Portelli, Joseph (28.5.1904-24.8.1986)

Jesuit missionary

Portelli was born at Qala, and educated at the Gozo Seminary. He joined the Society of Jesus in 1923 and, at his own request, was sent to India in 1926. He was ordained priest in 1935 and was given charge of several missions. He was appointed the first superior of the newly-erected Santal region (1956-61).

Portelli's life was dedicated to the well being of the Santal people. Wherever he went, he opened schools and strove to instill into the Santals a respect for education as a necessary means for standing on their own feet. He also set up rice-banks to help eradicate poverty and oppression.

Perhaps Portelli's greatest achievement was his literary output in the Santali language, of which he had acquired an excellent knowledge. He translated the New Testament, translated and composed hymns and prayers, and produced a Santali catechism. His Koejon ar Seren Puthi (Prayers and Humn Book) ran to ten editions. In 1946 he founded and was first editor of the reilgious-cultural monthly Maraltabon (Our Light).

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

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