Home > Lifestyle > Features
Sunday October 20, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday October 20, 2013 MYT 9:13:33 AM
by leonard selva
Memorial prayer: At the memorial service for the founder of Penang Free School, Rev R. S. Hutchings.
The call to be an educator takes precedence above all else.
IN the cemetery rests the early British officers of the Penang Straits Settlement. Sir Francis Light is buried here.
Last year, early in the morning at 6.45am on Oct 21, the priest, prefects and Lim Ah Seng, the prefects’ adviser, gathered at the entrance of the old Protestant cemetery in Penang. They were there for a small memorial prayer for the founder of the Penang Free School (PFS), Reverand R.S. Hutchings. He was the one who mooted the idea of forming a school free of creed and race definitions. Thus, the school was established in 1816.
The school has made it an important tradition that every year on Oct 21, the priest would say a prayer and the prefects would lay wreaths. Although PFS was not my alma mater, I was attracted to Hutchings’ vision.
I can still recall the day I got my transfer letter to PFS. Being a music graduate, I was being transferred there to teach music and administer the school band. But I was troubled by the transfer.
You see, I studied at St Xavier’s Institution, which was my beloved alma mater. During my school days, we somehow came to understand that PFS was our rival school in every way, be it in sports, academics or other aspects. So there was always a healthy competition between us.
I remembered the statue of La Salle teaching the children which greeted me at the entrance when I arrived as a 13-year-old boy at St Xavier’s Institution. The seniors told us of the La Sallian spirit and La Sallian brothers.
The La Sallian Brothers are a religious society founded by La Salle whereby its members (known as Brothers) take a vow of teaching as their vocation. Brother Casimir, our principal director, was an Irishman whose speeches during assemblies went hand in hand with pin drop silence.
The students had a huge respect for him as they knew his care and concern for them. There were other Brothers too in the school and they all upheld the same image. We even had a blind Brother by the name of Brother Ulrick. He was an expert in Bible Knowledge.
What amazed me was the vocation these Brothers chose in education. They were far away from home, but felt at home by providing education to us. I also recalled that they were only paid an allowance and didn’t receive a “salary”. I noticed how the school, run by the Brothers, placed importance on character, team building and charity works for the poor. Academic achievement was seen to be a by product of the above mentioned values.
Charity Week, when the whole school would go on a charity drive to give donations to the needy, is still carried out today at St Xavier’s.
When the bell rings for dismissal, nobody really goes home. The students would be having activities for their clubs and uniform units as well as sports activities. I was with the SXI Corps of Pipes and Drums (in other words, the school band) and we were the only school band with bagpipes in Penang.
How could I teach at PFS, I asked myself? I am sure the director-general of Education would laugh if I rejected the transfer based on the fact that it was my rival school.
And what would my classmates say at our reunions? I was freaking out.
The day finally came when I walked into PFS. I felt very uncomfortable, like a soldier entering enemy territory.
I have a liking for architecture, and PFS had a great building and huge field. That was an ice breaker of sorts for me.
I was there in the school hall. We stood up for the school anthem. I was impressed. The singing was very spirited and sounded very grand. It was a pleasant suprise to know that the anthem was written by G.S. Reutens, a teacher at PFS who was formerly a student from St Xavier’s.
It then struck me ... the La Sallian spirit. The La Sallian Brothers went far and wide to teach children around the world. And here I am, not at my alma mater but in a school that was founded on the principle of fair education for all.
The fact that it was not my alma mater is not what should matter, but rather, the vocation.
To teach all, regardless of any limitation. In my situation, my rival school. I have spent six years at PFS and I feel at home. I don’t know how long I will be in this school but the La Sallian spirit flames in my heart.
I have taught the students the importance of traditions being kept alive in schools like these. I have met colleagues who are also ex-students of St Xavier’s at PFS. I can see their immense contributions and dedication to the school.
Interestingly, I have also seen colleagues of mine who have never studied at the school but cherish it as if it were their alma mater.
Having been established since 1816 and being one of the oldest schools in South-East Asia, PFS has many traditions to uphold and espouses strong values.
It’s only through the students and teachers that these traditions can be kept alive. It’s through this labour we can conquer all (Labor Omna Vincit*) challenges, and be strong and faithful (Fortis Atque Fidelis*) till the end to uphold education in high esteem.
*The respective mottos of St Xavier’s and Penang Free School.
These pages are for stories that are heart-warming or thought-provoking. If you have an original one to share, e-mail it to email@example.com.
Tags / Keywords:
Lifestyle, Heart & Soul, Penang Free School, Hutchings, La Salle
Copyright © 1995-2013 Star Publications (M) Bhd (Co No 10894-D)