Saint George Preca (in Maltese: San Ġorġ Preca) (12 February 1880 - 26 July 1962) was a Maltese Roman Catholic priest who founded the Society of Christian Doctrine, a society of lay catechists. In Malta, he is affectionately known as "Dun Ġorġ" and is popularly referred to as the "Second Apostle of Malta," after Saint Paul of Tarsus. He was canonized on 3 June 2007.
Ġorġ Preca was born in Valletta
, on 12 February 1880. He was the son of Giuseppe Preca and Natalina Ceravolo, and the seventh of nine children. Early in his childhood, his family moved to Ħamrun
, where he started serving Mass
as an altar boy
. Preca studied at the Lyceum, considered the preeminent secondary school in the island. Preca then entered seminary
, where he excelled, especially in Latin
. He was eventually ordained a deacon
. However, he was subsequently diagnosed as suffering from lung failure
. The prognosis was not good, and he was even discouraged from buying vestments
or a missal
in preparation for the priesthood. However, he made remarkable recovery, and was ordained on 22 December 1906
. Preca attributed his cure to the intercession of Saint Joseph
, and even joked later in his life that "My father has died, the professor has died and I, with just one lung, am still alive to teach people!"
Formation of the Society for Christian Doctrine, M.U.S.E.U.M.
While still a student, Preca had begun writing a Rule in Latin for use in a society he was planning, which would be a confraternity of "permanent deacons
." Soon, however, Preca modified this project into a less concretely defined group of well-informed young men who would then be able to spread Christian doctrine on Malta. Preca was inspired when he heard a sacristan
teaching children that God made himself, a heresy
. After this episode, Preca was determined to create a society to educate the people of Malta.
On 7 March 1907 Preca rented a house on Fra Diegu Street in Ħamrun. It was a small house, and there he began gathering young men and teaching them catechism. It was immediately evident to him that ignorance in religious matters was astonishingly prevalent in Malta. Preca's co-workers in the newly formed Society for Christian Doctrine were called, according to hierarchy, papidi, apostles, and then soċi. Preca's task was formidable. He directed a society of laymen who, while teaching catechism, needed to be instructed themselves. Furthermore, the very idea of training laymen to spread Church doctrine was considered revolutionary. Some went so far as to accuse Father Preca of insanity.
These fears were the cause of many clashes with the Church curia. In 1909, Preca was ordered to close down all his houses, as the bishops of Malta feared that the laymen trained by his society were not well-educated enough. Soon the curia's order was retracted, but it took until 1932 for Archbishop Mawru Caruana to approve of the society. One young man, Eugenio Borg, known as Ġeġè, eventually became the first Superior General of Preca's society. Today, the Society consists of approximately 110 centers and 1100 members. Altogether, it is responsible for about 20,000 young men and women in the Maltese islands, in Australia, Peru, the Sudan, United Kingdom, Kenya and Albania.
On 21 July 1918
, Ġorġ Preca joined the Carmelite Third Order, in the Carmelite house at Santa Venera. He professed as a member of the same Third Order on 26 September of the following year, assuming the name Franco, after the Carmelite Blessed Franco of Siena
Preca was nominated as a secret Papal Chamberlain with the title of Monsignor in 1952, but was reportedly unaffected completely, as worldly things did not concern him. In 1957, Preca wrote the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, declared an official meditation of the Rosary by Pope John Paul II years later. In 1961, after a whole lifetime in Ħamrun, his failing health forced him to move to his housekeeper's home in Santa Venera. She was Nelly Bartolo, and had known Preca since before the war, listening to his daily sermons in il-Ħamrun. Preca, who by then had no earthly possessions, except for a single pair of shoes (a lace from which would prove instrumental in his becoming a saint), lived there for one year exactly to the day, dying on 26 July 1962. For years, Bartolo kept all his belongings neat and tidy as if he were still present in the household.
Veneration and cause for canonization
Father Ġorġ Preca came to the attention of the Ordinary Congregation of the Cardinals and Bishops of the Congregation for Causes of Saints
, which examined the scientifically unexplainable healing of Charles Zammit Endrich in 1964. Zammit Endrich had suffered from a detached retina
of the left eye. The healing was declared as miraculous, and was attributed to the intercession of the Father Ġorġ Preca after Zammit Endrich prayed to him and placed a piece of the priest's shoelace under his pillow. The supposed healing took place outside of a hospital, and so was overseen only by the personal doctor of Zammit Endrich, Dr. Ċensu Tabone
who was later to be appointed President of Malta. This fact was considered unimportant in the canonization process.
On 24 June 1975, Archbishop Mikiel Gonzi issued a decree initiating the process of Preca's canonization. He was declared "venerable" on 28 June 1999, and on 27 January 2000, Pope John Paul II signed the decree which officially confirmed the Zammit Endrich healing.
In a ceremony in Floriana, Malta on 9 May 2001, Father Preca was beatified by Pope John Paul II with Nazju Falzon and Maria Adeodata Pisani.
On 23 February 2007
during the Vatican consistory
, Father George Preca was proclaimed the first Maltese Catholic saint. He was canonized in Rome
on 3 June 2007
along with three other new saints. In his homily, Pope Benedict XVI called Saint George Preca "a friend of Jesus", and at the end of the celebration, he spoke in Maltese, saying the newly declared saint is the second father in faith of the Maltese and Gozitan
- The Society of Christian Doctrine is commonly referred to by the acronym "MUSEUM", which stands for the Latin "Magister utinam sequator evangelium universus mundus!", translating to "Master, that the whole world would follow the Gospel!"
- Permanent deacons are deacons that are not candidates for priestly ordination. The purpose that Preca had in mind for the membership of his society would be helping the Maltese bishops in the doctrinal formation of those in their bishoprics.
- For the words of Pope John Paul at the ceremony, see the Vatican press release: In the Footsteps of St. Paul: Papal Visit to Greece, Syria, and Malta Notably, His Holiness makes parallels to the Society's title (Magister utinam..., etc.) and the Great Commission and refers to Preca as "Malta's second father in faith."