Brother Vincent



Guy Joseph Janvier Barbe, popularly known as Brother Vincent (b. 1919, Laval City, Montreal–d. 14 October 1992, Singapore), was a missionary who founded Boys’ Town in Singapore. A member of the Brothers of St Gabriel religious institute, Vincent also helped to open schools in Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. He ran a makeshift school for children in Changi Prison and the Sime Road camp while interned during the Japanese Occupation.1

Education and early years
Born in Laval City near Montreal in Canada, Vincent was the youngest of five children in a farming family. Vincent attended St Martin’s School, where he conceived the idea of becoming a missionary in China after being made to stand in front of a map of the world as a punishment. At the age of 12, he decided to join the Gabrielite Brothers and trained as a teacher. He then took his religious vows with the Brothers at the age of 17.2

In March 1936, Vincent moved to London and studied at King’s College, University of London, as well as at a local polytechnic. However, his studies were interrupted by World War II, and he left London in January 1940 for Singapore. He had heard about Singapore from a fellow Gabrielite brother and made the decision to go there. Vincent arrived in Singapore in March and briefly worked at a Gabrielite training centre before teaching at Holy Innocents English School (now Montfort School).3

Japanese Occupation
During the Japanese Occupation, Vincent was interned as a prisoner of war at Changi Prison and later at Sime Road camp. He taught French to other internees and learned stenography, Spanish, Malay, Teochew and Mandarin. Despite personal deprivations and poor health due to inadequate nutrition, Vincent ran a makeshift school named St Gabriel’s and also took interned orphans under his charge. The school educated more than 40 children from primary to Standard VII levels. Four of his pupils attained passes at the Senior Cambridge level as internees, with Vincent arranging formal examinations in the camp and official recognition of their qualifications after the war.4

Following the end of the Occupation, Vincent was repatriated to Canada in September 1945. He taught at the Christopher Columbus Academy in Montreal for nine months, before returning to Singapore to teach at Holy Innocents English School.5

Boys’ Town and other work
Vincent’s experiences during the Occupation predisposed him towards helping orphans and disadvantaged children, so he sought a vocation within the Gabrielite Brothers that would allow him to do so. Before the war, the Brothers had set up the St Joseph’s Trade School and Orphanage, and Vincent restarted the institution in November 1947 with S$6,000, 30 boarders and a total of 100 boys enrolled in the trade school. The trade school consisted of carpentry, printing and mechanics sections, with Vincent in charge of printing. As director of the institution, Vincent emphasised the need to provide a home, personal care and skills for disadvantaged youth.6

During his internment in Changi Prison, Vincent had met William Thomas McDermott, an Australian businessman and philanthropist. In 1948, the two men met again by chance and discovered a common interest in helping disadvantaged youth. McDermott had been seeking to establish an institution modeled after the original Boys’ Town in Nebraska in the United States, and decided to support Vincent’s work by investing and raising funds.7

The trade school and orphanage was renamed Boys’ Town, and expanded on 64,749 sq mof land owned by the Catholic Church in the Bukit Timah area. The trade school was provided with official recognition by the colonial government, and an English school (now Assumption English School) was added to Boys’ Town in 1953, with Vincent as its principal. With the addition of the English school, Boys’ Town now consisted of the two schools and a boarding home. During his first appointment in charge of the institution, it grew from an enrolment of 30 boys in 1948 to 780 boys in 1959.8

Between 1953 and 1959, Vincent helped establish schools under the Gabrielite Brothers in Muar, Batu Pahat, Segamat, Port Dickson, Kuantan and Penang. In January 1955, Vincent was appointed mission head for the Brothers of St Gabriel in Singapore, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea, a role which he held until 1973. Among his responsibilities was oversight of Holy Innocents English School and St Gabriel’s School in Singapore. That year, the brothers also took over the Serina Boys’ Home near Kuala Lumpur and later renamed it Montfort Boys’ Town.9

In 1959, Vincent left Boys’ Town to start a private school in Muar for students who were too old for the conventional school system or had dropped out of it. The St Andrew’s Continuation School had an enrolment of around 1,300 students. He then opened a Brothers of St Gabriel mission in Papua New Guinea in 1968 staffed by missionaries who had previously been in Singapore and Malaysia.10

Having taken up Singapore citizenship, Vincent returned to Boys’ Town as its director in 1973. St Joseph’s Trade School had been revamped as the Boys’ Town Vocational Institute, while Assumption English School became a co-educational institution after merging with a convent school in Chestnut Drive. He retired from the director’s post in 1982, but stayed on at Boys’ Town as its director of finance. In February 1987, Vincent retired from full-time work due to ill health. By the time of his retirement, Boys’ Town had seen more than 5,000 children pass through its doors. For his contributions, Vincent was awarded the Bintang Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Star) in 1987.11

Social roles
Vincent was made a Justice of the Peace in May 1979, with prison visits to gather feedback and report on the welfare of prisoners among his duties. He was also a member of the General Law Advisory Committee, which reviewed the cases of prisoners each month to assess their suitability for early release.12

A member of the board of the Singapore Council of Social Service (now National Council of Social Service), Vincent chaired its Child Welfare Committee. Under his direction, the committee researched child abuse and child neglect in Singapore, and recommended programmes for education and prevention of abuse. He represented Singapore as a delegate at the International Year of the Child Conference in Melbourne in 1979, and presented a report on the living conditions and welfare of children in Singapore.13

Death
Vincent died on 14 October 1992 of a heart attack. His wake was attended by many former students, a testament of the impact he had on their lives, and his extended funeral cortege required a police escort.14



Author

Alvin Chua



References
1. Morgan, L. (1959, January 18). Today’s profile. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Alfred, H. (1984, May 7). The man who gave the boys a future. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chng, R. M. (Interviewer). (1996, February 27; Tan, L. (Interviewer). (1984, August 24). Oral history interview with Brother Vincent [Transcript of Cassette Recording No. 000468/30/1]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Ho, S. (1992, October 18). Founder of Boys’ Town, ‘father to all’, dies at 73. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

2. Morgan, L. (1959, January 18). Today’s profile. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Pioneers of Singapore. (1986, June 1). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, L. C. (1987, March 8). The beacon of Boys’ Town. The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, L. (Interviewer). (1984, August 24). Oral history interview with Brother Vincent [Transcript of Cassette Recording No. 000468/30/1]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Tan, L. (Interviewer). (1984, August 24). Oral history interview with Brother Vincent [Transcript of Cassette Recording No. 000468/30/3]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
3. Morgan, L. (1959, January 18). Today’s profile. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Alfred, H. (1984, May 7). The man who gave the boys a future. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Pioneers of Singapore. (1986, June 1). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, L. (Interviewer). (1984, August 24). Oral history interview with Brother Vincent [Transcript of Cassette Recording No. 000468/30/3]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
4. Morgan, L. (1959, January 18). Today’s profile. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Perera, A. (1987, January 25). Boys’ Town head to leave after 40 years. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, L. (Interviewer). (1984, August 24). Oral history interview with Brother Vincent [Transcript of Cassette Recording No. 000468/30/11]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
5. Pioneers of Singapore. (1986, June 1). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, L. (Interviewer). (1984, August 24). Oral history interview with Brother Vincent [Transcript of Cassette Recording No. 000468/30/19]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
6. Alfred, H. (1984, May 7). The man who gave the boys a future. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, L. (Interviewer). (1984, August 24). Oral history interview with Brother Vincent [Transcript of Cassette Recording No. 000468/30/20]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
7. Gertz, J. (1951, September 30). Boys town, great Asian venture. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; The town he built is now his memorial. (1957, March 19). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chng, R. M. (Interviewer). (1996, February 27). Oral history interview with Brother Emmanuel Gaudette [Transcript of Cassette Recording No. 1739/50/14, p. 146]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Chng, R. M. (Interviewer). (1996, February 27). Oral history interview with Brother Emmanuel Gaudette [Transcript of Cassette Recording No. 1739/50/15, p. 147]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/;
8. Boys’ Town will cost $1,000,000. (1949, August 24). The Singapore Free Press, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Hickley, K. (1950, January 29). Boys’ Town grapples with the future. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Brother Vincent plans bigger, better Boys’ Town. (1955, January 4). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; .Morgan, L. (1959, January 18). Today’s profile. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chng, R. M. (Interviewer). (1996, February 27). Oral history interview with Brother Emmanuel Gaudette [Transcript of Cassette Recording No. 1739/50/15, p. 148]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Tan, L. (Interviewer). (1984, August 24). Oral history interview with Brother Vincent [Transcript of Cassette Recording No. 000468/30/25]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
9. Tan, L. (Interviewer). (1984, August 24). Oral history interview with Brother Vincent [Transcript of Cassette Recording No. 000468/30/27]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
10. Morgan, L. (1959, January 18). Today’s profile. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chng, R. M. (Interviewer). (1996, February 27). Oral history interview with Brother Emmanuel Gaudette [Transcript of Cassette Recording No. 1739/50/15, p. 149]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Tan, L. (Interviewer). (1984, August 24). Oral history interview with Brother Vincent [Transcript of Cassette Recording No. 000468/30/27]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
11. Alfred, H. (1984, May 7). Principal in profile: The man who gave the boys a future. The Straits Times, p. 3; Ho, S. (1992, October 18). Founder of Boys’ Town, ‘father to all’, dies at 73. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, L. (Interviewer). (1984, August 24). Oral history interview with Brother Vincent [Transcript of Cassette Recording No. 000468/30/28]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/ Chng, R. M. (Interviewer). (1996, February 27).Oral history interview with Brother Emmanuel Gaudette [Transcript of Cassette Recording No. 1739/50/24, p. 251]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
12. Tan, L. C. (1987, March 8). The beacon of Boys’ Town. The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Beautiful, says man behind Boys’ Town. (1987, August 9). The Straits Time, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, L. (Interviewer). (1984, August 24). Oral history interview with Brother Vincent [Transcript of Cassette Recording No. 000468/30/29]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
13. Govindram, R. (1979, January 21). What we plan for the kids….The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, L. (Interviewer). (1984, August 24). Oral history interview with Brother Vincent [Transcript of Cassette Recording No. 000468/30/29]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
14. Ho, S. (1992, October 18). Founder of Boys’ Town, ‘father to all’, dies at 73. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chng, R. M. (Interviewer). (1996, February 27). Oral history interview with Brother Emmanuel Gaudette [Transcript of Cassette Recording No. 1739/50/15, pp. 153–155]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/



Further resources

Boys’ Town (Singapore). (1973–1987). Boys’ Town newsletter. Singapore: Boys’ Town.
(Call no.: RSING 362.740095957 BTSBTN)

Tan, L. (Interviewer). (1984, August 24). Oral history interview with Brother Vincent [Transcript of Cassette Recording No. 000468/1–30]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

Chng, R. M. (Interviewer). (1996, February 27). Oral history interview with Brother Emmanuel Gaudette [Transcript of Cassette Recording No. 1739/50/14/15/24/45]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/



The information in this article is valid as at 7 June 2013 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.

Subject
Youth in missionary work
Missionaries

All Rights Reserved. National Library Board Singapore 2013.