HISTORY OF ST FRANCIS CONVENT
THE FRANCISCAN LEGACY
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF ST FRANCIS CONVENT SCHOOLS
(Compiled by Mrs Bridget Yong-Stephens & The Late Ms Feona Jinu)
Prelude – In 1918 Rev. Father Valentine Weber of the Sacred Heart Mission in Jesselton wrote that “what is greatly needed is a convent of nuns to educate and instruct women..” He thus went about looking for a suitable site for a convent. By 1921, Rev, Fr. Weber was to report that the “..convent is nearly complete..”
A convent was first established by the Franciscan (Sister) Missionaries of St. 1926 Joseph (FMSJ) in Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu) on a piece of land on Jalan Tungku Abdul Rahman (then known as South Road). Sister Rose Charnley (who was original at Inobong together with sister Gerarda Bonengaar (who was stationed at Limbahau ) was sent to Jesselton to set up the St. Francis’ Convent School.
With funds from Rev. Father Valentine Weber and Mr. Tay Bee Chuan, a non-Catholic resident of Jesselton, Rev. Fr. Weber and his boys, (probably Sacred Heart Boys) built the St. Francis’ Convent School, North Borneo’s (now Sabah) first school for girls.
At the beginning, Sister Rose and Sister Gerarda brought the first group of girls from nearby areas. The School was in tow sections – one for teaching in English with 60 pupils and the other in Chinese with 32 pupils. An average of 30 to 40 boarded at the Convent per term. The two Sisters were assisted by two lay teachers. The Chinese section was started by Catechist Thomas Lee Yen Chiang with Catechist Ms Teresa Ho, also a Chinese teacher there.
4th Oct 1928
St. Francis’ Convent School was first blessed on this day to coincide with the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, the Patron of the school. The first Annual Report from the St. Francis’ Convent school, Jesselton was submitted to the Education Department with Sister (Mary) Rose recorded as Headmistress. Thereafter similar Annual Reports were recorded to have been submitted by Sister Rose until 1929.
The first group of (local) novices began training under Sister Rose in the Convent and also helped to look after the boarders. Out of this group, three together with another trained in Limbahau went on to form the Franciscan Sisters of Immaculate Conception (FSIC) or the “Blue Sisters”.
Student and boarder enrolment increased to 114 in the English section and 72 in the Chinese Section. Sister Gerarda returned to England due to ill health. (She eventually died on 16th April 1952 while in retirement).
Sister Rose was appointed local superior in Sandakan and Mother Claver took over her place in the Convent. Due to the increased number of students, extensions were made to classrooms and dormitory accommodation.
THE WAR YEARS
The outbreak of war brought all activities to a close. All European Sisters (and Fathers) were interned on Berhala Island in Sandakan.
In January 1943, all the European Sisters (and Fathers) were sent to the main Prisoners of War Camp in Kuching, Sarawak where they remained until the Japanese surrendered in August.
After 23 years, the Japanese invasion completely destroyed St. Francis’ Convent School. All early records went with it.
THE POST-WAR YEARS
On 24th October 1945, the White Franciscan Sisters returned to Limbahau (and thereon to their respective convents) from Labuan after recuperating from their three and a half years’ interment in Kuching. Sisters Eugenie, St Luke, Sister Baptist, Sister John Fisher and Sister St. John, along with the newly professed Blue Sisters (FSIC) – Sister Immaculate, Sister Aloysius, Sister Francis and Sister Consolata set about rebuilding of the school came through the church from various sources including the generous Australian benefactors whom the Rev. Mother Eugenie met in Australia after the war.
From canvas tents to bamboo huts and then under attap and wooden walled sheds, the School re-opened and resumed activities. The Kindergarten class was also started with 15 pupils.
19 NOV 1948
The New school building with office and staff room was blessed by Prefect Apostolic Monsignor James Buis.
Mother Rose returned to England.
28 NOV 1949
The first group of candidates from school (according to reports, three/four students) sat for Junior Cambridge Certificate examination. Out of those who sat for the exam, 3 passed. Veronica P Koay, Nellie Khoo and Pushpam Raghavan. In this year, The Education authorities asked for the use of the School as the examination centre as it was the most suitable building at that time. There were a total of 19 candidates from all over sitting for the exam.
A new hostel was built to accommodate the growing number of boarders from rural areas
where educational facilities at that time were inadequate.
The School uniform was first introduced and thereafter the style was modified a few times. It was eventually replaced with the standardized uniform 30 years later in 1972.
A SEPARATE SECONDARY SCHOOL
(A) At Jalan Tungku Abdul Rahman
With the growing number of students in the school, a separate block was opened for the Secondary School on the same site, to the left of the existing Convent. This building was later used by the Primary School in the year 1965-1993.
(B) At Jalan Kebajikan
The continued success of the school necessitated the construction of the Secondary School on Jalan Kebajikan (Then known as Harrington Road). It was Mother Eugenie who first gave considerable thought to the idea of providing a new Secondary school for the Convent pupils. However, ill-health prevented her from carrying out the project and it was left to Mother St. John, her successor as Regional Superior to continue the work. The new school was first built in 2 Phases. The whole project was generously funded by donations from parents, pupils, ex-students, friends of the Convent and the Education Department. The new secondary school buildings were designed by an architect, Morley, of Messrs. Booty & Edwards and the contractor was the Metropolitan Construction Company.
The new secondary school was officially opened by the then Director of Education, Mr G.D.
Muir and the Prefects System was first introduced in the school.
The third phase of the new Secondary School was completed comprising of a two storied block with an additional Science Room, a Domestic Science Room above it and additional six classrooms was built on the slope below the existing Science and Domestic Science block.
The Kindergarten moved to its new site on Jalan Kebajikan, directly opposite the Secondary School.
When Sabah (then known as North Borneo) joined the Federation of 1971 Malayan States to form Malaysia, a parliamentary act – the Education Act ’61 was extended to Sabah imposing the Ministry of Education’s control over all mission schools (defined in the Act as “fully assisted schools” ).
After being run by the White Franciscan Sisters for almost 50 years, in accordance with the Government’s policy of Malaysianisation, the White Sisters handed over St. Francis’ Convent School to the local Franciscan Sisters (Blue Sisters). Sister Mary Cecilia was appointed Principal for the Primary School on 1st January 1969 and Mrs Mercy Devaraj was appointed Principal of the Secondary School in January 1971.
The School Board of management was formed Mr Francis Lee Yit Khee, Ms Celestina Kinajil (Datin Seri Panglima Celestina Jinu), Rev. Fr. Tobias Chi, Datin Rohani Read, Rev. Sr M. Aloysius. Mr Anthony B. Fung and Mr Fred G. Perkins were first to serve on the Board.
The first bridge class was started.
One day, whilst having a get-together tea with a group of ex-students, among who were Toh Puan Hajjah Rahimah Stephens and Puan Ariah Ahmad (as they were both then were), Rev. Sister St Luke broached the idea of forming an Old Girls’ Association. Encouraged by their discussion, Puan Ariah Ahmad, Puan Rosie Wong, Puan Usha Jayaram and Rev. Sr. Cecilia decided to call for an Inaugural Meeting to elect the Pro tem Committee of the Ex-Franciscan Association (EFA). The Inaugural Meeting was held on the 29th April 1978.
1979 – 1981
With rise in student numbers, afternoon class sessions commenced and 1981 the first Parent-Teachers Association (PTA) was formed.
The Kindergarten moved from the Jalan Kebajikan premises to the Sacred Heart Cathedral compound together with Shan Tao Kindergarten (Shan Tao was previously known as Kung Ming School which was started by Mr Thomas Lee Yen Chiang in 1938 for the Chinese Catholic pupils to attend. The pupils in Chinese section of St. Francis Convent School later moved to Kung Ming School after the war).
As termites threatened the safety of the Primary School, efforts were intensified to find an alternative location. The Primary School, together with the School Management Board succeeded in acquiring a 20-acre piece of land in Bukit Padang, Kota Kinabalu. Plans were immediately implemented for the construction of the Primary School with future plans to re-site the Secondary School there.
With fund raised jointly by the school, the PTA, the School Board of Management with financial assistance from the Government, the Primary School moved from the original Jalan Tungku Abdul Rahman location to the new premises at Bukit Padang, Kota Kinabalu.
(C) The Move to the new site of Bukit Padang
The School Board of Management authorised the setting up of the St. Francis’ Convent Secondary School Building Committee towards the end of the year amidst growing concerns for the dilapidated state of the school and maintenance costs. This SFCSS Building committee has been actively pursuing the and following up on the development plans for the re-sitting of the Secondary School to Bukit Padang, Kota Kinabalu, sharing a 20-acres site with the Primary School.
The writers have compiled this timeline with information from articles available to them at the present time and on interviews of various person who were at one time or another involved with St. Francis’ Convent School. It was found that at some point, certain articles and some testimonies differed from each other and therefore this write-up cannot be taken to be completely accurate. In their efforts to obtain as complete a record as possible, the writers welcome any comments that may ascertain the accuracy of the facts present in this articles as well as any other additional information relevant to St. Francis’ Convent School.