There is no contradiction between living the Catholic faith and doing well academically, as Joyce Gan finds out when she spoke to some of the top students at Catholic High School
CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL scored high in the GCE-O level examinations last year. The school produced 12 of the top 43 students in Singapore, and all 12 scored nine A1s.
These students made Catholic High the school with the most top-scoring Chinese students, according to a Jan 13 report in The Straits Times.
The 2008 results were a sharp rise from the 2007 results, when only four Catholic High students made it to the list of top Secondary Four Chinese students, the newspaper said.
Catholic High students are given the freedom to choose the subjects they want to study provided that they meet the minimum selection requirement for subjects in language, the sciences and the humanities. They are not restricted to fixed subject combinations. This flexible curriculum was adopted by the school in 2006 and is the reason for the marked improvement of the school’s standing in the last GCE-O levels, said Principal Lee Hak Boon in an interview with The Straits Times.
Joseph Lim, who is one of the 12 top students from Catholic High, had a subject combination that included Triple Science, Literature and History. This combination also helped him to discern that he would prefer to study humanities in junior college.
Joseph, together with four friends – Johnathan Lee, Christopher Thong, Reginald Ng and Daniel Lim, all of whom are awaiting news of which junior college they will be posted to – spoke to CatholicNews about how their faith helped them prepare for the ‘O’ Level examinations. They are some of Catholic High School’s top performers and fine examples of young Catholics who do not leave the church after Confirmation.
Joseph is an outspoken and confident young man who comes from a big Catholic family. He describes his family as "very religious people". Joseph was "exposed to the faith since quite young" though his parents were not Catholic then. He was baptised at age 11.
"When my mum asked if I wanted to be baptised, I immediately said yes," Joseph recalled. "I pray a lot everyday. I pray the rosary before I sleep. And I prayed before and after the examinations – to thank God for the opportunity to take these examinations and for successfully completing them."
A parishioner at Church of Christ the King, Joseph organises Masses for youth at his parish. Since joining the ministry early last year, he has organised three such Masses, including an examination Mass. He said he was happy to continue serving in the ministry.
Johnathan Lee who is a parishioner of Church of St. Francis Xavier, said he turns to God "whenever I have troubles and I say daily prayers for whatever I have received".
"I look to my faith for support and it helps me through my daily life to know someone’s watching over me through what I say or do," he added.
Johnathan, who speaks softly, said that his seven A1s was unexpected. "This is something close to a miracle," he remarked.
Christopher Thong, who goes to both Church of the Holy Spirit and Church of Christ the King, also turns to prayers to calm him down in times of need.
"My parents taught me to pray," he said. "We have also been attending Novena Church ever since I was young. I find it meaningful to listen to [the petition and thanksgiving] letters and homilies."
Reginald Ng said he did not remember the pressure of studying for the examinations. "What I remember is saying a prayer before each revision, with a small prayer card," he said.
Reginald goes to Church of Christ the King and is involved with prayer ministry Maranatha. He is also the chairman of the Young Christian Society at Catholic High, a society he has been with since Secondary One.
Daniel Lim said with a laugh that he started praying more when he got really scared around the preliminary examinations.
"Yes, prayers helped," he continued. "It calmed me down a lot. My mum had collected prayer cards from different parishes for me and on different days, I take out different cards."
Daniel was born to a Methodist father and a Catholic mother. He began going to church with his mother when he was nine, and was baptised a Catholic at 14. He is a parishioner at Church of St. Ignatius and is involved in the music ministry. This involvement in ministry got him paying more attention at Mass and helps him hold on to the faith.
ALL FIVE BOYS attend Masses organised by Catholic High to celebrate various Catholic traditions. One regret they share is the small number of Catholics in the school – only 10 percent of the student population. The boys did their bit for Catholicism by evangelising among their schoolmates.
The boys are likely to continue their education at a non-Catholic junior college but expect to continue to keep their faith alive through ministry and Mass.
Catholic High teacher Aldrin Thomas commented that the boys "have a pretty strong faith". He added that while Catholic schools will complement their faith, essentially it is still their parents who instil it in them.
"If the foundation from their family wasn’t there, they may stray, especially at this stage in their lives when they are going to junior college," he said.
Catholic High was founded in 1935 by French missionary Father Edward Becheras, with premises next to Church of Sts. Peter and Paul at Queen Street. The school is one of top 10 current Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools, a status it has held since 1979. SAP schools provide opportunities for top scorers of the Primary School Leaving Examinations to learn English and Mandarin at the first language level.
In 1992, the school relocated to bigger premises at Bishan to cope with rising demand for student places.