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From Fort Augustus Abbey to the Bishopric of Malta

Luigi Caruana joined the English Benedictine congregation at Fort Augustus, Scotland, on March 21, 1884. Photo shows the abbey around 1920.

Luigi Caruana joined the English Benedictine congregation at Fort Augustus, Scotland, on March 21, 1884. Photo shows the abbey around 1920.

Concluding his oration at the funeral of Archbishop of Malta Mauro Caruana, who died on December 17, 1943, Auxiliary Bishop Emanuel Galea, said:

“Elevated to episcopal dignity and arrayed in episcopal robes, he never set aside the religious spirit. And I have good reason to believe that he read parts of his monastic rule every day, because he always kept it near his desk and he often quoted parts from it, which he knew by heart. Moreover, as he knew that St Benedict had written it after a very wide experience, he often consulted it in difficulties with which he met, in the adminis­tration of his diocese. Therefore, he remain­ed always a true religious and it was not a mere chance that besides the name of Mgr Caruana he was also commonly known among us by that of Dom Mauro.”

A hundred years ago, Malta received Dom Mauro when the whole world was engulfed in a mighty war crisis. Our little island, weak in everything but in faith and courage, was already beginning to feel the strain imposed by the common sacrifice. Our forefathers had offered their first victims and paid the first instalment of blood, sorrow and affliction. More than ever, they were in need of a fatherly heart to sooth their grief-stricken souls. The nomination of Caruana as Bishop of Malta brought a wave of hope and happiness in every Maltese home.

Caruana mounted on a white mare outside St Mark’s church, Rabat, at the beginning of the solemn ingresso.Caruana mounted on a white mare outside St Mark’s church, Rabat, at the beginning of the solemn ingresso.

Luigi Caruana was born in Floriana on November 16, 1867, and baptised on the same day at Floriana parish church, also with the names of Carlo, Giovanni, Giuseppe and Publio. He was the youngest son of Enrico Caruana, assistant secretary to the Admiral Superintendent, Malta Dockyard, and Elizabetta née Bonavia.

The eldest son, Francesco Emmanuele, born in Senglea on July 4, 1864, was to become a distinguished banker in London. The second son, Alfredo Giuseppe, also born in Senglea on December 14, 1865, became an officer in the Royal Malta Fencible Artillery and, after transferring to the Indian Army, was eventually to rise to be Judge-Advocate General in India.

The mother died on January 25, 1869, when Luigi was still in his infancy, and he was brought up under the wise and religious guidance of his father. In 1876, at the age of nine, he was admitted to the diocesan Seminary of Gozo, and a year later he pursued his studies at St Ignatius College, St Julian’s, directed by the Jesuit Fathers. Wishing to become a Benedictine monk, in 1882 he went to Fort Augustus Abbey school, Scotland, where he continued his studies. Eventually, he became captain of the school.

Caruana joined St Benedict’s abbey, Fort Augustus, which formed part of the English Benedictine congregation. On March 21, 1884, he put on the Benedictine habit, and when his novitiate ended on November 11, 1888, he bound himself with religious vows and was given the name Maurus, after one of the first disciples of the founder of the Benedictine Order. He was ordained priest on March 14, 1891, by Bishop Hugh Macdonald (1841-1898), Bishop of Aberdeen. That same year, he was sent to St Anselmo College, Rome, which was run by Benedictine monks, to pursue his ecclesiastical studies.

At Fort Augustus, Caruana taught philosophy, theology and Latin literature. In 1899 he was appointed parish priest in the Highlands, learned Gaelic, and became much loved by the very scattered flock at Domie, in West Ross-shire. In 1904, in view of his intellectual and moral qualities, he was chosen to act as private secretary to the eminent Maltese prelate Dom Ambrose Agius (1856-1911), another Benedictine monk, who, at the time, was apostolic delegate to Manila in the Philippines. This was his only experience of higher ecclesiastical office before he was appointed bishop.

In 1912, on his return among his brethren in Scotland, Caruana was appointed choir master, promoting Gregorian chant. Under his direction, the rendering of Gregorian chant reached a very high standard at Fort Augustus Abbey.

When World War I broke out, Caruana was also engaged in missionary work in Scotland and England. He had by then established a reputation as an orator, distinguishing himself not only at Fort Augustus but also at Westminster Cathedral, London, where he preached a course of Lenten sermons. He was also very much sought after for preaching in Italian.

Caruana in episcopal robes on horseback, accompanied by canons, being welcomed by the crowds as the procession reached Cathedral Square, Mdina.Caruana in episcopal robes on horseback, accompanied by canons, being welcomed by the crowds as the procession reached Cathedral Square, Mdina.

In December 1914, while on his way to Brazil for an evangelical mission, he paid a visit to the island of his birth to spend some days with his beloved father and to greet his relatives. It so happened that while he was here, he received a cable message calling him to Rome. On January 22, 1915 – a century ago – following the death of Bishop Pietro Pace on July 29, 1914, Caruana found himself appointed by Pope Benedict XV to the Archbishopric of Rhodes (in partibus infidelium) and to the Bishopric of Malta, the oldest See in the British Empire.

The appointment was somewhat un­usual and most unexpected, and almost recalls the election of Ambrose to the See of Milan by popular acclamation in AD 374, since he was known to be Catholic in belief, but also acceptable to Arians, due to the charity shown in theological matters. Still, it was the first nomination after 800 years of lay patronage in the election of the bishops of Malta.

Caruana’s superiors were well aware of his religious and academic talents. Most likely he was recommended for the bishopric by Cardinal Francis Aiden Gasquet OSB (1846-1929), Abbot of Downside, president of the English Benedictine congregation and member of the Consistorial Congregation. Other candidates were also recommended, but Caruana was the person who enjoyed the favour of both the Holy See and the British government. The former had already entrusted him with delicate ecclesiastical posts; the latter was sure of his sympathy to the British crown.

In 1899 he was appointed parish priest in the Highlands, learned Gaelic, and became much loved by the very scattered flock at Domie, in West Ross-shire

His solemn consecration on February 10, feast of St Paul’s Shipwreck in Malta and of St Scholastica, sister of St Benedict, was conducted by Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val (1865-1930) at the basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome. The co-consecrators were Bishop Algernon Charles Stanley, Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, England, and Bishop John MacIntyre, rector of the English College in Rome. Caruana was also appointed Knight Grand Cross of the Sovereign Military Order of St John.

Caruana was not only the first Maltese man to become a Benedictine monk, and the sixth Benedictine to be elected to the Maltese bishopric, but also the first Benedictine to become Bishop of Malta since Giovanni di Paternò served as Bishop of Malta between 1479 and 1489.

In years gone by, bishops of Malta were more intimately connected with Sicily, and so it often happened that, due to fear of corsairs and other reasons, there was a long delay before a new bishop could take possession of his See at Malta. So it was customary, in those days, that the bishop do this by proxy, followed by a solemn ingresso into his cathedral at a future date.

Caruana arrived in Malta on February 25, 1915, aboard the Italian S.S. Apollonia. His ‘flock’ thronged and crowded the bastions and shores of the capital to witness his arrival and to give him a cordial welcome. The day for the solemn entry was set for April 19. On April 18, at 4.15pm, the bishop, who wore the habit and black cowl of the Benedictine Order, only relieved by a purple zucchetto, set off from his palace at Valletta in a gala coach drawn by four black horses gaily adorned with scarlet plumes and rosettes, with a coachman and two footmen standing behind in rich liveries.

Caruana’s consecration as Bishop of Malta on February 10, 1915, feast of St Paul’s Shipwreck in Malta, at the basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome. Cardinal Merry del Val (centre, front row) is flanked by Caruana (right) and Emanuel Caruana, the bishop’s father. Standing, far right, are Fr Michael Gonzi and Fr Enrico Dandria.Caruana’s consecration as Bishop of Malta on February 10, 1915, feast of St Paul’s Shipwreck in Malta, at the basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome. Cardinal Merry del Val (centre, front row) is flanked by Caruana (right) and Emanuel Caruana, the bishop’s father. Standing, far right, are Fr Michael Gonzi and Fr Enrico Dandria.

The coach was followed by the carriage of the Governor, who was represented by his senior aide-de-camp, Captain Marshall Roberts. A number of other carriages followed, containing the principal dignitaries of the diocese and the Archbishop’s suite.

Slow progress was made along the crowded Strada Reale, and out by the triple gates of the town, through the suburbs of Floriana and Ħamrun. At many points, halts were made, short addresses given, and bands played. At intervals, religious, children and residents of institutions such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, Italian Sisters of Charity and Sisters of the Good Shepherd, lined the way and called for a special blessing from the bishop.

Upon reaching the bottom of the hill that leads up to Città Notabile, the crowd became dense. The horses were taken out of the bishop’s coach, and for the rest of the way it was drawn by a large body of men. Thousands had come here from Valletta and other towns of the island to see and receive the blessing of their new and popular bishop. It took more than an hour to cover the remaining half-mile or so along the streets of Rabat until the Dominican convent was reached.

Everywhere, the orderly crowd lined the way and occupied every window and balcony, from where flowers were showered to line the way. It was nearly 8pm when the bishop reached his destination, and there was still much to do. The chapter of canons had to be received. Addresses and presentations were followed by a supper. Outside, the streets and houses were brilliantly illuminated, and in the narrow streets within the walls of the old city and in the Cathedral Square the arrangements were particularly elaborate.

The next day at 8am, the bishop set out from St Dominic’s convent, preceded by the chancellor of the diocese on horseback bearing the archiepiscopal cross. On arriving at the church of the Augustinians, the bishop entered, attended by his canons. After being invested in his episcopal robes, cape and mitre, he again left the church, and at the door, according to tradition and custom, mounted a white mare suitably caparisoned in damask draperies. Above the bishop, eight eminent gentlemen of the noblest families of Malta, duly chosen by their Committee of Privileges, held a rich baldacchino.

A rare photograph showing the two episodes in the life of Mauro Caruana: wearing the Benedictine habit when he was ordained priest in 1891 (right) and wearing the pectoral cross as bishop in 1916.A rare photograph showing the two episodes in the life of Mauro Caruana: wearing the Benedictine habit when he was ordained priest in 1891 (right) and wearing the pectoral cross as bishop in 1916.

Matriculation class 1881-1882. Caruana is at the front.Matriculation class 1881-1882. Caruana is at the front.

In the meantime, the procession to the cathedral had been formed. First came two confraternities of the city, each preceded by crucifix and banner. The rectors of most of the parishes of the island followed religious orders. Then came the collegiate canons who preceded the cathedral chapter. Finally, towering over the crowd was the bishop on horseback, blessing the enthusiastic people to his right and left, who clapped their hands and pressed in on every side. Meanwhile, flowers showered down from spectators who filled the windows, balconies and housetops. It was not surprising that the mare proved restive, and the bishop’s horsemanship was put to the test.

Before entering Cathedral Square, near the Banca Giuratale, where a triumphal arch was raised, the bishop stopped to listen to an address delivered from a pulpit by cleric Alberto V. Pantalleresco, probably the most brilliant young member of the Seminary.

At last, the bishop reached the steps of the cathedral. It was only on the threshold of the door of the church that he got down from the mare and entered his cathedral. Immediately, the Te Deum was intoned and taken up by the people. The bishop sang Pontifical High Mass and delivered an eloquent sermon in Italian.

At 12.30pm, some 70 guests assembled in the hall of the Episcopal Palace to partake of the bishop’s hospitality. The Governor, Field-Marshal Lord Paul Methuen, was the principal guest. Many important officials were invited, together with representatives of prominent families in Malta, the dean and many members of the chapter and the provincials of the religious orders.

Soon after taking office, in March 1915, Caruana appointed canon dean Giuseppe De Piro Navarra as his secretary-general. De Piro, who was declared Servant of God on October 23, 1987, fulfilled this duty with his usual meticulous attention to detail. During this time, the bishop asked De Piro and other experienced priests to organise meetings to help the newly-ordained young priests to settle down in their new vocation. In 1918, recognising De Piro’s dedication in fulfilling this duty, Caruana chose him as rector of the Major Seminary, Mdina, the institution where young men are trained to become priests. The priests, who were seminarians under his care, noted his fatherly kindness, attentiveness and ability to correct gently.

In 1916, the new bishop received eloquent proof of the people’s love and devotion to him when he celebrated the 25th anniversary of his priestly ordination. Rich and poor, young and old, tried to manifest their affection and loyalty to him and all Malta was happy to see the smile of appreciation on his face. Boys and girls bearing bunches of flowers went to the palace to receive his fatherly blessing.

Caruana enjoyed the favour of both the Holy See and the British government. The former had already entrusted him with delicate ecclesiastical posts; the latter was sure of his sympathy to the British crown

On that occasion, the committee for the festivities offered a sum of money to the bishop as a gift of commemoration. The pastor accepted the money but gave the whole sum to philanthropic purposes, partly in a great number of loaves to be distributed among the poor and partly for the needs of the Seminary.

The clergy are for a bishop the most precious sector of his diocese. One of Caruana’s first and most constant concerns was the Seminary. He enlarged the premises of the one at Floriana in order to be able to gather there both seminaries, the major and the minor; he also kept an apartment there for himself, so that he might frequently pay a visit to those who were called by God to be the spiritual leaders of others.

He frequently used to meet priests at his palace or in the oratory annexed to St John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta, or at St Joseph’s Institute, Ħamrun. He also introduced the custom of summoning all parish priests and Lenten preachers shortly before carnival, to show them how and on what particular subject they should preach the Word of God.

Caruana did not neglect his clergy’s temporal needs. In 1918, he instituted a fund to help poor clerics. He ordered that a sum of money from his own income be contributed yearly to this fund. He ascertained that young men who indicated that they had an priestly vocation but could not afford to be admitted and pay for their residence in the Seminary, should not, on account of poverty, lose their high calling.

On the morning of Easter Saturday, April 7, 1917, the Maltese nation was plunged into mourning with the announce­ment of the death of Enrico Caruana, the bishop’s beloved father. Caruana, who died rather suddenly aged 81, was widely esteemed and respected. A requiem service was held at the Mdina Cathedral where he was later interred.

Although the year 1917 started on a sorrowful note for the bishop, it ended with a festive celebration on December 30, 1917. On that day, in the afternoon, Caruana unveiled and blessed the monument of Christ the King at Floriana. This memorial remains for us a commemoration of the 24th International Eucharistic Congress held in Malta in April 1913.

Caruana was the first Maltese to be created Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in 1918, shortly after the Order had been established by George V. In the same year, which saw the end of the war, the bishop consecrated Malta to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in a most solemn and heartfelt ceremony.

When, in 1928, the Holy See restored the residential archdiocese of Rhodes, the bishops of Malta could no longer be, as they had been since 1797, simultaneously titular archbishops of Rhodes. However, Caruana’s rank and precedence were preserved, since Pope Pius XI allowed him to keep the personal title of archbishop.

To be concluded.

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