100 YEARS GROWING
There are two key dates in the history of St. Francis' Institution: 1880 & 1902. In 1880 St. Mary School, which was founded by Rev. Fr. Maximilian de Souza in 1872, was transferred from Praya Lane to a 2-storey building opposite St. Francis' Church and therefore renamed St. Francis' School. This was the school that the La Salle Brothers took over in 1902. The Vicar of the Church in 1880, Rev. Fr. Deloutte who was also the Principal, found it difficult to maintain a teaching staff in those far-off days: the three cents per pupil per month which was the fee charged could not be stretched indefinitely and did not attract suitably qualified staff.
Nevertheless, the School persevered for a span of nearly a generation until in August 1902, the Director of Education decided to close it because it was financially unable to provide a proper staff. Fortunately, through the encouragement of the Bishop of Malacca, the Brothers of the De La Salle Order agreed to take over the School in October 1902. The School that had died just two months back was revived with an initial enrolment of 102 pupils. The first Director was Rev. Bro. Maurice Josephus from Manhattan College, New York.
During the Directorship of Rev. Bro. Dositheus (1903 - 11), there was such an increase in the number of pupils that there was a need for a larger building. As mentioned in the Souvenir Magazine marking the Golden Jubilee of the Very Rev. Bro. Visitor James in 1937, "it was great relief to get away from the congested, unsuitable locality of Riverside for the commodious airy building" - the 'U' block- built in 1906. It was officially opened on March 12th. 1907 by Mr. Evans, the then Resident Councilor of Malacca. In his opening speech, Mr. Evans praised the Brothers for imparting sound education to youths in every quarter of the globe.
This was not mere empty praise: In 1908 all 4 boys presented for the Cambridge Junior Examination passed and in the following year, Master Charles Paglar secured first place in the Diamond Jubilee Scholarship Examination which was open to all students in Malaya and Singapore. This coveted Scholarship was again won by a Franciscan in 1919, Master RM Ashness (later Father Ashness of St.Andrew's Church, Muar).
Even in the early years of the School, the Brothers had taken in boarders. (One outstanding boarder was Mr. PG George Mathias Pamadasa who throughout his boarding years, 1907 - 14, was a brilliant scholar and keen sportsman. After this he served his alma mater as a dedicated and inspiring teacher till he was executed by the Japanese for his unwavering pro-British loyalty). With the rapid increase of both boarders and day scholars, Rev. Bro. Edward, who was Director from 1911 to 1915, built a 3-storey block for more classrooms and a boarders' dormitory.
With this expansion in 1914, it seemed more fitting to rename the School St. Francis' Institution. In that same year, the opening of the Chan Koon Cheng Rd. passing at the back of the School made it more convenient for boys coming from the northern portion of the town.
For the rest of the decade, SFI had as many boys on the rolls as it could conveniently carry, without any sacrifice of the high academic standards for which Mission Schools are renowned. In fact one Inspector wrote: "Throughout the school, the work is thoroughly planned, teachers keep careful class records and individual records of each child's progress are made." Nevertheless, during a visit to the school, the Director of Education, Mr. Winstedt bemoaned the lack of suitable grounds for recreation. The new Director, Rev. Bro. Augustus, therefore proposed transferring the school to a larger site in Bunga Raya near St. Peter's Church. For various reasons, the shift was not made and the school remained where it was in Banda Hilir. This was providential for in 1922, Bro. Augustus's successor, Rev. Bro. Claude bought the property of the Malacca Rubber Plantation adjoining the school for a sum of $165,000.
The acquisition was worth every cent. The MRP house was modified into quarters for the Brothers while the large piece of land behind it increased the size of the playing field. The following year, 1923, was memorable in that all 12 seniors presented for the Cambridge Examination passed.
But the Director from 1923 to 1930, Rev. Bro. Barnitus, also promoted extra-curricular activities: he encouraged the formation of a Boy Scout Troop and re-established the Cadet Corps in early 1925. Mr. PG Pamadasa was a dynamic Scout Master, six of whose Scouts became the first King's Scouts of Malacca. In charge of the Cadets were two young SFI teachers, Messrs. AP Paul and Rene Aeria. Ably assisted by the Regimental Sergeant-Majors of the 4th. Battalion SSVF, they trained the cadets so well that only two years later in 1927, Major AA Howell, Inspecting Officer for Cadet Forces in Malaya, reported that the SFI Cadet Corps was the smartest and the best Cadet Unit in Malaya.
When Rev. Bro. Louis took over the Directorship of the school in 1930, he resolved to improve this reputation by having a Cadet Band. A gifted musician, he personally trained and conducted the boys in the Band so well that only two months after starting the Band, it made its debut before His Excellency, the Governor of the Straits Settlements, Sir Cecil Clementi on his first visit to Malacca on May 4th 1930. It acquitted itself very favorably and His Excellency was impressed with the parade and the high standard reached.
By the time Rev. Bro. Dominic became Director in 1931, the enrolment stood at over 500 pupils. During this time, the school obtained one of the best results - 31 out of 32 Juniors and 23 out of 29 Seniors passed the Cambridge Exams. In sports too, it maintained an unrivalled supremacy in hockey, cricket and football.
In 1936, Rev. Bro. Augustus who had been Director from 1919 to 1920, returned for a second term of office. He felt that SFI needed many architectural alterations. He himself designed and organized the building of a new chapel. This chapel (with its beautiful stained glass windows added in 1947 by the brothers of the late Mr. PG Pamadasa as a memorial of his tragic death) is considered one of the finest in the Mission Schools of the East. It was inaugurated on March 25th. 1938 when the Pope's apostolic blessing was sent by cablegram through his Secretary, Cardinal Pacelli, later to become Pope Pius XII.
In Sept. 1939, war was declared and the regular functioning of the Institution was disrupted as the general mobilization saw many teachers and Old Boys joining up. Also the billeting of soldiers by the military authorities in the school made it impossible for classes to be run as usual.
The history of SFI during the dark period of the Japanese Occupation "has been meticulously chronicled in the log of the school and the credit for such a careful narration of events should go to the beautiful penmanship of Bro. Augustus. The entire story is told in sequence over a total of 52 foolscap pages of which about 9 pages are unfortunately missing. Details of the bombing, looting and other events are there and though it was never intended to shut down the school, there was no other option for a start. A meeting to consider the reopening of all Malacca schools was held on the 20th of April 1942, and finally SFI was reopened alongside with Japanese Trade School and the 'Kunren-Sho' on the 16 th of July. The subjects, which were permitted, were Japanese language, singing, drawing, dancing, physical training, gardening and a little bit of English. To continue quoting from Mr. Hilary D'Cruz's account of "SFI Down the Ages" printed in the 75th Anniversary Souvenir Magazine, "The building of aid-raid shelters and practice in 'take over' drills became the order of the day and the school also had to cope with a stream of refugees and prisoners in transit. Money and food were in short supply but largely through Divine Providence and by the assistance rendered by scores of Old Boys, the Brothers continued to run the school." At great risk to himself and in the face of almost insurmountable difficulties, Bro. Augustus made every effort to safeguard the morale and the interests of the pupils.
Rumours of the Japanese defeat were eventually confirmed on August 12th, 1945 and within a week of the school resuming full-scale operation 1 ½ months later, 620 pupils, eager to catch up on 3 ½ years of interrupted learning, enrolled at SFI. The first post-war staff comprised Rev. Bro. Augustus as Director with 10 other Brothers and 15 lay teachers, most of who had already been teaching in SFI in the pre-war years.
In 1947 a Roll of Honour to honour the memory of those Old Boys who had died for their country was unveiled by Sir Edward Gent, the Governor of the newly established Malayan Union. That year also saw the end of the 11-year Directorship of Rev. Bro. Augustus who was replaced by Rev. Bro. Edmund of Salisbury.
Under Bro. Edmund, the Prefectorial System was started in 1949. The first Head Prefect and School Captain was George de Witt. Science laboratories were built at the end of the play shed and a workshop also started to meet vocational needs. About the same time, the School Orchestra made up of 20 musicians made its debut. Trained and conducted by Bro. Michael Paulin, this Orchestra played over Radio Malaya (as it was then) on many occasions and won praised for its large repertoire. At that time, SFI was unique in being one of the very few schools in Malaya with an orchestra of its own.
By 1951, the SFI enrolment had hit the 1000 mark, so the construction of a 1-storey building for primary classes was started in Koon Cheng Rd. In 1952, the Golden Jubilee Celebrations were held, consisting of a Thanksgiving Mass, a Variety Concert, and a grand Dinner and Dance and an exhibition among other things. Old Boys from various Christian Brothers' Schools over the country also participated in friendly matches against past and present boys of SFI. As 1952 also marked the Centenary of the arrival of the Christian Brothers in Malaya, the Very Rev. Bro. Lawrence O'Toole Assistant Superior General, visited Malacca to join in the festivities.
1953 was also an auspicious year as St. Francis' Institution celebrated the 4th Centenary of the death of its patron St. Francis Xavier. A pageant with 15 separate tableaux was produced by Bro. Michael Paulin from a script he wrote in collaboration with Bro. Bernard and dramatically staged on top of the hill where the Apostle of East Indies had been buried. Rev. Fr. Pintado, then the Vice-President of the Malacca Historical Society also played an important role. It was he who originated the idea of the Pageant.
Rev. Bro. Edmund's successor, Rev. Bro. T. Michael, despite his short tenure as Director, left behind two things: the School Code of Good Behavior and the original "green and white" uniform which made its first appearance in 1954. That year also saw a historic rugby match between SFI and High School in which our team (coached by Bro. Godfrey, now Bro. Harold Reynolds and Mr. Cheong Koon Tiong) won 6-3.
From Feb. to Sept. 1956 Rev. Bro. Patrick Donovan was Director in SFI. He was a gentle, kindly man but was fatally ill actually all the time he was Director.
The Directorship of Rev. Bro. Leonard Aloysius began in 1956. He was responsible for starting the maiden issue of the Franciscan. An ardent lover of music, Bro. Leonard conducted the School Orchestra and brought it to even greater heights. At the same time the Cadet Band led by Mr. Colin Holloway was also making SFI a name for itself in Malacca.
Over 1500 pupils enrolled for the 1957 academic session so that further renovation was imperative. The congestion was somewhat eased in 1958 when the 1-storey Koon Cheng block was demolished to make way for the present 2-storey block. On completion of this new block, the secondary classes ranging from Form II to Form VI shifted there over the road from Banda Hilir. The secondary classes only "crossed over" again in 1971 when Sixth Form classes were again started after a lapse of 13 years. To this day, we have "a sprinkling of girls to brighten the landscape and smarten up the boys" to quote from Bro. Harold's 75th Anniversary Message. Many of these girls remember SFI with fond memories. We must not forget the "Old Girls" of St. Francis who have helped the school in its various projects.
In 1958, an Old Boy of SFI, Rev. Bro. Alban De Rozario took over the reins. He built a block of 8 classrooms at the site of the old laboratories in 1961 to keep up with the increasing student population. His Directorship also saw the official division of SFI into 2 separately-administered schools, with Mr. Patrick Loo, also an old Franciscan, appointed Headmaster of the Primary section. Later Mr. Chok Chin Yong succeeded him.
During Rev. Bro. Anthony McNamara's term as Director, the boarding department of the school, which had been in existence for more than 50 years and which provided a home away from home for many boys, was discontinued due to supervisory difficulties. The dormitory was later converted into the present Library.
Rev. Bro. Edwin Cheng who succeeded Bro. Anthony in 1967 encouraged the dramatic talents of the newly formed Franciscan Players in their first production, "The Government Inspector". Their later farces like "Charley's Aunt" and "Hotel Paradiso" proved popular among the locals and did much to revive the flagging interest in theatre in Malacca.
Rev. Bro. Phillip Daly on assuming the Directorship in 1969 revived the School Magazine, which had lain dormant for 10 years. There was also an impressive Speech Day that year, attended by both the Minister of Education and the Chief Minister of Malacca. In 1970 a successful Fun Fair to raise money for the Secondary block and to get equipment for the four new Science laboratories, was held.
Rev. Bro. Cassian's Directorship, which began in 1972, saw the enrolment topping the 2000 mark. Despite the stress on academic excellence, moral training and sports events, many teachers and pupils found interest and time enough to rally to Bro. Cassian's conducting two musicals in as many years, namely "The Court Jester" and "Fiddler on the Roof".
In October 1974, Bro. Edmund Mattews celebrated his Silver Jubilee as a Brother in SFI. He had started his apostolate in St. Paul's, Seremban where he had spent a total 3 years and had also served in St. Joseph's, Singapore and St. John's, KL. But it was SFI, which had the privilege of knowing and enjoying him the longest. With his long and uninterrupted service in SFI starting in 1953 (except far a spell in SPI in 1963-64), he was the natural choice for Sub-Director when Bro. Cassian left for UK to do his Masters in Education.
In 1977, Rev. Bro. Harold Reynolds, formerly Bro. Godfrey who had begun his teaching career in SFI in 1952 succeeded Bro. Cassian as Director. After vigorously launching his administration with an anti-long hair campaign, Bro. Harold got to organize the celebrations for the 75th Anniversary in Sept. The preparation for this was sadly interrupted by the sudden death of Bro. Edmund in July.
Over 3000 people paid their last respects to this man who was an institution within the Institution: with his zest for living, Bro. Edmund left an indelible impression on all those who knew him. It is fitting that in 1942 he had taken the apostolic name of "Edmund" which means "happy protector", as this much-loved Brother was famous for his broad smile and joviality along with his zeal for upholding the La Sallian tradition of dedicated service to the community and the school.
His presence was sorely missed during the Celebrations, especially by those outstation Franciscans who had looked forward to reminiscing with him about the good old days at the grand reunion dinner in Sept. It was no wonder that many of his former students and friends donated generously to the "Bro. Edmund Memorial Scholarship Fund", which now totals close to $16,000.
The advent of the new decade coincided with the centenary of the founding of the school (in 1880). The highlight of the Centenary Celebration was the visit of the then Minister of Education, Datuk Musa Hitam, on the occasion of the Annual Prize Giving Day.
Further significant milestones during this period was the Golden Jubilee as a La Sallian Brother of former Director, Brother T. Michael in 1985 and the opening of the imposing Chan Sui King Block in 1988 (a generous gift from Mr. Peter Chan of Hong Kong through the effort of a celebrated Franciscan, Fr. Lancelot Rodriguez).
The decade closed with the retirement of the ever-popular Brother Harold in 1988. Brother Ambrose Loke (himself an Old Boy of the school) took over the reins in 1989 and one his first acts was to give the kiss of life to the "Green and White" which had gone dormant for a while. Brother Ambrose also revived the School Annual Magazine, "The Franciscan" in 1990. The 111th Anniversary Dinner in 1990 was celebrated with great pomp and circumstance. Since then, it was 'home-coming' for Franciscans far and near biennially, generating the spirit of genuine friendship and camaraderie amongst The Old Boys.
1994 saw the unique collection of multi-racial talent (a First for SFI) with the establishment of the "24 Seasons Drum Troupe" and the "SFI Lion Dance Troupe" under the guidance of Old Boys Chan Teck Seng and Wong Chap Huay. On 21st February 1994 the school proudly held its official opening of the computer lab to provide the students the opportunity to learn and acquire computer skills. It was officiated by our Very Rev. Bro. John Johnston FSC, Superior General.
Brother Ambrose also initiated the "home-stay" Student Exchange Programme between SFI and the Immaculate Heart Collage in Kagoshima (Japan) in the 1990's.
On the home front, Brother Ambrose also introduced the Recess Food Programme for poor and needy Franciscans and at the start of the new millennium, set up the "SFI Learning Centre" - a centre manned by the De La Salle Community in SFI, providing free tuition in Bahasa Melayu, English and Mathematics (Forms 1-3) for weak and poor Franciscans.
Bowling, Taekwando, Silat and Karate were introduced into the curriculum in the 1990's. Since then, the SFI Bowling Team has made the school proud in the many competitions held at both State and National levels.
In April 1997, SFI was awarded the "PREMIER SCHOOL" status by the Ministry of Education. This recognition is indeed another milestone in the long and colourful history of this school. We all deserve to stand tall and be proud!