On Friday, January 12th 2018, the Vicar General, Mgr Joe Galea Curmi, celebrated a Thanksgiving mass at Dar tal-Providenza on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of when the Sisters of Charity of St Jeanne Antide Thouret started their work at the Home. In his homily, Mgr Galea Curmi quoted Pope Francis who in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium states: “If I succeed in helping at least one person in getting a better life, this is already enough to justify my gift of life.” The Vicar General thanked the Sisters of Charity who, fifty years ago, accepted the invitation of Mgr Mikiel Azzopardi and recognised the service at Dar tal-Providenza as the best way to live out their vocation on the example of their Foundress, St Jeanne Antide Thouret. He also thanked the forty-two Sisters who gave their service during the past fifty years and said: “Every Sister is a story in its own right, an act of generosity, and for this we should show gratitude.”
Present for this occasion was the Provincial of the Sisters of Charity for Malta and Italy, Sr Mary Stephanos, who was representing the Superior General Sr Nunzia De Gori. In her speech for the occasion Sr Stephanos said, amongst other things, that she could just imagine what an overwhelming mission it seemed to the Sisters, but on the example of the Foundress, St Jeanne Antide, whose intrepid trust in the Lord has been passed on to them, accepted the mission armed with the only conviction that the God who has called them will walk with them day by day. “I am sure,” she said, “that the word of St Jeanne Antide ‘God is everywhere, the poor are everywhere. This is enough for us’ must have echoed in their hearts and strengthened the resolve to continue to serve God in the person of the needy with the same daring and compassionate spirit of St Vincent de Paule and St Jeanne Antide. We are also here to celebrate God’s faithfulness and goodness that He has shown to them and to all those who entered this sacred place where they witnessed only love and selfless dedication. It is only His boundless love that has given us the ability to give ourselves totally to others and to show them the dignity and respect that every child of God, created in His own image, deserves.”
Fr Martin Micallef, Director of Dar tal-Providenza, said that certainly the residents of the Home can relay to the Sisters of Charity the beautiful words that St Luke used in the Acts of the Apostles to describe the warm welcome given to them by the Maltese inhabitants when they were shipwrecked on our island. ‘We were kindly received by the people of Melita.’ (Acts 28:2). On behalf of the residents, Fr Martin thanked the Sisters for their total dedication towards the persons with disability residing at the Home enabling them to live in a place that respects their dignity and rights.
The Sisters of Charity, or better still the Sisters of St Jeanne Antide Thouret, came to Malta in 1868 and the government immediately entrusted them with the running of his orphanages which were then in Valletta. Later, the government also passed on to them three small schools in Bahrija, Imtahleb and Birzebbuga. The Sisters also started administering the Conservatorio Vincenzo Bugeja in Santa Genera as well as the Bishop’s Conservatorio in Rabat, Gozo. They then opened schools in Tarxien, St Julian’s and Gudja. But undoubtedly their biggest contribution was in the hospitals where they opened a school for nursing.
Sisters of Charity presented with the Dun Mikiel Azzopardi Award 2017
In 1965, when Dun Mikiel Azzopardi embarked on the construction in Siggiewi of the first home in Malta for persons with disability, he felt that he could not run this Home without the experience of a religious congregation. After his failed attempts to lure the Gwanelljani of Italy and the Franciscan Sisters of Malta, he contacted the Sisters of Charity who had by then established themselves with their charitable works in Malta.
In 1967, Dun Mikiel wrote to the Mother General in Rome, Sor Maria Candida Torchino, requesting her to give her blessing for the Maltese Province to extend a community of her Congregation to Id-Dar tal-Providenza. Mother General gave her approval to the Provincial of Malta, Sor Angela Maria Corbella.
At the beginning of 1968, the building of the first Home, Dun Mikiel named it Villa Monsinjur Gonzi in recognition of a substantial donation that the then Archbishop, Sir Michael Gonzi had made towards this project that was ready to welcome its first residents.
On the 12th of January 1968, a month before the first residents made Villa Monsinjur Gonzi their home, the Mother Provincial sent a small community of Sisters that started living in and preparing for their newwork at Id-Dar tal-Providenza. The first Mother Superior of this community was Sr Maria Assunta Mallia. Living with her were Sr Alessandra De Lazzaro and Sr Agostina Cutajar. For their convent, the Sisters were allocated a site that up to 1962 was used by English officers as a Rest Camp of the British Navy.
On Sunday 11th of February 1968, the feast of the first apparition of Our Lady to the Young Bernadette in the grotto of Massabielle in Lourdes, Dun Mikiel and the
Sisters welcomed the first three residents in Villa Monsinjur Gonzi. On February 24th of the same year, an agreement was then signed with the Archbishop’s approval between the Catholic Action and the Congregation of Sisters of St Joan Antide Thouret authorising the Maltese Province to provide its services at the Home.
To the present day, this community continued giving its services to the residents of the Home with immense dedication and love. A total of forty-two Sisters cared for the residents during their fifty years of work at the Home. During this period, the Superiors of this community were Sr Maria Assunta Mallia, Sr Annunziata Cortis, Sr Cecilia Frendo, Sr Maria Ersilia Mifsud, Sr Madalena Fava, Sr Maria Antida Mifsud and Sr Lorenza Borg.
In 2003, the twin Fava sisters, Sr Madalena and Sr Fortunata that served at the Home between 1982 and 1994 were presented with the Dun Mikiel Azzopardi Award in recognition for their work at the Home. This Award has been given every year since 1995 in public recognition of those persons or entities that gave their contribution to persons with disability within and outside the Dar tal-Providenza.
As part of the annual Armed Forces of Malta concert held on December 1st, 2017, at St John’s Co-Cathedral in aid of Dar tal-Providenza, this Award was also given to the Congregation of Sisters of St Jeanne Antide Thouret in recognition of their fifty years of service at the Home.
On New Year’s day, Archbishop Mgr Charles J. Scicluna, in his homily given at Dar tal-Providenza’s chapel said: “Fifty years ago, the Sisters of Charity embarked on this adventure of love to live this charisma of being Sisters of Charity, the Sisters who propagate the love of Christ, the love of God in various situations as they are still doing today.”