On the rear wall of the tal-Ibrag Church there is a marble plaque. Very few people pause to read it and fewer still appreciate the history behind it. The plague commemorates the Blessing and Laying of the Foundation stone of the Church, which was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, by His Grace Archbishop Michael Gonzi on the 7th May 1964.
The Church was built on land donated by the Aquilina family, it was situated in the limits of the parish of St. Helen, B’Kara, in an area known as St. Andrews. In those days, only a few families lived in the area and these, in their majority, were farmers and manual labourers. It was these people who toiled hard and long so that the church could be build and they could finally have their own chapel where they could hear mass and gather together in prayer. The building was completed within two years and His Grace Bishop Emmanuel Galea blessed the new church and consecrated the marble altar on the 13th February 1966. In the meantime the Vatican Council II had declared Our Lady as the Mother of the Church, and so it was dedicated to the Immaculate Mary Mother of the Church.
The first Rector of this church was the late Mgr. Rev. Stephen Borg. Fr Stephen dedicated most of his time and energy to collect the necessary funds for this work of love. This was no easy task considering the limited resources available. However, not only did he manage to complete the church with plastering, woodworks, lighting, floor tiles, benches and other amenities, but he also commissioned the titular statue of Our Lady, which was to be the focal point of the Church. The late Chev. Emvin Cremona was the artist who designed the splendid sculpture, which was carved out from a single block of wood by Vincent Moroder of Ortisei, Italy. A wooden tabernacle framed by four angels was also the work of Chev. Cremona.
Fr Vincent Demicoli was the second Rector to serve in this church. It soon became obvious to Fr Vincent that the Community was growing very rapidly as more people took up residence in this now sought after area. It is interesting to note that, during Fr. Vincent’s tenure of office, the number of families grew from the original twenty to over a thousand families. The chapel could no longer accommodate so many people and he started studying how the church could be enlarged. Meanwhile, he began to collect funds towards this project.
Fr. Dennis Schembri was the next Rector. His tenure saw the separation of the church from the parish of St. Helen, B’Kara to become an autonomous pastoral zone. Fr. Dennis was given the brief to construct a parish church in the centre of nearby Pembroke which meant that the Ta’ L-Ibrag church would remain a chapel. This decision was a disappointment to the local community who wished the Parish Church to be the heart of the area. Fr. Dennis moved to Turin, Italy after three years.
His successor was Fr. George Dalli. The Pembroke project was shelved and the original idea of enlarging the present church was revived. The land adjacent to the church was acquired by exchanging it for Church owned land. A house that would serve as the Rector’s residence was also acquired. The extension of the church and the building of a pastoral centre, that would cater for all the spiritual needs of the community was no longer a dream. It was now becoming a reality.
In just under one year the excavation work was completed and three large halls and Catechism rooms were built. On the 2nd September 1994 the foundation stone of the church extension was laid and blessed by His Grace Archbishop Joseph Mercieca. Within one year the building was completed and on Christmas Eve 1995 the evening Vigil Mass was celebrated in the new church. The Architect of the project was Mr. Roger Degiorgio A & CE – the same architect of the original chapel.
On Easter Sunday, 4th April 1999, the Church was declared a Parish under the title of Immaculate Mary Mother of the Church. Fr. Paul Camilleri was appointed as the first parish Priest and, together with Vice Parish priest Fr. Martin Micallef, began serving a community of over two thousand families made up of over eight thousand parishioners. On the 13th May 2000 Fr Gordon Refalo began his pastoral work as Parish Priest of this community.
In June 2001 Rev. Tony Agius was appointed as a temporary administrator of this Parish. Fr. Tony had served for thirteen years as Parish Priest of St. Julians, at a time when Swieqi was still under St Julian’s Parish. In January 2002, Fr. Tony was appointed officially as Parish Priest.
Fr Tony was succeeded by Fr Mario Tong, who was appointed parish priest on the 16th of January 2016. Fr Mario previously served in the diocese of Gibraltar and the diocese of Rockville Centre, New York. He also served as vice parish priest of Zabbar, parish priest of Marsaxlokk, parish priest of St Joseph the Worker parish in Birkirkara, archpriest of Mosta, and archpriest of St Paul's Shipwreck parish in Valletta. Fr Mario ended his tenure as parish priest on the 3rd of June 2017 when Fr Blake Camilleri was appointed in his place and to this day continues to serve as parish priest of the tal-Ibrag parish.
Like the mustard seed, the little chapel grew into a big church, nurtured along the way with many a man’s love and sacrifice but mostly with God’s will. We wish to conclude this short saga by recalling the prayer printed on the holy picture, which commemorates the Blessing of the Church on the 13th February 1966. These are the words spoken by Pope Paul VI when he declared Mary as the Mother of the Church:
“O MARY, TEMPLE OF LIGHT WITHOUT SHADOW AND WITHOUT BLEMISH, INTERVENE ON OUR BEHALF WITH YOUR ONLY SON, OUR PEACE MEDIATOR WITH THE FATHER, TO PITY OUR WEAKNESS AAND TO DISPERSE ALL HATERED BETWEEN US, BY GRANTING TO OUR SOULS THE JOY OF BROTHERLY LOVE”
“O MARIJA, TEMPJU TAD-DAWL, BLA DELL U BLA TEBGHA, IDHOL GHALINA QUDDIEM L-IBEN WAHDIENI TIEGHEK, MEDJATUR TAL-PACI TAGHNA MAL-MISSER, BIEX IHENN GHAN-NUQQASIJIET TAGHNA U JBIEGHED KULL GLIED BEJNIETNA, BILLI JAGHTA LILL- ERWIEH TAGHNA L-FERH TAL-IMHABBA TAL-AHWA.”