This document highlights the original foundation of St. Xavier’s Institution, Penang and the subsequent growth and development of this first Lasallian educational institution in Asia. Based on the original creativeness and inspiration of John Baptist de La Salle, the Christian Brothers in relationship with many associates, made the “service of the poor through education” in Asia a legacy to cherish. This is a chronicle of St Xavier’s journey. By looking back into the past 170 plus years, we wish to learn lessons from history that will serve as the backdrop to paint new horizons for the future in the 21st century.
Several accounts of the establishment of the Lasallian schools and of St Xavier’s Institution itself have been written. Francis Brown wrote La Salle Brothers Malaya & Singapore 1852-1952 (1997), a comprehensive history of the Brothers and their Mission in Singapore and Malaysia. A considerable part of this book discusses St Xavier’s and the early years of St Joseph’s Training College, also based in Penang. Unfortunately, Brown’s study stops in the early 1950s, just after the schools had re-opened following the end of World War II. He does not discuss the coming of Independence and how the post-Merdeka educational policies of the new Malayan government impacted upon the Lasallian schools. Our document discusses the post-Merdeka impact, and later, the educational policies in the aftermath of the New Economic Policy, 1971-90. As well, we discuss the journey into the 21st century.
Ooi Keat Jin, subsequently a professor of History in Universiti Sains Malaysia, started his career teaching History in St Xavier’s. He pulled together old, sometimes faded, pictures which he collected from the school archives, from the Provincialate Archives in Petaling Jaya, and beyond. Thanks to him, many of these otherwise forgotten photographs were put into a single book St Xavier’s Institution: A Pictorial History (1992) making our task much easier.
There also exist two recently published “coffee table” pictorial books that we have drawn on: De La Salle: The Tradition, the Legacy, the Future by Ian Ward, Norma Miraflor and David Webb (2009) and Mission Pioneers of Malaya by Keith Tan (2015). A portion of both books discuss St Xavier’s.
Apart from these, we were able to consult the important book The Man from Borneo: an Autobiography (2010) penned by Br Michael Jacques, perhaps the La Salle Brother who is most well-known locally and globally. Br Michael, born in Kuching, studied in St Xavier’s and became Brother Director (1956-1962) of his Alma Mater. His memoir is full of revealing and important information not only about himself, but about the Lasallian Mission, especially in Malaysia.
We have also relied on the lovely commemorative books written by Br Vincent Corkery, former Director of St Michael’s Institution, Ipoh. Br Vincent took it upon himself to be the scribe of the Mission and to write obituaries of many of his fellow La Salle Brothers. We have relied on several of these including those he wrote for Br Charles Levin and Br Lawrence Spitzig. We have also culled from Br Anthony McNamara’s I Was in Prison 1941-45 (1994) and from the unpublished memoir of Br Michael Paulin Blais simply entitled “Malaysia Later Years” (1982?).
We also consulted the SXI School Diaries, a valuable source especially for the early years of the school. Some of these Diaries are still in their original log books. However, some have been compiled together. The “Annals of St Xavier’s Institution 1851 to 1925”, a 135-page hand-written manuscript, is in fact a compilation of the original School Diaries for those years. The more important parts of the Annals (beginning from 1851) have also been compiled with, presumably the more important parts of later diaries up to December 1937, and then reproduced in the commemorative Souvenir of the Golden Jubilee of the Very Rev Bro Visitor James O.B.E 1887-1937. These primary sources are part of the school’s “Archives”, which amount to several cupboards and lockers located in the Trophy Room. Special thanks to Uncle Vincent Michael, the longest serving employee cum associate of the St Xavier’s Brothers, who holds the keys to the Trophy Room and to the lockers, for making these materials available to us.
Of course, we perused every single issue of The Xaverian the school’s annual magazine which ran from 1948 till 2018. Each of them contains a diary for the year, a record of personalities and events, and commemorations of special occasions like the visits of the Brother Superior General from Rome, of the Chief Minister and the Mayor, as well as the annual Sports Day, Prize Giving Day, Charity Drive, concerts performed, and so on. The Xaverian 1992 which commemorated 140 years since the founding of SXI contained some 25 pages detailing the history of the school “as recorded by Br Anthony MacNamara”. We have also drawn from this important volume.
Drawing from these sources, as well as from interviews with numerous people – Brothers, former teachers, old boys and old girls, current teachers, and especially Uncle Vincent Michael – we have charted the growth and progress, but also the trials and tribulations, and the rise, and the decline too, of St Xavier’s.
Hence, unlike any of the earlier publications, The Xaverian Journey is a document that traces the heartbeat of the Brothers, teachers, students and alumni and alumnae of St Xavier’s Institution for some 200 plus years, from 1787 to 2019. It highlights the changes that occurred under different Directors and wider socio-political developments. It also reports the ebb and flow of various school organisations, and discerns how particular good practices took root and became long lasting traditions which influenced the character of the students and the teachers while they studied and taught in St Xavier’s.
It is also an appreciation of the holistic education which the La Salle Brothers introduced to us in St Xavier’s and an acknowledgement of long-lasting friendships first cultivated while studying and playing together in SXI. All these contributed towards the passing on of a Xaverian and Lasallian ethos evident not only in those activities and organisations while in school, but also in the living of their lives after the pupils had left their Alma Mater. Some have carried on this ethos as reflected in their involvement as teachers in their Alma Mater or some other school, in the Old Xaverians’ Association in Penang and the Xaverian Club in Kuala Lumpur, the Parent-Teacher Association, in the Boards of Governors and Managers, and into their own family and working lives generally. You will also appreciate how generations of Xaverians have contributed towards the making and the progress of the Malaysian government and civil society.
Put another way, this story is not only about events and happenings but about the life-long imbued legacy of Xaverians, who in each era and with every generation brought new dimensions to the core meaning of Lasallian education in Asia. This book is our gift to the present generation of Xaverians for them to cherish, to reflect on, to add to, and to hand over to the next generation.
We wish to thank Dato’ Dr Anthony Sibert and Chris Dass for their help in the preparation of this manuscript. Thanks also to Br Jason Blaikie for use of the picture of “La Julie”, the ship that brought the first group of six La Salle Brothers from Antwerp, Belgium to Singapore in 1852. He possesses the original painting which he acquired in an auction.
The lovely aerial picture of St Xavier’s and George Town was taken by Calvin Cheong, a young Xaverian of the class of 2016. We thank him for allowing us to use his photograph which opens this book. Thanks also to Anil Netto, Ooi Gim Ewe, Johan Saravanamuttu, P Ramakrishnan, Chiu Sheng Bin and Christopher Lee for reading versions of this manuscipt and for their useful feedback. We are grateful to Josephine Choo who proofread the entire text carefully and cleaned up the manuscript.
We are further grateful to Chin Saik Yoon who lent his professional services as a publisher to our project. It was he who framed the presentation of our book. It was a delight to work with Chin Mun Woh of C-Square and his graphic designer Liz Tan who were responsible for the layout of this book. They were also very patient and cheerful. And special thanks to Dato’ Tan Leh Sah and Phoenix Press for their support and accommodating our printing requests.
Enjoy this book!
November 2019, Penang