Sisters of Charity presented with the Dun Mikiel Azzopardi Award 2017

The Dun Mikiel Azzopardi Award 2017 was presented to the Sisters of Charity in recognition of and appreciation for the fifty years of service at Id-Dar tal-Providenza. Sr Natalie Abela, Maltese delegate for the Malta-Italy Province together with Sr Lorenza Borg, Superior of the community of Sisters that work at Id-Dar tal-Providenza.

This was announced by Fr Martin Micallef, Director of the Home, during a concert by the band of the Armed Forces of Malta at St John’s Co-Cathedral under the distinguished patronage of the President of the Republic, Mrs Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca and H.G. the Archbishop of Malta, Mgr Charles J. Scicluna.

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 new work at Id-Dar tal-Providenza. The first Mother Superior of this community was Sor Maria Assunta Mallia. Living with her were Sor Alessandra De Lazzaro and Sor 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 Sor Maria Assunta Mallia, Sr Annunziata Cortis, Sr Cecilia Frendo, Sr Maria Ersilia Mifsud, Sr Madalena Fava, Sr Maria Antida Mifsud and Sr Lorenza Borg.

Fr Martin said that the 50th Anniversary of the Sisters of Charity’s work at the Home encourages us to look ahead so that we commit ourselves to continue on what has been built so far and improve on it. “Id-Dar tal-Providenza is committed to being a strong signal to Maltese society that persons with disability deserve, like everyone else, the respect, dignity and rights due to them from conception to death. There are still those who discriminate but we need to continue to strive so that persons with disability are given what is theirs by right in our society and the Church.”

The main address for the occasion was made by Isabelle Bonello, a girl with intellectual disability, who in these last years worked on an inclusive research together with the Department for Studies on Disability at the University of Malta on the experience of overprotection in the lives of persons with intellectual disability in Malta. Ms Bonello spoke of negative as well as positive experiences of overprotection. She emphasized on how much help is very important in the lives of persons with intellectual disability. “In my experience,” she said, “when I find persons who help me and explain to me gently, I learn and become able to do new things. For example, at work I found someone who helped me use the scanner and now I work long hours on it and make more money. The Agenzija Sapport had allocated to me a support worker to help me use the public transport on my own and today I go to different places using the bus. I also find help from my family. When you work with persons with intellectual disability it is important not to make them lose heart. When you tend not to get anywhere, be patient and if need be explain more than once. Where a person still requires help, we still need to listen to him/her to help him/her achieve his/her aims”.

The Archbishop, Mgr Charles J. Scicluna thanked the Armed Forces of Malta and the Commander for this wonderful experience, this collaboration between the Armed Forces, the State and Id-Dar tal-Providenza. “It is,” he said, “an experience of solidarity. “He also thanked the Sisters for being solid witnesses to the word of Christ day by day. He said they were part of the beauty of the Church. “This cathedral,” said the Archbishop, “is beautiful but the beauty of the Church is in its witnessing of the gospel and I thank you also because I know from personal experience that you do your work with a smile and serenity even in difficult moments.”

On her part, the President of Malta, H.E. Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca also thanked the Sisters of Charity who in her own words amazed her because there isn’t one aspect of vulnerability that they are not in the forefront of. “I wish to thank you on behalf of the people of Malta,” said the President, “because your witnessing of the social teachings is beneficial to all Maltese and Gozitans.”

The President of Malta thanked all the workers at Id-Dar tal-Providenza, the parents and all those that give a helping hand. This Home remains an example of all that is close to our heart. Dun Mikiel Azzopardi was here much before laws were enacted nationally and internationally. The President concluded saying: “There was already the vision of what we today refer to as ‘sheltered living’ and ‘independent living’ and all the other things that we brag about that we did and legislated. Mgr Mikiel Azzopardi remains an icon of greatness and goodness.”

The Band of the Armed Forces of Malta was under the baton of Mro. WO1 Jonathan Borg. The concert programme included musical works by Hanson, Beethoven, Brooks, Haydn, Handel and local composers Joseph Sammut, Antonio Nani and George Zammit. The Band was accompanied by the Coro Bel Canto with the participation of tenors Gnr George Zammit and Charles Vella Zarb and baritone Alfred Camilleri.

Id-Dar tal-Providenza every year gives the Dun Mikiel Azzopardi award in recognition of the voluntary contribution of persons or organisations in the disability sector in Malta and Gozo. This award was launched for the first time in 1995 on the 30th Anniversary of the founding of the Home.

The band concert was organised by Id-Dar tal-Providenza courtesy of the St John’s Co-Cathedral Foundation and with the assistance of Mr Tonio Bonello.

This post is also available in: Maltese