HENRY CASOLANI, Servant of God
A Contemporary Married Man Who Lived an Examplary Life
in theMost Ordinary Circumstances of life
Henry Casolani, son of George and Maria Concetta née Borg was born in Valletta, Malta on the 25 November 1917 and was baptised in St Paul’s Parish Church, Valletta four days later. Henry was renowned for his humility. He was a born artist but also studied painting at the School of Arts. Since he was already engaged to Inez, he declined from proceeding to Italy with his colleagues to continue his artistic studies, since that would have meant his definite separation from Inez. His beautiful paintings, symbolic of his romantic and compassionate character, are now scattered in private collections. Henry was also a poet. Among others he wrote a poem in honour of the Venerable, now Blessed, Maria Adeodata Pisani of whom he was a great devotee. This poem is now the official hymn dedicated to this Maltese Blessed.
Henry Casolani was a civil servant and spent a life-long career as a draughtsman at the Public Works Department. His colleagues are all of the same opinion: that Henry Casolani’s example, his way of living, his words, his encouragement and his keen sense of duty made him ‘a model to be emulated’.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, Henry was seconded to the Royal Army Medical Corps under strict military discipline; he was well qualified and had a thorough knowledge of first aid. He was stationed in various barracks as well as Mtarfa Military Hospital and could only meet Inez once a week. It followed that Henry and Inez sent letters to each other. Those sent by Henry are still extant; they were very well preserved by Inez and are witness to their intimate mutual love as also to their love of God. Henry encouraged Inez during hard times and promised her to do all he could in preparation for their wedding day. He urged Inez to pray for their love, for their loved ones and for the defenders of Malta. He also thanked Inez for regularly visiting his mother who had only just been widowed. Henry kept up his love till the end of his life, seven years after Inez passed away. Every year on the anniversary of her death, he composed heartfelt verses in her honour and published them in newspapers.
Throughout his life Henry never uttered the slightest word against anyone – whenever he spoke about others it was always to praise them. Not only was he capable of overlooking the shortcomings of others but he also had the gift of highlighting the good he saw in them. This is reflected in the letters he sometimes wrote to newspapers. He told his daughter: “I write only to praise, never to criticise.” He was a selfless person. For example, relatives lived next door to Henry and Inez. When the husband was taken ill, there were times when he fell during the night; it was Henry who was regularly called at night to lift him up. He did not complain when he suffered, but offered his suffering for the glory of the Lord. One morning on his way to work Henry was knocked down by a car and was rushed to hospital suffering from concussion. No complaint ever escaped him. During the war he fell and broke his arm. For a week he endured a lot of pain before having it seen by a doctor; plastering followed.
At work Henry would regularly lead his colleagues into prayer and remind them of their religious duties. He was a real instrument of peace and actually had the gift of building bridges among colleagues who were on bad terms. In fact they considered him ‘an apostle of peace’. His acquaintances considered him ‘a man of God’. One day two of his colleagues had a serious argument. The air was heavy and rough words were uttered and meant. After that the two would not speak to each other for a long time. Henry was worried about this. He knew that this behaviour was not worthy of two such respectable Christian colleagues. He therefore went up to them and asked them whether they intended to hold on to such stance. He finally persuaded them to make it up, since it did not befit them, but more so since it was contrary to God’s will.
Henry was a role model at work, always dutifully carrying out his drawing tasks to perfection and ahead of time. He was always on the lookout for anyone who was in difficulty in order to give a helping hand. He would not wait for the younger new draughtsman to ask him for his advice. Henry always inducted and mentored any newly enrolled draughtsman, not only because he remembered his own difficulties at the start of his career, but also out of his own charitable disposition as a fully practicing Christian. Henry Casolani shone through his example at work. When he was on outside works, he first used to visit the Blessed Sacrament at the local church for a few minutes, then he would go to the site being developed by the Public Works Department. When he finished supervision, he would drop into a café for a cup of tea and then return straight back to the office. He would not play truant as others might have done. These details are testified by his work companions.
Henry and Inez were married on the 19th April 1944 and went to live in Valletta. In 1964 they moved to a new house in Pietà, then a new suburb of the capital, and later on in 1984 they settled at the Convent-Home of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition at Rabat, since their only daughter, Cecilia Mary, was a religious of the same Congregation. After the war, Henry resumed his normal work at the Public Works Department in Valletta until 1972. This department then moved to Floriana and Henry kept on working there until 1977 when he retired from service on pension.
At the age of thirty-eight, Henry was diagnosed with diabetes. Later in life he suffered from other physical conditions, namely macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and heart failure. In the midst of all his physical ailments Henry never complained but would only say: ‘Imagine the suffering Christ went through!’
For about ten months between 1971 and 1972 Henry was seconded to the Decimal Currency Secretariat. His job was to produce illustrated posters, charts, books and leaflets for the public to get used to the new coins being introduced. Henry again proved his brilliance in drawing the attractive cartoons and tables that served their purpose well, and the public was well prepared for the changeover when it was affected in May 1972. All his colleagues at the Secretariat confirm his sense of humour. At that stressful time when strict adherence to deadlines was expected, he would defuse the tension by cracking some jokes at the opportune time. Here again he never let an opportunity pass to remind his temporary colleagues about their Christian duties. Henry retired five years later.
Both Henry and Inez were extremely generous. As a Civil Servant at the Public Works Department, Henry did his utmost to help Monseigneur Michael Azzopardi try to find some plot of land in view of the latter’s plan of a home for the disabled. He accompanied him several times and they were actually together when the very area Tal-Providenza in Siggiewi was found. Henry wrote several times in newspapers to encourage the general public to contribute money for the same home. When Henry inherited a moderate house in Valletta, when intending to sell the same he gave the neighbouring Jesuits the right of first refusal. In fact he offered the house to the Order for which they gave him a nominal fee. In that way they could expand their convent there. Finally one may also mention the fact that when Henry and Inez settled with the Sisters of St Joseph in Rabat they offered their furniture and other belongings to them.
Henry and Inez had only one daughter, Cecilia Mary. The couple thought that Cecilia would normally study for a professional career, that she would get married and continue the generation of their family. Yet that was not Cecilia’s vocation. Her fervent desire was to become a sister of St Joseph of the Apparition. The news was an emotional blow to the couple. Henry was quite shocked, but when Inez turned to him in order to expose the doubts and difficulties which Cecilia might meet, in order to be fully certain about her vocation, he did not even utter a word. Inez thought that he was being indifferent. The only condition he set for Cecilia was that she had to be sure of her choice and that she was happy about it. The truth emerged years later. Although Henry was emotionally and morally greatly distressed at the prospect of not being able to become a grandfather, or to behold grandchildren of his own, or even to enjoy Cecilia’s company in her own home, he had previously made a vow that he would not in any way hinder his daughter if God’s Will was that she would become a religious. On the eve of her leaving home for her novitiate in France, Henry gave her a beautiful crucifix at the back of which he had had engraved ‘Mum and Dad’. After her profession Henry became an ardent supporter of all Cecilia’s missions in France, Malta and in other countries. He thanked the Lord for such a grace ever after.
By December 1992 Henry had been suffering from poor eyesight for three years due to diabetes. On the occasion of the Mass celebrated on the birth anniversary of the Venerable, now Blessed, Adeodata Pisani on the 29th December 1992, a holy picture was put in front of his eyes and Henry regained his perfect eyesight instantaneously. Henry had just been widowed, Inez having died in July that year. Yet he was so modest that he made little noise on this scientifically inexplicable healing. He mentioned it casually to his daughter who did not then realise the greatness of the extraordinary fact. On a previous occasion when Henry and Inez visited their daughter Sr. Cecilia in France, Henry developed an infection in his nose and throat. On their return journey on the way through Italy, when the couple was on the train, Henry prayed to the Maltese Venerable, now Blessed, Nazju Falzon, notwithstanding the fact that he was not particularly devoted to the cleric. Henry was instantaneously healed of his infection. Henry was a man of faith which was daily nourished by his unfailing attendance at Mass and the visit to the Blessed Sacrament. His spiritual strength may be explained by this daily devotion. He was always enthusiastic about reading at Mass. He was an avid reader of the Bible and could quote from it with authority. He loved spiritual talks and also fortified his faith by attending the annual Lenten Spiritual Exercises at Manresa, a Jesuits’ house in the sister island of Gozo.
Another curious episode in the life of Henry Casolani which sheds light on his trust in God as well as on his sense of duty happened early in the 1970s. He had been entrusted to draw an elevation of the buildings of Republic Street in Valletta. When the plan was almost finished, he went up on the roof of the Public Works Studio with a young colleague of his in order to check the work and put the finishing touches. In order to get a good view, they placed the plan on the floor of the roof under two small pieces of stone. Suddenly a strong wind current blew the plan away towards the back of the building in the direction of Marsamxetto area of Valletta. Henry was almost stricken by panic. After all the time spent on the work which now he could not produce to his director, he was at such a great loss. He and his colleague hurried down the stairs into the back streets of Valletta. Henry was all the time praying and beseeching St Anthony to help him find the plan. Yet they did not succeed and went home for the mid-day break. When the young colleague who lived in Valletta went home for lunch, his mother produced the lost plan which she had found while sweeping the terrace. The plan was found! St Anthony had heard Henry’s prayer and Henry could give his work on the appointed date.
Henry and Inez Casolani were a holy couple who, by the grace of God as received through prayer and deep devotion towards the Blessed Sacrament and the Holy Eucharist, succeeded in building a small domestic church, worthy of a Christian model of a family. They continued to love and respect each other in all the positive or unfavourable circumstances of life. Their relationship also served as an example to all who knew them. Henry Casolani’s reputation of sanctity was widely spread by all those who knew him as much as that of Inez. Together Henry and Inez Casolani constitute a synergy of holiness since the example they set, especially for lay people, is stronger than the total of their own individual righteous acts have imparted. No wonder those who knew them anticipate seeing the Casolani couple being offered the devotion, attention and emulation on the part of all people, especially of married couples!
Anton Quintano, Henry and Inez Casolani – A Couple Moulded in Christ, (published by author, Malta 2005)