Dun Gorg Preca (pronounced - doon george preka)
A saint, a Maltese and a priest
Malta was one of the first countries which embraced the Catholic faith, yet up until the turn of the nineteenth century, the common people knew nothing about religion beyond basic facts. - The bad went to hell and the good went to heaven, there was God above and the devil below and much of the rest blurred amidst village feasts and devotion to the Holy Mary and various saints. Illiteracy was rampant and Mass was said in Latin, a language that was only comprehensible to members of the clergy and to a select few.
But all that would change through the initiative of Dun Gorg Preca, a priest who realised that the common people had the right to be taught religion and moreover to understand something about it.
He was born in Valletta on 12 February 1880, the seventh of nine children of parents Vincent Preca and Natalina Ceravola... The family eventually moved to Hamrun and there he started serving Mass as an altar boy. Gorg Preca went to the local Primary School and then on to the Lyceum, which at the time was the best government secondary school in Malta.
Following that, Gorg entered the Seminary, excelling especially in Latin. It was his habit, even then, to gather friends around him and give them a short spiritual talk. He was eventually ordained deacon only to have his strength literally taken away from him. He was diagnosed as suffering from lung failure. His father was told that Gorg would probably not have a long life ahead of him and was discouraged from even buying him vestments or a missal.
However, just shortly before the day of his ordination in December 1906, Gorg got better and was ordained. He declared that he owed his miraculous cure to St Joseph whom he followed devoutly. As he grew much older he would jokingly say, "My father has died, the professor has died and I, with just one lung, am still alive to teach people!"
It was just after his ordination that he became inspired to teach others about the Catholic religion. In his own words, "When I became a priest I had no other thought, absolutely no other interest, than to wait for the morning and celebrate Mass. After Mass, I always went straight home. Our house was not big. We had a room next to the roof. I would go up there to pray the breviary. During the stillness, one morning, I had an inspiration from God – it is not enough for me merely to tell you this, but I would like to convince you – yes an inspiration came to me from God that I should choose some young people and teach them so that they would be able to give religious formation to others."
At the time children learnt about God by gathering around other altar boys and the sacristan after Mass and asking a few questions. On 7 March 1907 Dun Gorg rented a house at No. 6 Fra Diegu Street, Hamrun. It was a small house where he began gathering young men and teaching them catechism. He had a way with people, his persuasiveness, his charisma, his enthusiasm towards his religion were inspiring. It was immediately evident however, that ignorance in religious matters was astonishingly high.
In time the number of his pupils increased and he felt that he should form a society which was eventually called M.U.S.E.U.M. - the first letter of “Magister Utinam Sequatur Evangelium Universus Mundus”, which in English means Master would that the whole world follow the gospel. His right hand men were Eugenio Borg and Gannina Cutajar who respectively became the first general superiors for the male and female branches of his society. The co-workers of Dun Gorg were called "Papidi", "Apostles", and then "Soci". The first years were difficult. Dun Gorg directed a society of laymen who while teaching catechism needed to be instructed themselves. Dun Gorg started writing several books, which in due course were revised and printed.
The Church in Malta felt that there was the need for such a society but feared that its members were not sufficiently trained to teach catechism. In 1909, the Maltese church authorities ordered Dun Gorg to close down all his houses. This order was soon retracted. However, it was not until many years after, in 1932 that Archbishop Mauro Caruana approved the Society.
After that date, Dun Gorg guided his Society with greater calm. Everyone revered him as a saint.
15th August 1954 on the feast of Santa Marija
Dun Gorg blessing the land that was a cemetery,
where the Centre was to be built at il-Blata l-Bajda
World War II affected Dun Gorg and the Society adversely, but still it continued to expand. In 1952 it spread to Australia. That same year Dun Gorg was nominated a Papal Secret Chamberlain with the title of Monsignor. But he never donned a monsignor's vestment and actually left the document that conferred on him the title, on the Archbishop’s table and never bothered to claim it back.
Wealth and worldly things never attracted him. He lived a simple life with spartan means. In fact he only got electricity installed in his house in 1958, when one of the Society members took the initiative to have it done for him.
Till the end, Dun Gorg continued to teach in all towns and villages of Malta and Gozo. Many were enchanted by his words and deeds, by his simplicity, humbleness and meekness. His words to the Society were "Teach, teach and teach, something of it will remain."
In 1961, after a whole lifetime in Hamrun, he was constrained to move to his housekeeper’s home in St. Venera where he eventually died on 26 July 1962. Dun Gorg remained in the hearts and minds of all that had known him and all those who knew about him and his life’s work.
Miracles attributed to Dun Gorg
The first miracle occurred on 3 February 1964 with the unexplainable healing of Mr Charles Zammit Endrich. Endrich had suffered from a detached retinaand he was almost on the verge of going completely blind. The consultant dealing with his case, Dr Vincent Tabone (later President of the Republic of Malta) was preparing to carry out the operation on the retina. of the left eye.
It happened that Mrs Zammit Endrich, wife of Charles, in her prayers was asking God with the intercession of Dun Gorg to mercifully save her husband’s eyesight. A friend member of the society happened to be visiting Charles and encouraged him to have faith in the power of prayer and the intercession of Fr Preca. He also placed a relic of Dun Gorg (a shoe lace) underneath Charles’ pillow while they continued to pray for the same intention.
When on the following day Dr Tabone went to re-examine Charles and the condition of his retina, he could hardly believe what had happened – he certainly could not explain it - he found Charles reading! The retina had healed.
Eventually, the Ordinary Congregation of the Cardinals and Bishops of the Congregation for Causes of Saints examined the scientifically unexplainable healing of Mr Charles Zammit Endrich and declared it as a miraculous healing attributed to the intercession of Dun Gorg Preca.
On 24 June 1975 Archbishop Michael Gonzi issued a decree starting off the process leading to Dun Gorg's canonization.
Fr Gorg Preca was declared Venerable on the 28th June 1999.
On Thursday 27 January 2000, his Holiness Pope John Paul II signed the Decree confirming the miracle performed on Zammit Endrich in 1964.
The remains of the Venerable Mgr. Gorg Preca, exhumed on Friday 7 July 2000, from the crypt under the chapel of the Society’s headquarters in Blata l-Bajda, were found remarkably well preserved, 38 years after his death. His body was taken from the Hamrun Parish Church where he had been buried, to the Society’s centre at Blata l-Bajda.
On Wednesday 9 May 2001 the Pope beatified Dun Gorg Preca together with 2 other Maltese Blessed during a morning Mass held on the Granaries, Floriana.
The Second Miracle
The second miracle accredited to Dun Gorg Preca happened around two months after he was declared Blessed in May 2001. The case involved an infant who developed liver complications mere days after birth. The child was examined at St. Luke’s Hospital in Malta and eventually transferred to London’s King College Hospital, for further treatment. On the 14th of July doctors decided that the child would only survive if given a liver transplant. Although a date for the transplant was established, it was later discovered that the donor was not a compatible match.
At this point the child’s family turned to God through prayer, with the intercession of Dun Gorg Preca. A glove used during the exhumation of the priest a few months earlier was also placed upon the infant’s body.
On the 20th of July, the child’s liver started to function normally and within another four days doctors decided that the baby no longer required a liver transplant. Today the child is a healthy five-year-old.
In July 2002, one year after the child’s miraculous healing, the Ecclesiastical Tribunal under the leadership of Mons. Arthur Said Pullicino commenced the Diocesan Process to study the case.
The Tribunal heard 38 Maltese witnesses including medical experts Dr. Alfred Caruana Galizia and Dr. Simon Attard Montalto. The Tribunal also heard Professor Dr. Anil Dhawan from King’s College Hospital, who confirmed that there was no scientific explanation for the sudden improvement in the child’s health.
The Diocesan Process came to an end on the 19th June 2004, with Mons. Joseph Mercieca signing the case documents during a mass celebrated at St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta.
The documents were sent to Rome, where the Congregation for the Causes of Saints agreed that the Maltese process analyzing the case was a valid one on 17th December 2004. Doctors and Theologians of the Congregation also discussed the case in 2006, both submitting positive verdicts.
Malta’s Archbishop Mgr. Paul Cremona revealed on Wednesday 14th February 2007 that the second miracle for the cause of Dun Gorg Preca’s sainthood had been approved by Pope Benedict XVI.
The Archbishop further announced that the Pope called for a Consortium on Friday 23rd February, where Cardinals will dispense their advice on a number of possible canonizations, including that of the late Maltese priest.
Archbishop revealed the news during a meeting at the Society’s central headquarters in Blata l-Bajda. In January members of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, endorsed the miraculous healing of the infant to the priest.
Although a period of almost two thousand years elapsed since Malta was converted to Christianity by Saint Paul, the longed-for dream of the people of Malta and Gozo to have a Maltese saint proclaimed by the Church has finally materialised. Most of us also feel very fortunate that the first saint of Malta was someone who walked about the streets with us only four decades ago. We knew Dun Gorg and spoke to him; we touched him and received his blessing personally; we listened to his teaching on many occasions. It was like when Jesus walked about talking to people and comforted them when in grief.
Today this holy Maltese saint generates fervour in the hearts of many Maltese towards sustaining a solid foundation of Christian faith that has been predominant in the Maltese culture for many centuries. We owe our grateful thanks to God and to Saint Gorg Preca who in his lifetime endeavoured endlessly to follow the divine command of Jesus: “Go out and proclaim the Good News.”
Celebration of the Canonisation of Dun Gorg Preca>>