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Michael the Brave High School in Alba Iulia, nearing its centenary (1919-2019)

In this text we deal with the past of Horea, Cloșca and Crișan College. Horea, Cloșca and Crișan College was originally named Michael the Brave, but was renamed during the Communist regime when these three leaders of the Romanian peasant uprising of 1784,imprisoned and executed in Alba Iulia, became fashionable as fighters for social justice. The importance of this history is conferred by the fact that the centenary of the high school is preceded by that of the Unification of Transylvania with Romania on 1 December 1918. The Romanian State High School of Alba Iulia was the first of its kind to be established in the province, which is particularly remarkable given Alba Iulia’s relatively small size: with only 11,000 inhabitants, it was dwarfed by neighbouring Sibiu (38,000), Brașov (41,000) and Arad (77,000). However, although the city was small, its Romanian community was well organised, dynamic and enthusiastic about the events of 1 December 1918. After the high school was established, it needed a building, teaching materials, teachers and pupils. The struggle to meet these requirements lasted until the Second World War.

On 2 December 1918, two days after the Great National Assembly, a Conference of Romanian Teachers of Transylvania took place in Alba Iulia. The first issue raised was that the nation providing the greatest number of taxpayers in the province had no state-subsidised gymnasium in which its own language was used for teaching. Therefore, the first resolution adopted by the conference was that in all gymnasia and public schools Romanian would be the teaching language and Hungarian was to be taught as a separate subject to senior grades only. An even more drastic measure was taken on 3 January 1919, when the Ruling Council of Transylvania took over the secondary schools that were hitherto under the patronage of the Ministry of Instruction in Budapest. This act was in keeping with the nationalist spirit of the age: Magyar national exclusivism was followed by Romanian national exclusivism.

As the first steps in Romanian nationalism were taken in Alba Iulia, it is not surprising that the Romanians of Alba Iulia were among the first to put these sentiments into action. The activity of Michael the Brave High School started in the building of the civil state Hungarian school on Dr Ujfalusi József Utca (later renamed Călărașilor Street). On 3 February 1919, its inauguration ceremony took place, involving invocations of the Holy Ghost in both the Orthodox and Greek Catholic archpriest churches in the presence of pupils and many local inhabitants. Teaching began the next day. The interval February-June 1919 was equated with a school year. This is the reason for the high school in Alba Iulia being the only one in Transylvania that reckons in its activity the school year 1918-1919.

From the start, the original school building proved somewhat cramped. Local generosity and governmental support facilitated the foundation of a new building. However, it was a further two decades before its inauguration. A powerful local landowner, Ioan Cirlea – regarded as the richest Romanian in Alba Iulia at that time – donated a plot of four hectares in 1923. The Liberal Minister of Public Instruction, Constantin Angelescu, immediately offered 1 million Lei to begin construction, and Parliament approved a further sum of 25 million Lei for the building. In 1923 the construction began and soon advanced to the roof. But by this point, the interest of the government had dissipated and construction stopped. After a few short years, the local press remarked with sad humour that tree branches had started to grow through the windows of the high school.

The solution came from an unexpected turn of events, namely King Charles II’s 1938 regional administrative reform decree. The authoritarian regime sent the sums necessary to complete the building – not as a high school but as the seat of the royal residence of Mureș district. In 1940, after Charles’ regime fell, Michael the Brave High School finally moved into the building which had been made for it. However, the institution’s tribulations did not end there. As Enea Zefleanu, the high school’s head teacher, nervously observed, his institution occupied only one third of the space of the building, being forced to accept an uneasy cohabitation with the Commercial High School, the School Inspectorate of Alba Region, and the command of the Twentieth Infantry Division. The ups and downs did not finish here: in 1944-1945, the high school was evacuated and in its stead a Soviet military hospital was installed, along with a plaque above its main entrance bearing the slogan “Glory to Comrade Stalin!” Assembling the teaching staff also required significant efforts, although this task was not as hard as the construction of the building. Finding teachers was a general problem. There was high demand for Romanian teachers in the dozens of gymnasia and Hungarian state schools which became Romanian state schools in January 1919. The Ruling Council of Transylvania sought a quick solution. Intensive courses were organised at Ferenc József University in Cluj (later known as the University of Upper Dacia). Through these courses, a number of priests, students and primary school teachers became secondary education teachers, and in spite of the hasty, improvised character of this solution, in time the graduates of these intensive courses proved quality teachers.

Indeed, many of the graduates of these teaching courses went on to become distinguished educators in Alba Iulia. Lucian Muntean, a theologian from Alba Iulia, became an eminent teacher of natural sciences; the student Horea Teculescu became a renowned teacher of Romanian language; and the Greek-Catholic priest Virgul Cucuiu graduated in history and geography, and later founded the High School’s Museum of History and Ethnography. Enea Zeflean, the son of a blacksmith from Abrud, after obtaining a BA degree from Ferenc József University in 1909, became a renowned classicist. Eugen Hulea, the son of a notary from Galda de Jos, obtaining a BA degree in 1923, became a modernist historian, combining in his studies lived history with archival documentary information. The activities in Alba Iulia of Pierre Chanier, sent by the French Mission in 1925, earned him the “Star of Romania” and rank of knight and, in 1927, the distinction Officier de l’Academie de France. Due to its distinguished and committed teaching staff, the High School, together with the Museum of Union, became a hotbed of cultural development in Alba Iulia and the adjacent area.

A historical outline of Michael the Brave High School should refer also to the didactic materials, laboratories, library, grants and catechisation. The final aspect to consider is the pupils. One of the yearbooks of the high school notes that in February 1919 the institution began its activity with pupils coming from the Roman Catholic Gymnasium of Alba Iulia and the Superior Archiepiscopal Gymnasium of Blaj. Classes began with 300 pupils in five classes. In the 1922-1923 and 1923-1924 school years the high school had the highest number of pupils, 597 and 593 respectively, divided into eight classes. Later, up to 1945, the number of pupils stabilised at circa 400 pupils. In spite of teachers’ exigence, pupils’ graduation rates were quite high, at around 80%. Between 1940 and 1945, graduation rates became even higher – 90% – perhaps explainable through the teachers’ greater permissiveness over marking, wishing to spare the families of pupils affected by war from further worries.

Beyond statistical measurables, we know from the school’s yearbooks that pupils were involved in several school associations, such as the George Coșbuc Reading Society, the Iacob Mureșianu Music Society, the Lumina Theological Society of the Orthodox, the St Mary Religious Society of Greek Catholic pupils, the Axente Sever Scout troop, the Red Cross youth group and the Sport Society. (V.M.)