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Recognising the dedication of distinguished Irish educators

The front page of The Star on 24 January 2012

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What nobler sacrifice can one undertake than to be selfless and serve humanity in a distant land, writes Benedict Lopez.

When the annals of the development of the education system in this country are written, the role of Irish educators would feature significantly.

There was a time when education in Malaya was synonymous with the Irish brothers and sisters in mission schools and convents. Most of them came out to the East to teach at a very young age.

Many of these Irishmen ventured into the interiors of Malaya and Borneo, where they endeared themselves to the locals with their kindness, humanity and simplicity. They crossed the ethnic and religious divide by providing excellent education, without any motive of conversion to Christianity. Simply for the love of humanity.

Some like Brother Michael Jacques were well-known teachers in East Malaysia. He was known as “The Man from Borneo”.

Countless Malaysians were educated and moulded in life by numerous missionaries such as the late Br Lawrence Spitiz, Pius Kelly and Sister Enda. Br Lawrence was indeed a dedicated apostle of the teaching profession. What nobler sacrifice can one undertake than to be selfless and serve humanity in a distant land?

It is precisely for this reason why they stood out as educators and won the respect of Malaysians of all walks of life and religions. Even many non-Catholics could not help but admire them for their contribution towards education in this country.

The De La Salle Brothers and the Infant Jesus Sisters have etched a place in Malaysian history with their unquestioned loyalty to quality education.

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Last month, I was privileged to attend the 30th anniversary dinner of the KL alumni of St Xavier’s Institution, Penang. It was good to see representatives of many mission schools present at the dinner. Being a former La Sallian, I found the occasion most meaningful.

SXI has produced some notable Malaysians such as the former mayor of Kuala Lumpur, Tan Sri Dato’ Kamaruzzaman Shariff and the ‘Tiger of Jelutong’, the late Karpal Singh. In his speech, the former mayor of KL talked about his pride in being a former student of SXI.

On a personal level, I was also pleased to meet an old classmate of mine, Dato’ Br Paul Ho, former brother director of SXI, after nearly 50 years.

The very fact that many former Lasallians have occupied and a small proportion continue to hold high positions in the public and private sectors is testimony to the sound education system laid down by the citizens from the Land of the Celtic Tiger.

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Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. A pragmatic optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime
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