The Unitarian high school is the oldest surviving institution of education in Kolozsvár and has been the stronghold of Unitarianism for over four centuries.
Its foundation is closely connected to the establishment of the Transylvanian Principality and the Reformation. In 1556 and then in 1557 the nobility asked Isabella – who was governing Transylvania as a ward of her infant son, John Sigismund – to establish schools in the abandoned monasteries.
The diet of Torda in 1557 decided that schools would be established in the Dominican Monastery in Kolozsvár(Cluj-Napoca), the Franciscan Monastery in Marosvásárhely (Targu Mures) and Nagyvárad (Oradea).
The school in Kolozsvár immediately obtained an annual sum of 100 forints, a donation from the part of the Queen, while the city undertook the renovation of the building. The building of the Dominican Monastery raised in Gothic style, standing now on Piata Muzeului became the first school, later it was home to the Franciscan Monastery, – and today it houses the School of Music.
The city priest, David Ferenc was appointed leader of the newly created school. At the same time, David Ferenc was the spiritual leader of the Reformation in Transylvania. At that time he was a follower of the Lutheran confession, shortly afterwards he converted to Calvinism (1564–1567) and later on he invented his own confession, the most radical wing of Protestantism, called the Anti – trinitarianism, that is the belief in an indivisible God, today known as theUnitarianism. The school – and the whole city - followed in the footsteps of the religious innovator, and from 1568 became Unitarian.
The school survived on the donations of the Princes. John Sigismund in his founding charter dating from September 1562 orders that a quarter of the city’s taxes be allocated to the school.
Only few data survive from the first century of the school’s functioning. The school was one of the many schools functioning in protestant spirit scattered in Europe. Most of the teachers graduated from famous Protestant universities in Germany. The institution was led by a rector and the teaching was done by professors and last-year students. The duration of studies was 8 years; mainly classic culture, philosophy and theology were taught. By the end of the 16th century the school had become an important meeting point for Protestant scholars from all over Europe.
The baroque spirituality as opposing to the protestant one was introduced to Kolozsvár through the Jesuit school founded by Prince Báthory István - today the Báthory István High School. The permanent religious strife in the 16th century and the frequent change of Princes were not beneficial to the school’s work.
With the Diploma Leopoldinum in 1690, Transylvania fell under Hapsburg rule and a process of re-catholisation followed. Thus in October 1693 the Unitarian High School was evacuated from the building which it had been using for the previous one-and-a-half centuries.
It was then moved to the Main Square of the city, opposite St. Michael’s Church, to the parochial building, and the adjoining three houses were to be transformed into school buildings. At that time the St. Michael’s Church and the parochial buildings belonged to the Unitarians, having been donated to them by John Sigismund in the previous century. Hardly had the constructions been finished when a bad firestorm occurred (6 may 1697) in which almost the whole city - including the Unitarian High School - was destroyed.
In order to collect the necessary funds for reconstruction, Kolozsvári Dimény Pál rector was sent to the Netherlands and in a year he managed to raise as much as 17000 forints. From 1703 on the courses were again disturbed by the War of Independence led by Rákóczi Ferenc. In this period the school rector was Felvinczi György, the organizer of the first theater in the city, he himself a poet and a playwright.
After the peace of Szatmar, which marked the defeat of the War of Independence, the Catholics took again in possession the St. Michael’s Church and in 1718 they confiscated the parochial buildings in which the school resided.
The school year of 1718 began on a new location in the Belső Magyar street (today 21 Decembrie), in the six rooms of a house owned by a certain Huszár. Rooms were added and the house was enlarged, until 1801, when the construction of a whole new building was started. This two-storey building was built in baroque – classicist style based on the plans of Joseph Lederer, home nowadays to the Liceul Sanitar. Over the entrance the words “MUSIS ET VIRTUTIBUS” were carved.
All the prominent Unitarian personalities of the 19th century studied here, such as polihistor Brassai Sámuel, poets Szentiváni Mihály and Kriza János, historians Jakab Elek and Kővári László, chemic Berde Áron as well as writer Gyallai Domokos. This is where the theology also functioned. Together with house Pákei – added in 1887 – the building had 55 rooms.
In September 1901 the present building was completed. Standing next to the eclectic Unitarian Church, designed by Pákei Lajos, today it is the most monumental school building in town. From 1850 on the institution has had the rank of “higher gymnasium” with eight classes, with an average of 400 students and 25 professors, and with a dormitory housing 200 people.
The building also houses the Theological Academy as well as bishop’s offices. The student’s literary circle is named after Kriza János. The weekly edition of the circle is called Remény (Hope).
Outstanding figures of the teaching staff are the historian Gal Kelemen, also the school’s headmaster, literary historians Barabás Ábel, Kiss Ernő, Borbély István, historian Kelemen Lajos, botanist Nyíredi Géza etc.
After the Second World War the communist regime nationalized the school with the so called “school reform” of 1948, and called it “Hungarian Middle Boy School no.1”.
The institution continued to function with excellent teachers and it was considered to be the best Hungarian school in town. In 1949 evening section was introduced and in 1954 the school’s name was changed to “Middle School No. 7”.
In 1957 the 400 anniversary was celebrated and on this occasion it received the name “Brassai Samuel Middle School”. In the next three years - following the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 – many of the professors were show-trialed and forced to leave their jobs.
In 1962 four Romanian language classes were introduced to the evening section and from the next year the school had a Romanian speaking principal. From 1962 also German speaking classes were introduced. From 1963 on it was forbidden to use the name Brassai. Only in 1970 was the name allowed again.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s fine traditions are started: a new school paper called “Fiatal Szívvel”, the Brassai-week, Brassai-cup, various foundations and prizes are established.
In 1977, following Ceausescu’s hideous “school reform” the school becomes an industrial school. As a consequence, many well endowed children leave the school. In 1975 the German section was moved to “George Cosbuc High School” and in 1985 Romanian classes were introduced to the day section also.
The year 1989 meant a turning point in the school’s life. Suppressed ideas surfaced, long hidden feelings came to daylight and plans were made. It was obvious that if we wanted to do something for our future than the school would be the most suitable place. Thus – after 44 years of compulsory pause – the Unitarian School was reborn bearing the marks of the Unitarian spirituality and feeding on the traditions of the past.
Like it has done for many centuries, it provides opportunities for every student keen on learning, regardless of confession or background. Although the school functions with the financial support of the state, we have introduced religion in our Curriculum.
Pedagogic work is efficiently completed by spiritual and moral education. Priest and teacher, school and church cooperate since both have the same perspective. Two religion classes a week promote the children’s’ spiritual advancement as well as taking part on a service every week. There is an agreement between the Unitarian Church and the Ministry of Education which should be appreciated, according to this teachers need the approval of the Unitarian Church to teach in the school.