The very beginnings of our School
Before our Sliema school even came into existence the Sisters of St. Joseph had quite a few difficult moments to go through.
They opened a school originally in Cospicua and as the pupils increased gradually a second house was rented. As these two houses became too small to accommodate the ever increasing number of pupils and the funds were then very low, the sisters contacted the Princess of Capua who resided at her Capua Palace, Sliema. They asked her for help; she offered no financial assistance but instead wrote directly to the Pope, then Leo XIII who, through the local Bishop, Monseigneur Gaetano Pace Forno did cede the land in Cathedral Street on lease. The place was just a huge green area. The building was ready within a year and our School was opened in 1881.
It must have been most picturesque in those days to see carts, trucks, carrozzini carrying load after load to transport furniture, children and Sisters to the new locality in Sliema- an exodus indeed! That is how our Sliema School started – the Sliema school of 1881. The first Superior was Sr. Josephine Peyre who left for Tunis in 1901. She was much esteemed, respected and much loved by parents and pupils alike. In fact when the news of her death reached Malta they had a special Mass celebrated at Stella Maris Church for the repose of her soul. In all there were fourteen sisters who came from Cospicua to Sliema. Children were taught by sisters. There were no lay teachers at the beginning but by the turn of the Century there were one or two. Because of the distance and hardships in travelling in those days, a number of children could not possibly travel everyday to Sliema, so these were replaced by children from the locality itself.
In those days education was not obligatory, so the number of children in our school was quite small as only the elite could afford a private school. However, St. Emilie de Vialar, our Foundress, was always in love with the poor, so she made it a point that, wherever our sisters had schools, a number of places would also be allotted to those less fortunate who could not afford to pay. So there were three sections: School for Boarders, paying school for Day pupils and free school for poor children – in this way all were given the possiblity of receiving the same education.The Curriculum, then referred to as Syllabus, consisted of Religion, Reading,Handwriting, Arithmetic, Grammar & Literature, Hand crafts & Fine Arts, Dancing & Drama, History and Geography. These subjects were all taught from Junior One upwards. There were also Clubs and Games.There was much insistence on Manners and Etiquette as well as on honesty and sense of duty.Rewards existed such as the Roll of Honour where names of girls were enlisted for Conduct, Application and Work. Little Punishments existed too: bad marks were given for very serious offences where children could also be expelled from school. Each class was equipped with holy articles such as a Crucifix and statues of Our Lady and St. Joseph. There was a clock in every class and in cold weather even a heater was allowed.
The school day started at 8.30 a.m. and finished at 3.30 p.m. The children had a very short break in the morning and an hour’s break for lunch. Every session started and ended with prayers. When possible the scholastic day ended with Mass and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.