Wednesday 23 May 2012

My Lasting Impression Of Rev Bro Vincent

I have a cousin who is two and a half years my senior. At the time I was struggling with my English in Jurong Primary School in the early 50s, he was attending Holy Innocent English School in the Secondary levels.

HIES was later changed to the Monfort Primary and Secondary schools. During the 1950s, a lot of the teachers there were brothers of the St Gabriel Order (the same order from which Bro Vincent hailed from).

My cousin had told me a lot about the values the Brother teachers in the school displayed: Dedication, Hard Working, Simplicity, Compassion... to name a few. When I met Bro Vincent for the first time (and also the first time I was meeting a priest), he was everything my cousin had described.

The second time I met him was when I had to go back to school to buy some more textbooks. Bro Vincent then was the director of Boys Town, principal of its English school, and also in-charge of selling textbooks. He attended to me even though he was the principal. I could not help but respect him even more.

My good impression of him grew as I became his student and later as a staff of Boys Town. He would give a listening ear to whomever turned to him with a problem.

And throughout the years I'd known him, I've never seen him lose his temper or even be angry with anyone. In my eyes, he was a real holy man, a real-life saint!

On one occasion, just after I joined BTES as a Sec 1 student, we had a problem with our literature teacher.

It was the first time we were having the subject English Literature.

Our textbook was "The Vicar of Wakefield" by Oliver Goldsmith.

Our literature teacher was a fresh Senior Cambridge Exam graduate (same as our present GCE 'O' Levels). Her first lesson was a nightmare. In person, she was an Eurasian, fair and rather pretty, but she put on a very serious and fierce look. She didn't simply look at you but stared. Her firece look was very scary to us students then.

After the class greeting, she would begin the lesson straightaway.

"Take out your Literature book and open to Chapter One. You! Read!" she would command.

During our first lesson, she pointed at one unfortunate boy and asked him to read. He was so frightened that he stammered. "Sit down!" she commanded. She pointed to another boy and said: "You! Tell me what he has read!"

The poor boy looked lost and shocked. He could not answer and had to remain standing. More boys were queried, more remained standing. Some answered, but all throughout, this teacher did not comment if the answers were right or wrong. She just randomly picked anyone and asked them to answer.

Up till then, we never had a teacher quite like that. Often, we were taught first and then asked to answer questions later. We were all shocked (and somewhat traumatised) by this. We approached our form teacher Ms Helen Chan for help. (Ms Chan later became Mrs Helen Seah.)

Ms Chan, together with Mr Seah Cheng Liang were both graduates of the then Teacher's Teaching College. They went to consult with Bro Vincent.

For the next few weeks, Bro Vincent took over the Literature periods from that fierce Ms Stewards. He made sure we could follow the lessons and understand them. Bro Vincent's teaching style created a very pleasant ambience in the class; we learned better and faster. After a few weeks, he covered the whole chapter and gave us a test. I don't remember anyone failing.

The following lesson, he brought Ms Stewards back. She was all smiles and friendly. "You must tell me if you don't understand," she'd said. Her demeanor now reflected that of Bro Vincent. How he had changed her I do not know. But I am sure it was done without any harsh words.

When one has love for Education, one has love for everyone! This is Bro Vincent, the founder of Boys Town. The man I remember most fondly.

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