Men For Others: Montfort School – Singapore, Celebrates 100 Years
This year, Montfort School celebrates the 100th year of its founding since its inception as Holy Innocents’ English School in 1916. We revisit the school’s rich history as a holistic Catholic institution.
In commemoration of their 100th year, Montfort School is holding a year-long series of celebrations. Beginning with the Anniversary Mass on 16 January, the theme for the year’s celebrations is ‘Celebrating the Past, Charting the Future’.
To help students and staff members know more about Montfort’s legacy, the school set up its very own Heritage Gallery back in January 2013, tracing the major points of development in the school’s history using artifacts, videos, voice recordings, photographs and personal accounts. It honours the many people who have contributed to the Montfortian mission of nurturing young people to live in service for others.
Come 23 April, the school will be organising a Founder’s Day and Homecoming Carnival, where alumni and students will celebrate with a day of fun-filled activities. Following that, on 30 June, the Montfortians will be living their mission of being ‘Men for Others’ by undertaking a 24-hour community service project to bring assistance and hope to the less fortunate. In July, they will bring the story of the Brothers of St Gabriel to life through a musical. Thereafter, the old friends and alumni of Montfort will meet for a Golf Tournament in August, and the celebrations will wrap up with a Gala Dinner on 19 November.
Montfort was established as Holy Innocents’ English School in 1916 by Fr H. Duvelle in a lone classroom of a two-storey building next to the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Upper Serangoon Road. Initially ran by a single principal for its first 62 years, the school was split into Junior and Secondary sections in 1974 to cater to the rapidly expanding student population. To keep its unique identity intact, it remained governed by the same management committee.
Eventually, changes in the local education system prompted the school to source for newer amenities, to cater to a more multi-faceted approach to education. Thus a building fund committee made up of Montfort alumni (then known as the Old Montfortian Association) was tasked to raise funds for a new and improved campus. Their fervent efforts saw the Hougang campus completed in 1992, equipped with new facilities to provide students with an improved learning environment.
Brothers of St Gabriel
Central to Montfort’s story are the Brothers of St Gabriel, a religious order devoted to continuing the work of 17th century French priest St Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, who dedicated a large part of his pastoral work to educating the destitute. They arrived in Singapore in 1936, and have sought to instill the Montfortian values of service and compassion to all their students since.
One of the most prominent Brothers featured in the Heritage Gallery is Brother Emmanuel, who began teaching in the school in 1954, and led other local Gabrielite institutions for over 30 years. For his services to the youth, he has been awarded the Public Service Medal by the Government. Until 2013, he continued to serve as the Supervisor of Montfort Schools, a position now held by Brother Dominic Yeo-Koh.
Inspired by their own teachers at Montfort, several students took up teaching themselves. Among them was Mr Teo Kah Ling, a well-remembered alumnus who taught for 43 years in the school and served as Principal from 1959 to 1964. An inspiring and talented educator who taught subjects ranging from English Literature to Mathematics, he composed the ‘Song of the Brave’, which continues to be sung by Montfortians today.
Mr James Chng, 52, is another student-turned-teacher motivated by his own Montfortian experience to enter the service. Having taught at Montfort for the entire 24 years of his career, the Science and English teacher deeply appreciates the school’s efforts in reaching out to every student. “In Montfort, nobody is left out,” James commented, referring to the range of backgrounds his students have come from. “All who walked through the doors of Montfort will become better people.” He shares his hope that the school will continue to guide each student in becoming a man for others.
In his homily during the Anniversary Mass, Archbishop William Goh—who studied in Montfort for 12 years—recounted the strong Catholic ambience that thrived in the school, “We would have prayers three times a day, before school, during the Angelus at Midday and after class. Monthly, we went for the sacrament of reconciliation and First Friday Devotion Mass to the Sacred Heart.” He entered the seminary in 1979, was ordained in 1985, and appointed Archbishop in 2013. His predecessor Archbishop Emeritus Nicholas Chia, was also from Montfort.
Four Montfortians also served as Members of Parliament: Dr Augustine, Mr Ng Kah Ting, Mr Lee Boon Yang and Mr Lim Boon Heng. Mr Lee and Mr Lim have also served as a Cabinet Ministers.
From Sons to Fathers
In remembering its past, the school also looks towards future generations. Alumnus James Tay recalls the various church-related activities he participated in while at Montfort, and credits his education for his faith. Today, he continues to serve the underprivileged through the Society of St Vincent de Paul.
James’ Montfortian experience has prompted him to enroll his son Darius into his alma mater. He is heartened that Darius is learning the same Catholic values as he did. Darius said, “My dad would share with me stories of his time in Montfort School and I would feel good being part of Montfort School as well… I can also relate to some of the things he said.” The father-son duo – now both alumni – is also featured in the school’s heritage gallery.
Honouring the past
In the words of Archbishop William Goh, “We must never think that success is purely our human effort alone. Hundreds of people along the way have helped us by moulding us, forming us, guiding us, mentoring us and assisting us.”
Montfort’s heritage trail represents the school’s gratitude towards the staff and old boys who have contributed their time and energy into its continuous improvement. Their lifelong dedication has helped Montfort grow as a Catholic institution that nurtures students academically and spiritually, and extending its century-long legacy of mentoring God’s beloved youth.