Blessed George Preca

(1880 - 1962)



Anthony Cilia, O.Carm
.

Blessed George Preca

 

On 8 May 2001, John Paul II, on his return from a visit to Syria, stopped in Malta to beatify, on the following day, Fr. George Preca. Who is this Maltese who after forty years of his death is recognised by the Church for his heroic virtues? What is his connection with the Carmelite Order and what does he teach us as Carmelites? 


Fr. George was born of a very devout and exemplary family in Malta on 12 February 1880. He lived in Valletta, close to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. As a child, in keeping with the customs of the time, George was incorporated into the Carmelite Family by being enrolled in the Scapular. He was such a lively child that once, when he was four, he almost drowned. That day, 16 July, he was saved, as he was wont to tell, by the motherly intercession of Our Lady. As a young lad he felt the called to the priesthood and entered the major seminary to begin his studies in philosophy and theology. He was ordained priest on 22 December 1906.

Apostolate

Early in 1907, the young newly ordained Fr. George began his mission by gathering around him and forming a small group of young men in their twenties, placing in their hearts moral principles, the fear of God and an awareness of the infinite love that the Lord bears towards humanity. These were the first seeds of the Society of Christian Doctrine, called MUSEUM, that is, the initial letters of "Magister Utinam Sequatur Evangelium Universus Mundus" ("Lord, may the whole world follow the Gospel"). The work of Fr. George was the religious education of children, teenagers and youth carried out by trained lay people. The activity of the Society was and is founded on the spiritual life. Members of the society must seek Christian perfection, modeling their life on Christ Crucified. In order to realise fully this union with the Lord and to carry out better their task at the service of the Realm, they bind themselves to celibacy. Their life of intimate union with Christ in the Church is strengthened by an active participation in the sacraments, by mortification, by renouncing self in order to do the will of God, by spiritual direction and prayer together with daily work.

Spirituality

Fr. George addressing people on 15 August 1954 on the occasion of the blessing of the land where was built the centre of the Societas Doctrinae Christianae (SDC) at Blata l-Bajda, Malta.

Fr. George managed to assimilate from various forms of spirituality, whatever was suitable for his society and to rework these in a personal form. St. Vincent de Paul, St. Philip Neri, St. Alphonsus Maria Liguori, St. Francis Assisi, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Teresa of Jesus and St. John of the Cross were all known to him as is clear from his writings. However, his original and creative personality assimilated their spirituality and expressed it in his own fresh manner, simple and original. He did the same with the liturgy. He used to say: "I knead my bread with the flour that I take from the sacks of others. After all, we must all draw from only one sack: the Gospel." Fr. George could break the bread of the Word into small pieces so that each person was able to chew it well and assimilate it for the good of the soul. The central thought of his spirituality and theology was the Incarnation: "Verbum Dei caro factum est" ("The Word of God was made flesh"). These words became his motto and the distinctive emblem of the Society and of his life. After the example of his Master, Fr. George became incarnate in the life of the Maltese people and, opting for the little ones, the poor, the sick, the suffering, simple people who were often the victims of those who wield power, he tried to love God with his whole soul, his whole heart and his whole strength. 

Relationship with the Carmelites

A note addressed to Bro. Albert Buttigieg, O.Carm. where he writes: "I have received your letter, and I accept the greetings you sent me: I return the same greetings to you. Fr. George Preca, 20 December 1938". 

In his Christian life, Fr. George was not satisfied with the minimum. From childhood he always wore the Scapular. As a grown up he wanted to commit himself ever more to following the Virgin Mary and so became a Carmelite Tertiary. He was enrolled at St. Venera on 21 July 1918 by Fr. Franco Ellul, O.Carm. At his profession he chose the name of "Franco", after the Carmelite Blessed Franco of Siena, who, before giving himself wholly to God and the Blessed Virgin, had lived a life far from his Creator. Fr. George chose the name of this Blessed because he saw himself as a great sinner…a characteristic of many saints. He knew the life of the Blessed well and sought to imitate him in his virtues. He really felt a member of the Carmelite Family, so much so that several times in his writings he identifies himself as a Carmelite, using his Tertiary name rather than his own. Because of his zeal, he was invited several times by the Directors of the local Third Order to give conferences in various centres. In 1952, in gratitude for his untiring zeal in spreading devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Fr. George was affiliated to the Carmelite Order by the then Prior General, Fr. Kilian Lynch, O.Carm. His relationship with the Carmelites was always cordial and friendly. Fr. George lived the last years of his life in St. Venera, in the Carmelite parish, where, before passing to eternal life, he was comforted with the sacraments by Fr. Kilian Azzopardi, O.Carm.

Son of Carmel

The Carmelite Order commits itself to a radical following of Jesus Christ by means of the evangelical counsels and the fundamental values of contemplation, fraternity and service to the people of God, after the example of the Prophet Elijah and the Virgin Mary. 

The Prophet Elijah: The spirit of Elijah was clear in the life of Fr. George and in all he did. He sought to impress on his followers a life of communion with God and of service to the people. Prayer was the central point of his action. During the day he often withdrew to pray. He was proud of the name "Preca" (a word derived from the Latin preces which means "prayer") "so that I won’t forget that I must be a man of prayer", he said. To this end, he wrote a manual of daily prayer for the members of his Society and placed it under the patronage of the Prophet Elijah, a man full of zeal and charity towards God and his people. He wished that his followers, other than commemorating the 20th of July, should dedicate every fifth Sunday of the month to the Prophet Elijah. Like the Prophet Elijah, Fr. George’s heart burnt with zeal "for the Lord of hosts" (1Kings 19,10). He went everywhere in Malta preaching the love and justice of God and encouraging people to conversion. He wanted God to be known and loved by the people with their whole heart. His Institute and the very name "MUSEUM", echo and recall the words of the Prophet Elijah "…that this people may know that you are the Lord God…" (1Kings 18,37). He never tired of helping the most needy, the afflicted and the sick.

An illustration recalling Fr. George and his relationship with the church of St. Venera and his devotion to Our Lady through the Scapular.

The Virgin Mary: The devotion of Fr. George to the Virgin Mary derived from a wholesome Christocentric theology, recognising her pre-eminent place in the plan of salvation. Moved by this deep faith, he strongly committed himself by word and in his writings to feed the people an authentic devotion to the Mother of God. Like a true Carmelite, he expressed to the people his loving closeness to Mary by his devotion to the Scapular, sign of consecration to her and efficacious instrument of evangelisation. In his apostolate, Fr. George gladly boasted of this sign to bring people close to God through Mary. In his homilies on the Virgin Mary, Fr. George almost always promoted the Scapular. In one of his writings (1947), Fr. George says: "We must understand well the meaning of the words of Mary most holy: the Scapular is a sign of fraternity with her. What a great honour that the Mother of God should treat you as one of her brothers! With what fervour we must wear the Carmelite Scapular." Fr. George always reminded those who wore the Scapular not to abuse the maternal protection and to live their consecration in the state of grace. When he set up the MUSEUM, he wished that on the Sunday following 16th July, the members of the Society should meet to discuss Mary’s six principal virtues, to imitate and dedicate themselves to her. For Fr. George, the Carmelite Scapular meant above all a spiritual habit, a habit of the virtues of Mary. Elsewhere he wrote: "The saints speak to us", and referring to the vision of St. Simon Stock, he imagined the saint advising: "Put on Mary, you who love Mary". He preached this devotion untiringly; he enrolled hundreds of persons into the Carmelite Family through the Scapular. He asked his followers to wear it all the time and wanted them too to become apostles of the holy Scapular. He wrote in his Rule that the members who were to preach during parish missions should promote this devotion by word and by inviting all those present at these conferences to join the Carmelite Family. Again, he wished that all the young people of the MUSEUM, after their first communion, should wear the Carmelite Scapular, and place themselves under the protection of her to whom God entrusted His Son.

Conclusion 


An illustration of Fr. George with members of the MUSEUM. 

Fr. George’s limitations were not few, but we are amazed at how he could anticipate the times and the renewal of the Second Vatican Council: the importance of the Bible, the use of Maltese to make the Word of God directly available to the people, the status assigned to lay people in the work of evangelisation and in the Church, the popular method of teaching the catechism. It was only natural that people should flock to his homilies, trust him, flock to his catechesis and that parents should willingly entrust their children to his catechists. Fr. George died on 26 July 1962 at the age of 82, but his presence and the attraction of his spirit are still felt in almost every Maltese family. Fr. George Preca is the saint of our times, not so much for the memory of any extraordinary events in his life, but above all for his living monument that is the Society of the MUSEUM, today working in Australia, Sudan, Kenya, Great Britain, Albania and Peru. Fr. George is a worthy son of Carmel, not so much because he was a Carmelite Tertiary or because he wore the Scapular and preached Our Lady, but rather because he lived a life of intimacy and union with God and of service to his brethren after the example of the Virgin Mary and the Prophet Elijah. 
 
 

WHAT THE MALTESE PAPERS SAID 

At the Death of Fr. George Preca 


Fr. Joseph Chalmers, Prior General of the Carmelite Order, 
at the tomb of the ven. Fr. George Preca, on 10 May 2000, 
during his visit in Malta.

IL-POPLU, 3 August 1962

"The day after the death of Professor Anastasio Cuschieri, O.Carm., Malta suffered another painful loss in the person of Fr. George Preca of the MUSEUM. We are losing persons who will not be easily replaced."

THE BULLETIN, 28 July 1962

"Fr. George is no longer among us. Who can forget him? He will certainly be remembered by the thousands of souls who sought his counsels in order to gain peace of conscience, children who ran after him to ask his blessing, the thousands who had the good fortune to read his writings, who are his permanent monument."

BULLETIN (AUSTRALIA), 24 August 1962

Fr. George Preca has completed the mission entrusted to him by the good Lord. He has made the world a better place by raising within the Church a lay society, which apparently is destined to grow under his inspired guidance and to spread throughout the world. He was well known as a confessor, spiritual director, writer and master of spirituality. People loved him, because rather than preach, he spoke spontaneously from his lived faith. It is generally held that it was he who saved our islands from religious ignorance."

A postage stamp issued by the Maltese Philatelic Bureau on the occasion of the first centenary of the birth of Fr. George.

IT-TORCA, 28 July 1962

"It was his dream to see the people of these islands well founded in the love of God and of neighbour; to see them live as brothers, united in one faith, always at peace and harmony among themselves. Such was his holiness that he was respected by most people in Malta and Gozo as the Man of God."

IL-BERQA, 3 August 1962

"Fr. George loved people immensely; his homilies came from the heart. Who can ever tell how many hearts he consoled, how many works of charity he inspired, how many souls he brought closer to God? He was a priest of sacrifice and edification till the last breath of his life. Priests like Fr. George always stay alive, even after death, in the luminous wake of virtues that they leave behind."

LEHEN IS-SEWWA, 28 July 1962

"Fr. George always abhorred profoundly whatever was worldly. Money never took a hold on his heart. In fact he never carried money with him. The same may be said for honours. He always sought to hide and we never saw him in places of noise and pleasure. He was always a man of sacrifice and always exemplary in all things."

SUNDAY TIMES OF MALTA, 29 July 1962

"Fr. George spread throughout the island devotion to "Verbum Dei", to the miraculous medal and to the Carmelite Scapular. Fr. George’s monument will never disappear from our midst, because it is not a monument in marble or bronze, but a living monument: the Society of the MUSEUM founded by him."

THE BULLETIN, 31 July 1962

"We do not have a spiritual force in Malta that can compare with that of the Society of the MUSEUM. Like all founders of great religious movements, Fr. George has left us in legacy a deeply rooted apostolic organisation, which works mainly among the working class. We have no priest who is more respected and venerated than the late Fr. George Preca."

IL-HADDIEM, 5 August 1962

"The merits of the apostolic works accomplished by Fr. George are incalculable. However, his greatest merit is that of having been the pioneer of lay apostolate in our islands. To measure the dimensions of the figure of Fr. George we must take into consideration this brilliant fact. Fr. George was the first to conceive the idea of organising lay people to evangelise. It was entirely an original idea of his. No one before him had ever thought of lay groups, organised in every parish, solidly formed and active in the apostolate. It is good to remember that this happened 55 years ago in 1907."

MALTA TAGHNA, 4 August 1962

"There shone in Fr. George that simplicity and enthusiasm, which are some of the characteristic and authentic signs of sanctity. His philosophy of life was completely directed towards love and sacrifice. Small people, when they come in contact with a genuine saint, they quickly feel his holiness and are not deceived. And that is why all, generation after generation, always loved Fr. George and ran after him. They ran after him too on the day of his funeral, because there were some 20,000 who gathered in Hamrun to pay their last tribute to his mortal remains."

The Superior General of the SDC, Mr. Victor Delicata, presenting the 
Prior General, Fr. J. Chalmers, with a copy of the Positio for the cause of 
beatification of Fr. George. (Photo: Fr. A. Vella, O.Carm., General Councillor, 
Fr. J. Chalmers, Mr. V. Delicata, Fr. A. Zammit, O.Carm., Provincial, 
Mr. J. Formosa, General Secretary, SDC).


For further information:


Society of Christian Doctrine

in English, Italian, Spanish, German, French, Portuguese & Maltese

image
Previous | Top | Next | What's New | Site Map | Home Page
  Search | Guest Book | Mailing List | Web Master

Last revised: 10 May 2005