Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Scerri, George (Francesco) (1910–1980)

by Barry York

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

George (Francesco) Scerri (1910-1980), Catholic priest, was born on 16 May 1910 at Qormi, Malta, and registered as Francesco, second of six surviving sons of Carmelo Scerri, shopkeeper, and his wife Vincenza, née Zerafa. Educated at St Aloysius' College, Birkirkara, and St Mark's Theological School, Rabat, he joined the Missionary Society of St Paul in January 1929 and took the religious name of George. He was ordained priest on 2 April 1938 and assigned to St Joseph's Technical Institute, Hamrun, a home for orphans and underprivileged children. While there, he ran a printing-press which published a daily Catholic newspaper.

In 1958-61 Fr Scerri served as chaplain in a number of ships which took thousands of Maltese migrants to Australia and Canada. Based in Canada in 1960-62, from time to time he also attended to the spiritual needs of immigrants at London, Ontario, and Detroit, Michigan, United States of America. In 1963, through an arrangement between the M.S.S.P. and Cardinal (Sir) Norman Gilroy, archbishop of Sydney, Scerri arrived in Australia. He was sent to minister in East Sydney, a district known for its concentrations of newly arrived immigrants, crowded boarding houses, gambling dens and brothels. Next year he opened a small chapel in a property purchased at Stanley Street and named De Piro House after the society's founder, Monsignor Joseph De Piro.

Appointed provincial of the M.S.S.P. in Australia in 1971, Scerri moved from Sydney to Melbourne. The society had been established there in 1948 and the city was home to Australia's largest number of Maltese (about 23,000 born in Malta). He had a major impact, not only as a priest who developed trust and respect, but as an individual who was determined to unify the Maltese community. The handsome and modern Centru Malti (Maltese Centre), built on M.S.S.P. premises in Royal Parade, Parkville, testified to his dedication towards this goal.

On 13 July 1980 Scerri was savagely assaulted in the society's residence, St Mary's Mission House, Sydney Road, Brunswick, by a person or persons unknown. He died from his injuries on 4 August that year in Royal Melbourne Hospital and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery. The death of 'Dun Gorg' (Father George), as he was affectionately known, horrified and stunned the Maltese community and the public at large. His death was also reported in Malta, where a requiem Mass was held.

Remembered as having a kind smile for everyone, Scerri was, at the time of his death, one of the most experienced of the M.S.S.P.'s seventeen priests in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth. Like other members of the society, he led a frugal life. He had the ability 'to listen and to offer advice'. Fr Stanley Tomlin, the M.S.S.P.'s superior general in Malta, praised him as a man who 'never drove a car, and yet could be seen in any church, hospital and home at any time'. An obituary in the Times (Malta) described his life as 'saintly and exemplary'.

Select Bibliography

  • B. York, Maltese in Australia (Melb, 1998)
  • Link, 6 Apr 1981
  • Footprints, Nov 1990
  • Times (Malta), 5 Aug 1980
  • Catholic Weekly (Sydney), 21 Sept 1980.

Citation details

Barry York, 'Scerri, George (Francesco) (1910–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/scerri-george-francesco-11625/text20761, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 22 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014