From the Archives: Opening of a ‘Convitto’ 170 years ago in Malta
Having discovered that 170 years ago on 29 March 1845, the English Governor of Malta invited the Society to open a College on the island, it was decided to look at what material could be found in the Province Archives which relate to Malta and in particular to this College.
From looking at various sources, it was discovered that the College of St Paul's was opened in 1845 at Notabile. George Connell SJ (1800-1853) was the first Rector of the College. His name is the sole name listed under 'Missio Melitensis' in the Province Catalogue for the first few years 1845-1847. (The catalogues have been digitised by the Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu and can be viewed online.) Connell returned to England in 1850 with broken health and died at Stonyhurst on 29 March 1853 aged 53. He was succeeded first by Henry Seagrave SJ, under whose Rectorship the college moved to Merchant Street, Vallettta, and then Henry McCann. Owing to various difficulties, the college closed in 1855.
Among the papers held here in the archives, three documents have been selected as particularly interesting for marking the anniversary of the opening of the Convitto in 1845. The first document is a license for the keeping of a school by B Esmonde from the Chief Secretary to the Honorable Sir Patrick Stewart, Governor of Malta, dated 16 May 1845 (RU/1). Fr Bartholomew Esmonde SJ (1789-1862) was of the Irish Province and arrived in Malta on 7 June 1842, having been sent from Rome by Fr General with the approbation and blessing of the Holy Father Greg XVI. There are various documents by him in the archives including a journal, of which an extract has been included below.
The second document is a letter from the Chief Secretary's Office, Valletta, dated 23 Oct 1845, stating that no Jesuits except those who are British born subjects are to be employed in the Convitto about to be established in Notabile nor are any Jesuits, except British born subjects, allowed to keep a school on the island (RU/1). The Governor also requests that he is presented with a list of those Jesuits to be employed at the college along with their country of origin.
The third document is a brochure for St Paul’s College (RU/1). This document sets out that children aged 7 to 13 will be admitted, 'strict attention will be paid to the morals of the scholars' and 'to prevent disagreeable distinctions in dress, a becoming uniform has been selected'. The brochure concludes by listing the items which students should bring with them, among which the following are included mattresses, pillows, towels, sheets, clothes, cutlery, shoes, combs and brushes.
Here is an extract from the Journal of Fr B Esmonde in Malta on suspension and restoration of faculties to Padre Rillo-establishment of the convitto of St Paul in Notabile (RU/1) written on the 4 October 1845 about the opening of the 'Convitto' or boarding school:
In the morning at 8 ½ O C Mgr Sant ... and other canons came in Canonical Costume from the Cathedral to our Convitto, where Fr G Connell, the Rector, and his little community received them at the door and conducted them to the Chapel, where everything being prepared the evening before, Mgr Sant blessed the Chapel and House according to the Roman Ritual. We purposely had this ceremony private, a few clergy and gentry attended, and the whole event off with great quiet and edification, Mgr Sant said Mass, and consecrated the B Sacrament for Benediction after dinner.
At 2pm according to previous notice and printed tickets of admission the public rooms of the convitto, chapel etc were crowded with the parents of the new Convittoré and numbers of st respectability, multitudes all round the Convitto unable to enter - a strong body of police attended with orders to obey the instructions of Fr Rector – thus everything with great order and propriety. No females admitted…That evening 72 Convittoré supped in their new Refectory and slept in the new dormitory and thus commenced the ‘Convitto de San Paolo’.
With the exception of a poor reproduction of a more recent photo, the only photographic material for Malta held in the Archive are these two photographs dated 1903. These related to the new college which was opened in 1877. St Ignatius College at St Julian’s flourished, but due to external troubles it was decided to close this school down in July 1907.
Image below left: Far left back row: Brother John Cocker SJ of the the English province.