Joseph Bonanno was born on June 18, 1882 and grew up in Senglea, a city which, since its founding in 1554, had given birth to personalities who made a name for themselves and enriched the prestige of their hometown. He was baptized two days later by Canon Paul Ferris, at the Collegiate Church of Senglea, and was diligently brought up by his parents Joseph and Carmen. born Demajo in a wealthy family who fostered strong Christian values.
Bonanno grew up with decisive foresight and early on showed a desire to respond to God’s invitation and embrace the priestly vocation. No one in his family or among his relatives had inherited titles of nobility; nevertheless, the nobility was rooted in his generous heart.
He began his studies at the Collège Saint-Ignace de Saint-Julien and continued his priestly studies at the University of Saint-Thomas d’Aquin in Rabat. During his studies he was highly esteemed and acclaimed by Jesuits and Dominicans.
On January 19, 1904, while still a sub-deacon, he was elected canon of the collegiate chapter of Senglea. In the meantime, the Archpriest Canon Francesco Briffa chose him as director of the Institute of Catholic Education, founded in Senglea in 1886 for the training of adolescents. From this institute have emerged many priestly vocations, irrefutable testimony to the precious work accomplished by this energetic cleric.
The bishop born in Senglea, Monsignor Salvatore Gaffiero, ordained Bonanno deacon on December 17, 1904 and priest on December 23, 1905, at the collegiate church of Senglea. On Christmas Day 1905 he celebrated his first solemn mass in Senglea.
As a priest, Can. Joseph Bonanno has been appointed prosecutor of the Conservatoire Saint-Joseph de Cospicua. He later became chaplain and counselor in several monasteries of nuns and consecrated virgins. He also became director of the Figlie di Maria de Senglea and subsequently procurator of the collegiate church of Senglea. Despite the fact that he actively took care of all these responsibilities, he never neglected the young people of the city.
In 1912, he worked in collaboration with Father Joseph Darmanin, a priest recognized for his wisdom and insight, in the organization of the Domus Pius X, which developed into a Catholic Action Center for young people, named Saint Louis de Gonzague. This organization has held conferences and speeches which have helped to form true Christian consciousnesses essential for those who wish to bear witness to Christ in the sphere of secular life.
In 1917, at a time when Fr. Angelo Raggio, provost of the Oratorians of the Convent of St. Philip in Senglea, was very ill, Canon Bonanno was appointed provost coadjutor. For 10 years he strived to contribute to the spiritual and material needs of those who lived in the vicinity of the Convent and Church of Our Lady of Porto Salvo, Senglea.
When, on April 25, 1920, the Holy See promulgated the decree by which the titular statue of Senglea Maria bambina was to be solemnly crowned, Bonanno was chosen to serve on the organizing committee which was quickly established to plan and execute the related festivities. The coronation of the statue of the Virgin Mary then took place on September 4, 1921.
On January 7, 1927, Canon Joseph Adami, archpriest of Senglea, was appointed member of the chapter of the cathedral of Mdina. Shortly after, on January 19, 1927, Bonanno was appointed vicar vicar of the parish of Senglea. Since then, the parish has come under his care and attention. After receiving the apostolic letters in the name of Pope Pius XI, Canon Joseph Bonanno was granted guardianship of the parish.
Archbishop Dom Mauro Caruana, OSB, appointed him Archpriest, and on June 17, 1927, Bonanno took a solemn oath in the Curia. On June 21, 1927, the Vicar General Mgr Luigi Camilleri gave him possession of the parish. The rapture then shown by the parishioners showed their conviction that they were in the process of becoming a true “shepherd”. This certainty was fully realized during the 12 years during which Archpriest Bonanno worked tirelessly for the good of the “flock” entrusted to him.
As Archpriest of Senglea, Bonanno was the true model of a Christian leader. Without giving up any of his pastoral duties, he worked hard to adorn the temple of Maria bambina. Among the works he accomplished, it suffices to mention the painting of the vault of the choir, with scenes showing the victory of the Maltese and the Knights in the Great Siege of 1565, painted by Professor Joseph Briffa in 1934. Reconstruction of the dome, with its decoration and painting by the same artist in 1937, was another gargantuan undertaking.
Previously, Bonanno had decided to get rid of the old organ and replace it with one made by Laudani e Giudici, which he himself financed. Unfortunately, this organ, put in place on November 2, 1930, was destroyed during the aerial bombardments of World War II on the nearby shipyard. Sadly, Briffa’s paintings also suffered the same fate when the Basilica of Senglea was almost completely destroyed.
Archpriest Bonanno strove to help the poor and needy. Benefactor of many institutes and poor families, he was particularly interested in the well-being of mothers. He believed that the prosperity of each family depended on the respective mothers. He founded the Association of Christian Mothers in Senglea, with the aim of offering mothers help and sound advice in order to accomplish their tasks well.
During his tenure as Archpriest, the religious and social activity of the parish flourished. the Xirka tal-Isem Imqaddes ta ‘Alla, founded in Malta in 1928 by Fr. Gérard Paris, OP, settled in Senglea on January 11, 1931. In June 1931, the first parish Eucharistic Congress was celebrated in Senglea. In 1935, encouraged by Canon John Theuma and Father Michael Azzopardi, Bonanno agreed to create the first parish pastoral council in Senglea.
Catholic Action, very active in Senglea since its creation, is intimately linked and closely linked to the Bonanno family. Bonanno cherished Catholic Action, contributed to its expansion, was its apostle and, with his family, was its great benefactor.
When the National Theater, in Victory Street, Senglea, was gutted and rumors circulated that it was for sale, along with an adjacent house, Bonanno and his brother Charles decided to buy both the theater and the house. for the use of Catholic Action.
the Azione Cattolica headquarters founded in Senglea, is undoubtedly a monument to Bonanno’s affection for Catholic Action and, where appropriate, a marble plaque at the entrance to this locality today commemorates the generosity of the Bonanno family.
In 1936, Canon Vincent Camilleri asked Bonanno to take care of the altar boys. The archpriest warmly accepted and, thanks to this initiative, these boys and young people began to learn Gregorian chant and liturgical ceremonies. It was the start of an organization piccolo clero to the parish.
In August 1937, Bonanno received the title of prelate of onore and, therefore, began to be called Monsignor. Toward Bonanno’s last days as Archpriest, the dark clouds of war began to gather on the Maltese horizon. All of Malta was to be affected but Senglea was to suffer much more than other localities.
Tired and in pain, he began to feel the burden of leading the ward. On December 20, 1939, when the war was still in its infancy, Bishop Caruana announced the appointment of Archpriest Bonanno as Monsignor of the Cathedral of Malta, where he was installed on January 4, 1940. Nevertheless, Bishop Bonanno did not dismiss his sense of duty. Indeed, the archbishop made him depositary of the Amministrazioni pie of the diocese and the government appointed him a member of the Committee for Aid to the Poor.
Such a generous and benevolent priest could only be respected and praised by all. This admiration and appreciation are clearly evidenced by the festivities organized for his priestly jubilee in 1930, and when he was elected member of the Metropolitan Chapter. In addition, the great master appointed him conventual chaplain of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem.
After a short illness, Bishop Joseph Bonanno submitted to the will of God, and rested in the peace of the Lord on January 4, 1942, at 2, Piazza Porta dei Greci, Mdina, at the age of 59. He is buried in the crypt of the Cathedral of Medina. An epitaph in Latin, which can still be seen today to the left of the entrance to the sacristy of the cathedral, recalls this prelate of great stature.
Bishop Bonanno’s life was one of intertwining zeal for the glory of God and cordiality for the good of souls. The lovable, respectable, agreeable, honorable figure of this priest, who led the parish of Senglea for 12 years with fatherly affection and the wisdom of a learned leader, never fades.
It is more than fitting to remember the life of this zealous priest, godfather of the poor and help of the sick, in this 80th year of his passing, and as a living sign of the Good Samaritan, he truly embodied the mercy of Christ for us all. .
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