Two hundred voices from St Joseph’s Institution (SJI) old boys, teachers and De La Salle Brothers, echoed in the Singapore Art Museum, as they gathered for a memorial Mass on Nov 15 in honour of their beloved principal.
Irishman Br Kevin Byrne who was SJI’s principal from 1979 to 1991, battled Alzheimer’s disease in his later years and had a bad fall this year. Months later at 83, he passed away in his hometown in Castletown, Ireland on Sept 26.
Cherished by many, he was known for his calm demeanour and foresight as without him, SJI would not have gotten its independent status in 1986.
An ex-student of Br Kevin and current SJI chaplain, Fr Michael D’Cruz, recalled during his homily that Br Kevin “was a gentleman”.
Throughout his homily, he shared excerpts from “The Pearl” by John Steinbeck, a Literature text that Br Kevin taught him when he was 15.
He said that Br Kevin invested his time in ensuring that his students saw beyond material possessions.
“Br Kevin was never satisfied that we lived in a superficial way,” he said.
Five men then took to the podium to pay their tributes to the late Brother.
They included a close friend of Br Kevin and representative of the De La Salle Brothers, Br Felix Donohue; former SJI principal Benjamin Lui; and three ex-SJI students, Dr Michael Chai who became a teacher at his alma mater, Mr Colin Chetty and Mr Victor Lye.
“It was his warmth and his charm that made him so popular among us,” said Mr Chetty.
At the end of the Mass, the glass hall was filled with laughter when Fr Michael shared that Br Kevin had a pocket watch on his desk and “always ended his lessons on time”.
By Lorna O’Hara
|Tributes to Br Kevin Byrne|
‘Fondest memory – sharing a round of golf with him when on holidays in Ireland – he was so relaxed and at ease, it was infectious.’
– Br Felix Donohue, who grew up with Br Kevin. They both were in the same novitiate in Ireland.
‘Br Kevin was blessed with blessed manners. I never saw him angry.’
– Br Collin Wee who lived with and knew Br Kevin for 15 years.
‘The gentlest soul I have ever known, so gentle that that energy affected even noisy students who calmed down in his presence.’
– Mrs Maureen Pestana, senior subject teacher for Art in SJI who worked with Br Kevin for about 12 years.
‘I learnt from Br Kevin that, as teachers, we did not have to nag or yell at our students; just the correct tone was necessary to command their attention and respect.’
– Mrs Vimala Alexander, who first met Br Kevin in 1988 when she went for an interview to teach in SJI.