Born in Valletta on 12 February 1880, George was the seventh child in a middle-class family of nine. His father, Vincent Preca, was first a merchant and then a sanitary inspector. His mother, Nathalie Ceravolo, was a teacher. George's boyhood was nothing spectacular, but he did not lack that adventuresomeness and courage which form the backbone of any leader. Feeling that he was called to be a priest, he moved from the Lyceum to the Seminary where as a young student he distinguished himself in his studies, especially in Latin.
He was a rather inconspicuous fellow, and yet, God's path for him had already been traced, so that the unexpected began to happen. Three saintly men, the Franciscan Br Diego Bonanno, Fr Ercole Mompalao and Fr Aloysius Galea, (his spiritual director), seemed to have been inspired by God and foresaw what would happen in the not-so-distant future. Fr Mompalao's words, especially, were to prove wonderfully exact:
"Preca" he said to the youth, "You will grow up and will be befriended by people who respect God. You will be blessed because of them, and they because of you..."
Had George's father and doctor known about this prophecy they would surely have deemed it false, for George was a sickly youth. There was a very serious doubt in Dr. E. Meli's mind whether the young cleric would live to celebrate his first Mass in December 1906 since he already suffered from a deceased lung.
The Cigarette Ruse
But Saint George Preca did not die. He outlived his father and doctor by many years, and had celebrated his 82nd birthday before he passed away. Our joy is not only that he lived so long, but that he used his time so well.
As a seminarian, he used to go to the Grand Harbour, board the foreign ships there, and introduce himself to Greek, English and French sailors by offering them a cigarette. His lively intelligence and exquisite humour entertained the men who had been so long away from land and soon the young cleric would lead his audience to spiritual matters. Many a sailor must have been impressed by this gentle man who sought so willingly the good of his neighbour.
The cigarette ruse was to be used again and again. Knowing that a group of youngsters were in the habit of meeting together regularly, Saint George Preca struck up a steady friendship with them. Sometimes he was rebuffed, more often than not he was gladly received so that gradually his advice about spiritual matters was as welcome and accepted as his chattering on other things. Soon the group of youths who met in the vicinity of the Hamrun Parish Church, chief among them being Eugenio Borg, grew and grew so that premises had to be rented where their meetings could be held.