Accomplished pilot flew for the good of others

Brother Lawrence Camilleri, 1940-2023

Camilleri,_Br_Larry_for_webBrother Lawrence Camilleri SVD, a skilled aviator and missionary in Papua New Guinea, died on July 22 at Techny, Ill., at age 83.

For a quarter century, Brother Larry transported missionaries, people in need of urgent medical care, and supplies to mission churches throughout the island nation.

Born in Lincoln Park, Mich., Larry Camilleri was the eighth of Emanuel and Nora (nee Maxwell) Camilleri’s nine children. In 1954 at the age of 14, he entered the Society of the Divine Word at Techny. In 1961, he professed vows and took the name Brother Aaron. (Following Vatican II, he resumed using his given name.)

For his first assignment, his superiors sent him to New Guinea, where he would serve as a pilot and aircraft mechanic for the Society of the Divine Word-owned and operated Divine Word Airways (DWA) in Madang.

Being able to maintain a plane was a matter of survival for bush pilots who often traveled to remote territories, inaccessible by roads. Brother Larry completed mechanical aviation training at Parks College of Aeronautical Technology, a satellite school of St. Louis University, in Cahokia, Ill., in 1965.

He then acquired an American Airframe and Powerplant mechanic license, as well as American private pilot and commercial pilot licenses. Later, he earned aircraft maintenance engineer and commercial pilot licenses in Australia as well.

While in Papua New Guinea, he flew single-engine planes, twin-engine planes and helicopters to deliver critically ill patients to hospitals, missionaries to their destinations and goods to the missions. An instrument-rated commercial pilot, Brother Larry eventually became DWA’s managing director and chief pilot.

Flying in Papua New Guinea was not for the faint of heart. The DWA pilots landed their planes in jungles and on mountainsides. Landing on short, steep runways in the inland mountainous region challenged even the most experienced pilots’ skills. And unpredictable winds quickly could make the takeoffs treacherous.

About ten years into his assignment, Brother Larry and his passenger Father Eugene Mantovani SVD experienced one of those dangerous situations that pilots knew they could face on any flight.

Brother Larry had begun his descent into Yobai, which is 6,000 feet elevation in the island’s northeastern highlands. In a letter to his father, he wrote: “As I made my approach, I noticed that the tailwind had picked up intensity and was blowing much harder than I had planned for. Since there wasn’t any room to add power and go around again, with mountain peaks looming up around me, I had to continue on and try to land the aircraft and stop it as best I could in the short distance that I had left.”

The plane stopped in a ditch near the end of the dirt runway. Brother Larry and his passenger exited unscratched, but the plane and its cargo, which totaled one-third of the diocese’s supplies, were lost.

According to the late Father Patrick Fincutter SVD, a fellow pilot in Papua New Guinea, by the time Brother Larry left Papua New Guinea in 1990, he had 14,000 flight hours, the third highest ranking among SVD pilots worldwide.

When Divine Word Airways closed, Brother Larry returned to the United States. He transferred his unique skills and volunteered as a pilot, mechanic and aeronautical consultant for the Missouri-based Wings of Hope. The charitable organization obtained aircraft and provided pilots to assist medical, humanitarian and missionary programs in isolated parts of the world.

His travels took him to the Galapagos Islands, Guatemala, Honduras, Liberia, Monrovia and Tanzania, and for a time, he served as Wings of Hope field director in Belize.

As a volunteer for Earth Angel Aviators, another Missouri-based non-profit organization, he transported medical patients throughout the Midwestern United States. Many of these passengers could not endure long road trips or afford the price of a commercial airline ticket.

During the duration of his flying career, Brother Larry logged more than 20,000 flight hours.

In 2004, he was assigned to St. Nicholas parish in St. Louis and continued to fly. Brother Larry moved to Techny in retirement in 2020.

Brother Larry’s wake will be in the Divine Word Residence Chapel at 9 a.m., followed by his funeral Mass at 10:30 a.m. on July 31. He will be buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery at Techny.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations for the care of elderly and infirmed missionaries may be sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, 1901 Waukegan Rd., P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.


Return to Main Obituaries page