assembly tasked with drafting a new Constitution for the Maltese islands. On the day of the second meeting of this Assembly, a riot took place in the capital city Valletta, where the Assembly was meeting. De Piro understood that God’s will for him was to intervene with the British authorities in favour of the Maltese people. The Servant of God contributed to the best of his ability.
Since De Piro was heavily involved in founding and developing of the Society of St Paul, one may easily think that he was the source and end of this Congregation. Joseph was clear that he was only executing the God’s will. Eight or nine years before the beginning of the Society, Joseph, still a seminarian at the Capranica College, noted who was the real originator of this new Congregation. ‘An interior feeling tells me, that from this orphanage God wants to form in Malta a congregation of priests under the patronage of St Paul, and after establishing itself in Malta, it will also grow overseas.’
On 11 December 1901 Joseph De Piro started his retreat in preparation for the ordination to the diaconate. During these days of recollection wrote down the reasons in favour and against his going to the Ecclesiastical Academy or St Joseph’s Orphanage, Malta. Among his reasons in favour of his going to the orphanage, he again mentioned the foundation of the Society and restated that God wanted to start it at the orphanage. Therefore, we was only doing God’s will when he decided to take up residence at the orphanage.
In 1904, when Joseph returned to Malta, he tried to find other priests with whom he could share his project about the foundation of the Society. One of these there was Fr Emmanuel Vassallo who asked De Piro to put down his ideas in writing. The Servant of God tried many times to do this, but was unsuccessful. Instead, he wrote to Vassallo and asked him to pray for the initiative. This too indicated De Piro’s conviction that while he was doing his best to start the Society, he also believed that he and others had to seek God’s blessing on this project. He was convinced that the Society was according to God’s will.
Six months later Joseph finally succeeded in putting down his project in writing and presented his notes to Vassallo. Once again, De Piro showed that he considered God as being the one who was to determine what type of Society he was to set up, whether it was to be a religious one or something else. The Founder made it clear that the main aim of any future members was to do God’s will unconditionally. ‘For the time being we do not take any vows or promises, but we must be ready to do God’s Will with great generosity. Our rule of life should be, ‘I will follow you wherever you go’.’ When De Piro went to Rome in November 1906, he prayed to God through the intercession of St Peter and St Paul, asking God to show him his will and to help him live it.
Since 1919 the Servant of God had been seeing that the first house of the Society was becoming inadequate for the increasing number of members. He was working to acquire land next to St Agatha’s chapel, Rabat, to build a house for the Society. He finally acquired the land and on 3 October 1932 had the celebration of the blessing of the foundation stone. On that occasion, the Founder spoke about the difficulties he had encountered in order to arrive to that point. De Piro also emphasised God’s primary share in this project. At the beginning of his speech he quoted to the words of Psalm 127 (126), ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.’ He also referred to God as ‘the principal agent,’ and ‘the Lord who has put his hands at work.’ The building of the house was also God’s will.
To Fr Angelo Mizzi, a Capuchin missionary in Abyssinia, De Piro presented his missionary contribution as being God’s will, ‘Please ask the young Somali children to pray, register their prayers on the attached form and send it to me. I tell you from experience that since I asked the young ones in our orphanages to pray, our small missionary congregation has gained more strength.’
Whenever De Piro spoke about sending members of his Society to the missions, De Piro was always clear about the connection between the missionaries being sent and God’s own will. ‘We hope that one day our Society will be fortunate enough to send some of its members who, like these four new apostles, disperse the seed of the Word of God in those countries where, in his mercy, God would like to send them.’
In his secret will De Piro spoke clearly about his role and God’s share in the foundation of the Society. ‘The Society of St Paul, a religious institute for Foreign Missions – the institution for which the Lord, in which I always put my hope, was pleased to use me and is now canonically erected in the diocese of Malta, by the venerable decree of 14 November 1921.’ For the Founder, the Society, through which he became one with those in need of the Good News, these being the Maltese in Malta, or abroad, or people in ad gentes countries, was God’s will.