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20 September 2014

The Conservatorio Vincenzo Bugeja

 - Sunday, 11 September 2011, 00:00

by Marie Benoit

On 14 August, in my Diary, I wrote a piece entitled St Joseph’s Home or Conservatorio Vincenzo Bugeja. Most of this was based on a two-part article written by Gillian Bartolo and which appeared in the November 1996 and January 1997 issues of First, when it was under my editorship. In the November 1996 issue I placed a photo of the Conservatorio Vincenzo Bugeja on the cover. I am reproducing the cover on this page. No one at the time questioned anything that was written in those two long articles.

Following the publication of my Diary I received a long letter from Dr Richard Manché MD who has been Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Conservatorio for the last ten years. Dr Manché accused me of making false statements. But these statements were based on those two articles which no one ever questioned.

However, let me first of all apologise for making one cardinal mistake: that the Conservatorio Vincenzo Bugeja building also houses St Joseph’s Home. This is because it has been pointed out to me as such, two or three times. Dr Manché points out that this is not so and that St Joseph’s Home ‘is separated physically by a secondary road, Triq il-Bir’ from the Conservatorio. Perhaps because of this close proximity it might have been assumed that it is within the grounds of the Conservatorio as are Dar Jeanne Antide and Programm Fejda ‘which is a government home run on specialized therapeutic lines’ Dr Manché writes. Let me be fair to him and quote him extensively: ‘The staff is made up of trained social workers and female carers and a psychologist. We have a volley ball court and a multi-purpose hall for indoor activities while there are three mini-buses provided for excursions and trips to Gozo and Comino at weekends and a small Fiat Panda to ferry the girls to and from the Floriana polyclinic and the optician. We sponsor riding lessons, football, fishing trips, art courses, hairdressing courses and attendance at MCAST and Wasteserve courses. We also donate a dowry to those about to marry.’ Vincenzo Bugeja would have been pleased.

Dr Manché also mentions, in his letter, that ‘We are also the proud owners of another palatial building The Bugeja Technical Institute down the road, which was completed by the Marchesa and opened in 1903 as a technical school for boys.’ Dr Manché also points out the St Joseph’s Institute was founded in 1911 by Mons De Piro, as an orphanage for boys, and now referred to as ‘The St Joseph’s Home’. It had a high reputation as a technical school.

Dr Manché also writes that Vincenzo Bugeja was shown appreciation by the Prince of Wales by receiving ‘the insigna of Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George (C.M.G.) and not a knighthood.’ However Pope Leo XIII ‘bestowed the title Marquis on him and made him a Knight Commander of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.’

Let me refer once more to Gillian Bartolo’s article. The then archbishop refused ‘to bless the project’ – that is the Conservatorio. ‘Neither the Archbishop, nor the Vicar General go to the ceremony. There’s a lot of sneering and gloating. The Corriere Mercantile Maltese says everyone praises the bishop for his decision to snub Bugeja. Eventually its editor Ramiro dei Marchesi Barbaro flees into exile rather than face charges of libel brought by Bugeja, for an alleged eight year smear campaign in his paper. (Gillian is here quoting Le Memorie by Dr Nicola Zammit.) Another paper La Croce di Malta makes fun of Bugeja asking for the Archbishop’s blessing.’

Well, things have not changed much in Malta. Smear campaigns always existed and are here to stay.

Dr Manché assures me that the set of silver cutlery which Vincenzo Bugeja left to be used by the 50 girls in the orphanage which the Trustees at the time had told Gillian Bartolo were lost still exist. Dr Manché writes that ‘Some stuff may have been lost when the Conservatorio was requisitioned in 1941 by the government to house the Liet. Governor’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office, the Police Force and the Cavalry and the Special Constabulary. The nuns and the fifty girls were evacuated to the Good Shepherd Convent in Balzan, not Rabat, as you say, and although I am sure they took with them what they could, they must have had to leave some things behind in the confusion of the enmergency, the continuous air-raids and the lack of transport and the mayhem. The presence of hundreds of ‘strangers’ in the Conservatorio: police, civil servants etc. did not guarantee the safety of whatever was left behind. One will never know, but when the nuns returned an Inventory was taken which still exists.’

Today, Dr Manché writes, ‘we have a very organised office with computerized data, well kept archives under the voluntary care of Chev. Ebejer, where research can and is carried out mostly by University History graduates for their MA degree. We have three well-appointed boardrooms with original oil portraits of the Marquis and the Marchesa and items of furniture for their home in Valletta. The Trustees meet regularly once a month. Our Accounts are maintained by an in-house accountant and our registers and data are annually audited by the government auditor. Recently I was asked by the Hon. Evarist Bartolo to produce the Financial statements for the last two years in a parliamentary question and presumably he found them in order, as he did not come back with any criticisms.”

Dr Manché also points out that ‘the garden surrounding the complex is not ‘behind a high wall’ but behind a low stone wall with iron railings (which at this very moment is being restored) exposing a well kept garden with flowers and trimmed hedges, and which has an orchard of orange and lemon trees and latticed vines.’ Well from my 4 foot 8 height, he will have to forgive me for saying the wall is high. It seems so to me.

He objected to my comment: ‘Goodness knows what is happening around us.’ Of course, this was not referring directly to the Conservatorio Vincenzo Bugeja but to Malta and Gozo at large. And I am sure in this Dr Manché must agree with me. I wish to thank him for sending me his views and corrections and apologise if I have upset him and the Trustees. One of these days, when it is cooler, I may take up his kind invitation to go and see what is behind that wall.

Now for something completely different. I try not to miss the annual Buttardi jewellery exhibition which each year is organized at a different venue. This time I was to discover the existence of St John Elemosiner in Cospicua. I have friends in Cospicua and have been to dinner there many times over the years but I had never come to this part of the city. The venue turned out to be a chic, modern studio full of beautiful objects. There were seats, chairs and claypots outside on a red carpet. This is Josette Schembri Vella’s 3 City Designs studio. She is an interior designer I was to learn and also imports beautiful objects for the home from Belgium, Spain, New York and elsewhere.

Michelle Buttigieg was here to spend two months with her children and her husband William from New York. The other half of Buttardi is Michelle Muscat, the leader of the opposition’s energetic wife.

This was a new Buttardi collection and there were some very attractive pieces such as a pale strawberry quartz and pink fresh water pearl necklace, a beautiful shell pearl necklace and so much more. Guests were free to try them on and some would not take them off. As we drank chilled Prosecco and ate Mark of DXquisite Patisserie’s canapés. It turned out to be a lively and enjoyable evening.

There were some ladies from the Breast Care Support Group Europa Donna present and the directors of Buttardi donated a lovely necklace made of Bohemian crystals, hand painted porcelain beads and fresh water pearls which will be raffled in aid of the Group in October.

My observation after this evening was that happily, women are getting on with their lives not only for their own benefit but for the benefit of others as well.

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