The Brothers of St Gabriel link their foundation to St Louis Marie de Montfort (1673-1716) in France. The first Brothers were associated with the founder, St Louis Marie, and assisted him in his missionary preaching in the western part of France. In the course of his mission in those parts of France, St Louis Marie de Montfort established charitable schools for needy children. He entrusted this work to the early followers, from whom the group grew to be later known as the Brothers of St Gabriel.
During his visit to Bangkok in 1931, and being much impressed with the schools that they had set up, Bishop A. Devals subsequently invited the Brothers to also open schools in Malaya and Singapore.
He was particularly concerned with the poor and destitute boys struggling to cope with their lives, and saw that the Brothers were well suited to help these children. The first Brothers came from Thailand in November 1936. They took over the running of Holy Innocents’ English School (later on known as Montfort Secondary School) in 1937. A piece of mission land along Bukit Timah Road, adjacent to St Joseph Church, was also offered to the Brothers. Soon the St Joseph’s Trade School was opened on 17 January 1939 by the Brothers, and lasted until 1942.
When World War II broke out and the Japanese Occupation began, all the Canadian Brothers were treated as prisoners of war while Brothers of other nationalities were sent to camps in Bahau, Malaya.
It was in Changi prison that Gabrielite Brother Vincent shared his vision of a boys’ home with a fellow prisoner, Australian philanthropist William T. McDermott.
Boys’ Town was born in January 1948 from that shared experience. The war was over and the island was in terrible conditions; Boys’ Town offered home and hope for boys who were orphaned, displaced by the war, from poor families, troubled and neglected.
Over the years, the Brothers went on to establish and manage seven schools – Montfort Primary and Secondary, St. Gabriel’s Primary and Secondary, Assumption English Secondary, Assumption Vocational Institute and Boys’ Town.
“We specialize in giving education and formation to all those who present themselves to us,” said Brother Emmanuel, of the Gabrielite mission, during his interview with the Catholic News in June 2006. “We don’t aspire to be the top but to reach out to all, especially the rejected ones. We also specialize in training children who have no special attraction to education by providing them basic technical education.”
Despite this philosophy or because of it the Gabrielite schools have been responsible for having produced the highest number of men who became priests, including Archbishop Emeritus Nicholas Chia and current Archbishop William Goh.
Sadly many of the older Brothers have since passed on and the number of vocations to the Brothers of St Gabriel have dwindled. To preserve the brand of education synonymous with the Brothers of St Gabriel, the St. Gabriel’s Foundation established in 2001 as a trustee to look after the seven Gabrielite schools – Montfort Primary and Secondary, St. Gabriel’s Primary and Secondary, Assumption English, Assumption Pathway and Boys’ Town. Currently there are 8 Brothers left in Singapore.
- Brothers of St Gabriel http://www.montfortcentre.org/BrotherOfStGabriel.html
- Wijesysingha, E. (2006) Going forth: The Catholic Church in Singapore 1819-2004.
- Gan, J. (2006, June 1). Brothers of St. Gabriel. Retrieved June 18, 2015, from http://www.catholicnews.sg
- All photos are credited to http://gabrielitebrothers.blogspot.sg/