Saint George Preca
- Peace be with you!
Dear Sue, Next Sunday The Holy Father in Rome is going to declare the
first Maltese Saint Dun Gorg Preca. What follows is his
biography. Please could you be so kind as to help me spread devotion
to this new Saint. I would be very grateful if you could pass this
information to others.
Blessed GEORGE PRECA
(1880 - 1962)
Founder of The Society of Christian Doctrine
The impact Blessed George Preca has made on Malta is astonishing. It
is all the more so when we visualize the social background of the
times when he emerged as a leader of the people. British Malta
provided a climate that was far from congenial to originality and ingenuity.
Ignorance, both intellectual and spiritual, was widespread with 75%
of the population illiterate. The position of the Christian laity was
an uncompromising adherence to all that the authorities decreed,
without the intelligent discussions and dialogue characteristic of
modern times. Toeing the line was the order of the day in those late
years of the 19 th century, soon to be reborn into a new era. Few
dared to burst open the cage-bars that surrounded the village life
and customs - most preferred the easier way of doing as told. Among
those who rose to lead and influence the lives, customs and
principles of the Maltese people was a young and foresighted priest.
"Dun Gorg", as he was amiably called, was in the hearts of all and
his name resounded to this day. His influence on the spiritual life
of the common people was radical and permanent.
Born in Valletta on 12 February 1880, George was the seventh child in
a middle-class family of nine. His father, Vincent Preca, was first a
merchant and then a sanitary inspector. His mother, Nathalie
Ceravolo, was a teacher. George's boyhood was nothing spectacular,
but he did not lack that adventuresomeness and courage which form the
backbone of any leader. Feeling that he was called to be a priest, he
moved from the Lyceum to the Seminary where as a young student he
distinguished himself in his studies, especially in Latin.
He was a rather inconspicuous fellow, and yet, God's path for him had
already been traced, so that the unexpected began to happen. Three
saintly men, the Franciscan Br Diego Bonanno, Fr Ercole Mompalao and
Fr Aloysius Galea, (his spiritual director), seemed to have been
inspired by God and foresaw what would happen in the not so distant
future. Fr Mompalao's words, especially, were to prove wonderfully exact:
"Preca" he said to the youth, "You will grow up and will be
befriended by people who respect God. You will be blessed because of
them, and they because of you..."
Had George's father and doctor known about this prophecy they would
surely have deemed it false for George was a sickly youth. There was
a very serious doubt in Dr. E. Meli's mind whether the young cleric
would live to celebrate his first Mass in December 1906 since he
already suffered from a deceased lung.
But Blessed George Preca did not die. He outlived his father and
doctor by many years, and had celebrated his 82nd birthday before he
passed away. Our joy is not only that he lived so long, but that he
used his time so well.
As a seminarian, he used to go to the Grand Harbour, board the
foreign ships there, and introduce himself to Greek, English and
French sailors by offering them a cigarette. His lively intelligence
and exquisite humour entertained the men who had been so long away
from land and soon the young cleric would lead his audience to
spiritual matters. Many a sailor must have been impressed by this
gentle man who sought so willingly the good of his neighbour.
The cigarette ruse was to
The cigarette ruse was to be used again and again. Knowing that a
group of youngsters were in the habit of meeting together regularly,
Blessed George Preca struck up a steady friendship with them.
Sometimes he was rebuffed, more often than not he was gladly received
so that gradually his advice about spiritual matters was as welcome
and accepted as his chattering on other things. Soon the group of
youths who met in the vicinity of the Hamrun Parish Church, chief
among them being Eugenio Borg, grew and grew so that a premises had
to be rented where their meetings could be held.
In the early years of the 20th century several erroneous ideas were
being aired in Malta. The Church kept a wary eye open on all new
activities and organisations, fearing lest some novel teaching would
permeate and damage the traditional Christian skin. So, when the word
came to the ears of the Vicar General, Mgr Salvatore Grech, that a
group of youths was meeting regularly to talk about God, the scare
was on. This fear was crowned by the fact that many people were
flocking to hear this priest and his followers talking about God in a
simple and clear way and had even the audacity to open the Bible, a
book which priests and not the laity were then deemed qualified to
read! What was going on? What was Blessed George Preca doing? Was he
clandestinely forming some heretical sect?
Actually, Blessed George Preca was aware, as any other intelligent
person must have been at that time, that the religious situation on
the islands of Malta and Gozo was, to say the least, precarious. With
no solid grounding on Sacred Scripture, the religious feelings of the
Maltese were founded on sand rather than on rocks - could easily,
therefore, be washed away in times of storm and stress. Festivities,
fireworks, a rather dubious devotionism and a fair amount of
superstition was all that could be said of the piety of many a
No really well-organised catechetical instruction was carried out to
stem this tide of religious ignorance. Much was left to the
individual efforts of priests. The Church itself, although providing
most of the best private educational establishments on the islands,
could hardly be said to have prompted organised and regular religious
education for the common people.
Blessed George Preca was a man capable of great energy and dynamism.
As his home aide, Nellie Bartolo, testified, he would often burn the
candle (literally, for he lived a life of absolute poverty) late into
the night - preparing his sermons or writing some of his more than
140 books and pamphlets. His wish was to educate Malta in its love
for God and neighbour, that the whole world accepts the Gospel (
Magister Utinam Sequator Evangelium Universus Mundus), and he was
ready not to spare himself any pain in achieving that ideal. At a
time when the language question was raging in Malta, and our mother
tongue was forgotten in fight for supremacy between Italian and
English, Blessed George Preca began writing for the public in
Maltese. The earliest manuscripts date as far back as 1909, and his
merits as a writer have already been recognised. The ingenious method
of spreading "manual papers", as he called them - a printed sheet
covering some point of Christian doctrine and passed on by hand.
Undoubtedly Blessed George Preca was a veritable light on these
Maltese Islands, but as he himself loved to repeat time and time
again to others, "we are not made to stay here forever". With the
summer setting sun, Blessed George Preca passed way on the 26 July
1962, at about 7.45 p.m. Praying and meditating the Gospel to the
last, his death was a memento of his life. His funeral was a monument
to his deeds, for some 20,000 people streamed to Hamrun to catch a
last glimpse of a man so well-beloved.
The cause for the sanctification of Bl George Preca was started in
1975, and when his merit will be universally recognised, he will
surely be most honoured for his willingness to serve as an instrument
in God's hands, an able and humble tool for the revitalisation of the
faith of the Maltese Islands which had been first transmitted to us
by that other great apostle, Paul of Tarsus.
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