Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2005.
Source: Melita Historica. [Malta Historical Society]. 7(1978)3(284-285)
Obituary Notice: Mgr Professor Arthur Bonnici
On 21 October 1978 our Society lost its Founder and President, Mgr Prof. Arthur Bonnici DD, HEL, BA, who died at the age of 75. He was born at Senglea on 17 Dec. 1903 and on his death had just celebrated the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination.
Immediately after his ordination to the priesthood, he was called to join the staff of the Diocesan Curia and from 1929 till his death he held various offices there. In 1942, he succeeded Bishop E. Galea as General Secretary, while five years afterwards he was nominated Canon Co-adjutor of the Cathedral Chapter. Previously, since 1932, he had been Canon Theologian and Canon Primicerius of his town's Collegiate Chapter. When his Grace Mgr. Gius. Mercieca was appointed Archbishop of Malta, he nominated Mgr. Bonnici as his first Vicar General.
His active insertion in the life of the Diocese brought with it various onerous duties among which one may mention the editorship of the Catholic paper "Leħen is-Sewwa" from 1930 till 1933; the organisation of the Marian Year Exhibition in 1950, the Directorship of the Catholic Institute as well as the Chairmanship of the organisation for the Co-ordination of the Lay Apostleship, while the centenary celebrations of St Paul's Shipwreck in 1960 involved him in the preparation of the exhibition held on that occasion.
In 1937 he was appointed to the Chair of Church History in the Faculty of Theology at the Royal University of Malta. Whereupon, he proceeded to Rome for a two year course at the Faculty of Church History of the Pontifical Gregorian University. On the completion of this course he was awarded the Licentiate in this science and began his teaching career, which came to an end on his retirement in 1965.
His interest in the historical sciences led him to call a meeting in 1950 of all those who cherished our island's history. This meeting was held in April of that year, a meeting which gave birth to our Society. Since then, each year, on the occasion of the annual general meeting of the Society, Mgr Bonnici was always acclaimed President of the Malta Historical Society.
Mgr Bonnici's historical writings cover different subjects, but he focused his attention particularly on certain aspects of 19th century Malta. After his retirement from the University, he harboured plans to re-edit A. Ferris' Storia Ecclesiastica di Malta. But, on second thoughts, he decided to embark on his own account of local ecclesiastical history, and between 1967 and 1975 he managed to publish in three volumes a History of the Church in Malta, which [p.285] is undoubtedly his greatest contribution. Apart from these scholarly works, he was also keen to write articles of a popular character in order to help our fellow citizens appreciate our island's past. These were published every fortnight in the local paper "Leħen is-Sewwa", the last one appearing a few months before his death.
His funeral at St John's Co-Cathedral was a clear manifestation of the high respect that he enjoyed among us all. His optimistic attitude to life — deeply rooted in the Christian values of human life — radiated itself through his gentlemanly behaviour towards all who needed his help whether he had to guide a Head of State visiting St John's Co-Cathedral or assist a country woman seeking advice from a Curia officer.
The Church in Malta has lost a dedicated priest. Our Society will never forget its founder, whose deep sense of appreciation of those that stood near him in the management of its activities was a source of encouragement and inspiration. May the Lord grant him eternal rest.