Bond as one Infant Jesus family, be friends for life and keep the IJ spirit alive.
This was one message Jesuit Msgr Philip Heng conveyed to some 1,000 people gathered at a Mass to celebrate 160 years of the Infant Jesus (IJ) Sisters’ presence in Singapore.
Msgr Heng was the main celebrant at the March 15 thanksgiving Mass at St Joseph Church, Bukit Timah. Former and present CHIJ (Convent of the Infant Jesus) students, teachers, principals, as well as IJ Sisters from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Spain and France were among those at the event.
In his homily, Msgr Heng gave a brief history of the journey of the IJ Sisters from France to Malaya and Singapore. He said that in September 1853, Mother Mathilde and three other nuns who were in Malaya were invited to come to Singapore.
They learnt English and Malay and lived in poverty at their first convent at Victoria St, where the present CHIJMES now stands.
There, they set up the first CHIJ school in Singapore which was known as “Town Convent”.
Msgr Heng also revealed that he was educated by IJ Sisters, who taught him catechism, as well as lessons from kindergarten to Primary 6, in his hometown in Cameron Highlands.
He went “from IJ to SJ (Society of Jesus)”, he said, to chuckles from the audience.
In closing, Msgr Heng urged the largely female crowd to “bond as one IJ family”, be friends for life and “keep the IJ spirit alive”.
Towards the end of the Mass, IJ Provincial Sr Agnes Lee told those gathered that “160 years in itself is meaningful”, but what is more meaningful is that the IJ family is still “faithful to the ideals of our founder, embracing change with courage yet retaining the spirit of IJ”.
She expressed gratitude to the early Sisters, who, under Mother Mathilde’s leadership, started the IJ community in Singapore; present Sisters for their dedication and hard work; and the many laypersons who worked alongside the Sisters.
“The IJ community will continue to embrace the future with courage, zeal and steadfastness,” Sr Agnes added.
A video presentation chronicling the past 160 years was screened, showing how despite lack of funds, space and personnel, the early Sisters managed to set up schools, boarding houses and orphanages.
Before the start of Mass, the president of the CHIJ Alumni Association, Ms Claire Ang, recited a poem she wrote in tribute to Mother Mathilde.
Present and former IJ students said they were glad to be part of this historic celebration.
Cai Pei Xuan, 16, a student in CHIJ Toa Payoh (Secondary), said her grandmother was an IJ girl too and “would share with me her experiences”.
Having been in an IJ school for the past 10 years, the IJ experience “is a big part of my life”, she told CatholicNews.
Ms Geraldine Sim, 50, formerly from CHIJ Kellock Primary and Town Convent, said she felt “very happy and touched because everyone was thanking God” for the past 160 years.
Mrs Hwang-Lee Poh See, former principal of CHIJ St Nicholas Girls’ School, noted how the “IJ Sisters have touched many people”.
Former “IJ students are now in all parts of the world shining their light and contributing their service”, she added.
By Clara Lai