KUCHING: The late Brother Columba, a former principal of SMK St Joseph who passed away on Wednesday, was a well-loved teacher who contributed greatly to education in Sarawak.
Born James Gleeson, Bro Columba died at 7.30pm (Malaysian time) in Castletown, Ireland, about a month before his 81st birthday.
He taught at SMK Sacred Heart in Sibu, where he also played football for the Sibu team in the Sarawak Cup competition, from 1957 to 1962.
He returned to Ireland for further studies before coming back to Sarawak in 1966 to teach in SMK St Joseph.
He took over as principal in 1970 and served until his retirement in 1987.
St Joseph board of management member Datuk JC Fong said Bro Columba had done a lot, not only for the school but education as a whole in the state.
“He spent his whole career as a teacher in Sarawak. He said many times that he did not have a single Irish former student as all his students were from Sarawak.
“We are of course saddened by his passing,” he told reporters.
Fong, a former student, said Bro Columba’s contributions extended beyond imparting knowledge.
“He inculcated good moral values in his students and we can say that he played a part in promoting understanding and respect among people.
“When he was here, he cultivated unity and harmony among the staff and students who were from diverse races, family backgrounds and levels of ability,” he said.
Fong added Bro Columba’s services to Sarawak had been recognised by the state, most recently with a Bronze Commemoration Medal during the 50th anniversary celebration of Sarawak’s independence in 2013.
SMK St Joseph principal Thomas Lau added that many former students remembered Bro Columba as an excellent principal.
“A lot of them benefited from his high level of discipline. He taught a lot of successful people,” he said.
A condolence book has been opened at SMK St Joseph. Former staff, students and well-wishers can sign the book during school office hours from now until the end of the month.
Donations from well-wishers will be sent to the La Salle Brothers Retirement Home in Castletown where Brother Columba spent his last few years.
Among those who signed the condolence book yesterday was Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem, who was a former student at SMK St Joseph.
A memorial service will be held in the school hall at 9.30am on Feb 13, followed by a requiem mass at St Joseph’s Cathedral at 11.30am.