St Joseph’s Institution (SJI) is Singapore’s oldest Catholic boys’ school. It was founded on 22 July 1852 by Father Jean-Marie Beurel of the Missions Étrangères de Paris (The Society of Foreign Missions of Paris), who wanted to establish a Christian school for local boys. The French priest also felt that the addition of a school to the church he had built in 1847 – known today as the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd – would benefit the Catholic mission in Singapore. However, it was not until 1850 that Father Beurel was able to secure the funds and manpower from the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, or the De La Salle Brothers, in Paris, France, to set up the school. The manpower came in the form of three Christian Brothers – Lothaire Combes, Venere Chapuis and Jerome King – who arrived in Singapore in March 1852.
At the time of its formation, SJI was known as St John’s School, before it was renamed St Joseph’s Institution in 1867. The school was located at Bras Basah and had 75 boys as its first batch of students. A year later, the student intake rose to 145, comprising boys from all ethnic groups and religions, including European Catholic children and members of the Jewish community. As the school was run by the Christian Brothers, the syllabus used during its early days was based on the De La Salle model lessons. The result was that all lessons included moral teachings. Even mathematics questions were framed in such a way that values such as thrift or frugality were emphasised.
SJI continued to grow steadily throughout the remaining decades of the 1800s, and had 426 students by 1900. Over the years, the school underwent a number of infrastructural expansions to accommodate the rising enrolment. These include the construction of a new two-storey schoolhouse in 1867, which still stands today as the central section of the Singapore Art Museum, and the King George’s Hall, which was the largest school hall in Singapore when it was completed in 1912. By the time SJI celebrated its centenary in 1952, it was the largest boys’ school in Singapore with 2,376 students.
1. Urban Redevelopment Authority (2010). Heritage schools. Retrieved September 22, 2014, from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/publications/research-resources/books-videos/2010-03_heritage_schools.aspx
2. Alfred, H. (2002). Living the mission: The SJI story, 1852–2002 (pp. 8, 10–11). Singapore: Archipelago Press. Call no.: RSING q373.5957 ALF.
3. Brown, F. (1987). Memories of SJI: Reminiscences of old boys and past teachers of St. Joseph's Institution, Singapore (pp. 2–3). Singapore: The Institution. Call no.: RSING 372.95957 BRO.
4. Alfred, 2002, pp. 13–14.
5. Alfred, 2002, p. 14.
6. Alfred, 2002, p. 24.
7. Alfred, 2002, p. 15.
8. Alfred, 2002, p. 17.
9. Alfred, 2002, pp. 15–17.
10. Alfred, 2002, p. 41.
11. Alfred, 2002, pp. 24, 38–42; Fernandez, W. (2009). Men for others: A portrait of the Josephian over the years (pp. 46–47). Singapore: Straits Times Press. Call no.: RSING 373.5957 FER.
12. St. Joseph's has a centenary. (1952, March 13). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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.