School head who championed inclusivity is fired by Dominicans

Dominican Order had stopped Mario Mallia from continued interfaith dialogue between students, after new rector was appointed in 2020

Mario Mallia
Mario Mallia

A popular head of school who has served as an ADPD politician for the last two decades, was fired from St Albert the Great College by the Dominican Order.

Mario Mallia spent 16 years serving as the Valletta school’s head of school after three years in the deputy role.

Mallia was accused of “usurping the school property” for allowing the Electoral Commission to use the school as a polling station against payment for the school, in a bid to alleviate the hardship of elderly voters having to walk to Fort St Elmo, as well as for “aggravated insubordination” after insisting to have college staff represented on a new board that liaises with the Dominican province of Malta.

The Order even cited misgivings over his curriculum programme aimed at fostering dialogue between children of different faiths, and for creating a cooperative for former college students who have a disability.

In its original warning last month, while Mallia was still recovering from COVID-19, the Dominican order expressed discomfort at his political involvement as an Alternattiva Demokratika official. This reason was then dropped in the letter of dismissal. Mallia insists that the school was already aware of his political activism, which predates his employment.

Contacted by MaltaToday just minutes after collecting his belongings from his office, Mallia made it clear that he was fired. “I did not resign. I wanted to stay for the sake of students and staff,” he said.

Mallia expressed his pride in what was achieved in the past 16 years. “We pride ourselves on building a community of people who have a strong sense of belonging and fully participate in the running of the school. Our approach was not a top down managerial one but one based on dialogue based on the school ethos.”

He said he had no issues with the Order up until two years ago, saying educators had a free hand to run the school in line with its Christian ethos of inclusivity and social justice.

Things changed upon the appointment of a new rector. Mallia said he was flabbergasted by the Order’s misgivings on his programme to have students of different faiths meet up, which he said is completely in line with Pope Francis’ teachings in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti.

Following a complaint, the school decided to pull the plug on this programme, “in an attitude which suggests that the school has a problem with diversity”.

The order insisted that Mallia should have asked permission before starting the educational programme. “Should I ask permission to practice the culture of inclusivity which we preach?” Mallia asked. “The curriculum changes did not in any way impact religion lessons, which have not been reduced. In fact, to engage in dialogue it is also important to be informed about your own religion.”

In last month’s warning, Mallia was also asked to apologise for wanting school staff on a non-executive board that liaises with the Order.

Mallia insists he had nothing to apologise for, and that he was simply following the school’s ethos of dialogue and participation.

Now unemployed, Mallia hopes that the school will “remain a community and a family” as it has been in the past years.

Parents, teachers and academics expressed dismay at the decision of the Dominican Order. A co-founder of Alternattiva Demokratika, Mallia also served as the party’s deputy chairperson and contested on the party’s behalf in all elections since 1989 and has served as Head of St Albert College for the past.

Church media announcement

The announcement that Mallia “will not be returning to lead the college at the start of the new scholastic year” was made on Church media portal Newsbook, in a report which attributed the decision to replace Mallia to “differences in policies and management issues”.

St Albert the Great rector Fr Aaron Zahra
St Albert the Great rector Fr Aaron Zahra

The report said that school rector Fr Aaron Zahra, a Dominican, will be serving as acting-head.

Mallia’s term as head has been characterised by an emphasis on social justice in line with the church’s social teachings as well as a commitment for inclusion and dialogue with parents, teachers and students.

In 2016, the school had offered its facilities to the Muslim community which at that time was forced to pray in public spaces after being denied planning permits for a new place of worship.

In 2019, the school opted out of the EU-funded fruit and vegetable scheme due to its contribution to plastic and other packaging waste. “We can’t display the flag for being an eco-friendly school while supporting the use of many plastic containers, irrespective of whether these are recyclable. This is contradictory. We can't encourage reuse nationwide and at schools we throw away plastic containers,” Mallia said.

Mario Mallia graduated B.Ed (Hons) and M.Ed, and holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Educational Administration and Management and a Diploma in Environmental Science. He was active for many years in a number of NGOs like Tan-Numri and was one of the founders of AD of which he still serves as deputy chairperson.

Public reactions

Mario Mallia’s Facebook account was flooded by messages of solidarity by past and present school teachers and students. Andrew Azzopardi, dean for the Faculty for Social Welbeing, described Mallia as “one of the best and most dedicated educators he knows.”

A former student described him as a “visionary” and a living testimony of inclusion. He invited the church authorities to talk to the staff and parents who were all part of a family. “This is a shameful decision especially if the decision to fire him stems from the close-minded mentality of the Maltese church and has nothing to do with the education of children,” the post read.

Another former teacher described Mallia as “true leader that not only leads by example but practices what he preaches.” “There was no gender, race, religion or ethnicity… he had an open-door policy and always had time for everyone be it staff or teachers”.

An ex-student called on the church authorities to “let the educators do their job and the rest stick to their pulpits.” A parent called on the church to revoke this decision.

“I am speaking out because of the good he did to my son and many others. I wish that other children will continue benefitting from his leadership… the college will be losing a man of principle and vision who thought us what inclusion means in practice, that of belonging to a family albeit one which is not biological.”

College's Right of Reply

A lawyer representing the rector, acting head and college board of St Albert the Great College sent the following in response to our article

The College of St Albert the Great declares that, contrary to the impression given by the article title ‘School head who championed inclusivity fired by the Dominicans’, the crucial issue which regrettably led to Mr. Mallia’s dismissal was not in any way related to his beliefs or to his position favouring inclusivity but, on the other hand, to his clear refusal to abide with the regulatory Statute which expressly provides which financial and other matters relating to the running of the College have to be approved by the College Board.

There were numerous instances were decisions which had or could potentially have a financial effect on the College and/or which involved the running of the College were taken by Mr. Mallia without due authorisation of the College Board as required by Statute. Duly warned, Mr. Mallia even refused to recognise the superior authority of the College Board as determined via the Statute itself which regulates the running of the College.

Regrettably but justifiably, the Board determined that it could no longer work with a Headmaster who refuses to abide with the conditions of the Statute which regulates the running of the College which he is supposed to head and who chooses instead to operate unilaterally and without any accountability.

The Board of St Albert the Great College has always had at heart all policies aimed at improving the lives of its students, their families and its educators alike, including policies of inclusivity as well as eco-friendly policies which it has always embraced and which it will continue to push forward in the years to come with the same vision and perseverance.