The need for a theatre person

Following the success the first Salesian Oratory in Sliema had, the Salesian congregation continued to expand its apostolate within Maltese society. It ventured out to set up a second oratory complex, similar to the one in Sliema. Don Allegra, who was to continue his work at the oratory in Sliema commissioned the work to be carried out in Birkirkara. In 1909, only a year after the first oratory was inaugurated, the Birkirkara oratory started its work with young people. This oratory, which presently is being taken care of by the Missionary of St. Paul, saw one of the very first Maltese Salesian vocations, a very timid person, Carmelo Galea. Carmelo was born in Birkirkara on August 16, 1890 and died on July 29, 1973 at the age of 83. He was the second in a family of six, three boys and three girls. His father died before the youngest was born.  His attachment to his mother remained with him throughout his life, and he would speak with gratitude of the truly Christian upbringing which he and all his brothers and sisters had received. Though Carmelo was the only one in the family to become a religious, the Christian spirit of dedication which had been fostered there prompted all his brothers and sisters to be active members of the Maltese Secular Institute known as the M.U.S.E.U.M., dedicated to the teaching of Catechism to children. 

Dar in-Niket (1951)

Due to the lack of state secondary schools and relatively expensive admission fees to private schools, it was difficult for his family to send him to secondary school. Carmelo finished elementary school at the age of 15, and started working right after. Carmelo made ends meet through constant work, helping financially his mother and the rest of the family. He loved working with other young people, and recounts how important it was for him to be amongst the first to attend the newly set-up Salesian Oratory in Birkirkara. Attracted to the Salesian lifestyle, Galea constantly related his loving approach towards young people to that of John Bosco, who at the time was not even beatified. When Carmelo approached Don Allegra, who was also the rector in charge of the oratory in B’Kara, he knew that Carmelo had the qualities to become a very good Salesian, and sent him to become an aspirant at St. Patrick’s Industrial Institute in Sliema. There he spent a year in formation whilst being given the task of teaching catechism to young children. He confirmed his calling to become a lay brother within the Salesian congregation, which implied duties similar to that of a regular Salesian priest. Fr. Patrick O’ Grady, rector of St. Patrick’s Institute, accompanied Carmelo to Turin where he received the formation as a novice. 

He started his noviciate at the Salesian house near Valsalice in Turin at the San Benigno Canavese house. This is a very important year for young people who wish to take on a religious lifestyle in which they are taught about the Salesian charism and the importance of having God at the centre of their lives through their work and frame of mind. Galea knew how important this step was for him. He was constantly admired by others on the personal qualities which he possessed. Throughout his life Carmelo Galea suffered the consequences of a serious attack of pleurisy which he contracted while engaged in storing snow in the cellars in Turin during the winter months which was used as ice-blocks for cooling in the following summer, before the time of refrigerators and deep freeze. Because of his health issues and since he had already gained pedagogical experience in Malta, the Salesian superiors decided to send Galea to Sicily, where he continued his studies and taught at the San Gregorio Institute in the milder climate of Catania. 

Whilst teaching children at the Institute of San Gregorio, the Salesian superiors noticed Galea’s love for the arts and gave him the role of animating the organisation of a theatre within the institute. This was Galea’s very first attempt at using theatre as a means for education, not only direct education of the children through texts, but by their involvement. The importance given to theatre by Carmelo Galea was essential for his mission to garner children and youths and help them develop their morals and intellectual abilities. The spirit which Galea created in Catania was very important for the nearby population not only because other forms of entertainment like cinema were inexistent, but because his idea of providing on education was relatively unorthodox. His form of entertainment was clean fun for both the children at the institute and for the frequent patrons at the theatre performances. It is said that the theatre in which Galea worked in gained the reputation of being amongst the best in Catania. In December 1913, Carmelo Galea finished his novitiate and on the 29th of January 1914 at the San Gregorio house, Galea received his first religious vows as a Salesian. These festive days however had to be short-lived as the fury of the first World War spread across Europe. The devastation across Europe brought about by the first World War was such that the Salesian superiors had to send Carmelo Galea back to Malta due to Britain’s important role throughout the war. 

The Salesian superiors at the Oratory were very aware of his success in Catania and gave Carmelo Galea the duty of running the Juventutis Domus in Sliema. Through his previous experience in Catania, Galea knew how to organise the theatre and had the means of how to do so. He immediately set out to reform the previously established amateur drama group. The San Genesio group needed a Salesian to co-ordinate the works being done whilst improving it’s theatre skills. Galea’s use of theatre was also influenced by moral instruction because of his ongoing work as a catechist at the oratory and college across the road. It is in this period that the ‘Circolo San Giovanni Bosco’ which constituted of a group of young adults who wanted to continue their work at the oratory whilst receiving ongoing formation through conferences and meetings centred around various formative topics was created. Carmelo Galea used this group of young people as a means of garnering aspiring actors to work with the Saint Genesius group. The formation given through the Circolo San Giovanni Bosco was accompanied by that given through theatre, so both served as a means of moral instruction and hence, education. 

Iz-Zija ta’ Karlu (1951)

Carmelo Galea worked for nine years at the Juventutis Domus before being sent back to Sicily by his superiors. This time he was transferred to Modica at the base of the Sicilian island, where Galea was assigned the role of teacher and director of the theatre. Whilst keeping to his original values and approach to the work, Galea made a name for himself as being a true Salesian. He was loved by everyone, and when it was time for him to move on, his loss was greatly felt by the Italian population. In 1931, eight years after Carmelo was sent back to Sicily, the young people frequenting the Oratory in Sliema put pressure on the Maltese superiors to bring Carmelo Galea back to the island. In agreeing with their call, Bro. Galea was brought back to Malta together with Don Scravaglieri, and from then on, Galea spent the rest of his life in Sliema as director of the Juventutis Domus and in charge of catechism. 

He continued his work at the Oratory in Sliema; teaching at the St. Alphonsus College, a small college annexed to the Domus run by the Salesian Italian congregation, and directing the work being carried out at the Juventutis Domus, which was now referred to across Malta by the common name ‘It-Teatru tas-Salesjani’ (Salesian Theatre). Throughout this period, Galea focused his theatre work on producing new texts, so he started creating his own original work and translating others from Italian. After spending most of his time in Sicily, he often translated Italian texts into Maltese as he did not possess a good grasp of the English language. This is also evident in his early writing in which he uses Italian to give stage directions, and does not use English. His only few words written in English are very basic and are often grammatically incorrect.

This did not impede Galea’s perseverance in using theatre as a tool to educate whilst offering a healthy alternative entertainment. As was stated earlier, the Maltese educated class considered itself to be culturally Italian. Carmelo Galea gradually started developing his writing skills so that the Salesian Theatre could start producing educational works in Maltese to reach out to the general public. During his time in Sliema, Galea made contacts with renowned novelists and poets with whom he shared ideas on works. Dun Karm Psaila, who used to celebrate mass daily at the Oratory, used to be seen talking to Carmelo Galea daily, often spending a great deal of time discussing works and ideas.  Galea was gradually building the foundations to what would be his theatre milieu.

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