Gatt Antonio (14.1.1848-27.2.1927)

Gifted leader, missionary, and person of saintly fame

Antonio Gatt was born in Birkirkara and joined the Dominican Order in 1863 when he was given the name of Antonino. He started studies in theology and philosophy in Malta and continued his theological studies in Francee where he was ordained priest in 1870. The following year he obtained the lectorate in Theology (S.Th.L.) from the Vittoriosa Studium Generale where he also taught for a months.

From 1872 onwards, Gatt lectured in philosophy and theology at St Thomas Aquinas College, Rabat. In 1876 he was appointed Lector Primarius and regent of studies(1882-86) at a time when the college was attended by a good number of diocesan clerics many of whom obtained doctorates in theology. In 1884 he graduated master of theology (S.Th.M). Later, he was also chosen as regent of studies again and also lectured in theology, eloquence and the history of the dogma at the Rabat college (1911-20).

Moved by a strong desire to be of use to as possible, Gatt asked for and was given permission to become a missionary to work among the unconverted. The master of the Dominican Order sent him to Constantinople in the mission of the Dominican province of Piedmont. He left Malta in 1887 and joined the priory of Saints Peter and Paul and served the numerous Italian and Maltese communities in the Turkish capital. He remained there until 1897 when he went to Greece as confessor of the Dominican sisters at Santorino. There he was much loved for his piety and his spiritual directions, so much so that they did not want to see him go. In 1907, however, he returned to Malta.

After about 20 years spent outside his native country, Gatt had to return because he was elected provincial of the Dominican priories in Malta. His demands to be released from this duty were not acceded to by the master of the Order, Fr. H. Cormier. Gatt's first term was distinguished by understanding, prudence, and leadership skills and this led to him being confirmed for another term (1911-15). He also found time to carry out other duties both in Dominican priories and the diocese of Malta. At various times he was master of novices, sub-prior, procurator, librarian, and master of the brother co-operators. He was also a prosynodal examiner and examiner of the clergy for the diocese. Gatt also had a deserved reputation as a speaker during conferences and as a spiritual director for seminarians. He was much sought after by the clergy, nuns, and others for spiritual advice.

Gatt was an able preacher in Maltese, Italian, French, and even Greek, managing to weave deep theological learning and practical advice in his sermons. He had a natural oratory and an innate intelligence that reflected his deep religious beliefs. His fellow Dominicans were convinced of his saintliness. The year after his death he was reburied in a grave by himself later his body was transferred to the same tomb as that of the Dominican bishop Angelo Portelli, in the chapel of St Peter the Martyr in the Dominican church at Rabat.

Source: Maltese Biographies of the Twentieth Century (1997), editors Michael J. Schiavone and Louis J. Scerri

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