FR Barre was born in Amiens, France on 21 October 1621 and educated at a Jesuit college in his hometown. At the age of 19, he decided to dedicate his life to God, and joined the religious order of the Minims founded by St Francis of Paola.
In 17th Century France, there was a dire need of education as the poor, including particularly girls, were neglected, exploited and illiterate. Seeing the disparity in opportunities for education between the rich and the poor in French society, he was inspired to establish an order whose specific objective was to educate girls of poor families. In 1662, Fr Barré gathered a group of dedicated young women to educate the poor, especially the girls, in free schools which he established.
In 1666, Fr Barré began a new religious congregation – the Charitable Mistresses of the Schools of the Holy Infant Jesus. He continued similar work in Paris with great success as he named his schools simply as the Schools of the Holy Infant Jesus. Believing that each child has potential and is unique, the children were taught with care and respect by the teachers who became well-known for their expertise and gentle approach. More CHIJ schools multiplied and spread across the world including Japan, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
However, in May 1686, Fr Barré’s health declined, and he died on 31 May. He was beatified in Rome on 7 March 1999 by Pope John Paul II.
Blessed Nicolas Barré’s heart for the education of the poor, especially girls, continue to be an inspiration to many generations of CHIJ girls across cultures, background, race and religions. Through receiving an education in CHIJ schools, all IJ girls are called to act justly with courage and compassion in their lives with a priority to helping the disadvantaged in society.
In commemoration of this great man and what he has done, CHIJ Schools in Singapore celebrate Founder’s Day on 31 May each year.
Mother Mathilde was born Marie Justine Raclot in France in 1814. She received her secondary education at a boarding school run by the IJ Sisters, then known as Dames of St Maur, in France. At age 19, Justine entered the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus, in Paris and was given the name St Mathilde. She taught in various IJ schools for 17 years in Southern France, where she acquired a reputation for being firm yet kind, with qualities of courage, integrity and sincerity.
In September 1852, four IJ Sisters with Mother Mathilde in charge, set sail to Penang, Malaysia on a ship called the Bentinck. They went to Penang to guide and support the small group of IJ Sisters who had arrived earlier in Penang to set up a Convent school for girls.
A year and a half later, on 5 February 1854, Mother Mathilde and three IJ Sisters (Mother St Appollinaire, Mother St Gaetan and Sr St Gregory Connolly) arrived in Singapore on board the Hoogly. They founded the first IJ school in Singapore as they commenced classes with 14 fee-paying pupils, 9 boarders and 16 orphans just 10 days upon their arrival. They established the first Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) school in Victoria Street. Their mission was simple – to educate girls from all social classes, especially the disadvantaged.
In the decades that followed, other CHIJ schools were established throughout Singapore – CHIJ Katong Convent (1930), CHIJ St Nicholas Girls’ (1933), CHIJ St Theresa’s Convent (1933), CHIJ St Joseph’s Convent (1938), CHIJ Bukit Timah (1955) (now known as CHIJ Our Lady Queen of Peace), CHIJ Ponggol (1957) (now known as CHIJ Our Lady of the Nativity), Opera Estate Convent (1959) (merged with the primary section of Katong Convent to form CHIJ Katong Primary in 1990), CHIJ Our Lady of Good Counsel (1960) and CHIJ Kellock (1964). In line with the IJ mission to educate and provide care for children and especially girls in crisis, IJ Homes and Children’s Centres (IJHCC) were also established.
Through the years, the CHIJ Schools in Singapore experienced numerous changes, including the relocation of a number of schools. Despite these changes, the CHIJ schools continue to bear witness to the ideals of our founder, Nicolas Barré, and remain faithful to our motto, Simple in Virtue, Steadfast in Duty.
St Joseph is our patron saint. He was chosen when the school was renamed as St Joseph’s Convent post World War II in recognition of the protection St Joseph had given the school through then principal, Sister Theodora’s prayers.
St Joseph is the husband of the Virgin Mary and he fulfilled all the functions of a father towards Jesus. In his roles as husband, father and provider, Joseph seems grounded in the physical world. We think of him as a quiet worker, a handyman and carpenter.
Yet St Joseph was a man of spirituality. He had the wisdom to understand God’s intent and guidance in his life, and the courage to act on those insights.
He was “a man who always did what was right”. We will strive, like him, to do the will of God.
St Joseph’s Feast Day: 19 March