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Danke, Fr Victor!




von Tony Gilford

Fotos: Susi Underwood, Andreas Blum

Victor Camilleri was born in Hamrun, a village in the Grand Harbour area, Malta, on 18 November 1944.  His father worked as a prison officer at the main prison Corradino Correctional, in Valletta Road, Paolo, whose motto is “Suavis Aspero” meaning “Firm but Gentle”.  His mother was a housewife, as became the lot of most women in Malta in those days. Victor was the second youngest of five children –  he had two brothers and two sisters.  Life in Malta in post-war Europe was hard, poor prospects of work let alone a career.  In the villages no cinema, theatre, television (often not even radio).  Many Maltese came to England and found work in London or as merchant navy labourers.

Just across the street from the Camilleri house were the Franciscan Friars. The primary school and the boys‘ lyceum had many from the religious fraternity among the staff. The school mass, prayers and catechism were a part of everyday life for all children. Victor became entranced by these Franciscan friars just across the road, their services, music and song, their evident joy and fervour – such a band of brothers.  He was quite young when he gave up his idea of becoming a doctor of men’s bodies and to take up the challenge of healing souls.  He had been a regular altar server from the age of four and at fifteen he made his decision.  That was in 1959. His oldest sister Mary had already chosen to be a nun in 1957, becoming Sister Gertrude, in the Order of Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, England.  Victor told how every three years the Chapter of Franciscans celebrated all together at St Publius Church, The Granaries, Floriana (where Pope Benedict XVI later visited on 18 April 2010) and he found himself so moved by their spirit that he decided to join them.

He spent two years as a curate in Malta. Then on 18 September 1971 Father Victor came to London to work as a curate at the Maltese Chaplaincy in Victoria.  The Maltese community in London was growing larger through immigration and increasing family size.  His community work came under the archdioceses of both Westminster and Southwark but his main allegiance was with the Malta Franciscan Provincial.  Soon after arriving he became a chaplain to The Apostleship of the Sea at The Queen Victoria Seamen’s Rest in Poplar which is managed by the Methodist Church, giving assistance to seamen, former military servicemen, the homeless, etc. The previous seamen’s centre at Anchor House in Canning Town has been rebuilt as a centre for homeless men and women in London as part of The Anchor House Movement.

Father Victor’s work with the growing and spreading Maltese community involved him in studying law and reforms.  He found a need to learn about employment law, immigration law, housing and benefits rights etc. He needed to find an official base to work from and The St Boniface German Mission Church, Whitechapel, was suggested.  In 1975 he came to us at St Boniface and the hospitality and welcome he was offered by Father Felix Leushacke in the priest house and Klara Elsner in Wynfrid House were most heart-warming. It enabled him to share the St Boniface Church facilities with the Maltese community for their own Sunday celebrations of mass and offer baptisms, communion, matrimony and funeral services there.

Often he celebrated mass as subdeacon with Father Simml, Father Leushacke, Father Systermann and the later priests chosen for London by the Pallottines or the German Bishops Conference: Fr Schmickler, Fr Schulte the Danzigger, Fr Siebers, Fr Weiss, Fr Heinz Medoch, Fr Christian Dieckmann, Fr Andreas Blum. Father Victor continued his service with responsibilities with the  Maltese diaspora, liaising with the Malta High Commission, Westminster and Southwark chaplaincies, Local and Governmental officers.  Information technology was a great help to him in keeping records, writing letters, etc.

Whenever asked what are the happiest moments of his life he replied that as a priest and as a social worker he always foumd happiness in giving service and assistance.  It feels good when people respond so thankfully for a problem confronted and perhaps solved.  He found great joy in partaking of the great Maltese celebrations of St Peter & St Paul on 29 June and Malta Day on 8 September.  And it gave him great spiritual pleasure when the Maltese and German communities could come together for their services at Christmas and Easter.  He firmly believed that peoples need to come together joyfully to celebrate their cultures and customs, traditions and heritage.

When asked about the shortage of priests in these modern times, whether the Catholic Church should consider women priests and married priests he said “Roma locuta, causa finita” which simply translated perhaps means “When Rome has spoken the case is finished” and one might take from this that such questions may resolve themselves in time.

Fr Victor greeting all his friends at St. Bonifatius (March 2024)

What happens when priests become too old to serve their community? His view was that if age and infirmity have not laid a hold upon you by the time you are seventy-five you should no longer be considered as a candidate for parish priest. Sadly age and dementia have now taken a cruel hold on our beloved Father Victor. It is hoped that he will take up the opportunity to retire to the home for retired priest in Malta under the care of the Franciscan Order. 

What advice might Father Victor give to young priests today? “Wherever and whenever you celebrate the holy mass, remember your first mass, contemplate your last mass.” Perhaps we too, in the congregation should think similarly – the mass is the prayer of the community. Father Victor always saw himself as a privileged guest at the St Boniface German Community and felt the deepest gratitude for our welcome, friendship and hospitality.  Thank you dear Father Victor for your kindness, humour and friendship

2 Kommentare

  1. Dear Father Victor, thank you for all your dedication and effort over all these years! Have a peaceful retirement!

    Florian Bahr (Zivi, 1999-2000)

  2. Father Victor,

    the Winkelgrunds wish you well. Thanks for being part of our journey in Whitechapel the last 10 years.

    Michael and family

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