The origins of the Society of Christian Doctrine date from the beginning of the 20th century; or to be more precise, the 7th of March 1907 – the day when the first meeting was held between Fr Preca and a group of youths.
As a young priest, Saint George Preca was imbued with the idea of working with lay men and women to serve the Church, primarily by helping them lead a truly Christian life and a dedication to evangelisation. Saint George Preca seemed to have been preoccupied with the state of catechism in the local Church. He had realised that although Malta was practically all Catholic and all the population was church-going, most Maltese Catholics knew very little about the truths of Christianity. In general, religion was based on the practice of popular devotions and little else.
When still a student at the Bishop’s seminary, Saint George Preca befriended a group of young men in his parish, who used to spend their time talking and playing football in front of the church after their day’s work. He very quickly made friends with them and started talking to them about matters that interested them. He made a deep impression on them, particularly on a young Dockyard worker, Eugenio Borg, who was to become his life-long companion in the foundation of the Society. Eventually, on the 7th March 1907, a small dwelling was rented to serve as the first centre of the Society. The Society spread rapidly, opening Centres in many parishes around Malta. This led to an official inquiry ordered by the then Vicar General Mgr Salvatore Grech to investigate the Society and its activities. After many years, the inquiry finalized its report on the Society’s work, recommending only small alterations to the basic rules. Eventually in 1932 the Society was canonically approved for the dioceses of Malta and Gozo by the Bishop of Malta, Dom Mauro Caruana OSB.
The women’s section of the Society was founded in 1910 and followed the same spirituality as that lived by the male section. Although the two sections of the Society share a common ideal and follow a similar pattern of activities, they are independent of each other, with separate administrations. The General Superior serves as a sign of unity between the two sections of the Society.
The Members of the Society are bound by a Rule first approved by the Church in Malta, in 1932, after multiple renewals of the rule between 1st and 7th April 2013 the society both the male and female section had a general chapter which revisited the rule and split into two main sections Constitution and Director. Which got the approval in November of the same year.
The Society has several centres located at the heart of towns and villages within the context of a parish. Children attend these centres, first to receive formation for the reception of the Sacraments, and later for more comprehensive life-long faith formation. Youths who choose to further their knowledge of the SDC and also aspire to discern their vocation can join to attend a five year formation course specifically designed for SDC Candidates.
The Incorporated Members practise celibacy, and the Rule encourages a Christian way of life by frequent reception of the sacraments and a life of prayer. In addition to mass and communion, the Members are required to pray daily from the The Watch, a book of prayers, written by Fr Preca, with a prayer to be recited when possible, every fifteen minutes of the day.
The Members support themselves by work and live a secular life. Although initially the majority of the Members were manual workers, today SDC members come from all occupations and from a wide range of professions and trades.
The Members daily attend at their assigned Centre to participate in the Society’s apostolate. Apart from activities earmarked for children, youths and adults, the Members spend time every day to study and pray together. Where the members are numerous, as in Malta and Melbourne, a meeting is also held every Wednesday in their respective Regional Houses for an ongoing formation programme, where guest speakers are invited to deliver talks on several themes.
Society of Christian Doctrine is the official name of the Society given by the local Church in its approval in 1932. Various other names were tried out before but failed to gain approval. Among these names we find Societas Papidi that was to refer to the respect and obedience the Members had to give to the Pope as Head of the Catholic Church.
Another name was Istituto Giovanni Battista, a name which reflected the love the Members had for their Patron who had been chosen in the early years of the Society.
However, in Malta, the Society is up until the present popularly and mostly known as M.U.S.E.U.M. This name also originated in its early days and came about from a suggestion made by a young Member named Saviour Muscat, who recommended that the Society might be called MUSEUM. Since every country holds its treasures in its museums, the Society treasured the two most precious things within our faith: the Bible and the teaching of our Faith. Fr Preca later added a new layer of meaning to this name when he interpreted each letter in museum as follows: Magister Utinam Sequatur Evangelium Universus Mundus, which in English reads: Divine Teacher may the whole world follow the Gospel.