The Franciscan Missionaries of Mary Sisters pose for a photo outside the ballroom at Suntec for Hai Sing’s 50th anniversary dinner.

BUDDHIST NUN VENERABLE Bei Rong, is among the pioneering batch of students of Hai Sing Catholic School and she remembers well the institution’s humble roots.

The school, then known as Hai Sing Girls’ High School, had to borrow premises from Holy Innocents’ Chinese Girls’ School in the Upper Serangoon/Hougang area when it first started out in 1959 with two teachers. Franciscan Missionaries of Mary Sister Teresa Tsang, whose Order founded the school, was not only the first principal, but also an English, Science, and Arts and Craft teacher.

The school had its own premises when classes grew from two to 15, including pre-university classes.

At the same time that the school was growing, it made sure to provide also for its needy students as far as possible.

“Hai Sing really took care of the poor girls very well, gave us bursaries, helped us with school fees and even handed out pocket money for us to have lunch,” Venerable Bei Rong, who was a student from 1959 to 1965, told CatholicNews in Mandarin on the sidelines of the school’s 50th anniversary dinner on Nov 20 at the Suntec ballroom. Some 870 alumni and current students attended the event.

She said that without Hai Sing, girls in the rural areas of Hougang and Punggol would not have been able to receive an education as they weren’t able to go into the town schools to study. “You could say that without Hai Sing, there wouldn’t be us today,” she said.

The nun, who now cares for the elderly in Australia, added that her years studying in a Catholic school helped to instil kindness and compassion within her from young.

“The principal cared for us back then. Now we have the ability, we can care for others,” she said. “It’s not about Hai Sing being a Catholic school and me being Buddhist. The most important thing is the education given [to students].”

Maria Cheng, a student from 1961 to 1967, credits Hai Sing for grounding her with a good values system to be able to “love people and love God” and for her subsequent conversion to Catholicism.

In its 50-year history, Hai Sing went through several big changes. It was named one of 10 outstanding Chinese secondary schools in Singapore in 1978, before embracing bilingual education in 1981.

Franciscan Missionaries of Mary Sister Maria Ng, who was principal from 1969 to 1983, said the change to an English-based education was initially difficult for both students and teachers who were of a Mandarin-speaking background. Fortunately, the school provided after-school tuition for the students who came from Mandarin or dialect backgrounds. Teachers also brushed up their English. Things began to look up after a couple of years, she said.

Then in 1990, Hai Sing became a co-educational school with the admission of boys, changed its name to Hai Sing High School and moved to Pasir Ris New Town. In 1999, its name became Hai Sing Catholic School.

Through the changes, said Sister Maria, the teaching standards and methods have improved while the school remained true to the Franciscan values of kindness, compassion, joy, outreach, helping others and loving and caring for nature – as espoused in the motto “To Truth (God) through Charity”.

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