The Malta Independent 13 August 2022, Saturday

Clash of cultures

Noel Grima Sunday, 31 July 2022, 06:58 Last update: about 14 days ago

The torpor of the overheated July and the release from the Covid restrictions has been rudely interrupted by the events taking place at the Catholic St Albert School of Valletta.

In my life, I have been involved with two non-State schools and I can say with certainty that such happenings would have been unimaginable there and also at the other non-State schools I can think of.


Considering what happened at St Albert from some distance, I and many like me have been hampered with one great deficit – we are faced with one faceless body which represents the owners of the school but which somehow is loath to show its face, and according to reports even loath to access the school.

Now this faceless board has sacked the headmaster and will replace him when the school year begins.

I know the headmaster, Mario Mallia, from the Third World Group in the 1980s and we also have friends in common. I have always retained a high opinion of his moral outlook though I can see how this outlook led him to join the Tan-Numri group with Peppi Azzopardi and then to become one of the founder-members of Alternattiva.

For many years he has been an educator, first as a deputy head and more recently as headmaster. The Order first did nothing when it promoted him to head and did not demand he relinquish his political activism. Then it sacked him.

A number of reasons have been mentioned as among the causes of the sacking, such as initiatives to foster better relationships between Catholics and Muslims but all such reasons were later discounted by the lawyer representing the faceless board who listed a number of completely different reasons.

 Like allowing the school to be a polling booth – to avoid making the elderly walk down to St Elmo, he says. Like insisting that the teachers be represented on the board which represents the school to the Order.

So all this inept and late intervention by the faceless board has now turned the issue from just one featuring Mr Mallia alone to one including the teachers as well, as was proved by the attendance at the rally outside the school’s door, as well by the involvement of the teachers’ union. And the faceless board compounded its inept handling by stationing security staff at the door, just like KMB did in the bad days of the 1980s.

The board, and also the Order, do not seem to have fully thought out the consequences of such decisions on the well-functioning of the school and its wider consequences, exactly like the KMB government. How can the boys (for this is still as far as I know, a single sex school) go back to school and study with serenity among all this turmoil? The Order must now step in and reshuffle the board.

Maybe I have become old-fashioned now but I would have relished getting data on O Level passes and the like but neither side seems to have provided these. I quite like the headmaster’s initiative to create a cooperative for unemployed former students. Certainly this was no reason to sack him.

There is now no going back. Mr Mallia can sue the Order and the school will have to make do with his replacement, even if he comes with a lack of qualifications. But then other Church schools suffer from lack of qualifications, with different results.

The point is this ugly situation could have been avoided and the Mario Mallia I know could have been amenable to negotiation before the sacking was decided.

This crisis erupted as Pope Francis was traveling to Canada to ask forgiveness for the ill-treatment of ethnic Canadians in Catholic schools and institutions. The attitude of the faceless board, with its insistence on legality and all that, is far removed from the present Pope’s words.

Which could explain why the board seems to have been defended only by those same members of the clergy who, in the Pope’s own words, still persist in going round in “grannie’s lace”. Of which we have more than a handful now.


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