The Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus (IJ) was founded by Reverend Father Nicholas Barré in France in 1662. The order first arrived in Singapore in 1854 to set up schools for girls.
The order’s establishment in Singapore is attributed to Father Jean-Marie Beurel of the Missions Étrangères de Paris (MEP). While establishing a Christian school for boys in Singapore, Father Beurel also saw the need to educate girls and wrote to the Infant Jesus (IJ) Sisters in France to send nuns to Singapore for this purpose. He personally accompanied the first mission of IJ Sisters from Antwerp, Belgium, to Singapore in 1851, but the treacherous five-month journey claimed the life of one, lost one and saw the remaining three sent to Penang (then part of the Straits Settlements together with Singapore and Malacca) instead. It was only in 1854 that Singapore received its pioneering mission of IJ Sisters comprising Mother Mathilde Raclot, Mother St Appollinaire, Sister St Gregory Connolly and Mother St Gaetan.
The sisters lived in a house called Caldwell House, which was located at the corner of Bras Basah Road and Victoria Street. They began work immediately and commenced classes, in the process establishing the first Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) school in Singapore with 14 fee-paying pupils, nine boarders and 16 orphans just 10 days upon their arrival. In addition to the school, the sisters also established an orphanage and a boarding house. As the work of the IJ Sisters expanded, Father Beurel acquired neighbouring plots of land for it as help from the British colonial government was not forthcoming. In 1903, a new and more spectacular chapel built by Father Charles Benedict Nain was added to the convent. Father Charles was a French priest of the MEP who had arrived in Singapore in 1898 to become the assistant parish priest at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. Over the years, the convent (popularly known as Town Convent) grew to occupy a large compound bound by Bras Basah Road, Stamford Road and North Bridge Road.
In the decades that followed, branch convent schools were established throughout Singapore – Katong Convent (1930), St Nicholas Girls’ (1933), St Theresa’s Convent (1933), St Joseph’s Convent (1938), Bukit Timah Convent (1955) (now known as CHIJ Our Lady Queen of Peace), CHIJ Ponggol (1957) (now known as CHIJ Our Lady of the Nativity), Opera Estate Convent (1959) (merged with the primary section of Katong Convent to form CHIJ Katong Primary in 1990), Our Lady of Good Counsel (1960) and Kellock Convent (1964).
In line with its passion to educate, the IJ’s mission to provide care for children in crisis, girls in particular, continues to be strong. With the move of Town Convent to Toa Payoh in 1983 and in response to changes in social trends, the mission continues its work through the running of the IJ Centre (Clementi) and the Galilee Centre (Ang Mo Kio).
1. Meyers, E. (2004). Convent of the Holy Infant: 150 years in Singapore (pp. 18–30, 40–44). Penang, Malaysia: The Lady Superior of Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus. Call no.: RSING q371.07125957 MEY.
2. Meyers, 2004, p. 30.
3. Meyers, 2004, p. 44.
4. Panicker, S (1990). 135 years of CHIJ in Singapore: 1854–1989 (pp. 21–22). Singapore: CHIJ. Call no.: RCLOS 372.95957 ONE.
5. Meyers, 2004, p. 52.
6. Meyers, 2004, p. 47.
7. Meyers, 2004.
8. Meyers, 2004. pp. 246–259.
The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.