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Monday, 28th May 2018

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Anniversary feature

‘I belong to the community’


On the seventh anniversary of the death of Bro. Louis Camilleri, MALCOLM J. NAUDI spoke to three of his surviving sisters and to his nephew about their recollections of this saintly man


The three surviving sisters of the late Bro Louis Camilleri FSC sat around the kitchen table at his youngest sister’s house in Ta’ Xbiex, along with his nephew Kenneth Muscat.

Only one of them, Catherine (Kitty) Camilleri, today 86, has clear recollections of her elder brother when she was a child because the other two, Maria Concetta (Cettina) Buttigieg and Beatrice (Bice) Muscat, the youngest of Bro Louis’s ten siblings (at 77), were born after he had left Malta to go to France for his novitiate.

“He was a very happy boy,” Kitty, who was about 5 at the time, recalled. “Our grandmother lived next door to us and the houses were interconnected at first floor level. Every time he went home, he went to Nanna first. He would walk in and say, ‘Nanna, what a lovely smell!’

“Nanna helped with his education when he studied at the De La Salle school in Cospicua and she continued to help out when he joined the Brothers.”


Religious vocation

Anthony, as he was known before he become a Brother, never gave his mother any trouble when he was a child. “My mother never told him to go to study,” Kitty said. The family, who were devoutly Catholic, were elated when he told them of his decision to take up a religious vocation.

Soon after he decided he wanted to join the Freres, he was sent to Avignon in France, where he spent almost seven years. This was partly because World War II broke out and, for almost three years, until the day he arrived back in Malta on a merchant vessel, the family did not hear any news from him.

Then, one day in August 1945, Kitty recalls that her mother told her: “Kitty, let’s go upstairs and start a Novena to St Joseph.” Three days later, the family received a phone call from the Customs House. It was her father’s brother, who told him: “Mel, guess who is here? Come quickly! Bro. Louis is here.”

Kitty recalled that her father, who would always rely on her late sister Marianne to prepare his clothes, knew where everything was and was out in a flash, riding on his bicycle to the port since they did not own a car at the time.


Fluent French

Bro Louis returned from France speaking fluent French – it saved him from the Germans who thought he was a local – and had almost forgotten Maltese. But he picked it up gradually, although his French accent and way of thinking were never far from the surface.

On his return from France he would visit the family every Sunday. Bice was then just three years old and, when he first saw her, and he said to his mother, “Mum, who is this?”

Even as his youngest sisters were growing up, they saw little of him since they were borders at St Joseph’s School in Paola and were only allowed home one weekend a month.

Cettina remembers that Bro Louis always carried a small copy of the New Testament in French with him in his pocket: “He would tell my mother: ‘Ma, I am going to have a look at the garden.’ He would do his rounds and I would see him reading.”


'A popular man'

Eventually, Bice went on to work with Bro Louis as a Grade 4 teacher at Stella Maris College: “Bro Louis was a popular man. At our daily assembly there were times when he would come down and go on the platform and relate a story to them. ‘Good morning, dear friends’ – that is how he referred to them and they liked it.”

Bro Louis’ nephew Kenneth, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, got caught up in the Church Schools dispute in the 1980s and it was Bro Louis who encouraged him to go to study abroad and helped him fill his application to attend the California State University of Hayward. He spent seven years there, obtaining a B.Sc. Hons degree in Business Administration, followed by an MBA.

Kenneth stayed with his aunt Kitty, who spent 52 years as a nun in California. Bro Louis would tell him constantly “Bon courage”.

Bro Louis was highly dedicated to his work and once, when he had not been home for some time, and his mother asked him what had become of him, Kitty remembers his reply: “Ma, I belong to the community. My family is the convent.”

Refused gifts

He refused any gift from the family and any new clothes they gave him he would pass on to those more in need. Cettina recalls him saying: “I want to die poor.”

Bro Louis believed strongly in the power of prayer. He would bring his sisters together, and nearly once a month invite them to pray, preparing hymns, saying the Rosary and praying to the Blessed Venerable Exupérien (Adrien) Mas.

If you have an experience of Bro Louis, the cause for his beatification would like to hear from you. Send an e-mail to A Mass to celebrate the seventh anniversary of his death is being celebrated today at 6.30 p.m. at Gzira parish church.


Biographical notes

Bro Louis was born Anthony Camilleri on September 1, 1923, to Manuel and Carmela née Cachia, the second-born of 11 children, six boys and five girls. The family lived in the vicinity of the Xarolla windmill between Safi and Zurrieq and owned a mineral water factory in Zurrieq with the Tal-Qattus brand, apart from some fields where they cultivated their daily needs.

Still, life was hard, especially during the late 1920s and early 1930s when there was the Great Depression. He was educated at the local government school in Zurrieq up to the age of 12. He then spent a year attending the secondary school in Tarxien since there was no class at that level in Zurrieq.

A year later, on his mother’s suggestion, he went to the school of the Brothers (Freres) in Cospicua to study as a dockyard apprentice. He also attended the local MUSEUM, went to Mass practically every day and went to Confession once a week.

It was thanks to his membership of the MUSEUM and because as he told me in an interview published in issue 4 of Globetrotter magazine for September/October in The Sunday Times in 2000, “I wanted to see where God wanted me to go”, that he joined the Freres.

Since Malta was part of the province of Avignon, he was sent to France for his novitiate in 1938. He got stuck there during World War II and only returned in 1945, having taken his first vows in 1941. He took his last vows in 1948, having joined the staff of De La Salle College.

His greatest contribution as a teacher was in the same Dockyard apprenticeship courses he had attended before the war. They were a great success. Bro Louis was appointed headmaster of De La Salle College in 1968. In 1971 he was sent to Stella Maris College, Gzira, as assistant headmaster where he started the Sixth Form course.

He was provincial of the De La Salle Brothers in Malta in the Eighties, set up the Signum Fidei fraternity, which he led and met once a month in Birzebbuga until his death, and when I interviewed him in 2000, aged 77, he was back at Stella Maris College as headmaster and spiritual director. He died, aged 87, on May 29, 2011.