Brother Vincent who passed away on March 22 2016 from pneumonia was a La Salle brother who at the age of 20 answered an appeal to leave his country to serve overseas.
He was born and grew up in a farm in Cork, Ireland. He joined the Brothers of St John Baptist De La Salle in 1942. He obtained a BA (Hons) in History and Political Thought from University College Dublin. He also pursued post graduate studies at Cambridge University.
He began his vocation in 1948 by teaching in St Patrick’s School, Singapore and later on at St Joseph’s Institution.
In 1958, after turning down an offer to be Brother Director of St Joseph’s, he was posted to St Michael’s as Brother Sub-Director and became Brother Director from 1971 to 1976.
When Brother Paul returned to Ipoh in 1976, he relinquished the position for his mentor. Upon Brother Paul’s retirement, Brother Vincent became Brother Director again.
In 2010, he was awarded Datoship from the then Sultan of Perak, the late Sultan Azlan Muhibbuddin Shah. St Michael’s celebrated his diamond jubilee as a La Salle Brother in 2015, aptly running on the theme “Our teacher, our friend, our brother”.
An inspirational icon to countless lives and careers, as innumerable also are the boys and girls whose characters were shaped by his loving kindness, deep wisdom and vast learning.
Emerging from an Irish background, Brother Vincent very quickly assimilated both the hopes and the anguish of the young people under his care. He understood the psyche of the Malaysian adolescent and sought to reach out to them. In a sense, he was ahead of his time and adopted a progressive approach towards education.
In place of of elitism, he initiated a more inclusive culture of discerning the uniqueness of every individual. He saw each child in the school as gifted and it was the duty of the teacher to discover the gift and help develop it. He also encouraged the weaker pupils and those from underprivileged families to strive to excel.
As a religious, he was not only prayerful but had a great devotion to serving in the church and the community at large. He never failed to stress the importance of quiet time and personal reflection. As a teacher, he was witty, effervescent and never boring. As a friend, he was always soft-spoken, considerate and caring.
Seldom would he miss daily mass. Not so long ago, he could be seen cycling to St Michael’s Church for Holy Communion. More recently, when no longer so agile, he would be driven by Brother Matthew to morning mass at the Church of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Ipoh Garden. Inevitably, there would always be many who would approach him for advice, a blessing or just to catch a glimpse of his saintly figure!
Erudite but always unassuming, Brother Vincent adored James Joyce and loved Shakespeare, the world’s greatest writer. He also admired George Bernard Shaw. His favourite poets were W.B. Yeats and Patrick Kavanagh. He was conversant in Latin and French besides having great knowledge and understanding of the Bible, especially the psalms and the Gospel. He was also appreciated classical music.
Although officially retired from being Brother Director in 1988, he never really retired from education. He was happy in writing and research and was active in the La Salle Centre, Ipoh organising programmes for young people. He was a key member of the Regional La Salle Education Council which amongst its objectives was the revitalization of the schools run by the Brothers.
A memorable quote of his is “Just as war is too serious a matter to be left to Generals, education has become too important to be left to Teachers!”
Brother Vincent was always sensitive to the spiritual roots of Malaysian society. To him, these roots are deep and he remained hopeful that they can give definition and meaning to the lives of Malaysians. He saw the biggest challenge being experienced by all our many spiritual traditions as how best to minister to the needs of young people in this internet era. Spirituality, he believed, is not an option but a prerequisite to a successful education system.
This spiritual dimension was undoubtedly close to his own life, from the beginning to the end. Indeed, to him and all the brothers of the La Salle schools, the spiritual dimension was inseparable from the aim of every school run by the Brothers which is to help evolve a nation of people, irrespective of religion, who will be truly good, happy and wise!