Saturday, January 19, 2008

An outing with the Jesuits - Part 2

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After leaving the kinds, we trotted to the nearby Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus on Light Street. Established by the IJ sisters in 1852, it's the earliest girls school in these parts. Mother Mathilde, who established over 80 convent schools in the region also founded what is now known as CHIJMES in Singapore. It's a former Infant Jesus Convent which was closed down and converted into some kind of pub.

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The outside of the Chapel.

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When I brought the Jesuits to this part of town last year, we tried to get in but since the school was in session, the security was pretty tight and we didn't manage. This year, it being a public holiday, we got through security and wandered around a bit.

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I went over to look for the sisters, who still live within the Convent grounds. We managed to meet with Sr. Fidelis, the superior. Wow! What a person and what a nun!Very feisty. Great company and great fun. She regaled us with stories from the past, of her home country, Burma, of her family (1 bishop, 2 priests and 1 nun, I think) and of her life and times. A wonderful and totally charming person and sister.

She took us for a guided tour of the place, which is huge.

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We first went to the Chapel. Wow... I was awestruck by it's beauty. The stained glass and windows illuminated the place in a heavenly glow. You could feel the holiness of the place where the Sacrament is still reserved.

The altar is modern as a 'renovation' occurred and the high altar torn down in the wake of the turbulent 60's. The whole chapel, as well as the school was recently restored due to the efforts of its alumni after being in a very dilapidated state for years.

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But unfortunately, due to it's location and distance from the nun's quarters, the crucifixes, candlesticks and lamps had to be removed for fear of them being stolen. Break-ins have occurred in the past and the area isn't as safe as it once was.



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The stained glass were beautiful and the place had such a holy and prayerful feel to it. As we prayed there, I could not help but think of the many people who knelt in the same spot as me. Of the sisters who professed their vows and had their funerals celebrated in the very chapel.

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A truly beautiful place.

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Sr. Fidelis was kind enough to tell us some of the stories connected to this place, it's history and it's importance as the heart of the Convent. Of course the days when the place resounded with the footsteps of the nuns are long gone, there being only 6 of them resident there. But their memory still burns brightly in the minds of people like Sr. Fidelis.

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Sr. Fidelis, recounting the stories and adventures of the IJ sisters.

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We were then taken on the rest of the tour and shown such gems as the well (below) dug by Captain Francis Light who founded the state of Penang.

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In fact, he had his residence here (above) before the land was given over to the school. The courtyards, quadrangles and frangipani trees remind me of my own school.

The grounds, as you can see are very tranquil and beautiful. The students are a privileged bunch, to be able to study in such surroundings.

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And the magnificent views!

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On a more sombre note, during WW2 and the Japanese Occupation, the Convent was converted into a detention centre. The crew of the USS Grenadier, an American submarine, were detained and tortured here.

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They left their mark by carving their names into the walls of the classroom where they were held as you can see below.

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This is truly a beautiful place and made more so by the kind sisters who dwell there, still serving God and being faithful to their vows. Sr. Fidelis is nothing if not faithful, as she so often reminds us. =)

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The wonderful Sr. Fidelis (God bless her), regaling us with tales from her youth.

It was a really pleasant visit and I do hope to come back and chat with the sisters again.

Come back for part 3, where the novices visit an Anglican Cathedral, the Courthouses, A Buddhist Temple and a mosque.

4 comments:

gregwar said...

Looking at the pictures of the CLS brings back memories to me. I taught In CLS from 1972 till 1983. The couple of special places were the beautiful chapel and the library. The library was a treasure trove of really good books especially Literature and religious books. I wonder what happened to them? Besides the occasions mentioned we used have special masses for the begining of school, exams, etc. The las t funeral I attended was for the late Sr Francis de Sales, one of my favourite people. The crowd was so big that the funeral proper was held in the Hall. There were a few weddings masses too for the "old" girls (with special permission). I wish the more of such could be held so that the place could be used more. I wonder what will happen to the place after all the nuns are gone and also when the "strong" alumni weakens as the "old" girls are also gone?

Rita said...

I'm so pleased to see the convent looking so much better than it has in recent years. Thanks for the photos.

Whilst I know the Japanese Navy were no saints during the WW2 occupation, my relatives speak of them with much sadness and some affection. Compared with the Japanese army who were brutes to the locals, the navy seemed much more restrained. Those relatives of mine who lived near the navy base were often given fresh fish by the officers and when the air raid sirens went off, they'd first go to fetch the toddler in our family and keep him with them, keeping the mosquitoes off him with their cigarette smoke.

Apparently, after they left Penang the lot of them were torpedoed and slaughtered in the S China Sea.

M@rK said...

lovely chapel... much bigger than the one in St. Xavier's, the stands and sticks are actually hidden in the room behind the chapel... I last attended a funeral there before I left for Dublin... My favourite is still the chapel in the LSP though...

Andrew said...

Mark, now the thieves who are reading this blog know where to find them!!

Anyway, you need to see the LSP Chapel now... the statues are gone.