Catholic education for girls in English and Chinese medium of instruction; orphanage for girls and hoe for abandoned babies in early Singapore

The Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) was founded in Victoria Street by Rev Mother St Mathilde with three Sisters, Sr Gaetau, Sr Appolinaire and Sr Gregoire. Soon after their arrival in Singapore in the ship 'Hoogly' in 1854 they started the Convent with 14 fee-paying pupils, nine boarders and 16 orphans.

In 1856 the Convent was extended when Rev Father Beurel acquired Caldwell's House for $4000. By 1894 the enrolment was 167 and in 1904, 300 and the School presented its candidates for the Junior Cambridge Examination.

The first commercial classes were started in 1926. Boys were also admitted in the early years and one of its pupils is Mr David Marshall, the first elected Chief Minister of Singapore and at present Singapore's Ambassador to France.

A new wing was added in 1909 for which the government gave a grant of $20,000; this wing included the hall and new classrooms. In the same year the beautiful Chapel was completed. The special feature of the Chapel are the stained glass panes, the work of Flemish, Ireland, England and the Philippines.

The stained glass panes have been described as 'a consummate piece of workmanship a divinely mosaic-the flawless transparency of which will be struck through with rays of God's transcendent beauty. 'Stained glass panes include the apsidal series encircling the high altar. The aisle windows depict the twelve apostles bearing their distinctive symbols.

Further extensions were made to CHIJ when in 1931 it acquired the Van Dyke Hotel adjoining its grounds. Two years later St Nicholas Girls' School opened in Victoria Street to educate girls in Chinese.

Prior to the outbreak of World War II, CHIJ educated girls in both Chinese and English and the second language was French.

The CHIJ was also an orphanage for girls as well as a home for discarded babies or foundlings usually left at the 'small gate' often at the point of death. There was a dormitory for the boarders and a crèche for the babies looked after by a team of dedicated sisters and nuns.

From 1885 to 1903 CHIJ extended its services to help the sick in the General Hospital.

During the World War II (the Japanese Occupation) the Sisters and orphans left for Bahau, a settlement in Negeri Sembilan, Malaya. CHIJ suffered much damage during the Occupation. The windows of the Chapel were shattered and the stained glass group in the Lady Chapel was completely damaged and also two of the apsidal series encircling the high altar.

The Tiger Hall was used during the Japanese Occupation for instruction in Japanese.

After the return of the British in 1945, CHIJ was restarted and the Tiger Hall housed St Nicholas Girls' School.

In 1964 CHIJ was separated into a primary and a secondary School. By December 1983 CHIJ had to vacate its Victoria Street premises to give way for re-development. The beautiful Chapel is preserved and is now a National Monument leased out to be appropriately used.

CHIJ started functioned in its new premises at 626 Lorong 1 Toa Payoh and the official opening was on 17 August 1985 by the Vatican Ambassador to Singapore Archbishop Renato Martino. The Convent still maintains the spirit: 'Simple in Virtue and Steadfast in Duty'.

When Singaporeans look at the beautiful Chapel they will be reminded that CHIJ provided Catholic education for girls, an orphanage for girls and a creche for abandoned babies.