Fr Noel Bianco MSSP is a priest of the Missionary Society of St Paul, a religious order founded by Mgr Joseph De Piro in 1910.
Fr Noel grew up in a traditional Maltese family as one of 12 children, and had a brother (deceased at 40) who was also a diocesan priest.
“I joined the Missionary Society of St Paul in 1969,” Fr Noel reflected.
“I was sent here (to Australia) from Malta in 1973 and I studied and worked in Melbourne for 34 years,” he said.
Ministry in Malta, Rome and America followed this.
Fr Noel finds great satisfaction in his Maltese Chaplaincy including pastoral work, and Masses, be they christenings, weddings, requiems or memorials. For him, they are moments of evangelisation.
“I am happy to be the pastor of 47,000 Maltese passport holders in the Western suburbs (of Sydney), apart from the others without a passport,” Fr Noel boasted.
The charism of the Missionary Society of St Paul takes inspiration from the arrival of St Paul the Apostle who was shipwrecked on Malta.
The seas have also spread the Maltese diaspora far and wide, from the Mediterranean to the Middle East, Australia, Canada and the United States.
Mgr Joseph de Piro founded his order as a Missionary Society. One of its aims is to provide assistance and pastoral leadership to the community of these migrants in the difficulty of starting new lives and practicing the Faith in new lands. This was not understood in Rome at first but the founder insisted that this was important with the main aim of evangelisation in mission countries.
Like Mgr de Piro, Fr Noel feels sorrow for the decline of faith in Australian parishes, compared to earlier decades.
“It distresses me a fair bit what I see happening in some of our parishes,” Fr Noel said.
“I want to have the smell of the sheep, so I believe in home visiting in the evenings, which has been the traditional way of doing pastoral work in Australia, when the priest was the hero of the Catholic community,” he said.
He finds hope in new movements within the Catholic Church, such as the Neo-Catechumenal Way.
“I have been walking in the Neo-Catechumenal Way for 20 years and I find great nourishment and richness and generous support in the brothers and sisters.”
Evangelisation is more important than preserving the present structures of the Church, Fr Noel said.
Re-evangelisation is also a distinctive part of the charism for the Paulist Missionaries.
The idea of being missionaries to an already Catholic people was not common in the early 20th century but now has a widespread appreciation in terms of Pope St John Paul II’s ‘New Evangelisation’.
The members of the Missionary Society of St Paul were amongst the pioneers who helped the Maltese in Australia and their work has flourished since Mgr de Piro’s dream was realised, with the arrival of Fr Augustine Grech MSSP in Australia in 1948.