Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2005.
Source: Melita Historica. [Published by the Malta Historical Society]. 8(1982)3(265-266)
Bonnici, Rev. Alexander, Mons. Guzeppi de Piro (1877-1933), Vol. I, Fundatur tas-Socjeta Missjunarja ta' San Pawl, Malta 1982, pp. 304 illus.
The Missionary Society of St Paul is the only male Religious Order to be founded by a Maltese, the Rev. Mgr. Joseph de Piro. So far, very little has really been printed both about the beginnings of the Order and about its founder, a lacuna, I think, in the study of our islands' religious and social history. I write 'religious and social' because the philantropic contribution given to our islands by this Order is only equalled by their religious and social work among Maltese migrants abroad. Happily, this gap is now being filled by Fr Alexander Bonnici OFM Conv with his two-volume biography of Mgr. De Piro, of which the book under review is the first half.
Let me say from the outset that at no time did 1 find the book tedious to read through even though it is written by a priest about another priest setting up a Society of Priests which ultimately published the finished work. This interest came not from the language used or any other stratagem but simply because of the logical way the narrative has been put together and the very obvious personal interest, sacrifice and effort which the author has put into this work. Father Bonnici is fast becoming a very good analytical biographer and this book is no mean companion to his biographies of Dun Ġorġ Preca [p.266] and Frenc tal-Għarb, incidentally both religious themes too.
This first volume about Mgr. De Piro includes a short history of the noble De Piro family in Malta and its origins, the Monsignor's early life and the formation of his priestly vocation, the period covering his studies in Rome for the priesthood, his ill-health, and about 120 pages about his ideas to form a missionary society right up to its Diocesan approval and the state of the Society almost at the time of his death. Of course, de Piro did more than just found an Order, which is something notable and, by itself, a worthwhile project to which one can devote one's whole life. De Piro was also a social worker and it is this aspect which is the projected subject of the second volume. The volume under review deals mainly with the founding of the Society of St Paul, and it is a work which is meticulously set out and just as meticulously documented. Indeed, there is a wealth of documentation throughout the whole book.
Father Bonnici also tries to understand De Piro and I believe he has succeeded. I felt that I understood him too and could feel the difficulties and dilemmas he faced. His strong sense of duty and goodness are also amply demonstrated and shown to have really existed. Perhaps Fr. Bonnici's own priestly vocation, coupled with his historical training, have helped to make this understanding possible and, just as important, has helped to put it through to the reader
JOSEPH F. GRIMA