Tributes for late SJI pricipal

Tributes for late SJI pricipal
Brother Kevin Byrne waving goodbye to SJI boys in 1991 when he stepped down as the school’s principal. He left Singapore in 1996 and returned to Ireland.

St Joseph's Institution's (SJI) school song reverberated through the Singapore Art Museum last evening, as 200 past and present students paid respects to the memory of a beloved servant.

Brother Kevin Byrne, who was SJI's principal from 1979 to 1991, died in Castletown, Ireland, in September. He was 83.

Under his guidance, the all-boys school attained independent status in 1986 and, in 1988, the school moved to its current premises in Malcolm Road, from where the Art Museum is now. He left Singapore in 1996 and returned to Ireland.

The member of the Roman Catholic order of De La Salle Christian Brothers suffered from Alzheimer's disease in his later years, and had a bad fall a few months before he died.

When news of his death started spreading in Singapore, there was an outpouring of tributes from those who knew him personally.

It spurred former SJI boy Felix Oen, 49, to organise a memorial mass with three other past students. "We wanted to remember the many things Brother Kevin had done for us," he said.

The memorial mass was celebrated by Father Michael D'Cruz, 51, a former SJI boy. "Brother Kevin always had a pocket watch on his desk and he always ended his lessons on time," he said, to laughter from the audience.

Father Joachim Chang, 51, who was a student under Brother Kevin, remembered how he had struggled with his O-level exams in Secondary 4.

"I spoke to Brother Kevin, and he made a special arrangement to let me join the Secondary 4 batch in January the next year, even before my O-level results were released," he said. "He didn't want me to miss school and that really made a big difference to my grades."

Mrs Maureen Pestana, 54, who taught at SJI in the 1980s, described him as a "gentle giant".

"He was a big, tall man. But he spoke gently to everyone," she said. "He would appear very firm when speaking to misbehaving students. But the boys all knew it was bluff."

In his tribute to his predecessor at the memorial, Mr Benjamin Lui Seng Cheong, who was SJI's principal from 1997 to 2008, said: "You are one of a kind... that brightens the lives of others and touches their hearts."

This article was first published on Nov 16, 2014.
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