Boys’ Town, a well-known institution in Singapore for underprivileged boys, was established in 1948.
Br Emmanuel reflects on the Gabrielite Brothers’ work in Singapore over the decades
When the Brothers of St Gabriel first came to Singapore in 1936, their mission was to impart knowledge and provide education for needy youths.
The Brothers founded schools and an orphanage, and taught and lived in them.
These Religious, who celebrated their 75th anniversary of their presence in Singapore recently, now have new roles.
Br Emmanuel, former principal of St Gabriel’s School and former director of Boys’ Town
Because of their dwindling number – there are now only about six Brothers in Singapore – they no longer teach in their schools, says Br Emmanuel, who has been serving in Singapore since 1954.
However, they support principals and other laypeople in ensuring the Brothers’ mission still continue in schools such as St Gabriel’s Primary and Secondary, Montfort Junior and Montfort Secondary, Assumption English School, Assumption Pathway School and Boys’ Town.
The Brothers retain a say in the appointment of school principals which they do in consultation with the Ministry of Education, says Br Emmanuel, 78.
The Gabrielite schools are never meant to be “elite”, but institutions that look “after the child who needs help”, said the former principal of St Gabriel’s and former director of Boys’ Town.
Students of Assumption Pathway School gathered in their school hall. The school serves students who prefer a vocational course of study.
And assisting needy students is what the Brothers have been doing. Br Emmanuel recalled that in the old days the Brothers had residences in the school and students could always approach the Brothers whenever they needed help.
There were several challenges the Brothers faced in post-World War II Singapore. Some children were orphaned or had relatives who died in the war. The Brothers’ challenge was to counsel the children so they could move on with their lives.
There were also problems with drug addiction and gangs, Br Emmanuel recalled. He added that the Brothers taught catechism so the students would grow up to be useful citizens.
Looking back at the Brothers’ mission, Br Emmanuel said it is difficult to measure the degree of their success.
However, he said he is heartened to know that old boys have spoken fondly of how the Brothers had made an impact on their lives. Some old boys have also become priests or active laypeople in the Church.
Br Emmanuel also praised the lay collaborators in Gabrielite schools for trying their best to continue the mission of the Brothers – upholding the Christian spirit and caring for the needs of the students – so that even if one day there are no more Brothers in Singapore, their values will still live on.
The Gabrielite Brothers commemorated their 75th anniversary on Sept 18 at a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Nicholas Chia at the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
By Darren Boon
1936: Arrival of the first Gabrielite Brothers in Singapore
1937: Holy Innocents’ English School (renamed Montfort Secondary School in 1959) placed under the care of the Brothers.
1938: St Joseph’s Trade School and Orphanage established
World War II: Two Brothers made prisoners-of-war at Changi prison.
1948: St Joseph’s Trade School (presently known as Assumption Pathway School) reopened. Boys’ Town established.
1953: St Gabriel’s School and Boys’ Town English School (now known as Assumption English School) founded.
Breakfast for a cause
Host your friends to a meal in your home and have each person contribute a small sum of money for charity.
This is the Breakfast for a Cause project that Boys’ Town has launched to raise $1 million for a new $15-million building for its residents.
Br Dominic Yeo Koh, Gabrielite Provincial and board member of Boys’ Town, who mooted this idea, believes this initiative will catch on as “Singaporeans love food”.
Br Emmanuel himself treated 12 guests to brunch on Oct 8 at the Boys’ Town dining hall. That event raised $3,550.
Ms Jennifer Lim, who joined the meal with her mother, said she found the event “meaningful” as it was for “a good cause”.
Hosting a meal in aid of charity taps into Singaporeans’ passion for food. It also requires less physical effort than other fund-raising activities, she added.
Ms Lim said she plans to host her own brunch as a means of “paying it forward” and hopes her friends would do the same.