A Personal History by Fr. David Farrugia, OP

“Many people have already related the events that have taken place among us………yet after I myself had gone carefully over the whole story….it seemed good to me to write an orderly account…..” (Lk. 1).

I have been asked quite a few times to write something about myself, like a very, very short biography. I never wanted to do it unless I give it a spiritual flavor, seeing the hand of God at work in our
human history.  A life vested with the human condition, but enhanced by the Divine .

I was born in Malta, one of the three Maltese islands situated in the middle of the Mediterranean sea. The small tMaltese crossown where I was born is called Vittoriosa situated over the Grand harbor, a harbor of natural beauty.  Vittoriosa, formerly called Birgu, is where the Great Siege of 1565 took place. It was here that the Ottoman Empire was defeated by the Knights of Malta and the Maltese.

The islands have a history that goes back to 3,000 B.C . Malta was occupied by many  great powers,  the last one was Britain .  The British were actually called by the Maltese to drive out Napoleon and the French power, and here the  Maltese islands became “protectorate” of the Empire for 120 yrs. and then in 1964  gained independence within the Commonwealth.

Malta, during world war II, was the most heavily bombed area in the world, owing to the presence of the British Fleet in the Grand Harbour.  Malta was a strategic place in the Mediterranean Sea.  German forces stationed in Sicily and North Africa were determined to put the Allied Forces out of action. There were days when an air raid went for hours. Germany needed Malta badly, so that it could control the Med. Sea. The people in the harbor area were told to evacuate. Many of the town people including my family took shelter in a Dominican Priory, hoping it is safer. Again we were forced to leave. That same week the Priory was leveled to the ground. Luckily nobody was there. A miracle, for there was over 300 people before it collapsed. Our house was destroyed; again we were lucky, for we were in another part of the island.  We took shelter underground, where we spent most nights, sleeping on straw mattresses. Food was rationed, lot of buildings was destroyed and many people lost their lives.  You could hear prayers echoing in the shelters. The Rosary was said almost all day long. Not enough food, but lots of prayers!

The village we moved to is called Mosta. Here, is the famous rotunda; the plans were based on the Pantheon, in Rome. It is the third largest unsupported dome in the world. This shrine is dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption. The priests at this parish were totally dedicated to the people of God. They were holy and friendly priests. Later, when I was a high school   student, I worked as a part time
custodian and also became an altar server. I can say that my vocation to the priesthood germinated in this wonderful church and environment.  I together with others took shelter in the basement of the church many a night. The basement was a burial ground, so there were times when you had to make room so that someone can be buried. As soon as the burial finished, you throw a blanket over the fresh
closed grave and napped. On April 9, 1942 in the afternoon, while many people including my family were taking shelter, the news spread quickly,’ the Rotunda was hit.  A large German bomb went through the dome,  a four feet of lime stone, rolled over the floor of the church and came to a stop right at the sanctuary stairs. It did not explode, and the 300 people in the church, during an Adoration service, were safe and no one was injured. The same type of bomb is now on display, its 4 ft. high and 2 feet in diameter. Every year on the 9th of April a Mass of thanksgiving is celebrated.

Fuel and food for the Allied forces and for the natives was in dire need.  Nothing could go out or come in. There was a time when surrender was not an option. Great Britain, on the advice of Winston Churchill tried the last resort. A convoy of 14 merchant ships was sent to Malta. The convoy was covered by aircraft carriers, battleships and the air force. This was on the 10th of August, 1942.
Prayers were ordered in all churches for Malta and England.  Only three ships made it to the Grand Harbor and two others, badly damaged, remained afloat and arrived later. This happened on the 15 of August, feast of the Assumption of Mary. This event is known by the Maltese as the ‘Convoy of Santa Maria ‘. Now at least the forces had some of the much needed fuel and food.

Once, while taking shelter beneath the stairwell, a bomb fell right in the middle of the square, a huge boulder goes up in the air and came down on our skylight while we were home, and landed just in front of us. My mother, my brother and I rushed out to go to the shelter.  It’s the first time that I saw the victims of war. Six people died in the square, one woman was beheaded by shrapnel.  Again it was a miracle that we were not even hurt. The enemy started losing power and peace came to the Islands, and finally the surrender of the enemy. The Maltese still have great devotion toward Mary and hope in the Almighty. They still believe in these two great miracles.Fr David Image for Blog

The war over, life returned to normal. I finished elementary school, went to a Dominican college, named after St. Albert the Great and then started my novitiate and my studies for the priesthood at St. Thomas Aquinas, school of philosophy and theology.  After I finished my studies I was ordained a priest in 1960 at John’s Co-Cathedral, the Conventual church of the Knights of Malta, built in 1500. (BY the way, the Dominicans arrived in Malta in 1492). After ministering for a year and a half, I was sent to minister in the USA. Here I served as campus minister at U.C. Riverside for nine years, ministered in Los Angeles, Reno, at ST. Thomas Cathedral, chaplain to the Christian Brothers in Napa, St. Dominic San Francisco, associate novice master in Kentfield, pastor at Our Lady of the Mountain, Ashland, OR, Pastor at ST. Dominic, Benicia and pastor at St. Mary Magdalene, Berkeley and finally after 50 yrs. of priesthood, back to Benicia in semi-retirement.

There, you have a very, very short biography of my somewhat interesting life. Here, I would like to sum up by quoting St. John Paul II, “I cannot end these reflections as a priest, without expressing to the Lord of the harvest my deepest gratitude for the gift of a vocation, for the grace of priesthood”. “God, you are great and glorious; we marvel at your power’.

God bless you and yours. 

Fr. David , O.P