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BLESSED GEORGE PRECA
Founder of the Society of Christian Doctrine, M.U.S.E.U.M.
George Preca was born in Valletta, Malta, on Feb. 12, 1880, to Vincenzo and Natalina Ceravolo. He was baptized in the Church of Our Lady of Porto Salvo, Valletta, on Feb. 17.
In 1888 the Preca family moved to nearby Hamrun. George received his confirmation and his first Communion in the Church of St Cajetan. When he was 17 years old, George was met one of his Lyceum professors, Father 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 his studies at the Lyceum, George entered the seminary of Malta with the aim of becoming a priest.
His confessor, Father Aloysius Galea, died on April 8, 1905. Preca recounted how Father Galea appeared to him a few days later and told him: "God has chosen you to teach his people." Preca was enthused with this idea. He wrote a rule in Latin which he wanted to send to Pope Pius X for approval. He envisaged 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.
It was around this time (1905-1906) that Preca met a group of young people at Hamrun and invited them to start attending his spiritual conferences. 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.)
A few months before his ordination to the priesthood, Preca became ill and almost died. Through the intercession of St. Joseph, he survived, but as a consequence of the illness his left lung was permanently impaired. He was ordained a priest on Dec. 22, 1906, by Bishop Pietro Pace, and he celebrated his first Mass at the St. Cajetan Parish church in Hamrun on Christmas Day.
For a number of weeks after ordination Father Preca 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 in meditation and contemplation. Toward the end of January 1907, he called the same group of young people and invited them for a spiritual conference on at the Ta' Nuzzo Church at Hamrun.
The little group subsequently rented a small place and met there for the first time on March 7, 1907. This marks 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, Father Preca called his society Societas Papidum et Papidissarum (Society of the Sons and Daughters of the Pope). 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 desided to make MUSEUM an acronym for what the group would receive as a name: Magister Utinam Sequatur Evangelium Universus Mundus! (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 that branch.
It was around 1910 that Father Preca 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 12-year-old boy pushing a low cart with a bag full of manure. The boy turned to Father Preca and ordered him imperiously: "Lend me a hand!"
The moment Father Preca 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 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 MUSEUM developed into 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") and teach catechesis to the young for an hour every day, which is then followed by a group meeting for personal permanent formation ("The Assignment").
The society had its difficult moments. In 1909, Father Preca was ordered to close his centers. Brokenhearted but without hesitation, he started following orders until the parish priests themselves protested with the ecclesiastical authorities and the ban was revoked by Vicar General Salvatore Grech.
During 1914-1915, a number of daily newspapers carried articles and letters denigrating the new society. Father Preca 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. Bishop Caruana canonically established the Society of Christian Doctrine on April 12, 1932.
Father George Preca strived 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, judgment, 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 Father Preca's prayers. He was endowed with many supernatural gifts, including the knowledge of hearts and 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 Gorg, 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!" (John 1:14). He wanted the members to wear a badge with these words.
On Christmas Eve 1921, the society organized the first "Demonstration in Honor of Baby Jesus" in the towns and villages of Malta and Gozo. This event has since become a typical aspect of Christmas celebrations on the islands. Father Preca wanted every child who attended catechism classes to take a small crib or statue of the Baby Jesus home for Christmas.
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 on July 21, 1918, and at his profession in September 1919, he chose the name of Father Franco.
Children attending the societies' centers are still given the scapular. Dun Gorg 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.
On May 19, 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 is also found in England, Albania, Sudan, Kenya and Peru.
On Oct. 2, 1952, Pope Pius XII named Dun Gorg as Privy Chamberlain with the title of monsignor. Father Preca was mortified. He kept the title for six years until the Pope passed away in 1958.
In 1955, Father Preca blessed the foundation stone of the Sacred Family Institute at Zabbar which later housed the members living in common who had been staying at Zebbug ever since their establishment in 1918.
After a long and very active life in the service of the Gospel and of the Christian formation of the people of God, Dun Gorg Preca died on July 26, 1962, at his house in Malta. 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.
Father George Preca was beatified by Pope John Paul II in Malta on May 9, 2001. His liturgical feast is celebrated on that day.