“Last of the Mohicans”

Jottings re 131st Anniversary of St Joseph’s Kuching

It goes without saying that none of those present on the 2 3rd November 2013 at the grand celebratory banquet of St Joseph`s School Kuching held at The Riverside Majestic Hotel to commemorate the 131st anniversary of the founding in 1882 of that great school, that great seat of education, were present then. I was privileged to be invited as I taught at St. Joseph`s for seven years (1951-1957) as one of the pioneer La Salle Brothers.

The Mill Father John Vos was the last Mill Hill principal of St Joseph’s ending his distinguished career as an educator and administrator in or around 1957 when he began a new career as the first Vicar Apostolic of Kuching with the title of Bishop. Thus ended the 68 years of direct involvement of the Mill Fathers in the history of St Joseph’s. This occurred soon after the ending of World War 2.

The second era of St Joseph’s as seat of education began with the arrival of the La Salle Brothers in January, 1950. Records reveal that the Church authorities had sought the help of this Order of Educators to take over the administration of some of its major schools in Sarawak and N. Borneo. Such help was apparently sought as far back as 1916, again in 1924 and 1929. But because of the Order’s heavy commitment in establishing and administering schools in the S.E. Asian region-embracing countries like West Malaysia, Ceylon, Burma, Philippines, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Vietnam-the Brothers were unable to take up the challenge of spreading their educational wings to Borneo.

A final appeal by Bishop John Vosto the head quarters of the Brothers in Rome after World War 2 was successful. This was, perhaps, partly because of the ravages caused to both Church and state by the Japanese invasion and occupation of these territories during World War 2. The Church was badly affected by this and the number of Missionaries was greatly depleted. In North Borneo some 7 priests including the head of the Mission, Mgr. August Wachter, were abducted and killed by the Japanese. Those left to run the parishes and schools in both territories were but a few emaciated, released prisoners of war.

With the arrival of Bro. Paul Gallagher on a fact-finding visit to Kuching in 1949 things began to happened the advent of the La Salle Order of Teaching Brothers to Borneo. St Joseph’s primary and secondary schools became the first Lasallian -administered school on the vast island of Borneo.

So onto follow was Sacred Heart Primary and Secondary School, Sibu, Sacred Heart primary and secondary schools in Jesselton, N. Borneo (now La Salle Secondary, in what is now Kota Kinabalu, Sabah), St Mary’s, Sandakan and St Martin’s, Tambunan and the last Butitin, in Nabawan in the interior. Para phrasing Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar famous Veni, Vidi, Vici speech in the play Julius Caesar, Bro Paul said, I came to Kuching, I saw, and Kuching conquered and so a new era for St Joseph’s began with the La Salle Brothers in charge. Their direct involvement with the school only came to an end when Gerard Lee took over the helm from Bro. Columba Gleeson as Principal in the late 1980s.

Under Gerard’s administration and those that followed him as Principals, the school continued to grow in size and stature. Like all fruitful parents this old famous school has now produced an offspring in the new St Joseph’s private school which stands under the shadow of the Old St Joseph’s. Sometimes offspring bring trouble and problems to parents; hopefully this will not be the case as the new has sound and healthy genetic connections.

My hope is that the old St Joseph’s will live on and will work in close and amicable relationship with the New St Joseph’s each enhancing the other in all fields of educational endeavour and that the La Salle Brothers will maintain a presence in this beautiful land, Sarawak.

I happen to have a very soft spot for Sarawak in general and for Kuching and St Joseph’s school in particular. My first posting as a teacher some 64 yrs ago was at St. Joseph`s Kuching. I was bloodied there at St Joseph’s as a teacher. This coincided with the colonial era when our Mission schools had to recruit their own teachers and pay them their salaries. Few of these dedicated men and women could be classified as professional or trained teachers-they were self educated to a great extent and yet they were among them as committed and hard-working teachers that, perhaps, the school ever had. They became my mentors and I remember them with nostalgia. Counted among them were the late Datuk Polycarp Sim and Poh Sze Juak and Poh Chin Han, Margret Liew and Cecilia Chen, Mrs Angela Kuek, Mrs James, John Pang and Mr Sim Huai Kern. They were the pillars of St. Joseph’s then and oversaw its glory days in the 50 sand into the 60s.

The 7 years is pentad St Joseph’s, Kuching were the happiest of years and is still have a few close and faithful friends among the Josephians in particular especially from the class of 1955 among whom were such notables as Tan Sri Abdul Taib, the Chief Minister of Sarawak, Rev. Fr. Tuk Lawrence Chua, Datuk Tham Sui Kai, Mr Teo Boon Heng, Andrew Yong, Matnoor Munnir, Annuar, etc.

I regretted leaving this school in January 1958 when I was kicked up to Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu in what was then British North Borneo (B.N.B) and now the State of Sabah to pioneer another La Sallian School in N. Borneo. There I am to this day. I am very much part of the landscape here and, apart from the colour of my skin. I am considered by many as very much a Bornean orang putih. I am the last Irish La Salle Brother connection in Borneo and I doubt if there will be another. I am indeed an endangered species. I was one of the first pioneers Brothers on both Sarawak and Sabah and I am very proud of that. My second home is Borneo and I am much more at home here than I am in my country of origin, Eire or Ireland.

Finally, thank you for inviting me to this banquet and celebration, for your kindness and hospitality extended to me by all particularly by Mr Alex Ling and Peter Kuek, Su Kai, Boon Heng. Long live St Joseph’s and all Josephians.

A Blessed Christmas to all Christians and a happy and prosperous new year to all.

Thank you.

Datuk Bro. Charles M. O’leary

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