In 1951, the 1,500 schools and colleges of the De La Salle Order spread through the five continents celebrated the Third Centenary of the birth of the saintly founder of the Brothers, St. John Baptist de la Salle.On that festive occasion, the students who at De La Salle College were earnestly preparing themselves to enter H.M. Dockyard, Malta, resolved to donate their first weekly salary towards the erection of a statue of the saint in the event of their being successful at the very competitive Dockyard Entrance Examination. The proposal met with general approval and thus it was that from 1951 to 1959, successive groups of grateful candidates contributed the sum of Lm 874 17s 8d to a special fund.
The organising committee had meanwhile lost no time contacting various local and foreign sculptors to see whether anyone among them would accept to carry out the work of art. These consultations soon proved that sum collected was quite insufficient to cover the cost of the statue, a suitable pedestal and accessories. Consequently, at an extraordinary meeting of apprentices held on June 17th, 1962 it was agreed to contact Chev. Emvin Cremona fresh from his grandiose and extremely successful Pauline Exhibition and seek his advice. The renowned artist first suggested that the monument be done as a basso rilievo but later on opined that a full-length portrait of St. de la Salle in colourful mosaic would be more original and impressive. He set to work on an 18 ft. high painting of the Saint which once completed was sent in the summer of 1966 to the workshops of Messrs. Ferrari e Bacci, mosaic manufacturers of Lucca (Italy) who painstakingly made a marvellous reproduction of it.
The monument stands on a circular base 24 ft in diameter in the centre of which rise a 35 ft. concrete column 8 ft wide and 3 ft.4 ins thick. The face looking towards the College Drive represents the Founder of the Brothers with on his right hand two teenage apprentices surrounded by the tools of their trade. The whole scene is made up of as many as 100,000 pieces of mosaic blended together into 120 colourful hues. They combine to create an atmosphere of majesty which cannot fail to impress onlookers especially when viewed as the sun is setting. On the opposite side of the monument, an inscription in bronze reads as follows:
“TO HONOUR ST. JOHN BAPTIST DE LA SALLE
COLLEGE STUDENTS DOCKYARD APPRENTICES 1951 – 1959”
Thus, each youngster attending the College in future will feel that “by vision splendid is on his way attended.”
The monument was unveiled on Friday, May 26th, 1967, amidst the applause of those present, the din of fireworks and a flight of pigeons, by Bro. Charles Henry, Superior General, and blessed by His Grace Archbishop Mgr. Michael Gonzi in the presence of a host of distinguished guests and many Old Boys, prominent among them their much esteemed President Mr Godfrey Zarb Adami whose love for his former teachers was as intense as it was sincere.
All Old Lasallians feel proud that the dream of the 1951-1959 groups has been given substance in this original masterpiece of one our foremost Maltese artists. Not only have past students honoured their Patron’s memory and embellished the grounds of their Alma Mater, they have also enriched the island with a work of national importance. No longer will the site the college is built on deserve its old name of “Il-Hawli”, “The Barren”, for art, culture and vision have made its mark on it.
This very contrast between barrenness and art is perhaps a symbol of Saint De La Salle and his Brotherhood’s achievement. A pioneer in education, he courageously undertook the moulding of children’s souls, a most delicate work of art. Those who were fired with his Ideal and followed his example did not spare themselves; they actually turned “the desert into a garden; … joy and gladness shall be found there, thanksgiving and the voice of melody”.
Concluding the speech he made on that memorable occasion, Bro. Edward Galea, Director of the College at that time, said:
“I should like to mention that the inauguration of this monument entailed much preparation. In this, the Brothers and I found considerable help in the sustained co-operation of the Old Lasallians’ Committee who have worked steadfastly to ensure the success of this function. The erection of this work of art is their recompense. To it I would like to add my own sincere thanks. We, the Brothers, are proud of them and of our former students and we trust they will always have reason to be proud of us.”
To commemorate the erection of this monument, the Former Students’ Association organises each year several religious and sport activities to which past students and their families are cordially invited.