Liturgical Feast: May 9
Gorg (George in English) was born in Valletta, Malta 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.
Want a Smoke?
One day, when he was 17 years old, George was walking along the Maglio Gardens in Floriana. He met one of his schoolteachers, Fr Ercole Mompalao, who told him: “Preca, when you grow up, people who revere God will befriend you and you them. You will find your good fortune through them and they through you.” After graduation, George entered the Seminary of Malta with the aim of becoming a priest.
As a seminarian, he used to go to the Grand Harbor, board the foreign ships there, and introduce himself to Greek, English and French sailors by offering them a cigarette. His lively intelligence and exquisite humor 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 neighbor.
The cigarette ruse was to be used again and again. Knowing that a group of youngsters were in the habit of meeting together regularly, George 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. He set his eye on their leader, Eugenio Borg, and started explaining the Gospel of John to him. (Later on Eugenio Borg became the first Superior General of the Societas Doctrinae Christianae and was renowned for his holiness when he died in 1967). Soon, the group of youth grew and grew, so that premises had to be rented where their meetings could be held.
George’s confessor, Fr Aloysius Galea, died on 8 April 1905. George used to recount how Fr Galea appeared to him a few days later and told him: “God has chosen you to teach his people.” George was enthused with this idea. He wrote a rule in Latin which he wanted to send to Pope Pius X for approval. He envisioned groups of seven permanent deacons in every parish who, with the help of lay auxiliaries, would be responsible for the formation of the people of God.
Back from the Brink of Death
A few months before his ordination to the priesthood George Preca almost died of a very serious sickness. Through the intercession of St Joseph he survived the ordeal, but as a consequence of the illness his left lung was permanently impaired. He was ordained priest on 22 December 1906 by Bishop Pietro Pace, and he celebrated his first Solemn Mass at the St Cajetan Parish Church in Ħamrun on Christmas Day. For a number of weeks after ordination George would not venture out of home except to say Mass, after which he would retire to a small room on the roof and remain there all day bereft in meditation and contemplation.
The growing group of youth rented a small place and met there for the first time on 7 March 1907. These two dates mark the beginning of the Society of Christian Doctrine: a group of lay people leading an exemplary life, well formed in the principles of the Catholic faith and sent to teach the faith to the people. At first, Fr George called his society Societas Papidum et Papidissarum (Society of the Sons and Daughters of the Pope). In the meanwhile, however, the rundown place where the first members met was jokingly referred to as the “museum.” The nickname soon became the name of the group itself and it stuck. The founder had no alternative but to devise an acrostic in Latin: M.U.S.E.U.M., Magister Utinam Sequatur Evangelium Universus Mundus! which in translation means: “Teacher, O that the whole world would follow the Gospel!” The female branch of the Society was inaugurated in 1910 with the help of Giannina Cutajar who later became the first Superior General of the same branch.
Manure and the Museum
It was around 1910 that Dun George had a very powerful mystical experience which he always referred to as “the extraordinary vision of the child Jesus.” One morning, he was passing in the vicinity of the Marsa Cross when he suddenly saw a twelve-year old boy pushing a low cart with a bag full of manure. The boy turned to George and ordered him imperiously: “Lend me a hand!” The moment Fr George put his hand on the cart he felt an extraordinary spiritual sweetness and he never could remember where they went or what happened to the young boy. He later understood however that the boy was Jesus and that the Lord was asking him and his followers to help him with nurturing the Lord’s field and vineyard with sound doctrine and formation.
The M.U.S.E.U.M. developed along the years into the society we know today: a group of lay people who dedicate themselves to the apostolate of catechesis, lead a simple evangelical lifestyle, commit themselves to a life of prayer using short prayers or meditations at regular intervals during the day (“The Museum Watch”), teach the young catechesis for an hour everyday, which is then followed by a group meeting for personal permanent formation (“The Assignment”). The Society had its difficult moments.
In 1909 Fr. George was ordered to close his Museum centers. Brokenhearted but without hesitation, he started following superior orders until the parish priests themselves protested with the ecclesiastical authorities and the ban was revoked by Vicar General Salvatore Grech. Between 1914-1915 a number of daily newspapers carried articles and letters denigrating the new Society. Fr. George ordered his members to take a vow or promise of meekness, gladly forgiving anybody who poked fun at them and taught them “to love the contempt” they suffered and not to let it trouble them unduly. In 1916 Bishop Mauro Caruana ordered an inquiry concerning the Society. After many humiliations for the founder and his close followers, the Curia issued a favorable report. Although some changes were required, the way was open for definitive ecclesiastical approval.
Victory for the Beloved
Bishop Caruana canonically erected the Society of Christian Doctrine on 12 April 1932. Fr. George Preca strived unceasingly to spread the values and teaching of the Gospel in the Maltese islands. He wrote a great number of books on dogma, morals and spirituality in Maltese. He also published numerous booklets with prayers for the private use of his members and for popular devotion. He was undoubtedly a great apostle of the Word of God, especially of the Gospel which he used to call “The Voice of the Beloved.” He would encourage his followers and the public in general to memorize sentences and phrases from the Gospel and his charismatic preaching constantly referred to parables and stories from Scripture and the life of the saints. He zealously defended the honor due only to God and persuasively illustrated how ugly sin was. He never shied away from openly preaching about death, judgement, hell and heaven. Utterly convinced of God’s justice, he nevertheless movingly proclaimed the Lord’s infinite mercy.
People flocked to him for advice or a word of encouragement. They trusted in his intercession and many still recount stories of healings wrought by God through Fr. George’s prayers. He was endowed with many supernatural gifts, among which were the knowledge of hearts and of the future. He was nonetheless a priest of great humility, goodness, meekness and generosity. He was truly a holy pastor of the people of God. Dun Ġorġ, as the Maltese know him, is well known for his constant efforts to promote devotion to the mystery of the Incarnation. From 1917 he propagated devotion for the text from the Gospel of John: “Verbum Dei caro factum est!” (Jn 1, 14). He wanted the SDC members to wear a badge with these words. On Christmas Eve 1921, the Society organized the first “Demonstration in honor of the Baby Jesus” in the towns and villages of Malta and Gozo, and this event has since become a typical aspect of Christmas celebrations on the islands. Fr. George wanted every child who attended catechism classes to take a small crib or statue of the baby Jesus home for Christmas.
Man of Mary
The holy priest learned to trust in the maternal protection of Our Lady, especially during the difficult moments of the Society. He was enrolled as a Carmelite tertiary (third-order member) on 21 July 1918 and at his profession in September 1919 he chose the name of Fr. Franco. Children attending the Society’s centers are still enrolled in Our Lady’s scapular. Dun Ġorġ also nurtured a filial devotion to Our Lady of Good Counsel; he promoted use of the Miraculous Medal and in fact wanted the Church of the Society’s Motherhouse to be dedicated to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. In 1957 he suggested the use of five “Mysteries of Light” for the private recitation of the Rosary. It is thought that these inspired Pope John Paul II to propagate the new Luminous Mysteries, since they are very similar to Fr. George Praca’s set of mysteries. (Click here to read more about this possibility.)
On 19 May 1951 he blessed the foundation stone of the St Michael School at Santa Venera, and in 1952 he sent the first members to start the Society in Australia. Today it consists of about 90 Centers and 850 members. About 20,000 boys and girls are taught in the Maltese islands, in Australia, Peru, The United Kingdom, Kenya and Albania. The SDC also plans to open new missions in Poland and Cuba.
On 2 October 1952, Pope Pius XII nominated Dun Ġorġ as Privy Chamberlain with the title of Monsignor. Dun George was mortified. He kept the title for six years until the pope passed away in 1958.
Death and Canonization
After a long and very active life in the service of the Gospel and of the Christian formation of the people of God, Dun Ġorġ Preca died on Thursday evening 26 July 1962 at his house: “San Cajetan,” Parish Street, Santa Venera, Malta. He was deeply missed by all the Maltese population. He had wished for a very simple funeral but thousands, including the highest civil and ecclesiastical authorities, turned up to pay him homage. He was buried in the crypt of the Church of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal at Blata l-Bajda which soon became a venue for constant pilgrimages.
Fr George Preca was beatified by Pope John Paul II in Malta on 9 May 2001. He was canonized on 3 June 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI. His liturgical feast is celebrated on 9 May.
Read more about St. George here: Society of Christian Doctrine’s Founder.
Saint George Preca, pray for us – that we may grow in love of Jesus, God’s Word, through our Blessed Mother’s prayerful care.