Image result for Don Bosco All my work started with a Hail Mary

All my work began with a simple Hail Mary for Our Lady’s help

Don Bosco

The beginning

In 1857, the 42-year-old Don Bosco wrote “The Life of St. Paul” in which he dedicated a few pages to Malta, its geography, name, faith and history.

In 1858, Don Bosco and Don Michele Rua travelled twice on the Avertino, the passenger liner that used to sail between France and Valletta, Malta. Peter Paul Galea, the 35year-old father of Alfons (Alphonsus) Maria (link in Maltese), as well as other Maltese, used to travel frequently on that same ship to sell lace in Malta and weave in Marseilles, France, as well as to buy draperies from there.

In 1870, Don Bosco expressed disagreement when it was proposed that the Pope would seek refuge in Malta should he be obliged to flee Rome, his rightful place.

In 1872, Don Bosco wrote the History of the Church. A few years later Annibale Preca, from Lija, translated this work in Maltese, and praised Don Bosco very highly. Annibale was the house teacher of 7-year old Alphonsus and accountant of Peter Paul Galea’s business in Valletta.

Alphonsus Maria Galea

In 1873, Mons. Paul Pullicino, President of the Society of St. Vincent de Paule in Malta, and his treasurer Fr. Isidoro Formosa (link in Maltese), started “L’Eco di Nazareth”, a monthly publication, which consistently contained substantial information about Don Bosco, his works of charity, as well as appeals for financial help.

In 1875, Fr. Isidoro Formosa was ordained priest. From his early years, he used to travel to the north of Italy and to the south of France, both regions where Don Bosco was very well known, to gain experience on how to start a religious Congregation. Indeed, he started the Ursuline Sisters in Sliema (link in Maltese). Two years after his ordination, Fr. Isidoro asked for a certificate signed by Don Bosco, showing he was a Salesian Co-operator. He also asked to be sent a copy of all the issues of the Salesian Bulletin (link in Italian – however, under the heading I BS nel Mondo this website contains the publications from various countries around the world, including European countries)


The first Salesian Co-operators in Malta

In 1876, Don Bosco founded the Association of Salesian Co-operators and two years later he started the Salesian Bulletin, which was also immediately distributed in Malta. Documents show that right from those early years Maltese clerics and laypersons, particularly in Valletta, were already Salesian Co-operators, Bulletin subscribers, and general benefactors of Don Bosco.

Among the first were Peter Paul Galea, Fr. Isidoro Formosa, Mr. Annibale Preca, Fr. Aloysius Farrugia, the first Director of the Salesian Co-operators in Malta, Fr. Spadaro from Zabbar, Mr. Sant Fournier, and Mr. Michelangelo Maria Mizzi, and many others, also from the sister island of Gozo.

In 1878, Fr. Isidoro Formosa started a monthly publication ‘Il-Bon Pastur’, Every issue was full of articles and information about Don Bosco, including appeals for financial help. Referring to himself, Fr. Isidoro wrote,

“We have the privilege to be recommended by Don Bosco to propagate his works and to be regarded as members in his Congregation. Whoever wishes to become a Salesian Co-operator should write to us.”

Subsequently, he forwarded the list of applicants to Don Bosco.

Another matter worth mentioning is the appeals for financial help for Don Bosco to build the Church of the Sacred Heart in ‘Stazione Termini’, Rome.

In 1878, while Don Bosco was in France to open a Salesian house, Frere Joseph Emiliani was his carer. In that same year, Frere Joseph warmly welcomed as one of his boarding students Alphonsus Maria Galea from Malta, at the time seventeen years old. A year later, he took Alphonsus to Marseilles to show him Don Bosco’s Oratory.


The first SDB’s in Malta

In 1878, Annibale Preca wrote to Don Bosco asking him to send his Salesians to Malta. Don Rua replied that many years ago Malta was already in Don Bosco thoughts, but for the moment there were no Salesians available. The same request was made by Fr. Isidoro and others throughout Don Bosco’s lifetime.

In 1880, Michelangelo Maria Mizzi, an influential person both at Church and State level, met personally with Don Bosco and had lunch with him for the “last time”, meaning that he had met him before. He used to go to Valdocco for the yearly Procession of Mary Help of Christians. Mr. Mizzi was sent to Liberia by Pope Pius IX, great friend of Don Bosco, to assess the situation of the Church there. Michelangelo is probably buried abroad.

In 1882, Peter Paul Galea, asked his twenty-one-year-old son Alphonsus to send 40 sterling to Don Bosco for the needs of his boys. Two years earlier, Alphonsus had gone to Valdocco to try to meet Don Bosco. Unfortunately, the saint had left for France a couple of hours before.

Maria Zammit, daughter of Alphonsus, once stated that her father was attempting to become a Salesian.

Alphonsus did not become a Salesian, but he was the one who succeeded to meet Fr. Patrick O’Grady, to whom Don Bosco had prophesied (when Fr. Patrick and three other confreres arrived in Malta to stay) would die. In 1884, Mons. Aloysius Farrugia, an official in the Archbishop’s Curia and Dean of the Mdina Cathedral, met Don Bosco in Valdocco, and while having lunch together asked him to send some of his Salesians to Malta.

In 1886, Michelangelo Maria Mizzi, acting on behalf of the Bishop of Gozo, sent a letter to Don Bosco, asking him to send some of his professional personnel to start a printing press in Gozo. Mr. Mizzi used to go to Italy to print his books at Sampierdarena, Don Bosco’ second largest printing press. Mr. Mizzi was also the cousin of Alphonsus Maria Galea. In 1888, Don Bosco passed away peacefully in his first Oratory at Valdocco. As we have seen from the above, during the last 10-15 years of his life a substantial number of Maltese people had made contact with Don Bosco, in person and in writing. Further research in the future will probably discover a few more.

Alphonsus Maria Galea spent his married life living in a villa near the Church of Stella Maris, working hard to see the Salesians settling in Sliema.

Image result for old photos of sliema
Sliema during those times

In 1889, Fr, Vincent Manche’, the Parish Priest of Stella Maris, Sliema, wrote to Don Rua, the first successor of Don Bosco, asking him to send a few Salesians to Malta.

Alphonsus kept in close contact with Don Rua, and after only ten years, since the death of Don Bosco, the long-awaited moment had come. In 1898, the foundation stone of St. Patrick’s home and school for boys, the first Salesian house in Malta, was laid in Sliema. The house opened in 1903, and a church for the public – St. Patrick’s, originally dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus – was also built in 1905, thanks to the benefactor Mrs. Pullicino.


Don Rua in Malta

In 1902, Don Rua established two new provinces in the Salesian Congregation, namely the Province of Sicily and the Province of England.

Related image
Don Miguel Rua first successor of Don Bosco

Don Rua could not be present for the opening of St. Patrick’s in 1903, but in 1906 Don Rua visited Malta for the first time and came again in 1908 when he was going back to Italy from Jerusalem. On this occasion, he inaugurated the Sliema Oratory, the second house in this area. Read more about the history of the Sliema Oratory: Historical Sketch of the Oratory of Don Bosco in Malta




Growth of Salesian activity

In May 1908, the Salesian Theatre was opened and a month later, on the 7th of June, the Sliema Oratory welcomed its first boys. The Oratory Church was opened in 1909. The Salesian Brigade was formed in 1909 and inaugurated within the Oratory in 1910.

In 1911, a branch of the Sliema Oratory was also opened in Birkirkara, sustained by the benefactors, Mr. and Mrs. Casolani. A branch of the Salesian Brigade was also formed in Birkirkara in 1912 and briefly a branch in Senglea, in 1913.

The two Salesian houses in Sliema were built opposite each other in a street which today is dedicated to St. John Bosco. Strange as it may seem, the community of St. Patrick’s was under the English Province and the Oratory, not yet being a canonically erected community, was under the responsibility of the Sicilian Province.

Related image
Giuseppe Calì’s mural in the Salesian Theatre entitled The Virtues of Mankind

All the first six Directors of the Oratory came from Sicily but were members of the St. Patrick’s community.

In 1921, Fr. Paul Albera, successor of Don Rua, visited Malta and a year later he gave the Sliema Oratory its first canonically erected community. Its first Rector was Fr. Vincent Allegra, a Sicilian. For thrirty-two years, the Directors and Rectors of the Sliema Oratory were Sicilians, save for Fr. Philip Borg (1918-1921) who was Maltese. In 1921, the Oratory community opened a small school for poor children, in a house in St. John Bosco Street, Sliema, opposite the Salesian Theatre.


Association of Mary Help of Christians in Malta

In 1928, the ADMA (Association of the Devotees of Mary Help of Christians) was officially formed at St. Patrick’s. In the same year the Salesians inherited a house for young people in Zabbar from John Baptist Cachia, a project that did not materialise. At various times, other similar projects in Zejtun, Senglea and Tarxien, were also proposed to the Salesians, but had to be refused due to a lack of personnel.


WWII and the Salesians in Malta

In 1940, the second world war reached Malta, since Italy and England became foes, and Malta was a British colony. It was time for the Salesian Superiors in Turin to make a final decision in regard to the province under which the two Salesian communities in Malta should fall. Indeed, that year the Rector Major, Fr. Peter Ricaldone, decided that the two Salesian communities of Malta should belong to the English Province, hence the Provincial of England, at the time Fr. Eneas Tozzi, was responsible for both of them. This structure remained unchanged until 1974.


Entrance of the Oratory Church in Victoria

Salesian house in Gozo

In 1949, the first Salesian house was opened in our sister island Gozo – Don Bosco’s Oratory in Victoria. It was prepared for the Salesians by a diocesan priest, Fr. Paul Micallef. This Oratory gave many fruits, including a substantial number of vocations. Unfortunately, in 1965 the Gozo project couldn’t continue due to a shortage of personnel, however, the Salesian presence there continues to be felt to this day.


Salesian Bulletin in Maltese

In 1949, the first issue of the Salesian Bulletin was published in Maltese, titled ‘Dun Bosco f’ Malta’ (Don Bosco in Malta). Today the title of this publication is Il-Hajja Salesjana (The Salesian Life).


Provincial Representative for Malta

In 1954, the Rector of St.  Patrick’s, Fr.  Patrick McLoughlin, was appointed as a Provincial Representative in Malta, but this was not equivalent to the role of the Provincial Delegate (refer to the section Provincial Delegation for Malta below) as was later stipulated in the new Salesian Constitutions promulgated by the Rector Major Fr. Luigi Ricceri in 1972. In fact, Fr. McLoughlin passed away in 1962 and no successor was appointed. During his rectorship, in 1955, the Past Pupils Association was set up.


Salesian Sisters in Gozo

The first three Salesian Sisters arrived in Gozo to form a community, in 1963, with the help of Miss Olympia Bondí, whoseparents were Salesian Co-operators in Gozo, Later, Sr. Rose Oliveri became Superior. Vocations came and the Sisters opened houses in Victoria, Ghasri and Marsalforn.This being said, it is worth noting that the first Maltese Salesian Sister, Veneranda Zammit, was in Tunis as a postulant in 1899, and before the first house was opened in Gozo there were already twelve Maltese Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (FMA) in a number of countries.


More benefactors and further growth

In 1965, the Salesians in Malta became the proprietors of a house at 10, St. John Bosco Street, Sliema, according to Miss Mary Asphar’s will, the sister-in-law of Alphonsus Maria Galea. Today this is the House of the Provincial Delegate.

On February 5th 1965, works started on another new large house in Dingli. It was to be Savio College (updates are also available on the Facebook page), a house intended for the fostering and formation of religious vocations. Miss Maude Bugeja, a Sliema resident, provided the land and Fr. Joseph Mangion was put in charge of the construction, which received financial support from the United States’ Mission Office. We are still experiencing many vocational fruits from Dingli. The school opened with just twelve students in September 1968. Some of the first students had come from the Summer Camps at the Salesian Oratory in Sliema.  The first of these summer camps was organised in summer 1967 by Fr. Joseph Borg and a couple of clerics in practical training.


The first 2017 camp for boys was held on the 3-6th July at Savio College in Dingli

In 1967, the Community of the Sliema Oratory, which had been separated from that of St. Patrick’s since 1921, were re-joined. This enabled a reorganisation, in view of the setting up the new community in Dingli. In 1991, the Oratory community became a separate canonical community again, and still is today.


Librerija Taghlim Nisrami

In 1972, the Salesians started an activity similar to the worldwide LDC (Libreria della Dottrina Cristiana) – today Editrice Elledici. They called it LTN, short for ‘Librerija Taghlim Nisrani’. It is a shop of religious books and other religious articles. It started in Dingli, and continued in Sliema, and is still up and running to the present time. For some years, it had a branch in Valletta, which is still open, however, it is not run by the Salesians.


Provincial Delegation for Malta

In 1972, the Rector Major, Aloysius Ricceri, promulgated the newly revised Salesian Constitutions as demanded by the Ecumenical Council Vatican II. Articles 165 and 166 stated that:

‘…a Provincial, in accord with the Rector Major, can set up a Delegation within his province where needed. This he may do if he feels that he is not able to take due care of some local communities which, however, have a certain unity between them, and yet do not have the necessary requisites to be a vice-province. The superior of this Delegation is nominated by the Provincial with the consent of his council and exercises those powers which the Provincial delegates to him.’

As soon as the new Constitutions were published, all the confreres interpreted articles 165 and 166 as applicable to the situation in the two islands of Malta and Gozo. Malta had been part of the British Province for 34 years, since the unity of the two houses in 1940.

In 1973, a Provincial Chapter was held at Bolton, England, in which the four Maltese representatives made the following proposal, through Fr. Anthony Sutherland, Rector of St. Patrick’s, and on behalf of all the confreres working in Malta:

“In view of the remoteness of the work in Malta from the rest of the Province, the Provincial Chapter strongly recommends the establishment of some kind of body to be set up in Malta in agreement with the Provincial and his council. This body would function as local council with certain limited powers. This proposal is made with the expectation that the Maltese confreres would consequently have a greater opportunity to develop their apostolate and hope that for the day to form a Vice-Province, and eventually a Province.”

This proposal was seconded by Fr. Edward Fox, the Provincial of the British Province, and passed unanimously by the Chapter members.

In 1974, the confreres working in Malta were requested to produce a proposal with a set of rules to govern the formation and running of the Provincial Delegation in Malta. A working group of four confreres was set up to compile a report on the proposals received. The working group presented its report on the 25th April 1974. Now all the requirements were in place to choose the first Provincial Delegate. In August 1974, after a wide consultation among all the confreres of Malta, Fr. Joseph Borg was nominated Provincial Delegate. His successors were Frs. Charles Cini, Victor Mangion, Alfred Sacco and Paul Formosa (current Provincial Delegate – photo above).


The Luqa Parish

In 1977, the Salesians accepted the proposal of the Parish Priest of Luqa to take over and run a large Oratory within, and owned by, the parish. Some confreres from the Dingli and Sliema communities used to go to Luqa on a daily basis since the building did not have the resources and equipment to house a religious community. This created practical difficulties. For ten years, the Salesians tried to obtain, from a succession of parish priests, the necessary funds and permissions to change this situation, but it was in vain. It was during this time that the Congregation embarked upon Project Africa and the Rector Major, Fr Egidio Vigano’, insisted that the Maltese Delegation should adopt Tunisia as its mission territory.

Site visits and consultations among the confreres commenced. The emergence of this new and pressing apostolic demand compelled us to choose between work in the Luqa Oratory and dedicating our energies for other needs. Thus, for this reason, in 1987 we decided to stop going to Luqa, but the deep bond of friendship that had developed between the Salesians and the young people who attended the Oratory lingers on to this day.


Further progress and more powers to the Maltese Delegation

By the 1970s formation had become an important issue for the Delegation who had a number of confreres studying at INSERM (French national institute of health and medical research) and then at Maynooth University (Ireland) and Beckford. Then the British Province decided to transfer its students to a cold section of the Seminary in Ushaw College. The arrangement was inadequate and created new difficulties. Sending our students in formation to Maynooth appeared to be a much more reasonable option. However, this meant that contact between the members of the British Provincial Council and the students, they would call upon for discussion in regard to admission to vows and ordination, would diminish considerably.

In 1980, the issue was discussed at the Provincial Chapter held in Bollington, UK and following the presentation of a proposal by Fr Charles Cini, a sequence of events resulted in a choice being made. The Maltese Delegation was part  of the Irish Province (1980), which itself had also separated from the British Province in 1972. The Irish Provincial, Fr. Joseph Harrington, continued to delegate more powers to the Maltese Delegate adding on to what the British Provincial had already given to his representative in Malta. Salesians in Malta started to move ahead, making good progress.

On the 21st and 22nd May 1983 the first Salesian Congress was held in Sliema. To mark the occasion several superiors were present: Don Gaetano Scrivo, vicar of the Rector Major, Madre Maria del Pilar Leton, vicar of the Superior General of the Salesian Sisters, and Dott Giuseppe Castelli, President of the World Confederation of Past Pupils.

In 1985 Fr. Charles Cini was appointed World Delegate of the Rector Major for the Past Pupils of Don Bosco, a role he kept until 1992. It is worth noting that since that time two Maltese past pupils have also been appointed as World Treasurers of the Association.


Opening of more Salesian houses

At the Dingli Oratory

1986 saw the opening of ‘Dar Dun Bosco’ (the Dingli Oratory) in the centre of the village. Many boys and girls and older youth have been attending regularly ever since it opened. Time proved it to be a blessing for both the village and Dingli Parish.

In 1987, the Salesians opened a hostel in Sliema. Thanks to Fr. Carmel Mifsud, Ms. Osanna Pia Bell left her house as inheritance to the Salesians to be used for boys in need. Later it was enlarged when the Salesians bought the adjacent house, and is presently offering a residential programme for Maltese and foreign homeless young men. Due to further developments, in 2010 the services of Dar Osanna Pia were extended to another large house for young adults, namely Dar Mamma Margherita, which was leased to the Salesians for 30 years. This building was extensively refurbished and received its first residents in June 2014.

Maltese Salesians in Tunisia

In 1989, the Salesians in Malta accepted to take charge of a large school in Tunisia. Frs. Joe Cini and Fabio Attard were the first to go there. Fr Mario Mule’ Stagno, the third confrere tobe assigned to Tunis, was also in charge of a large Marist school in Tunis for a substantial number of years. Many confreres were assigned to work in La Manouba and strived relentlessly to make this new initiative as successful as possible. However, for many confreres the work in Tunisia was not an easy mission. This was understandable, given the overarching impact of Christianity and Islam, and the cultural dissimilarities between the Maltese and Tunisian milieux.  A shortage of available confreres coupled with the shocking murder of the Bursar, Fr Marek Rybinski in 2011 led us to ask the Superiors to relieve us of this mission. The remaining confreres in the community, Fr Laurence Essery and later, Fr Mario Mulé Stagno, were relocated; and in 2013 the school in Manouba, Tunisia started to be run by confreres from the Sicilian Province.


Salesian Volunteers in Malta

In 1991, Fr. Francis Zammit started the Volontari CDB in Malta. Concurrently, other three confreres and a VDB started other such groups., in Italy, Venezuela, Paraguay and San Salvador. In 1994, the Rector Major, Fr. Egidio Vigano’, received the vows, at the Pisana in Rome, of the first seven members, two of whom were from Malta.

With the help of Fr. Francis, in 1993, a small group of Volunteers of Don Bosco was also formed by Gozitan girls studying at the University in Malta. The group is attached to the groups from Sicily. Today there are a few Maltese perpetually professed VDBs. The VDB group is the latest addition to the Salesian Family in Malta and Gozo.

Salesian Co-operators in Dingli, Don Bosco House in Balzan, and SPYS

Salesian Co-operators were present in Malta before the Salesians of Don Bosco arrived. The first group was based in Sliema. In 2009, Fr Sandro Camilleri established another group in Dingli.

In 1996, the Salesians acquired a large house in Balzan, thanks to their benefactor Rev. Can. Vincent Azzopardi. Since 2008 this house is being used as a Home for young people: the first of its kind, setting the standard in Malta for all residences of this kind in the care scene. “Don Bosco House”, as it is called, is attached to St. Patrick’s community.

Image result for Salesian pastoral youth service

The large basement of Don Bosco House is now used by the Salesian Pastoral Youth Service (SPYS). Founded in 1995, SPYS seeks to develop and implement a programme of holistic formation for young people.  It has been involved in the training of its own volunteers and young people on Salesian missions: locally, in Europe and in third world countries.  SPYS is a member of Don Bosco Youth Net (DBYN) and is currently an elected member on the DBYN General Executive Body’s Administrative Board.


More achievements and benefactors

In 1998, the serving Provincial Delegate, Fr Alfred Sacco received the Medal of Merit for the Republic of Malta in acknowledgement of the great contribution that the Salesians of Don Bosco gave to our country.

Over a number of years, the Salesians inherited houses of different sizes, which are very useful for their missions in various localities, such as in Birzebbugia, St.Julian’s and Gharb.

In 2000, the Salesians acquired a small farm house built on two and a half tumoli of land in Zebbug, Malta. It is used by a small group of celibate lay-men, inspired by the Salesian spirit, known as Brothers of Christ.

In March 2008, a Maltese confrere, Fr. Fabio Attard, was elected Councillor for Youth Ministry on the General Council of the Congregation.

From time to time, a substantial number of Salesian missionaries left Malta to help the Church in other countries. At present, Maltese SDBs and FMAs are working abroad in Australia, England, Ireland, India, Italy, France, and the United States. Also, Maltese confreres, like Frs. Nazzareno Camilleri, Joseph Ciantar, Carmel Attard, and others endeavoured in various ways on global scale for the growth of the Congregation. All this shows how the small islands of Malta and Gozo have always contributed to the worldwide Salesian mission.


Beyond Sliema and Dingli

At the Senglea Oratory

For years, the Salesians in Malta had sought ways and means to expand our work and service beyond the Dingli-Sliema axis, towards the densely populated, working-class south. An opportunity presented itself when the Jesuits approached the Archbishop to announce that they intended to close down their Senglea services. Archbishop Paul Cremona asked us whether we were interested in taking over from the Jesuits. Following intense prayer and discernment the Delegation saw this as the long-sought opportunity to expand into the south of the island. Thus, in 2008, three Salesians set up a community in St. Philip’s Convent.

In fact, we now have a public Church and give support to the Parish. The Salesians are also running a Youth Centre, a Homework Club, summer camps, and a children’s choir (Senglea Oratory). The Salesians also run the chaplaincies to St. Edwards College and MCAST (Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology).   In Senglea, we Salesians also run cultural and community-based projects through our NGO “Home Away from Home”, which is focused on children and young people coming from disadvantaged backgrounds.


FMA in Malta

On the 24th June 2009, the Salesian Sisters established their small community in Malta, for the first time ever. At the time when Sr. Theresa Curmi was a member on the General Council of the FMAs, and the Sisters in Gozo were part of the Naples Province, the Community submitted a proposal to have a community in Malta. The FMA Provincial Council of Naples met with the Provincial Delegate of Malta, Fr. Paul Formosa, to discuss the possibility, and the result was positive. When Sr. Theresa’s second term on the General Council elapsed, she relocated to Sliema together with Sr. Ines Bonello, and sometime later Sr. Georgina Grech joined them. Presently they do Oratory work in close collaboration with the Oratory SDB community.


A Maltese Salesian in the Board of Don Bosco International

In 2012 Fr. Antoine Farrugia was appointed to the Board of Don Bosco International, a Brussels-based NGO representing the Salesians of Don Bosco in European Institutions, and later also appointed as a member of the Expert Group on Poverty and Social Inclusion.


MCAST Chaplaincy

In 2013 Fr Joe Portelli was the first Salesian to offer help in the Chaplaincy at MCAST. At the time, this tertiary-level College sported six campuses, and focused on academic recovery, professional education and specialisation.

In 2014 upon a request by Archbishop Cremona, the Salesians took over the MCAST Chaplaincy with Fr Antoine Farrugia being nominated College Chaplain. This opened the door for the Salesians to reach out to 7,000 students and 1,000 staff members across the six locations in Malta and Gozo. Today, there are five confreres forming the Salesian Chaplaincy Team at MCAST, four from the Senglea Community and one stationed in Sliema. There are also a number of MCAST students doing practical placements directly at St Philip’s, in Senglea.


Final thoughts

Over the years, Malta has been visited by nearly all of the Rectors Major of the Society. We believe that the attention received shows that the Maltese Delegation is held in high esteem.

When one looks back and at the same time views the present situation, it becomes clear that the Salesian Family in Malta passed the test of time, notwithstanding the limitations and obstacles faced by this community.  Indeed, today this Family is well established in our islands and our society!