Oct 21, 2020 to Oct 20, 2021 is the Jubilee year of the 4th centenary of the birth of Blessed Nicolas Barré, the founder of the INFANT JESUS (IJ) SISTERS. In the Nov 15 issue of the Catholic News, they recounted their humble beginnings in France. In this issue, they continue their story. (All quotes are by Blessed Nicolas).
For almost 200 years since its founding by Blessed Nicolas Barré in 1662, IJ flourished on home soil, but the mid-19th century saw its expansion outside of France.
The IJ pioneer generation
“Fidelity to our mission, while bringing joy and hope, will also bring its trials. What appears to destroy it is precisely what will strengthen it. Hence it is necessary to live always in a spirit of abandonment to God, trusting in Him for all our needs.”
In 1851, an appeal was received from Father Jean-Marie Beurel, MEP in Singapore, for teachers to educate girls. Mother de Faudoas, IJ Superior-General at the time, in a spirit of trust in Divine Providence, made the daring decision to respond. Inspired by their founder, five brave IJ sisters led by Mother Pauline Radot set out on Dec 6, 1851 aboard the ship La Julie for a four-month-long arduous sea voyage into the unknown, together with two newly ordained priests of the French Foreign Mission (MEP) and four De La Salle brothers. Despite seasickness and difficult conditions, the sisters concentrated on learning English and Malay. Tragedy struck when one of the sisters was seriously injured when a pulley fell on her head, then shortly afterwards, Mother Pauline fell ill and died on March 13, 1852; she was buried at sea near Christmas Island. Undaunted,the surviving sisters arrived in Penang, and immediately set about opening a school for children, sharing their first home with 20 orphans.
IJ reached our shores with the arrival of Mother Mathilde Raclot in Feb 1854. Within 10 days of disembarkation, Mother Mathilde and her sisters, driven by a deep faith in God and firm belief in the dignity of every person, especially girls and the disadvantaged, had opened a school where present-day CHIJMES stands. They started with 14 fee-paying students, nine boarders and 16 orphans. Later, they found a home for children abandoned at a school gate named the ’Gate of Hope’.
With no money to buy food, the sisters trusted in God’s providence, teaching by day then doing embroidery by night for the rich ladies in town. Their trust was not unfounded – inspired by the sisters’ exemplary social responsibility and care for the poor, many people responded generously to their cause. The sisters reached out tirelessly, and the mission grew rapidly, even to Japan (1872) and Thailand (1885). 83 schools were established in Malaya and Singapore alone.
IJ and education
“Do we love our neighbour as ourselves? Do we do for the other what we do for ourselves? Jesus said that whoever received a little child in His name would receive Him and whatever is done to one of the least, the poorest, the most despised, is done to Himself.”
Over the years, many sisters came from France, Spain, Italy, England and Ireland to serve. Their legacy: 11 Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) schools in Singapore, founded between 1854 and 1964.
The CHIJ family of schools shares a very significant and meaningful badge, designed by students in 1894 in France, with the motto of Simple in Virtue; Steadfast in Duty. It reminds students to relate to others with respect, openness and sincerity,while having the strength of character necessary to rise above any difficulties and obstacles faced in doing their duty to serve others.
Children who join an IJ school are welcomed into a Christ-centred, faith-based community where growth is holistic, with a formation of consciousness of contributing to the common good and a firm belief of the worth and dignity of each person. Truth, Justice, Freedom and Love are the values that shape and define an IJ education.
Walk in the truth for truth provides the path with clarity;
Walk in justice so that we may lift the spirits of those we meet along the way;
Walk in freedom as we discern the light from the shadows of self-interest;
Walk with love and be perfect.
The purpose of education calls us to be the source of change for a better world: we are reminded that a life grounded in these values would better serve the common good of humanity.
IJ and social mission
“We should live in a state of complete dependence on grace, and however great the gifts and effects it produces we should always focus on God who is its source. As to our good deeds, we should remember that it is God who deigns to act through us.”
From 1885 to 1903, IJ extended their care for the needy to the sick at the Singapore General Hospital. Homes for children at risk or who required special attention, established alongside the IJ schools, led to the formation of Girls’ Town (1968–1983) and the current Infant Jesus Homes and Children’s Centres (IJHCC), which today comprise the IJ’s social mission arm.
IJHCC reaches out to disadvantaged children and youth-at-risk from diverse racial and religious backgrounds. It aims to provide a caring environment and support, conducive to a balanced growth and personal formation which are paramount in helping the children and youth grow in motivation, maturity and confidence, to become positive, independent and responsible adults.
IJ’s Asian Mission Team initiates projects with local school leaders and communities such as the Lunch Project, Clean Water project and the basic English programme to alleviate basic living conditions, and of course, educate poor and disadvantaged children in Myanmar, the Philippines, and Laos. IJ even supports Pony Centre run by an IJ sister in England, as well as projects in Africa and Latin America especially.
IJ and the laity
“Different species of trees produce different kinds of fruit. We must not look for cherries on a plum tree. So, it is with people. Each one has to bear fruit according to its kind which is the combined result of grace and a person’s special attraction.”
The IJ mission would not be possible without the collaboration of lay people. Indeed, IJ themselves only became a religious congregation in 1866 – for their first 200 years, they were all lay persons. Today, we rejoice in the many ways lay people are drawn to our charism and spirituality. Journeying together, we were called, at our last General Chapter in 2019, to formalise our partnerships with them.
The Church of this millennium is called the “Church of the Laity”. Lay people are called to respond to their baptismal vocation by taking an active part in the mission of the Church. The IJ Friend, Collaborator or Associate answers her baptismal call by living out the IJ spirituality and mission to serve the last, the least and the lost. We have three levels of affiliation in our IJ family:
- Friends who are well-wishers and support us in various ways;
- Collaborators from all backgrounds who are drawn to our charism and desire to live their call in this spirit; they make a formal annual commitment; and
- Associates who are Catholics, after a period of formation and discernment, officially make a life-long commitment to live our spirituality and charism as their way of life.
The acceptance and commitment to be a lay partner requires formation in mission and mutual discernment. We are happy to share that in Singapore we have nine IJ collaborators and five IJ associates who have dedicated their lives to encountering God in all things, and witnessing to the joy of the Gospel by forming others in the image of God, so that each one may be formed in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ.
We invite you to join us on this journey. Should you wish to read more, please visit our website chij-sisters.org or contact us at [email protected].
Come and see!
Contributed by the Infant Jesus Sisters. Part I of their story can be found at: https://catholicnews.sg/2020/11/12/ij-sisters-celebrate-the-400th-anniversary-of-their-founders-birth/.
Watch out for their Christmas reflection in our Dec 25 issue.
Prayer of Abandonment
LORD, I want nothing more, I desire nothing more, only to be ready to desire what you desire and as you desire it.
It is enough for me that you hold me in your presence, that you take care of everything, that you watch over all my concerns, all that happens to me and that nothing escapes your adorable guidance of my life. O Jesus! O Love!
You are my God and my all, centre and unfathomable depth of goodness and greatness! May Jesus live and His will be done! There is nothing left for me to desire.
Choose Lord, what you want of me. Order all things, plan and arrange all things in the way that pleases you, and I will try and make my desires and actions yours, to follow you in everything and everywhere, without reserve or limit.
Finally, Lord, I want to belong totally to you, no more measuring or portioning out, neither in life nor in death, in sorrow or in joy, on earth or in heaven. My beloved is all mine and I am His forever.
O Jesus! O love!
Blessed Nicolas Barré