Fr Harry Formosa SJ - A tribute

Around nine o’clock in the morning of October 9, 2013 Fr. Harry Formosa breathed his last and his soul went to meet his Risen Lord. The very large gathering of Jesuits, relatives, and friends, which filled the spacious parish church of  Naxxar in the afternoon of the next day bore testimony, if any were needed, to the love and respect in which he was held.

Harry was born in Vittoriosa on 19 December, 1936, son of Michael and Maryanne , nèe Agius, last but one in a family of three boys and three girls. He had his secondary schooling in the Lyceum where he was often top student. His deep spiritual formation he owed to his parents and to the Society of Christian Doctrine (MUSEUM) of which he became a full member following his two older brothers.

In 1954 he joined the Society of Jesus at Loyola House Noviciate, Naxxar, where he also did his Juniorate studies.  In 1958 he went for Philosophy to Heythrop College in Oxfordshire and London, graduating  Lic. Phil. in 1961.  Three years of Regency followed, the first year of which (196-62), was as at Naxxar, teaching Latin and Greek to Juniors and Novices. The next year he was teacher and Prefect of boys at SAC.  He went to the USA in 1964 where he started a Masters programme in Classics at Loyola University Chicago. From 1964 to 1968 he pursued studies at the Bellarmine School of Theology, N. Aurora, obtaining his Licentiate in Theology in 1968.  During his time at Aurora he carried on with his studies of Classics and French and took an M.A from Loyola U Chicago in these subjects in 1966. He was ordained priest at St. Joseph’s Church, Aurora, on 8 June, 1967. The following year besides his Licentiate from Bellarmine he concurrently obtained an M.A. in Theology from Loyola.

Back in Malta in 1968 he joined the teaching staff for Novices and Juniors and was Director of the Comprehensive year for [?]. He also taught at SAC. At the same time he was Vocations’ Promoter and Director of the Pre-Noviciate.

In 1971-72 he made his final year of spiritual formation, the Tertianship, at St. Beuno’s in North Wales leading to final vows, his Solemn Profession, at Mount St. Joseph, Mosta on 5th November of 1972.

The following years saw him undertake very many responsibilities in Malta. From 1972-74 he was Rector of Loyola House, Director of the Pre-Noviciate, Socius to the Master of Novices, Co-ordinator of  Vocations Promotion, and Member of the Ignatian Spirituality Centre , besides teaching at SAC. In 1974 he transferred to Dar Manwel Magri, the University residence at tal-Qroqq, where he was House Superior and Novice Master while remaining Director of the Pre-Novitiate as well as Co-ordinator of Vocations Promotion.

His eleven-year long stint as a missionary started in 1979 where he taught Theology at Kenya’s National Seminary, St. Thomas Aquinas, in Nairobi, and also served as Spiritual Director and for many years Prefect of Studies. He was much loved by his students and colleagues. During this time Harry also found time to give some retreats to religious sisters. Harry learned Swahili, the lingua franca for the whole of Kenya, well and was quite fluent and preached in it. 

As Fr Provincial said in his homily at his funeral, Harry was a man of God. God was first, foremost, and always, his love and concern – a holy obsession.  His recent book Sibt ’l Alla fid-Deżert is a touching expression of that love and a clear profession of the faith on which it was based.  Harry’s faith was tried in his long and brave struggle with cancer and faith shone more brightly for that trial.

His other characteristic was a deep and uncomplicated love for people.  Wherever he was based in his priestly life he befriended people of all ages and conditions, from young children to seasoned politicians. It was typical of him to remember the birthdays of so many friends and acquaintances.

These two loves were accompanied by a deep simplicity of soul. It was not for nothing that among us who knew him well it was often jokingly said that original sin had skipped him. Like Nathanael he was truly an Israelite without malice. And with all that he was a highly intelligent man with a talent for simple exposition. 

Victor Jaccarini. SJ

facebook youtube twitter flickr