Everybody’s friend by Dr Tonio Azzopardi

When the Director of Dar tal-Providenza, Rev. Fr. Martin Micallef, asked me to prepare an article regarding my late uncle, Mons. Michael Azzopardi, I readily accepted. His residence in Floriana was my second home during my childhood and youth. I was welcome there at all hours and so were my sisters. My uncle lived there together with his mother, brother and sister. His other sister was a Dominican nun who spent many years in a convent in Rome and later returned to Malta and continued her vocation at Casa San Pietro, Lija.

Dun Mikiel, as he was affectionately known to all, would come out of his room as soon as he would hear me boisterously entering their residence. I remember him standing very tall beside me and I could gauge how tall I was against his waistline. As a boy, I used to spend long hours in his room helping him.

In his University days, Dun Mikiel had studied law. He intended to become a lawyer. However, his religious vocation made him steer a different course and he switched to priesthood. He was a close friend of Sir Anthony Mamo, who, while studying to become a priest, had switched to reading law.

When I completed primary school, he was all in favour of my attending St Aloysius College in Birkirkara. This led to an important step in my educational life. By the time I had completed my secondary education, my mind was set: I wanted to become a lawyer and achieve what my uncle had set out to achieve. Naturally, Dun Mikiel was very pleased with my decision to read Law.

When I started to attend the Junior College in Valletta, I used to go to their house practically every day at noon. There I had lunch regularly with my uncle. He ate with moderation, unlike his young nephew sitting beside him. At the time, the residential homes for persons with disability in Siggiewi were still under construction. Dun Mikiel used to attend social occasions to be presented with donations day in day out. I was so impressed as I watched him retrieving one envelope after another, first from his outside pockets and then from his inside pockets with sums of money, big and small, that people of all backgrounds used to donate for the project – “Divine Providence at work!” as Dun Mikiel used to tell us.

Occasionally, we used to meet the lady who had given up her vacation abroad in order to donate Lm100. It was the first donation. My uncle had set out to build Id-Dar tal-Providenza with Lm100! He had a very deep-rooted trust in Divine Providence. I imagine each building stone of Id-Dar tal-Providenza dripping the people’s sacrifices. He collected large sums of money as a result of his visits abroad. He was elated when the Catholic community in the German town of Essen donated to him the first van for the residential homes.

On retiring from work, both my late father Vincent and their late brother Carmelo used to go regularly to Id-Dar tal-Providenza to assist him and they carried out all the administrative work that he entrusted to them.
When Villa Monsinjur Gonzi was completed, he must have found it quite difficult to persuade some parents, who had been used to keeping their disabled children hidden from the public eye in a segregated area, to hand over their son or daughter for placement in the new residential home. This is where he excelled. He brought dignity to these precious creatures of God, who, according to the language used in those days, he used to call his “little angels”, and ensured that Maltese society holds these people as a significant and worthy component of that society. He was applying the principle of Diversity well before it was known as such. He was conducting a silent crusade for the Human Rights of Persons with Disability well before any governmental or non-governmental organisation had been set up to champion their human rights. Somewhere along this journey to secure a dignified and decent living for these people, he expressed his desire to us that the words “Dun Mikiel Azzopardi – Il-habib tat-tfal u tal-morda” (the friend of the children and the sick) be inscribed on his tombstone.

Some years after his death, my wife Isabelle and I happened to be in Luzern, Switzerland, and the thought that my late uncle had travelled and stayed there on innumerable occasions kept coming to my mind. I told my wife about this several times that day, but we were unable to remember the exact location that he used to mention. We happened to be in the centre of Luzern later on that same day. Suddenly, a nun approached us and said that she had overheard us speak the Maltese language and said that she too was Maltese and was very happy to meet us. In conversation, I mentioned to her that my late uncle Dun Mikiel had been in Luzern on several occasions. She butted in saying: “Dun Mikiel used to stay in our convent in Einsiedeln!” Those words left us speechless.
My uncle believed that miracles were taking place regularly at Id-Dar tal-Providenza. On one particular occasion, he had no funds with which to pay the employees’ wages. That same day, he received an envelope containing the sum of Lm12,000 – the exact sum he required to be able to pay the wages.

In the past, scarcity of vegetables was not a rare occurrence. Yet the children and later adults of Id-Dar tal-Providenza were never left wanting. Dun Mikiel used to tell us that whenever there was a scarcity of some particular foodstuff, Divine Providence would be “at work” once again. Farmers from near and far would deliver the best of their produce to the Home.

He had a special way with the persons who resided in the Home. Many persons are witnesses to his affection and positive attitude towards each and every one of them. In fact, they called him “papa'”. The late Dr. Jimmy Farrugia, who was the first doctor of the residential homes, was a very close friend of Dun Mikiel.
The book written by Fr. Alexander Bonnici OFM Conv contains a rich narrative of the life of Dun Mikiel, which is inseparable from the life of Id-Dar tal-Providenza. The two are interwoven. He dedicated most of his life to this monumental cause.

Some people remember him as Spiritual Director in government schools. Others remember him in the Catholic Action Movement. Yet others remember him broadcasting Is-Siegha tal-Morda. His words were balm on the wounds of sick people. His programme ‘Ezerċizzi Spiritwali għall-Morda’ was equally popular at the time. His more recent programme ‘Ftit togħma tajba’ reached an even wider spectrum of people from all walks of life. Hence it is not a hollow slogan that Dun Mikiel was Everybody’s Friend.

The first hint at a possible opening of the canonisation process of Dun Mikiel came straight from the lips of our Archbishop on 26th January 2010.

Once, a person confided in him that he was losing all hope in life. Dun Mikiel pointed out to him a man holding on to a pair of crutches and told him: “Look at that man. That is a lesson for you. Look how fast he can walk supporting himself on two crutches. For you those two crutches should signify hope in God and courage in your heart.” We have still to realise the full depth of Dun Mikiel’s service to God and his love for all the people.
He loved Our Lady very dearly. He mentioned her often on his deathbed. My wife and I visited him very often during the period before his death and my mother stayed there in order to assist him together with the nuns till the end. Although in great pain, he exhorted us to pray to Our Blessed Mother by reciting the Holy Rosary together.

Dun Mikiel once described to us the “miracle” that had taken place on 13th May 1941 when a bomb hit the Tabernacle inside the chapel at the Qormi primary school and everyone was saved notwithstanding that the place was full of people. They had evacuated the building when the bell rang. But no one knew who had rung the bell. He wrote about it in Lehen is-Sewwa. What impressed me most in my late uncle’s narration of the fateful events of that unforgettable 13th May 1941 was his vivid description of the Blessed Hosts scattered among the debris. He said that the sight of the Chapel in a dilapidated state and the Holy Eucharist dispersed among the dust and debris had made him cry. Dun Mikiel used to say to me that the only “victim” of that bombardment was Jesus in the Tabernacle. Jesus, truly present in the Holy Eucharist, directed the deadly bomb towards Him in order to save all the rest. No one could understand how such a direct hit had left no casualties, whilst hundreds of consecrated Hosts lay scattered and fragmented among the debris. This memorable episode in his life is described in my article “A miracle, a witness and an act of faith” published in “The Sunday Times” on 20 May 2001.

I shall remember our dear uncle for his great love for all people but especially for persons with disability. Id-Dar tal-Providenza is a living monument of his love. He died on 13th May 1987, the anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady of Fatima and also the anniversary of the miracle that had occurred in Qormi. I read the Epistle in his funeral Mass and that day I was impressed by the love shown by the people towards him. That was only the beginning.

(Dr Tonio Azzopardi is the nephew of Mgr Azzopardi)

Dun Mikiel Award

The Dun Mikiel Award Award is given by Id-Dar tal-Providenza every year to a person or persons who have worked for and provided support to persons with disability both from within the Home itself as well as from outside it.

Past Recipients of the Mgr. Azzopardi Award:

1995 – Dr Lawrence Gonzi LL.D. and Mrs Mari Lowell
1997 – Mr Paul Mifsud and Mr Lewis Portelli
1998 – Mons. Manuel Curmi
1999 – Fr Charles Fenech O.P.
2000 – Mr Joe Camilleri
2001 – Dr Carmelo Vella, M.D.
2002 – Mrs Victoria Demanuele
2003 – Sr Maddalena and Sr. Fortunata Fava
2004 – Mr John Peel
2005 – Mr John Micallef
2006 – Mr Tonio Bonello and Mr Albert E. Vella
2007 – Mrs Yvonne Eastman
2008 – Mr Alfred Bezzina
2009 – Mr Denis Azzopardi and Boys Lyceum St George Preca College
2010 – Mgr Lawrence Gatt and Fr Joseph Borg Micallef
2011 – Fr Lino Cardona SJ, Mrs Mary Versin and Mrs Blanche Mifsud
2012 – National Commission Persons with Disabilities (Malta)
2013 – Mr Marcel and Mrs Adelina Pisani
2015 – Ms Angela Agius
2016 – Dar il-Kaptan (Respite Services)
2017 – Sisters of Charity
2018 – Mons. Philip Calleja
2019 – Mr Oliver Scicluna and Camilleri & Cuschieri Consulting Engineers
2020 – All Dar tal-Providenza Employees and Gordon Hewitt, Volunteer

Award not given in 1996 and 2014.


Mgr. Mikiel Azzzopardi was born in Valletta, Malta on 10 February 1910, of Toninu Azzopardi and Amalja neè Galea. He was baptised three days later at the Parish Church of Our Lady of Porto Salvo in Valletta. Mikiel received his First Holy Communion at the age of 6 years from Archbishop Dom Mauro Caruana OSB at St John’s Co-Cathedral and a year later he was confirmed by the Auxiliary Bishop of Malta, Mgr. Angelo Portelli.

He was educated at the Government Primary School in St Elmo, Valletta, at the Seminary of the Diocese of Gozo, the Lyceum in Valletta and then at the Royal University of Malta where he commenced the Law Course.

In his adolescence, the indefaticable Mgr Enrico Dandria had invited him to start attending the Circolo Gioventù Cattolico (Catholic Youth Centre). The personality of Mgr Dandria had surely rubbed off on him tremendously.

After four years reading Law, he felt the call to the priesthood, and as a result decided to leave the University. With the blessing of Archbishop Caruana, he proceeded to Rome where he received his priestly formation at the Pontifical Scot’s College and studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University from where he graduated in Theology.

Azzopardi was ordained to the priesthood on 22 December 1934 at the age of 24 by Archbishop Dom Mauro Caruana OSB. Not long after his ordination, the Archbishop appointed him as his personal assistant.

His first pastoral assignment was that of Prefect of Studies at the Archbishop’s Seminary in Floriana. Six years later he was given a Government appointment as teacher of Religion at the Lyceum and later as Regional Spiritual Director for State Schools. Later he was appointed School Inspector in Religious Education, an assignment he held a long number of years. Concurrently he taught Catechesis at the Teachers’ Training Colleges at Tal-Virtù and Ta’ Giorni, as well as hosting every Friday a religious programme on Rediffusion, the only cable network on the Island at the time. It was during these popular programmes that he explained the Sunday Gospel to students of all schools in Malta and Gozo.

In 1940, he was appointed Ecclesiastical Assistant General of the Catholic Action and embarked on organizing and spreading this lay ecclesiastical movement in all parishes of Malta and Gozo. Following the Congress held in Qormi in 1943, which he labeled as “the Miracle of the Resurrection”, he succeeded in transforming this group, after long years of work, into a strong lay force imbued with an apostolic spirit and a great love for God and the Church and a strong urge to serve one’s neighbour.

Mgr. Azzopardi was indeed a truly charismatic leader who communicated with verve and enthusiasm and roused most of the members to embrace the mission entrusted to them by Catholic Action. He not only managed to organize Catholic Action Centres for adult men and women, adolescents and children in all parishes, but also managed to create various new initiatives for emigrants, members of the press, teachers, members of different professions, students, the sick and persons with disabilities.

Within the Archdiocese of Malta he set up, amongst other initiatives, the Diocesan Steering Committee for Catholic Associations, as well as Parish Councils.

Dun Mikiel was appointed Conventual Member Ad Honorem of the Sovereign Military Order of St John and on January 21 January 1951 he was honoured by His Holiness Pope Pius XII with the title of Cameriere Segreto di Sua Santità. He was also appointed Honorary Canon of the Metropolitan Chapter. In 1968, Mgr Azzopardi was awarded with the Medal of Honour by the Confederation of the Civic Councils of Malta and on 1 June 1981, Pope John Paul II appointed him Honorary Prelate.

During the course of his pastoral work, he discovered that various persons with disabilities were living in a deplorable state so much so that they were even hidden in cellars in totally appalling conditions, and in certain cases even unbeknown to their siblings. Persons with disabilities were often ridiculed in public or sent to a hospital which was ill-equipped for their needs. Dun Mikiel also felt that various families with a disabled member had an urgent need to find people who offered them solace. It was then that the idea started to germinate within him to find a place where these persons could find an environment where to live – an environment that they deserved and that respected their dignity.

Therefore, on 12 September 1965, he started off with a generous donation of LM100 given to him by a lady who had saved the money for a vacation. This was the genesis of Id-Dar tal-Providenza, the first Home in Malta that offered residential services to persons with disability. Up to this very day, Id-Dar tal-Providenza remains a living miracle of the Divine Providence.

Mgr. Mikiel Azzopardi died on 13 May 1987 at the age of 77 and was buried, as he had always wished, in the courtyard of Id-Dar tal-Providenza amongst the persons with disabilities that he loved so intensely. His funeral mass took place at St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta on 14 May 1987, and was presided by Archbishop Joseph Mercieca, in the presence of the highest authorities of the country.

Mgr. Mikiel Azzopardi together with other Maltese pioneers in this field worked hard to overcome barriers then existing within the Maltese society to enable persons with disabilities to gain the deserved respect and dignity and to allow them to have equal opportunities within their society.


Monsignor Michael Azzopardi, Ecclesiastical Assistant General of The Malta Catholic Action had, for some time, nursed a ‘dream’ that would help improve the quality of life of people with disabilities who for one reason or another could not stay any longer with their parents.

On the 12th September 1965 he aired his idea during a radio programme – that of opening the first residential home in Malta for persons with disability. A young lady who heard the programme was so moved by his idea that she sought him out and gave him a cheque for Lm100 (around €230) – money she had saved for a holiday abroad!

On the 21st January 1967 the deeds of the building and land that was formerly the Qrendi Royal Navy Rest Camp were formally signed over to The Malta Catholic Action which now have become the home base of Id-Dar tal-Providenza.

Thanks to a very generous contribution from the then Archbishop of Malta – Monsignor Michael Gonzi, extensive renovations to the building now called ‘Villa Monsignor Gonzi’ were carried out in preparation for receiving the first residents.

Nuns from the Congregation of Sisters of St Jeanne Antide Thouret took up residence on the 12th January 1968. They were Id-Dar tal-Providenza’s first support workers aided by volunteers and subsequently by employed personnel. The Sisters have given full time service since then. From the very beginning of the Homes, one of the clauses in a set of rules written by Mgr Michael Azzopardi on the 16th of December of 1968 has been the cornerstone of the Directorate of the Homes has always been the integration of the disabled into society. The first three residents of Id-Dar tal-Providenza arrived on the 11th of February 1968. They were all housed in the newly refurbished Villa Monsignor Gonzi. In 1999, this villa was eventually demolished and rebuild. It was inaugurated again on the 17th July 2001.

1971 saw the start of the building of a second home designed to accommodate fifty residents. This home, called Villa Papa Giovanni, was inaugurated on the 19th March 1974. Whilst work was in progress on Villa Papa Giovanni, a second floor was added to Villa Monsignor Gonzi.

Monsignor Michael Azzopardi passed away on the 13th May 1987. During the funeral homily of the beloved founder of Id-Dar tal-Providenza at St. John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta, on the 14th of May 1987, Mgr Joseph Mercieca, the then Archbishop of Malta said: “…Go with your mind at rest…Rest assured, Dun Mikiel, that all initiatives started by you will be continued”. Most appropriately, he is buried at Id-Dar tal-Providenza. Mgr Phillip Calleja, temporarily took over the running of the Homes, until Mgr Lawrence Gatt was chosen by Archbishop Joseph Mercieca to sucdeed him as second Director on the 1st July 1987.

On the 8th September 1987 Villa Papa Luciani was inaugurated. This residence was designed to house semi-independent residents and currently has a complement of thirty senior citizens and young adults.
On the 11th of February of 1997, four residents moved to “Zerniq” a small house in Mons. Mikiel Azzopardi Street, in the village of Siggiewi, to experience “Supported Living” in a homely environment.

Dar tal-Providenza offers respite-care facilities to persons with disability who still live with their families. The knowledge that these facilities are available greatly support these families to continue in their endeavour to enable their family member continue to live with them.

Since 1998 Id-Dar tal-Providenza has been affiliated with a foreign agency from Glasgow (Scotland) called SPRED Special Religious Development which offers a network of services designed to assist persons with intellectual disabilities to become integrated into parish assemblies of worship through the process of education in faith.

On the 1st October 2008, Fr Martin Micallef was appointed Director of id-Dar tal-Providenza succeeding Mgr. Lawrence Gatt who was appointed Chancellor of the Archbishops Curia.

Vision, Mission and Values Statement


Id-Dar tal-Providenza which takes its name and charism from the Gospel is primarily a residential organisation committed to empowering persons with disabilities in a family-like environment which enhances and maximises their abilities with a view to ensuring their full participation in society in accordance to the Gospel and the teaching of the Catholic Church.


1. To provide individualised. long term and respite residential services to persons with disabilities in full respect of their rights and dignity.
2. To promote the holistic personal development and social inclusion of service users, including their autonomy and self-determination.
3. To provide opportunities to employees to develop their skills and to enhance the value of their work.
4. To provided a meaningful experience of volunteering.
5. To collaborate with other organisations active in the field of disability to safeguard the rights of persons with disabilities and of their families.


• The values of Id-Dar tal-Providenza are rooted in the Gospel teachings, We believe that human life is sacred, having equal and unconditional value. We profess an intrinsic respect for all persons regardless of their strengths and abilities.
• We have faith in Divine Providence reflected in an approach that ensures that lack of resources shall not impede our work.
• We believe that the family is the foundation of society and therefore we provide support to the family such that the person with disability is enabled to continue living within one’s family should this be the disabled person’s own wish.
• We strive to develop a community spirit, reflected in an approach that seeks to empower persons with disabilities, to uphold their right to privacy and self-determination, to promote interdependence and to provide the appropriate support for service users.

Who we are

Id-Dar tal-Providenza was founded by Mgr. Michael Azzopardi in 1965 with the aim of offering individualised residential services to Persons with Disabilities in a family-like environment which enhances and maximises their abilities with a view to ensuring their full participation in society.

Today Id-Dar tal-Providenza is made up of three residences: Villa Monsinjur Gonzi, Villa Papa Giovanni and Villa Papa Luciani. It also includes four community homes, called Żerniq in Siġġiewi, Akkwarell in Qawra, Dar Pirotta in Birkirkara and Shalom in Zurrieq.

At the moment, Id-Dar hosts approximately hundred and fifteen persons between the ages of fourteen and over eighty years. It also offers respite services on a regular basis to families of persons with disabilities, thus offering them support to enable the disabled family member to continue to live within their family.

A small community of Sisters of St Joan Antide Thouret popularly known as Sisters of Charity have been living and giving their service to the Home since 1968 when the Home hosted the first residents.

Some of the residents spend their day by attending activities outside the Home, namely day centres. A few others have a job within the Home or outside the Home.

These last few years id-Dar tal-Providenza has been affiliated with a foreign agency from Glasgow (Scotland) called SPRED Special Religious Development which offers a network of services designed to assist persons with intellectual disabilities to become integrated into parish assemblies of worship through the process of education in faith.

Id-Dar tal-Providenza is also affiliated with European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities which represents over 15,000 support services for Persons with Disabilities across Europe.

Four and a half million euro per year are required for the running of the Homes.