Congregation of the Holy Infant Jesus
CHIJ / IJ
Simple in Virtue, Steadfast in Duty
The Congregation of the Holy Infant Jesus (whose members use the postnominal initials of C.H.I.J.) is a religious institute of Religious Sisters founded by the French Minim friar, Father Nicholas Barré, to provide an education for underprivileged schoolchildren. Today, the IJ sisters and their lay volunteers have a presence in every continent, except North America and Oceania, through social projects and schools.
In 1662 Barré saw the need for the education of the poor in France. He therefore recruited educated women to help set up his first school near Rouen. As the enrollment increased, more schools were established, and four years later, the ladies in charge of these schools began to live in a community under a Superior. This was the beginning of a religious congregation whose main work was the education of the poor. The year 1666, therefore saw the founding of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Infant Jesus.
The outbreak of the French Revolution brought about several social and political changes in France but the work of the congregation spread rapidly. Less than twenty-five years after the opening of the motherhouse in Paris, eighty schools for free education and forty boarding schools had been established in France. With the granting of official approval from Rome, the Sisters extended their work to America, England, Spain, Malaysia, Japan and Thailand.
In 1849 a Catholic missionary in the Straits Settlements, the Rev. Jean Marie Beurel, a native of Saint-Brieuc in France, suggested to the colonial governor, William John Butterworth, that it might be worthwhile to found a charitable organisation for girls next to the Church in Victoria Street. In August 1852, Beurel bought the house at the corner of Victoria Street and Bras Basah Road. He paid $4000 of his own money for it. Beurel then appealed to the Superior General of the congregation in France for Sisters to run a school.
Four Sisters were sent to the East. After a long and perilous voyage, three of them landed at Penang in 1852; one had died at sea. The three Sisters established a convent which contained an orphanage and school in Penang that same year. The school, Convent Light Street (Malay: SMK Convent Lebuh Light), is Penang's oldest girls' school and has occupied its current site along Light Street near historic George Town for over 150 years. While on the peninsula, the Sisters continued establishing schools with help from the local community such as Kuala Lumpur's oldest girls' school Convent Bukit Nanas, now recognised as one of the city's premier schools. During World War II, the Japanese invaded Malaya and either took over or closed down many such mission schools, notably the iconic Convent Primary School in the hills of Tanah Rata. The Tanah Rata convent is one of the few in the region which still contains an operating school and a church. Today, CHIJ schools can be found in most states and many major cities and they continue to educate local girls of all races and religion.
In February 1854, three Sisters led by Rev. Mother St. Mathilde Raclot arrived in Singapore and set up the convent in Singapore at Victoria Street. The Sisters got to work and within ten days took in orphans, did needlework to support themselves and taught fourteen children. Soon the number of pupils increased and the school became well-known. In 1894, there were 167 pupils. Ten years later, the enrollment had increased to 300. Secondary education began in 1905. Under Mother Hombeline, the expansion programme continued.
The convent occupied a full street block bordered by Bras Basah Road, Stamford Road, Victoria St and North Bridge Road. The iconic church was deconsecrated during the 1980s. Part of the Sisters' quarters has been demolished and converted into the offices of SMRT Corporation. Most of the original buildings were redeveloped as part of the Heritage Board's preservation scheme. The complex has since been redeveloped into a high-end retail complex called CHIJmes while the church is now a popular attraction for tourists and those interested in history. The former school moved out after World War II and has since split into CHIJ Secondary and CHIJ Primary, both located in Toa Payoh. There are currently 11 different CHIJ Schools in Singpore.
The shortage of English teachers forced the Sisters to turn to the British Isles in hopes of recruiting and training potential missionary teachers. In 1909, Mother St Beatrice Foley, who had returned from Singapore, established Drishane Convent in Ireland. It had a "knitting school" for younger girls and was also used to train teachers for the Asian mission. Less than half a decade after opening, the convent was churning out teachers and Sisters and sending them to Asia and South America.
The School Crest is one is shared by CHIJ schools all over the world.
In the centre of the Crest lies a red shield with a silver band edged in gold. Red conveys the message of love, God's love embracing the world.
The shield is surmounted by a gold Cross. This serves as a reminder that inspiration, dedication and fidelity come from Christ.
The shield is encircled by a garland of white marguerites. The garland of marguerites speaks of simplicity - the most charming trait in young girlhood.
On the right lies a Gospel with a silver rosary. The gospel is a guide for those who seek God's will for a life of godliness. Live by it and you will attain peace and happiness. The Rosary of the Virgin Mary symbolises communication with God. Cultivate it and you will grow in the Knowledge of God.
The Distaff and the Spindle are symbols of womanly labour, typical of an earlier period when the weaving of cloth was done by women at home. The symbol is typically French, pointing to the French origin of the Sisters of the Infant Jesus. It reminds the students of the satisfaction and fulfilment to be found in a task well-accomplished.
Emblazoned on the Crest is the motto: "Simple in Virtue, Steadfast in Duty". Depending on the country, the motto will be translated into the local language.
The mission of CHIJ schools is the creation of a Christ-centred school community where all work together for the promotion of truth, justice, freedom and love, with special reference to the need of the pupils who are disadvantaged in any way.
Simple in Virtue, Steadfast in Duty
Virtue is a personal possession; no one can take it away from you against your will. An upright virtue goes out to one’s neighbour with spontaneous warmth. It judges oneself with humble honesty and it goes straight to God with childlike confidence.
"Steadfast in Duty" speaks for itself. Perseverance in what is one’s assigned vocation is not always easy but it yields that inner peace and freedom which no money can buy. It stresses the importance of a sense of personal responsibility - an essential trait for everyone preparing for adulthood.
- SK Convent Butterworth, Penang
- SK Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus 1 & 2, Malacca
- SK Convent Father Barre, Sungai Petani, Kedah
- SK Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus , Johor Bahru
- SMJK Ave Maria Convent, Ipoh, Perak
- SMK Convent Bukit Mertajam, Penang
- SMK Convent Bukit Nanas, KL
- SMJK (C) Convent Datuk Keramat, Penang
- SMK Convent Ipoh, Perak
- SMK Convent Klang, Selangor
- SMK Convent Light Street, Penang
- SMK Convent Green Lane, Penang
- SMK Convent Muar, Johor
- SMK Convent Pulau Tikus, Penang
- SMK Convent Taiping, Perak
- SMK St. Nicholas Convent, Alor Setar, Kedah
- SMK I.J Convent Johor Bahru
- SMK Infant Jesus Convent, Malacca
1Note that mission schools were nationalised by the government during the 1980s and are no longer directly under their respective religious institutions. The IJ schools are no longer run by nuns but still retain the historic crest and motto, albeit translated in Malay. A rare few many still have a nun working in a chaplaincy or pastoral capacity.
Republic of Ireland
- CHIJ (Katong) Primary
- CHIJ (Kellock)
- CHIJ Our Lady of Good Counsel
- CHIJ Our Lady of the Nativity – formerly CHIJ Ponggol
- CHIJ Our Lady Queen of Peace – formerly CHIJ Bukit Timah
- CHIJ Primary (Toa Payoh)
- CHIJ Katong Convent
- CHIJ Secondary (Toa Payoh)
- CHIJ Saint Joseph's Convent
- CHIJ Saint Theresa's Convent
All CHIJ schoolgirls wear a blue pinafore with a belt, and a white blouse with a Peter-Pan collar beneath the pinafore, as well as shorts, white socks and white-based track shoes. There are slight variations between the CHIJ schools in the form and design of the badges worn on the pinafore. Apart from the crest on the pinafore, students can be differentiated by the material their badge is made of and the initials on their school socks.
In September 2006, controversy was raised when The Straits Times Sunday edition published an article entitled 'Singapore A-Z...once more with feeling', which claimed to be a "tongue-in-cheek" look at Singapore icons. The article referred to the term "IJ girls" as "a generalisation for girls who study in CHIJ schools and who like to hem their school uniforms real short, wear their belts real low on their hips, and are allegedly easy when it comes to the opposite sex."
In response, the Infant Jesus Board of Management sent a lawyer's letter to Singapore Press Holdings demanding an apology and threatening legal action if one was not forthcoming. A separate letter written by the Board's Chairman, Donne Marie Aeria, was also published in The Straits Times forum page, in which she said: "Was there a need to tarnish the image of thousands of students, past, present and future, including girls as young as six-plus years old in Primary One, with an image that they are 'allegedly easy when it comes to the opposite sex'?...The authorship and publication of such an article cannot, by any measure, be accepted as a 'tongue-in-cheek' article. It was an ill-conceived idea and done in bad taste. It has caused much distress, pain and embarrassment to women, of all ages, that hail from our CHIJ Schools. We do not condone your publication and take strong objection to the aspersions cast upon IJ Girls."
Several other letters from parents, students and alumni protesting the description were also published in the paper.
An apology was printed in the paper the following week, stating that: "We retract those remarks. No malice or disrespect was intended. We are sorry for the distress caused."
Links by country
- CHIJ - Where we live & work
- "History". CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' School.
- "Convent Light Street in Penang". asiarooms.com.
- CHIJ Malaysia
- "Historical Landmarks - The Convent". cameronhighlands.com.
- "Drishane Convent to celebrate centenary". The Corkman. 26 March 2009.
- CHIJ Peru
- CHIJ England
- "Last Orders". josephiteweb.org.