By Koon Yew Yin
However, his application for citizenship was rejected some years ago without explanation in spite of him having obtained the necessary pass in written and oral Malay.
The 82-year-old Brother Vincent, the former principal of St Michael’s Institution, Ipoh, was admitted to Fatimah Hospital just before Christmas last year and was discharged after a three-week stay.
He had a rare bacterial infection between the toes of his left foot. Before this problem could be cleared up, his right foot developed the same problem.
He then decided to seek treatment in the Ipoh General Hospital. He was admitted on March 1 and was discharged a few days ago after a 27-day stay. Now he has to go back daily for treatment as an outpatient.
I have been visiting him quite frequently and almost on all occasions I was the only visitor. It seems that the La Salle Brothers have been forgotten.
Several of our important leaders of the nation, including our Prime Minister Abdul Najib Razak, Home Minister Dato Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, Sultan of Selangor, Raja Muda of Perak Raja Nazrin Shah and many others have had their education in my alma mater St. John Institution, Kuala Lumpur.
I am sure that if they are aware of the plight of Brother Vincent, they will act promptly to remedy it.
Dedicating To Education
Brother Vincent came from Ireland in 1948. His main contribution has been to St Michael’s Institution in Ipoh where he served since 1958. In addition, he took an active interest in Malaysian education.
In the 1960s, he was the state supervisor for oral English, and served in the early 1970s as secretary-general of the national conference of the Heads of Secondary Schools. For some years he was an active member of the Malaysian Historical Society.
As with other Brothers who taught in Malaysia, the financial remuneration to him has been barely adequate. His last drawn monthly salary as Principal was RM1,000, and when he retired in 1988, he did not qualify for a pension or for other retirement benefits. Since retirement, the La Sallian communal fund has provided him RM1,000 a month for his food and car maintenance.
In retirement, he heads a centre for programmes for student leadership and for staff groups at La Salle Centre in Ipoh, and serves as secretary for the Brothers Councils for Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong.
During the Japanese Occupation
The La Salle Brothers made their first appearance in Asia in 1852 when they founded St Xavier’s Institution in Penang. Since then a network of Lasallian schools has developed throughout the country. When the British left Malaya, the Lasallian Brothers stayed on to manage their schools.
During the Japanese occupation of the country all the foreign brothers were imprisoned. My old teacher, Brother Lawrence Spitzig, a Canadian, was imprisoned in Changi, Singapore. Brother Lawrence retired as principal of my alma mater, St. John’s Institution and died last year on August 18 in Assunta Hospital, Petaling Jaya, at the age of 92 after long service to the nation.
These Catholic schools have continued to flourish even when the Brothers have greatly diminished in number. The foundations were well laid, and Lasallian education continues to be an important part of our education system even in these changing times.
In terms of their service and loyalty to the country and the various communities, the Brothers hold a torch that is second to none. Their dedication and commitment to the country was perhaps most evident during the Japanese Occupation period. Despite the warnings of many friends that they would be perceived as enemy aliens by the Japanese and of the dire consequences following, the Brothers opted to stay with the people. They paid a horrific price for this loyalty.
The consequences included incarceration in Changi prison where 15 Brothers were held; Taiping and Pudu jails where 12 were held; and at Bahau, in Negri Sembilan, where some 30 were held under primitive conditions in a mosquito-infested jungle settlement, surviving only on the food they managed to grow.
Once the Japanese surrendered, in spite of what they had endured, the Brothers returned to their posts and reopened their schools without delay. The fact that they had not run away but had chosen to stay with the people and share their pain, greatly enhanced their standing in the post-war years but this seems to count for little today.
I urge the authorities to do the right thing for Brother Vincent and for all other LaSallian and missionary educators who have sacrificed so much for our country. Provision of a gratuity and a pension, automatic approval of citizenship, appropriate medical and other civil service benefits – surely the country can afford this minimal humanitarian assistance.