On Thursday 9 November a meeting was held for Augustinian laity at the Primary Campus of our College in Marsa. The meeting consisted of a welcome by Fr David Cortis, Rector of Saint Augustine College on the occasion of the 175th anniversary of the beginning of the College, and afterwards Fr Mario Abela led a short time of Adoration and prayer for vocations, especially Augustinians.

Afterwards we had a social moment together where we shared some delicious snacks between us. We thank Fr David, Fr Mario, Fr Terence and the Augustinian Lay Provincial Commission, and Kevin and Lydia Vella, members of the Secular Augustinian Fraternity, for the contribution they gave to make the meeting beautiful for the glory of God.

On November 6, the Augustinian Family celebrates the remembrance of the departed Augustinian friars. On Monday 6th November in the morning the Prior Provincial, together with several friars, celebrated a mass in Saint Nicholas of Tolentino Church, Tarxien commemorating the deceased friars. In his reflection he spoke on: the beautiful memories that all these brothers have left us; the sense of gratitude that we should all express as we celebrate what our predecessors lived and accomplished; and above all, the faith and hope that should fill our hearts as Christians who are still going through the walk of life. After mass those present paid their respects by visiting the provincial graves, at Addolorato Cemetery .

Between the 16th and 20th October a group of Augustinian friars gathered together for a few days of retreat at Dar Stella Maris in Żebbuġ Gozo. During these days they had the opportunity to stop for a while from their daily routine and live moments of more silence, prayer and reflection accompanied by Fr Martin Cilia MSSP who animated these days. Fr Martin's reflections presented a clear invitation to reflect on everyone’s present reality, the experience shared with the friars, the centrality of Jesus Christ in one’s life, and the mysteries that bring us closer to Him in our journey of life particulraly in the celebration of the liturgy. On Thursday the brothers also had a beautiful catechesis on the icons of the mysteries of the Rosary located in the Square of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Pinu. Friday then the Retreat closed with a eucharist celebrated in the same Sanctuary.

These days were also a beautiful opportunity for the friars from different communities to come together and share the beauty of the Augustinian religious life beyond the daily commitments and everything that usually shapes the days with so much activity. The days of the retreat also provide an occasion for a wonderful and calmer experience of prayer and an opportunity of spiritual renewal.

On Monday 23rd October, the Educational Community of St. Augustine College together with the Maltese Augustinian Province commemorated the 175th anniversary of the opening of the first scholastic year of St Augustine School at that time in the Augustinian Priory in Valletta. That was the beginning of the first Church School for Maltese children. This anniversary was commemorated this morning through a joyful celebration presided over by the Vicar General, H.E. Mons. Joseph Galea Curmi, under the distinguished Patronage of the Acting President Prof. Frank Bezzina, in the absence of the President of Malta who is abroad. H.E. Mons. Savio Hon Tai-Fai S.D.B. Apostolic Nuncio for Malta, wasa alos present together with representatives from the Secretariat of Catholic Education and several Augustinian religious who over the years worked or were students at the College as were also several other priests.

The celebration took place in the Parish Church of Saint Sebastian in Qormi where all the students of the College which today count around 800, and the members of the Staff, could gather. The center of the activity was the celebration of the Eucharist of thanksgiving. A good number of students took part in the celebration in various ways, particularly through joyful singing, reading, a short performance after the Gospel, presentation of symbols, the presence of the Air Scouts, and the service at the altar. A good number of educators and other members of the College staff also participated in the activity in various ways, and collaborated in the preparation and organization of the whole event.

Let us pray the Lord to continue to bless this Educational Community.

One of biggest projects as a Province in which probably almost all of as has served in one way or another is the College, and It is my desire to celebrate, through Circular letter, all those friars who over the years and today were or are still part of this experience.

It was practically still in the early years of our Province when the than Prior Provincial Fr. Gaetano Pace Forno led the Province into a new experience. The report of the Royal Commission of 1836, had clearly shown that one of the great deficiencies of the than Maltese Society was that of opportunities for the education of children and in a few years, the English Ruling Government began to open his first schools. Sensible to this reality, in 1847 the Prior Provincial wrote to the Superior General of the Order of Saint Augustine in Rome and shared with him his idea that the Province should invest in a free school for children. The Prior General quickly approved and expressed his satisfaction for the wonderful idea of ​​this social project which he called great and necessary. The same idea was then discussed and unanimously approved in the Provincial Council on August 31, 1848.

October 23, 1848, marks the opening of the first academic year of St Augustine School, which was at the time the first free Catholic School in Malta. Apart from the sensitivity to the real need of the children, there were undoubtedly other factors that motivated this initiative such as the large number of religious who could contribute to this project and the continuous effort of the Catholic Church to remain a valid presence in the Maltese Society, but above all what really strikes us is the fact that in all this it resulted to be a really prophetic project.

Surely it would not have passed from the minds of the religious of that time that this social project will go through so many developments over the years. Among these, it is worth mentioning: the continuous investment in spaces and resources; the challanges posed during the second world war; the decisions made when the religious could no longer cope with all the necessary commitment alone and then the introduction and collaboration with the laity; the expansion of the College; and several other factors. In a note that I found in the Provincial Archives, someone had written that during the years of the second world war the religious did their best to keep teaching the children in some way or another, even if the school doors had to be formally closed. Little did it perhaps cross our minds that we had to relive this story in our time when the Covid-19 Pandemic broke out and the doors of the College were closed again. Thanks to the current leadership, even this time the College committed itself to keep going and was one of the first to move into virtual systems that could continue to deliver learning to children in their homes. This really confirms the famous saying that history repeats itself, even if with far different circumstances, structures, and resources. The most beautiful thing of all is that beyond everything, what really kept repeating itself, is the spirit and commitment in giving the best to our kids.

Today we look at this educational mission and we give thanks to the Lord for everything he has done with us over the years. How wonderful it is to appreciate what was done by those who came before us in a continuous experience leading to all that is still being done today as in one long sucessful story. I would like to acknowledge all the friars who have worked at the College over the years and who are no longer with us today. The Lord welcomes them into his kingdom and gives them the eternal reward for what they have worked so hard. I also acknowledge all those who are still alive and who have worked in one way or another at the College. Surely their time and commitment at the College marked their lives just as much as we beleive that the mark of each one of us remains in the hearts of all students and families who were once part of the educational community of the College. Above all I acknowledge  the friars  who are fully committed in the College today, particularly our Community in Tal-Pieta who, apart from other responsibilities in the Province, animate above all this Educational Mission; the College Rector Fr. David Cortis, the Chaplain Fr. Terence Spiteri and the Prior of the Community Fr. Mario Abela. Thank you for the work you are doing on behalf of all of us, while on your behalf, we all live our presence and service in other services and communities around the islands and beyond.

Although this message is addressed particularly to the religious, I would not like to conclude these few words without acknowledging the growing number of lay people who closely collaborate with us in this mission, particularly the respective Heads and Assistant Heads, and all those who serve in every erea. The beauty of this whole story, both with so many friars over the years, and moreover with many lay people today, is the fact that we manage to bring together so many different characters who are united in one spirit and goal which is the educational mission of the new generation.

Let us ask the Lord to instill his spirit on the entire Educational Community of our College while helping us to continue to invest by any means possible in a structure that gives stability and continuity to this mission of ours.

Fr. Leslie Gatt osa

Prior Provincial

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