Former students of St Xavier’s Institution (SXI) should be able to tell us if there has been any attempt at ‘Christianisation’ in the oldest mission school in the region, said Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.
“I am confident that former students like (Minister in the Prime Minister’s Deparment) Nor Mohamed Yakcop and (former finance minister) Daim Zainuddin can testify that there has been no attempt at ‘Christianisation’ in SXI over the years,” said Guan Eng, the guest of honour at the 160th anniversary celebration of the arrival of the La Salle Brothers in Penang in 1852.
According to Wikipedia, Nor Mohamed was a prefect in SXI. Daim Zainuddin, for his part, studied at SXI in 1954 and sat for the Senior Cambridge the following year, according to a press report. He also worked as a temporary teacher in SXI for two years after that.
Among the former SXI students present at the celebration in the school hall were MP Karpal Singh and academics Dr Johan Saravanamuttu, Dr Francis Loh and Dr Cecilia Ng.
Guan Eng himself studied in the La Salle Primary School in Petaling Jaya for three years. He recalled that Brother Anthony Rogers was his cellmate in Kamunting when he was detained under the ISA during Operasi Lalang in 1987. Rogers is now the Superior of the La Salle Brothers in Malaysia.
During the dinner performances, a band leader crooning Elvis’ hits surprised those present when he announced that he was expelled from school in 1972 and was now back in his school after 40 years!
A diner at a table in front hollered, “Why were you expelled?”
“I will tell you later,” replied the band leader.
Back in 1852, when the La Salle Brothers arrived on these shores, they took over the management of an existing mission school known as the St Francis Xavier’s Free School run by French Catholic priests. The school had begun operations in the Church Street/Bishop Street area in 1787, a year after Francis Light took possession of Penang Island for the East India Company.
The SXI celebrations tonight were also to mark the launch of the La Salle East Asian District (Lead), a new governance structure of the De La Salle Brothers in Hong Kong/China, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Representatives of the La Salle Brothers from these countries graced the dinner. Among the Brothers from Malaysia who were present included former SXI directors Bro Charles Levin and Bro Paul Ho; and from Perak, Bro Vincent Corkery, Bro John de Cruz and Bro Mathew; and Bro Augustine Julian.
It was no coincidence that Penang was chosen as the venue for the launch of Lead. SXI is the oldest school run by the La Salle Brothers in the Far East. The Brothers commenced their management of SXI 12 days before their counterparts in Singapore started St Joseph’s Institution, it was revealed.
Guan Eng left early to attend a Penang Free School anniversary celebration at the E & O Hotel nearby. Although the PFS bicentennial is only in 2016, celebrations have already begun.
The Brothers in their speeches stressed that the mission schools, far from promoting ‘Christianisation’, aimed to reach out in inclusiveness to “the least, the lost and the last” and to provide pupils with holistic education for the all-round human development of the individual. They said their schools try to inculcate values such as integrity, social justice and compassion, apart from promoting academic excellence.