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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