Tuesday, January 17, 2012

St. John's Turns 108! (1904-2012) Getting To Know Her Illustrious Years (Part 3)

St. John's Turns 108! (1904-2012) 
Getting To Know Her Illustrious Years (Part 3)


There is a Malay proverb that says, "Pisang takkan berbuah dua kali" (The banana plant will not bear fruit twice). In 1979, St. John's was blessed to get her 'Good Shepard' back at the helm. After 18 years away, Bro. Lawrence made his grand return as Director of St. John's. It was the same year our school celebrated her Diamond Jubilee. Bro. Lawrence revived public speaking competitions, this time with the addition of Bahasa Malaysia public speaking as well.

Brother Lawrence Spitzig (photo taken from www.lasalle2.org)   

Bro. Lawrence retired as Director in 1983 and was succeeded by Bro. Cassian Pappu. In 1984, St. John's turned 80, and a carnival was held to raise funds for the school, with the guest-of-honour being Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, then Minister of Education. The increasing number of students strengthened the need for a new building, and thus, the Form Six Block (named in honour of the Archbishop, Mgr. Tan Sri Dominic Vendargon) was constructed behind St. John's Cathedral, and completed in 1988. End of that year, Bro. Cassian was given a deserved vacation and his post as Director of St. John's was taken up by Bro. Michael Wong in 1989.


This was the same year the 35-year lease on the school field ended, and Dairy Maid made a request to build a multistory parking lot beneath the school field, which was approved by City Hall. It was a move that made Johannians fieldless for an extensive duration of time. As compensation, Dairy Maid agreed to construct a sports complex, comprising of a open hall on the ground floor (concourse), a badminton hall, and 3 squash courts. The complex was officiated by Bro. David Liao on the 90th anniversary of St. John's in 1994.

However, the La Sallian Brothers administration of St. John's was numbered. In June 2002, Bro. Michael Wong retired, marking the end of the 98-year line of Bro. Directors running the school. So, the administration of St. John's was passed on to her first lay principal, Mr. Peter Yii Sing Chiu. Mr. Peter was committed to revive the tradition of excellence in St. John's, he is remembered for the "Budaya Membaca" initiative every morning, he himself making sure that it was implemented properly by conducting checks every morning before assembly. In 2004, St. John's celebrates its centenary anniversary of its existence on Malaysian soil. The birthday celebration on January 18th had the then Deputy Prime Minister, Dato' Seri Najib Tun Razak as the guest-of honour. Dato' Seri Najib was an old boy of St. John's. The school was graced by the visit of many of its prominent old boys, for example the Raja Muda of Perak, Raja Dr. Nazrin Shah, Internal Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Tun Hussein, and many more.

End of 2009, Mr. Peter Yii was replaced by Mr. Leong Kum Loy. In September 2010, Mr. Leong was succeeded by Mr. Lim Hean Hwa. Mr. Lim is a Johannian, who received his education in St. John's since primary one to form six, during the tenure of the late Bro. Joseph Yeoh. Last year, the new tower clock, dedicated to the late Bro. Lawrence was commissioned by guest-of-honour, Mr. Leong Kum Loy in conjunction of the school's 107th birthday.

This year, due to the close proximity of the school's birthday and Chinese New Year, a join celebration will be held this Friday, January 20th, starting from 7.20am. I would like to take this opportunity to urge all Johannians that can make it to the celebration to attend it, as the invited guest this year is Mr. Vincent Fernandez, one of the school's legends. Mr. Vincent is a former teacher in St. John's, and was the coach of the school hockey and football team. This year's celebration is expected to revive the Lasallian spirit among Johannians, past or present, so do make it a point to be there!


I hope St. John's will continue to soar and excel in all fields, so that we can continue to write her colourful history in the many years to come :)

Happy Birthday, dear St. John's!

May God bless all of you, Fide et Labore!


Sunday, January 15, 2012

St. John's Turns 108! (1904-2012) Getting To Know Her Illustrious Years (Part 2)

St. John's Turns 108! (1904-2012) 
Getting To Know Her Illustrious Years (Part 2)

The Directorship of St. John's was passed to Bro. Amor Matthias after Bro. Cornelius's retirement. Bro. Matthias made every attempt to restore the education dial of St. John's back on track after the disruptions caused by the Japanese occupation of Malaya. In 1948, Bro. Matthias was replaced by Bro. Dositheus Joseph Brophy (known as Bro. D'Joseph).

Under the directorship of Bro. D'Joseph, St. John's expanded physically once more. Through the generous contribution of Mr. Liew Kwong Hon, Bro. Cornelius's proposed Science Wing above the hall came into existence. The next daring task Bro. D'Joseph undertook was the expansion of the school field in 1954. The M$ 60, 000 project involved cutting and leveling part of Bukit Nanas, and constructing an access road from Jalan Bukit Nanas to Jalan Raja Chulan (which still exists till today). That was also the year St. John's celebrated her Golden Jubilee, and a souvenir book was made to commemorate that year, which included the list of activities in 1954, the visits by various dignitaries etc. (I am proud to own a copy of this historic book).

After 7 years, Bro. D'Joseph was transferred to Kuching and his place was taken up by St. John's most well-known Director, Bro. Tibertius Lawrence Spitzig. Bro. Lawrence is the person who penned down our beloved School Rally and the "Loyalty Song" (sadly this other song is not played as often as the School Rally). Bro. Lawrence also saw the need to expand the classrooms due to the drastic increase in student enrollment post World War 2. In 1956, with the generous contributions of a number of benefactors, a staggering M$ 90, 000 was raised and used to seal the north veranda of the Main Block and extend the existing classrooms. The original wooden flooring and staircases were done away and replaced with concrete flooring. In 1958, Bro. Lawrence went on study leave to his homeland, Canada, and Bro. Celestine Jennings was put in-charge of St. John's for the entire duration of Bro. Lawrence's absence. Bro. Lawrence came back in 1959 and began construction of the new St. John's primary school block, which was completed and officiated by Bro. Fintan Blake a year later. It was also the same year the school chapel completed renovations and reopened.

Brother Lawrence Spitzig (photo taken from www.lasalle2.org)
                 St. John's most well-known Director, Bro. Tibertius Lawrence Spitzig.

Towards the end of 1961, Bro. Lawrence was transferred to head St. Xavier's Institution in Penang, and he was replaced by Bro. Ignatius Barry in 1962. However, due to deteriorating health conditions, Bro. Ignatius was sent back to Ireland to recuperate and his vacated position is filled by Bro. Joseph McNally, nicknamed The Artist.

Bro. Joseph's administration saw the emergence of artistic details in St. John's, as he is an expert in art. Bro. Joseph decided to give St. John's an all-white exterior paint finish during his tenure. The present school badge was introduced by him to replace the earlier design introduced by Bro. Cornelius. The Arts Block (now houses the Form Five students) and the primary school hall were completed under his directorship. The reason all of these were made possible was due to the presence of the late Tun Dr. Ismail, who was the Development Committee Chairman. In recognition of Tun Dr. Ismail's involvement in the development of St. John's, the primary school hall was named in honour of him.

Bro. Joseph McNally was transferred in 1967, and was replaced by Bro. Basillian Wong. For the next two years, Bro. Basillian's task was to clear the immense debts incurred during Bro. Joseph's development era. With his shrewd business acumen, all debts were successfully cleared, and St. John's was in the greens.

January 1969 saw a new beginning in St. John's, with the appointment of Bro. Joseph Yeoh as Director. Bro. Joseph was no stranger to the school. He completed his primary and secondary education in St. John's, and his father, Mr. Yeoh Teck Soo, was a member of the teaching staff. Bro. Joseph had very high hopes and expectations in his alma mater, and he was very determined and adamant to see her outstandingly excel in all fields. Many people I spoke to that came from that era remembered how St. John's was at the top of the league during the days of Bro. Joseph. They also recalled the terror of seeing the man from the other end of the corridor, with a cane in one hand and a very stern and serious expression on his face. Despite the terrifying appearance, Bro. Joseph was actually a wonderful figure. His undying passion for the school was remarkable. Over the years, he saw the increased contributions of other students in non-competition based events. As a token of appreciation, in 1972, Bro. Joseph introduced Awards Day as a way to recognize the efforts of these students who have made their share of contributions to St. John's. Late 1978, Bro. Joseph was promoted as Auxiliary Bro. Visitor of Peninsular Malaysia and had to surrender his post as Director of St. John's.

** Part 3 will continue from 1979 to the present day, and will be posted in a few days time.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

St. John's Turns 108! Getting To Know Her Illustrious Years (Part 1)

St. John's Turns 108! ( 1904 - 2012)
Getting To Know Her Illustrious Years (Part 1)
 (Johannian of the year 2009)

On January 18th 2012, St. John's Institution will mark its 108th anniversary. Although I may be far away to join the celebrations this year, lets not dampen the spirits shall we? On this special occasion, let me take all of you down memory lane by reliving the 108 colourful years of our beloved institution's existence.

A Multimedia Presentation, in celebration of 100 years of excellence

SJI Centenary Celebration 1904 - 2004 
Produced by the St John's Alumni Association

The founding of St. Xavier's Institution in Penang saw an increase in demand in education, prompting a request to the Lasallian brothers to set-up more schools in Malaya. Thus, early 1904, St. John's was founded. She started off as a simple wooden structure, made into reality by tireless efforts of Father Renard. On January 15 that year, 3 Lasallian Brothers were sent to run St. John's, there was Bro. Julian Francis from Hong Kong, Bro. Cyril Alexander from Penang, and Bro. Andrew Corsini from Burma. Of the three Brothers, Bro. Julian Francis was appointed Director of the newly-founded school.

On January 18, St. John's opened its doors to her first batch of students, a meagre number of 18 students. The school was officiated by Mr. R.J. Wilkinson, Director of Public Instructions at that  time.

Later that year, Bro. Francis was replaced by Bro. James Gilbert as Director of St. John's. Bro. Gilbert is a man with a mission, he envisioned an addition of facilities to the school, including a hall, a swimming pool, and a playground. However, the biggest challenge Bro. Gilbert had in hand was the growing number of student enrolment. 

By 1906, the original wooden building proved to be inadequate to hold a growing student population, and plans of a new, bigger permanent building became top priority. Thus, on November 3 the same year, the foundation stone of the famous Main Block was laid by Sir Conway Belfield, Resident Councillor of Selangor. The architect of our Main Block, with its Grecian-Spanish (some people say Romanesque) influence, was a fellow staff of St. John's, Bro. Vernier Augustus. Another masterpiece of Bro. Augustus is the terrazzo carving on the main staircase landing.

Terrazzo carving on the main staircase landing.

The construction of the Main Block can be considered a feat, given the lack of technology in Malaya at that time. In 1907, the building was advance enough to be used for the Cambridge Examinations of Kuala Lumpur candidates, but the official opening ceremony was only done on August 10, 1908 by Sir John Anderson, Governor of the Straits Settlement.

Bro. Gilbert was given a well-deserved rest to Ceylon in 1910, and his place was taken by Bro. Adrian. In 1914, Bro. Marcian Cullen was appointed Director of the newly-formed Juniorate. Bro. Director Claude-Marie Guibert held St. John's first sports day in 1921, shortly before he was transferred to Malacca. He was replaced by Bro. Stephen Edward Buckley, who demolished the old Brothers' Quarters and replaced it with the existing structure. The helm was then passed to Bro. Defendant Louis in 1925. Under Bro. Louis's administration, another plan of Bro. Gilbert became a reality, the extension of the playground. Bro. Louis was also responsible for the installation of the bronze statue of Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, our founder, on the front balcony of the Main Block in 1926. The statue was casted in Paris, and consists of la Salle, flanked by two children, one on his left and the other on his right.

1930 saw St. John's under the administration of Bro. Cornelius Nulty, a great visionary nicknamed The Builder. With an uninterrupted tenure of 16 years, Bro. Cornelius was able to accomplish tasks no other Director could due to time constrains. With the help of Bro. Stephen's contractor, Mr. B.L. Nathan, Bro. Cornelius made the school hall a reality, an idea pitched by Bro. Gilbert three decades earlier. Next, Bro. Cornelius further expanded the school by erecting the East Wing next to the Brothers' Quarters (now the St. John's International School). Bro. Cornelius was about to take on his next project, the building of the Science Wing above the school hall, but his efforts were hindered by the shortage of building materials, and the year 1941 saw the Japanese occupation of Malaya. Unable to expand the school physically, Bro. Cornelius diverted his attention to keeping the school open and running. He was successful in doing so, although lessons were to be taught in Japanese and student population dwindled. In September 1946, Bro. Cornelius was granted retirement.

** Part 2 will carry on post-1946 to 1978, coming soon.

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