The story of the Brothers in Malaysia is an interesting one and like most beginnings of Lasallian Presence around the Institute, it starts with a request from an Archbishop or a Priest who knew the quality of education the Brothers provided. In the case of Malaysia it was the request of Fr. Jean – Marie Beurel, a Frenchman from Brittany who knew and respected the Brothers work in France.
He wrote the Superior General in 1844, but it took eight years before the first Brothers to arrive. And so in 1852 six Brothers: 3 French, 2 Americans and an Irishman, set sail from Antwerp in December 8 and after nearly four months in sea, landed in Singapore. A few days later Brothers Venere, Lothaire and Jerome King proceeded to the island of Penang. From this humble beginning of six Brothers in two communities, Lasallian presence spread across Asia and the Pacific to 472 Brothers, 90 communities and about 200 ministries today. And you can rightly be proud that the seed of Lasallian Presence in Asia was planted here in Malaysia and in Singapore.
The District of Penang, was at one point, the Crown Jewel of the region and included not just Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong but also Burma, Thailand and the Philippines. From a point of view of number of Brothers, the high point was in the 60s. In one community alone, in St. Xavier’s there were nearly 30 Brothers living together. Today, that is the same number of Brothers in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia put together.
I just wish to point out, if you look at the history of the De La Salle Brothers in Asia you will note that most of the missionaries came from English speaking countries, particularly Ireland but also America. We owe a debt of gratitude to these Missionaries, they on whose shoulders we stand on today. To live in hot and humid climate, faced with many challenges, governed by total obedience to our Rule in a life that was, even in the best of times, austere, is to me, nothing short of heroic.
And so we come to today, 165 years after the first Brothers landed in our shores. The context is radically different and the needs have changed. Allow me to raise 3 points. This is stating the obvious, but the number of Brothers will continue to contract. The last Brother who was active in our traditional schools, Michael Kum, retired two years ago. I wish I could bring in Brothers on a longer term basis, but even if I am able to do that, at best it would be 2,3 maybe 4 Brothers. We will no longer have the numbers we had 10 or even 5 years ago. While the Brothers will continue to be the heart and memory of the Lasallian Mission, any conversation on the future of the La Salle in Malaysia should consider this reality.
I’ve always said this since the inception of LEAD – one of gifts Malaysia brings into the table of LEAD is it’s Lasallian Family. By this I mean mostly the Alumni but I also mean teachers, parents and students. In my years of going to Malaysia your deep sense of loyalty to your school stands out. However, if the Lasallian Education in Malaysia is to continue to develop and flourish beyond what we have now, each of you must commit yourself not just to your own school but to the larger Lasallian Mission which animates all our schools in Malaysia.
I am glad that the Federation is spearheading discussions and talks about Revitalization. The Brothers are fully supportive of Project Revival and hope that the alumni can throw their support behind this important undertaking. There will be a lot of challenges ahead, it will require commitment, maybe even capital. But most of all it will require imagination and creativity. I understand you have looked at many options – trust schools, private schools, international schools, etc. But whatever options you decide I pray you do not forget that Lasallian Education has preferential option for the poor and that our schools are always open to the Last, the Lost and the Least.
To conclude. Given the dwindling number of Brothers and the challenges that beset our schools, it is easy to speak about Death and Diminishment. But I see the current situation as the beginnings of a New Phase of Lasallian Education in Malaysia – where the Old Boys walk hand in hand with the Brothers to bring new life and new energy and to find new ways of being Lasallian in the Malaysia today.
All the Brothers in LEAD join me in Congratulating the Brothers and all the Malaysian Lasallians as you celebrate 165 years of La Salle in Malaysia