George Preca in his 70s

Early Foundations of the Society  of Christian Doctrine

Saint George Preca did not die as was expected. He outlived his father and doctor by many years, celebrating his 82nd birthday, the last before he passed away.

Saint George Preca, had been concerned with the fragile basis of religious teaching of the poorer Maltese. He was also aware that the Catholic faith in Malta needed to re-equip itself for the twentieth century. Malta was then a British colony, and it was experiencing the pain of rising nationalism.

As a deacon, George visited the Grand Harbour area and talk to the crew of different nationalities from the visiting ships and lead them into religious dialogue. He was also in contact with a group of young people whom he met in the open fields around St Cajetan church, Ħamrun. The first group of young people, whom he met at Ħamrun, were formed through constant pastoral care and personal initiative. That was his mark from the very beginning. He joined them as they returned from work, and in their spare time befriended them developing fruitful and providential relationships. As a newly-ordained priest at twenty-six years of age, this contact with the young people from Ħamrun, presented to him a wonderful opportunity to crystalise a deeply held concern for the formation of the laity.

From the group, he eventually chose Eugenio Borg (1886-1967), who was to benefit mostly from Fr Preca’s guidance. Fr Preca used to spend hours with Eugene reflecting on God’s Word from the Bible, especially St John’s gospel.

Fr Preca soon realised the need for some intensive reflection and those near to him noticed that after his daily morning Mass, he would retire for long periods in the upper part of his home.

Reflecting on this later on in life, he said that he would go up to the house loft  to meditate and reflect from the Bible, especially the Gospels. He remained devoted to this biblical reflection until his death and was able to disseminate biblical and spiritual tracts widely all through his life by means of the SDC.

George Preca was eager to teach and catechise. Throughout his life he would say that this was his particular mission: to instruct God’s people in the way of truth and justice. On 7 March 1907, after a long personal preparation, Fr Preca and his group of men began to meet regularly at a rented room in St Joseph High Road, Ħamrun. He slowly nurtured them into informed Christians and awakened in their hearts a strong and daring love for Jesus Christ. After some time, he gathered the group and suggested that those present who were married should focus on that commitment and they would be provided for spiritually through a different path. All Members were to be celibate and have a greater availability for the work ahead. In 1910 Fr Preca started a section for women – which flourished under the leadership of Giannina Cutajar.

This in essence was the beginning of the Society of Christian Doctrine. He strongly resisted the idea that he was the “Founder”, attributing this to St Paul. Fr Preca said that he was inspired by St Paul’s words to Timothy: “Everything you have heard me teach in public hand on to reliable people so that they in turn will be able to teach others.” (2 Tim 2:2). The SDC enjoyed the physical and active presence of its Founder for fifty-five years – until his death in 1962. His was indeed a daring vision: entrusting a teaching ministry to the laity with a system of a regular association for all Members which provided the opportunity for proper formation. This life-style in the church occurred at the beginning of the 20th century, and later ratified by Vatican II.