Forty years ago, on August 21, 1974, Malta lost the sterling services of Bishop Emmanuel Galea, who for several years had been an authentic inspiration to clergy and laity alike. Those who knew him consider it a blessing having been acquainted with such a low-profile witness for Christ; those who do not know him would do well to learn more about his virtues, which were so abundant.
Galea was born in Senglea on March 10, 1891, into a deeply religious family. He was baptised at the Senglea collegiate church the next day. He was the youngest son of the five children born to Joseph and Carmela Camilleri. His two brothers were Salvatore and Francesco, and his sisters were Giovanna and Giuseppina. They used to live at no. 237, Strada Due Porte, a house that no longer exists as it was razed by enemy attacks during World War II.
At the time of his elementary education, Galea received his first Christian instruction at the Institute for Catholic Education in Senglea, where, later on, he himself would become director. He studied at he Lyceum between 1903 and 1909. Having taken the decision to become a priest, he entered the Major Seminary and enrolled at the Royal University of Malta in 1910. From there he obtained a Bachelor of Literature degree on August 5, 1913, a Bachelor of Divinity on October 13, 1915, and that of Doctor of Divinity. He was also awarded the certificate of honour in the theology course of 1912-1916.
He journeyed on the road to priesthood hand in hand with Francesco, his older brother. On March 20, 1915, they were both ordained deacons by Archbishop Mauro Caruana at St John’s Co-Cathedral, and on December 18, 1915, the same archbishop ordained them as priests at the Cathedral in Mdina. Salvatore, their eldest brother, was already a priest. Perhaps the three brothers followed the example of their maternal uncle, the pious Canon Stephen Camilleri, who was the cantor of the Senglea collegiate church.
People used to travel long distances to hear him preach
Galea enjoyed teaching catechism to small children and adults. Even when he was still a young cleric, he used to teach catechism at St Julian’s church in Senglea. On August 2, 1919, he was appointed canon theologian of the collegiate chapter of Senglea. Appointed secretary to the same chapter of canons, he actively participated in the events that took place at Senglea in 1921 on the occasion of the solemn crowning of the statue of Maria Bambina. In 1939, Galea wrote the lyrics of the Innu Popolari lil Marija Bambina, a hymn set to music by Mro Ferdinando Falzon and devotedly sung locally and in faraway countries such as Australia.
With the cessation of World War I (1914-1918), Galea continued his postgraduate studies at the Gregorian University in Rome where, on June 22, 1921, he obtained a doctorate in canon law.
On his return from Rome he was appointed, from 1921 till 1932, prefect of studies and professor of Latin literature at the Archbishop’s Seminary. From 1930 until 1942 he was professor of canon law at the Royal University of Malta. After the death of Mgr Emmanuel Vassallo, in 1930 Galea was appointed secretary general at the Curia, a post he occupied till 1942. During this same period, Archbishop Mauro Caruana appointed him defender of the bond of the Ecclesiastical Tribunal. After the death of Mgr Enrico Dandria, on May 21, 1932, Galea was installed as canon theologian of the cathedral chapter.
In 1933, after the sudden death of Mgr Giuseppe Depiro, Archbishop Caruana asked him to become the director of the Institute of Jesus of Nazareth, Żejtun, an orphanage run by the Missionary Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth. This assignment gave Galea a golden opportunity through which he could fulfil his ambition to help poor and disadvantaged children. He continued to lead the institute until his death, 41 years later.
At the time of this appointment, Galea was living with his family at Tarxien, where his brother Salvatore was parish priest. When the latter died in office in 1935, the family returned to Senglea, but in 1939, on the outbreak of World War II, they moved to Żejtun. This period of time did not impede him in his mission of regularly hearing confessions in Senglea, Żejtun and Tarxien.
In the hearts of those whose confessions were lukewarm and rather indifferent, he inspired sincere repentance by urging them to see God’s own pain. On the other hand, to those who came to him ready to live a deeper spiritual life, he flung open the depths of God’s love.
He dedicated himself to the apostolate of preaching. With his style of clear, simple but profound preaching, he took active part in the popular missions held by the Missjoni ż-Żgħira. He preached in practically every parish, especially at the beginning and the conclusion of these missions. He was invariably well-prepared, going straight to the point, making use of two to three reflections. All this explains why his sermons were always followed with utmost interest and people used to travel long distances to hear him preach. The notes for his sermons which he used to write or type on small scraps of paper are still extant.
He also used his pen to spread the good news of salvation. Being an assiduous writer of short articles, he used this ability to propagate the teachings of the Church on many occasions. Up to the end of his life, he was a regular contributor to Leħen is-Sewwa and to other religious periodicals. Some of his articles were published posthumously.
Galea’s unfailing zeal to announce the Word of God was evident not only in his sermons and talks but also in an initiative that has endured to our day: the mechanical crib at the Żejtun Institute. Although this was and is still called a crib, it represents not only the Christmas scene but also the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.
Archbishop Caruana’s frail health necessitated the appointment of an auxiliary bishop. Therefore, at the request of the ailing archbishop himself, Pope Pius XII appointed Galea titular Bishop of Tralles in Asia and Auxiliary Bishop of Malta. He was consecrated bishop by Archbishop Caruana assisted by Bishop Michael Gonzi (at that time Bishop of Gozo) and Mgr Archdeacon Joseph Apap Bologna at the cathedral in Mdina on July 5, 1942. Already acting as pro-vicar since the retirement of Mgr Paolo Galea, Galea was now also appointed vicar-general.
As bishop, Galea did not lose the common touch. He kept up his practice of dedicating many hours to the confessional. At the chapel of the Jesus of Nazareth Institute, he had a packed timetable for confessions but would accept anybody who did not come in the prescribed time. On the most popular days for confession, like the first Friday of the month, he did not accept appointments: confessions for him were definitely a priority.
Galea never considered himself a possible successor to the incumbent bishop, nor, it seems, did anyone else. In fact, in 1944, Gonzi became the new Archbishop of Malta, and did not hesitate to confirm Galea both as auxiliary bishop and as vicar-general. Galea performed his duties meticulously and scrupulously. Gonzi trusted him completely, and at the same time Galea used to keep him informed about whatever was happening. He was careful not to do anything about which the Archbishop was in the dark.
He always gave good service not only to the archdiocese but also to Gonzi, who had several challenges to face, especially during the years of Church-Labour Party quarrels. He was also a source of silent inspiration and encouragement, rendering exemplary service with a cool mind and a warm heart. Although he was a conservative by temperament and an accurate enforcer of canon law, Galea was able to preserve his pleasant and gentle style in the most difficult of circumstances.
He inspired confidence in all those who came in immediate contact with him. While he was very open to the opinions and ideas of others, and was perfectly at ease with people of all temperaments, he would neither budge nor compromise on matters of principle. However, when principles were not involved, Galea never thought that readiness to compromise showed weakness of character. He believed it revealed strength of character and authentic leadership in action.
Along with his duties and responsibilities in the highest echelons of the Church in Malta, Galea took part in a number of sessions of Vatican Council II that lasted from 1962 until 1965. He addressed the plenary and the individual specialised sessions in a masterly way and contributed especially to the discussions on episcopal collegiality and on the role of the Church in the modern world.
He enjoyed visiting parishes all over Malta to confer the sacrament of Confirmation, to instal new parish priests and to take part in the liturgical celebrations of the parish titular feasts. He would also joyfully accept to deliver Lenten sermons wherever he was invited. Much to his credit, Galea was admired by clergy and laity alike for his innate prudence and modesty of manners, helped by his charism of being a very receptive listener.
On November 2, 1965, Pope Paul VI, on the recommendation of Gonzi, appointed Galea as assistant to the papal throne on the occasion of the golden jubilee of his priestly ordination. In Senglea, on December 26, celebrations were organised to express joy at this merited honour conferred on Galea. He himself celebrated a pontifical Mass during which he was assisted by the Senglea chapter.
Three years later, in 1969, the Confederation of Civic Councils awarded him the Gold Medal of Merit saying that over the previous 29 years, Galea had performed innumerable deeds for the spiritual and temporal benefit of the Maltese islands. Not that there was any need, but this continued to confirm the gracious attitude ingrained in Galea.
Galea continued his pastoral activities to the last days of his life. On the morning of Sunday, August 18, 1974, he participated in the liturgical solemnities of the Dingli titular feast. Then he went back to Żejtun. In the evening he felt unwell and on the next day he was taken to St Luke’s Hospital where, on Wednesday morning, August 21, he passed away at the venerable age of 83.
His remains were laid in state in the chapel of the institute at Żejtun for the last farewell from the crowds that queued to pay their respects. A funereal cortege was held the next day from the church of Our Lady of Victories in Valletta to St John’s Co-Cathedral. There, huge crowds and many priests participated in the funeral Mass presided over by Gonzi.
When principles were not involved, Galea never thought compromise showed weakness
The funeral then proceeded to Żejtun were people from all walks of life accompanied Galea’s mortal remains to the place of burial at the cemetery of St Roque, practically a stone’s throw away from his cherished institute where he was missed so much.
It is surprising that only a few months after his death, on January 7, 1975, Gonzi had already authorised a prayer asking for the glorification also on earth of this pious bishop.
On November 5, 1990, Galea’s remains were exhumed and transferred to the side of the chapel of the Institute of Jesus of Nazareth, Żejtun, where they were interred in a marble sarcophagus. On June 24, 2003, Archbishop Joseph Mercieca authorised the Ecclesiastical Tribunal to begin the process for the beatification of Galea.
A man insignificant in stature and appearance, Galea was revered by everybody in all strata of society. His nearness to Christ through prayer and study helped him to have no other concern than the spiritual salvation of his people. He was also a great devotee of the Blessed Virgin. His rosary beads were frequently seen in his hands. He daily spent long moments of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.
Both as a priest and as a bishop he was known by all as the apostle of the confessional. He encouraged prayers for priests and the monthly night adoration for their holiness. These qualities sprang from his personal knowledge of Christ. Love for Christ, expressed in his tireless service to the Church, was the heart of the spirituality and apostolic activity of this great prelate.
In character, Galea was very reserved by nature and was hardly one to boast of his achievements, and only a close circle of friends knew of those good deeds. This charisma did not change with his high responsibilities. He remained unassuming and ready to crack a joke. He did not seek the high posts he was entrusted with, and when he was informed of his appointment as bishop, for a time he lost his habitual serenity, a fact which was observed by his sister Giuseppina, as yet uninformed of his promotion.
Another aptitude of Galea, unfamiliar to many, was his talent for drawing. People very close to him observed him drawing geometric designs while listening to people with attention or during oral examinations. He used this natural gift to benefit the Institute of Jesus of Nazareth, Żejtun, in order to design the second and third floor, as well as the chapel, with its ornamentation and the belfry. Going through his designs it is amazing to see their finesse and the range of ideas, especially those created for the cornices.
Galea spent all his pastoral life as a humble and intelligent labourer in the vineyard of the Lord. Indeed, he was a dedicated priest and a loyal bishop, well versed in theology, canon law and a new style of communicating the Word of God to others, who will always remember him as a saintly bishop deeply immersed in God and always so intimately close to Him. Many pray for his intercession with God for some special graces and there is a movement to have him elevated to the altars as a blessed soul.
As part of the canonisation process, the Metropolitan Chapter, on July 2, 2002, chose Mgrs Edgar Attard, Lawrence Cachia, and Aloysius Deguara, who since then has been appointed Vice-Postulator of the Cause of Canonisation, to establish an archive consisting of a wide variety of documentation on Galea’s personal life and his sacred ministry as priest, canon, monsignor, auxiliary bishop and Titular Bishop of Tralles in Asia.
This archive, which was formerly kept at the Archbishop’s Palace in Valletta, and, in February 2010, was transferred to the Cathedral Archives at Mdina, includes certificates, diplomas, private and confidential letters, newspaper cuttings, off-prints of his articles and personal correspondence. In addition, it contains writings of a personal nature mostly related to his evangelical and theological speeches and sermons.
As a servant of God, Galea is certainly a tribute to the Church in Malta and an honour to Senglea, his home town.