A Gentleman of God

A Tribute to the late Rev Prof Maurice Eminyan SJ

A diminutive man in stature,  but in possession of a great and wise mind, generously applied to the service of the world, Prof Fr Maurice Eminyan SJ was, in the words of so many who knew him, a great and gentle man.

Born in Valletta in 1922, the seventh of eight children, young Maurice was no stranger to the multi-cultural aspect of the world. His great-grandfather, a Catholic Armenian, escaped persecution and settled in Libya, which was then under Italian rule. This Italian influence remained even after the family moved to Malta, and Maurice was sent to an Italian school in Valletta for eight years.

It will come as no surprise to all who knew him that Maurice’s brilliant mind shone through from a very early age, and at the age of fifteen he felt inclined to become an architect… However, following a retreat held at St Aloysius College for boys from the Valletta Catholic Action Club, he was strongly drawn by the Ignatian Spirituality he had come to know. In September 1939, Maurice sailed for Sicily to join the Jesuit novitiate at Bagheria. And there began a journey that would last 71 years in the service of God.

In 1943, together with three other Maltese Jesuit students, Maurice Eminyan SJ crawled through a barbed wire fence away from war-torn Italy into Switzerland, and from then on there was no looking back. Switzerland, Italy, Malta, England, saw Maurice through work and study, and finally, ordination to the priesthood in the United States in 1952, and solemn profession as a Jesuit in 1957.

For his doctoral thesis Fr Maurice Eminyan SJ chose the subject “The Salvation  of non-Christians” which obtained a “Summa cum Laude” grade. Later the dissertation was published under the title Theology of Salvation which the publishers of America magazine chose as the ‘book of the year’.

Fr Eminyan is perhaps best known by most for his prolific writings both of academic theology and of popularised Vatican II theology, publishing no less than 26 books, as well as theological articles, chapters and countless contributions in local and foreign publications. The Sunday Times carried commentaries on the Sunday Gospels by Fr Eminyan every Sunday for many years. 

A Jesuit per excellence but also a man who loved his family, Fr Eminyan is remembered by his niece Victoria with these words: “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honour you all the days of my life” are vows which uncle Maurice not only asked couples to exchange in the several weddings he celebrated, but indeed a commitment he practiced himself on the multitude of occasions people sought his advice, whether it were of a personal nature or other, whether he was in the best of health or otherwise, whether it entailed travelling or remaining put, until his very last days when he proclaimed that his work has been done to the best of his ability and he felt ready to meet his creator.  

Uncle Maurice was always the backbone for many a member of his family and not only did he have a good listening ear but he followed it through until he was satisfied that whoever he was helping was no longer limping.  The word “NO” was simply not on his agenda. 

Uncle Maurice was Advisor, Author, Chaplain, Counsellor, Consoler, Dean, Professor, Provincial, Tour-Leader and the friends he made throughout his life are uncountable.’

Among Fr Eminyan’s many contributions to Maltese and international society was the co-founding of the Malta Ecumenical Council and his dedicated teaching of theology to generations of priests at the University of Malta where he was Professor of Dogmatic Theology and Ecumenism, and later Dean ,continuing at the Seminary when the Faculty of Theology at the University was suppressed in 1978). In the 60s Fr Eminyan started theology university courses for lay people, which have continued ever since;  he was a member of the council of the Cana Movement from its beginnings.

He was Chairman of the Diocesan Mass Media Commission, and is also known for his contributions for a number of years in the weekly religious programme “Djalogu” on Malta Television. For over 30 years Fr Maurice Eminyan SJ offered his support and spiritual direction in the Rinascita Cristiana movement, and the number of retreats he gave to religious and lay persons are countless.

Fr Eminyan headed the Maltese German Circle and serviced the German Catholic Church, and the Maltese-German Community, which won him the highest tribute  the German Government can pay to indivuduals – The Bundesverdienst Kreuz.

In the words of the present Jesuit Provincial, Fr Paul Pace SJ, ‘Fr Eminyan was a man who knew how to combine great intelligence with practical wisdom, a strong leadership with invariable gentleness and deep respect for the person in front of him. He always had a warm word of welcome and of appreciation. A man whose administrative capabilities and achievements, both as Jesuit Provincial in the early 60s and as Dean and President of the Faculty of Theology during the troubled 80’s were often belied by his low key approach.  A man with a clear vision of the Church as outlined by the Second Vatican Council, and who was persistently committed to translate this in practice, especially by empowering lay people to take their rightful place in the Church offering them a solid formation.’

Fr Maurice Eminyan SJ passed away peacefully at Loyola House, Naxxar, on Tuesday 14th December, 2010. His  funeral Mass took place on Thursday 16th December, at 2.00pm at the Jesuit Church in Valletta.




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