August 2011 Event: ‘They booked their place in Maltese history’

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AlbertAgiusMHAGuest speaker, Mr Albert AgiusMany Maltese men and women, from all walks of life, have had an impact on the course of Maltese history, some not as well known as others. This was the topic of Mr Albert Agius' talk to the Maltese Historical Association on 16th August 2011, where he sketched the lives of a number of prominent men and women.

Albert explained that the motivation for his talk came from an editorial in Leħen is-Sewwa, a popular Maltese weekly, written at the time of the death of Count Prof Preziosi who was, and still is, recognised as a very prominent Maltese citizen. The editorial spoke of the greatness of a people's civilization. It argued that this is measured by how much it appreciates the great people of the country and by how it is grateful towards those who dedicate their lives to the benefit of humanity and to the progress of knowledge and science.

Albert started with Ġlormu Cassar who was the leading architect at the time when Valletta was founded; many of the buildings, including St. John's Co-Cathedral and the auberges were designed and built by him. Fra Diegu, whose real name was Guglielmu Bonanno, was a lay brother with the Franciscan Order who dedicated his life to helping vulnerable young women and orphaned children.

The Most Noble Professor Sir Luigi Count Preziosi attained fame in Malta and overseas for his work in the care and cure of eye disease. In 1924, he devised an operation to save the sight of many unfortunates; it's still referred to worldwide as 'Preziosi's Operation'. Apart from his professional activities, Preziosi was a leading politician, serving as President of the Senate in 1932 and President of the National Assembly in 1947.

Monsignor Mikiel Azzopardi dedicated his life to helping children and the sick. He is also notable for the role he played in persuading many people to accept that disabled children had a right to respect and dignity. But he is perhaps most famous for founding Dar tal-Providenza in Siggiewi.

Blessed Adeodata Pisani was not born in Malta but in Naples, Italy in 1806 and lived there until she was 17 years of age when, due to difficult circumstances, she and her mother settled in Malta. She became a nun when she was 21 and she renounced her personal wealth, including a substantial sum to be distributed among the poor. Maria Adeodata wrote various works, the most well-known of which is a collection of her personal reflections titled The mystical garden of the soul that loves Jesus and Mary. She died in 1855; after a simple funeral, she was buried in her monastery's crypt. The Maltese ecclesiastial authorities brought her case to the attention of Pope Leo XIII who declared her Venerable in 1898. Unfortunately, the process for her beatification was interrupted due to various factors and it was not until May 9, 2001 that she, along with Dun Ġorġ Preca and Nazju Falzon, was beatified by Pope John Paul II at the Floriana Granaries.

Antonio Sciortino, born at Ħaż-Żebbuġ (1879-1947), must rank among the best of Malta's internationally known artists. He studied and worked extensively overseas, in Rome and in the British Academy of the Arts, where he served as director from 1911 to 1936. Sciortino is renowned for many sculptural works. One of his most famous bronze sculptures is Les Gavroches which is inspired by Victor Hugo's novel, Les Miserables. Sciortino was commissioned to sculpt the statue to Christ the King, commemorating the Eucharistic Congress in 1913. He also sculpted the monument to the Great Siege, which is opposite the Law Courts in Valletta.

Manwel Dimech was born in 1860 in a slum dwelling in Triq San Ġwann, Valletta. His early years were marked by hardship and he was imprisoned for much of his young adult life. But while in prison, he had educated himself and, at the beginning of 1898, he started his own language school and published a weekly newspaper, Il-Bandiera tal-Maltin (The Flag of the Maltese). Dimech henceforth devoted his life to advocating social change and he made many enemies. In 1914, the British colonial government had him arrested and exiled for life for 'agitating the Dockyard workers against the government because he had anticlerical and socialist principles'. He left his wife and three children behind in Malta, and died in exile in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1921.

Nerik Mizzi (1885-1950), one of the most important political leaders of his time, was another who suffered greatly at the hands of the British colonial authorities. Contrary to what many people think, he was not anti-British. He was passionately pro-Maltese and he opposed colonial dominance over Malta by a power which had no affinity with Latin or Mediterranean culture. At various times, he was court-martialled, imprisoned, interned and eventually exiled to Uganda during WWII. Nevertheless, Nerik Mizzi became Prime Minister in 1950, but died just three months later, the only prime minister of Malta to die in office.

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