Congregation of the Holy Infant Jesus

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Congregation of the Holy Infant Jesus
French: Soeurs de l'Enfant-Jésus
Spanish: Hermanas del Niño Jesús
Logo used by CHIJ schools
Abbreviation CHIJ
Motto Simple in virtue, Steadfast in duty
Formation 1662 (in France)
Founder Father Nicholas Barré
Type Roman Catholic religious order

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. They are also known as "Dames of St. Maur" and, more commonly, "Infant Jesus (IJ) Sisters".


Main article: Nicholas Barré

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.

These women were not bound by religious vows or confined to a cloister. They were free to serve the local community and provide free education for poor children. A number of ‘Little Charitable Schools’ were established throughout France. The ladies committed themselves by a legal document drawn up in 1669 and took the name “Maitresses Charitable de l’Infant Jesus” (Charitable Teachers of the Infant Jesus). In 1677 a Convent was established in Rue Saint Maur, Paris (ii) and the Sisters were subsequently known as the Dames of St. Maur. In 1678, Barré founded a novitiate for the sisters on the Seine.[1]

The Daughters of Providence of Paris were members of a Catholic religious congregation for women founded in 1643, by a pious widow, Marie Polaillon (née de Lumague) under a Rule of Life drawn up by Vincent de Paul. The Daughters would profess annual vows of obedience, chastity, service and stability. In 1681 several houses of the congregation merged with the Sisters of the Congregation of the Holy Infant Jesus.

In 1691 the communities of Rouen and Paris split. The Sisters of Providence in Rouen, became a diocesan institute with a missionary outreach in Madagascar and Central Africa. The Sisters of St Maur in Paris became an institute of pontifical right with communities in five continents.

The French Revolution closed all the schools of the institute and it was not until 1805 a new community of teachers was formed by seven surviving members.[2] 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.


Southeast Asia[edit]

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. Beurel then appealed to the Superior General of the congregation in France for Sisters to run a school.[3]


Four Sisters were sent to the East. After a long and perilous voyage, three of them landed at Penang in April 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.[4][5] 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. 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.[6] 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.

Congregation of the Holy Infant Jesus in Singapore

Mother Mathilde Raclot[edit]

Justine Raclot was born in 1814 to a middle class family in France. When she was 18 she entered the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus and took the name of St Mathilde. In September 1852, the Congregation sent four sisters to Penang, with Mother St Mathilde in charge, to guide and support the group of sisters who had arrived earlier. 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. Soon they also started a Convent Orphanage and a Home for Abandoned Babies as they found day-old babies were being left at their doorstep.[7]

To raise funds for their work, St Mathilde taught needlework to her fellow nuns and their students, and they sold their products to the wives of the local Chinese merchants. The school became well-known and within ten years, the enrollment had increased to 300. Secondary education began in 1905. Under Mother Hombeline, the expansion programme continued.[3]

Of the 79 years that St Mathilde was a nun, 59 were spent in Asia. In 1872, 20 years after arriving in Penang, she led the first group of French nuns to Japan where they worked with disadvantaged women and children. St. Mathilde Raclot passed away, aged 97, in 1911 whilst still in Japan. In 2014 Mother Mathilde Raclot was inducted into the Singapore Women's Hall of Fame.[7]

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 two schools located in the same site in Toa Payoh,CHIJ Secondary [Toa Payoh]and CHIJ Primary and one located in Ang Mo Kio, St Nicholas Girls' School. There are currently 11 different CHIJ Schools [8] in Singapore.


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.[9] Less than half a decade after opening, the convent was churning out teachers and Sisters and sending them to Asia and South America.

South America[edit]

The Sisters first set foot in South America during the 1960s. Some of the Spanish-speaking Sisters arrived in Peru in 1967 and have since expanded to several other countries in the continent.[10]


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.




Incomplete list


Note 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[edit]





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."[1]

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."[2]

Several other letters from parents, students and alumni protesting the description were also published in the paper.[3]

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."

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