Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Joseph Laurence Ciantar (1893–1967)

by Barry York

This article was published:

Joseph Laurence Ciantar (1893-1967), Catholic priest, was born on 4 July 1893 in Valletta, Malta, and named Giuseppe Vincenzo Lorenzo Antonio, son of Giuseppe Ciantar and his wife Maria Concetta, née Buhagiar. Young Giuseppe was an aspirant at St Patrick's Salesian school, Sliema, and at the Martinetto, Turin, Italy. In 1912 he joined the Salesian congregation at Burwash, Sussex, England, and on 11 July 1920 was ordained priest at Wonersh, Surrey. He served the order at Cowley, Oxfordshire, and in 1929-37 at Macclesfield, Cheshire. From 1930 to 1938 he was also in charge of Salesian propaganda and fund-raising in Britain.

Appointed rector of Rupertswood at Sunbury, Victoria—the only Salesian institution in Australia at that time—Fr Ciantar arrived in Melbourne in 1938 and took responsibility for directing the work of the order throughout the country. In 1941 he became the first Salesian master of novices in Australia and in 1948-52 was rector of Don Bosco's Boys' Club and Hostel at Brunswick. He faced a major challenge in reducing the order's deficit of £30,000. His zest for raising money (which earned him the affectionate nickname of 'Ned Kelly') was aided by his irrepressible cheerfulness and resulted in the repayment of all debts and the commencement of a bold new era of expansion. By 1952, when he left Victoria, Ciantar had overseen the first period of growth in Salesian activity since 1927. In addition to the establishment at Brunswick, he had opened the Archbishop Mannix Missionary College at Oakleigh, the Salesian School at Brooklyn Park, Adelaide, the Savio College at Glenorchy, Tasmania, and the Don Bosco's Boys' Camp at Dromana, Victoria.

From 1952 to 1964 Fr Ciantar served at Engadine, Sydney, as rector of Boys' Town, which he transformed into a large, well-equipped and modern institution; he was, as well, pastor to the local community. On retiring from Boys' Town, he served as parish priest of Engadine-Heathcote, a position which he held until his death. A photographic portrait in 1966 shows him with round, bald head, wide mouth and thin-rimmed glasses, proudly dressed in a knight's regalia of one of the unrecognized orders of St John of Jerusalem.

In 1966 Ciantar undertook his final project: he travelled to the United States of America, Malta and England to raise funds for a national shrine to St John Bosco. Opened in October 1967, the shrine served as a parish church at Engadine. Fr Ciantar died on 28 December 1967 at St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney; after a requiem Mass presided over by Cardinal (Sir) Norman Gilroy at the Engadine shrine, he was buried in Rupertswood cemetery. He is remembered, particularly by Maltese Australians, for his optimism, strength of faith, humility, monastic poverty and dynamism.

Select Bibliography

  • The First 25 Years (1921-1946) (priv pub, Sunbury, nd)
  • E. Power, Necrology (priv pub, Engadine, NSW, 1968)
  • J. Munns, Rupertswood, A Living History (Sunbury, Vic, 1987)
  • B. York, Empire and Race (Syd, 1990)
  • Advocate (Melbourne), 4, 11 Jan 1968
  • Catholic Weekly (Sydney), 4 Jan 1968.

Citation details

Barry York, 'Ciantar, Joseph Laurence (1893–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Giuseppe Vincenzo Lorenzo Antonio

4 July, 1893
Valletta, Malta


28 December, 1967 (aged 74)
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.