Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Forgotten La Salle Brothers

This was from the Centre For Policy Initiatives. The matter is close to my heart because my entire 13 years of education, from Kindie to Lower Six, was at SMI, Ipoh, during that period the late Brother Ultan Paul and Brother Vincent Corkery were marshaling the school.

Written by Koon Yew Yin
Wednesday, 31 March 2010 13:11

In all the talk about becoming a high-income country and belonging to the league of developed nations, Malaysians should realize that they are still painfully lacking in the attributes and values that make a nation truly developed. These missing attributes and values are not only the high ethical and moral norms that we incessantly talk about but seldom seem to practice, but also the common decencies of compassion and gratitude to those that are loyal or have sacrificed for us.

Absence of these common decencies is especially prevalent among various government agencies where unless the spotlight of public scrutiny is on them, the agencies basically give the bureaucratic run-around or even worse, play games based on a hidden agenda (including racial and religious) on those that have the misfortune to deal with them.

We hope that the publication of this piece arouses public indignation and leads to the rapid resolution of Brother Vincent Corkery’s plight.


Brother Vincent Corkery, age 82, the former principal of St. Michael Institution, Ipoh, was admitted to Fatimah Hospital just before Christmas last year and was discharged after a three-week stay. He had a rare bacterial infection between the toes of his left foot. Before this problem could be cleared up, his right foot developed the same problem.


Unable to afford the high hospital charges given his modest financial position, he decided to seek treatment in the Ipoh General Hospital. He was admitted on March 1 and was discharged a few days ago after a 27-day stay. Now he has go back daily for treatment as an outpatient.

I have been visiting him quite frequently and almost on all occasions I was the only visitor. It seems that the La Salle Brothers have been forgotten.

Brother Vincent Corkery, who comes from Ireland, has served in Malaysia since 1948 or a span of more than 60 years. Several years ago, he applied for Malaysian citizenship after having obtained the necessary pass in written and oral Malay, but his application was rejected without explanation.

His main contribution has been to St. Michael’s Institution in Ipoh where he served since 1958. In addition, he took an active interest in Malaysian education. In the 1960s, he was the state supervisor for oral English, and served in the early 1970s as secretary-general of the national conference of the Heads of Secondary Schools. For some years he was an active member of the Malaysian Historical Society.

As with other Brothers who taught in Malaysia, the financial remuneration provided to him has been barely adequate. His last drawn monthly salary as Principal was RM1,000, and when he retired in 1988, he did not qualify for a pension or for other retirement benefits. Since retirement, the La Sallian communal fund has provided him RM1,000 a month for his food and car maintenance.

In retirement, he heads a centre for programmes for student leadership and for staff groups at La Salle Centre in Ipoh, and serves as secretary for the Brothers Councils for Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong.

The La Salle Brothers made their first appearance in Asia in 1852 when they founded St Xavier’s Institution in Penang. Since then a network of Lasallian schools has developed throughout the country. When the British left Malaya, the Lasallian Brothers stayed on to manage their schools.

During the Japanese army occupation of the country all the foreign brothers were imprisoned. My old teacher, Brother Lawrence Spitzig, a Canadian was imprisoned in Changi, Singapore. Brother Lawrence retired as principal of my alma mater, St. John Institution and died last year on August 18 in Assunta Hospital, Petaling Jaya at the age of 92 after long service to the nation.

These Catholic schools have continued to flourish even when the Brothers have greatly diminished in number. The foundations were well laid, and Lasallian education continues to be an important part of our education system even in these changing times.

Several of our important leaders of the nation, including our Prime Minister Abdul Najib Razak, Hishammuddin Hussein, the Sultan of Selangor, the Raja Muda of Perak Raja Nazrin and many others have had their education in my alma mater St. John Institution, Kuala Lumpur.

I am sure that if they are aware of the plight of Brother Vincent, they will act promptly to remedy it.

In terms of their service and loyalty to the country and the various communities, the Brothers hold a torch that is second to none.

Their dedication and commitment to the country was perhaps most evident during the Japanese Occupation period. Despite the warnings of many friends that they would be perceived as enemy aliens by the Japanese and of the dire consequences following, the Brothers opted to stay with the people. They paid a horrific price for this loyalty.

The consequences included incarceration in Changi prison where 15 Brothers were held; Taiping and Pudu jails where 12 were held; and at Bahau, in Negri Sembilan, where some 30 were held under primitive conditions in a mosquito-infested jungle settlement, surviving only on the food they managed to grow.

Once the Japanese surrendered, in spite of what they had endured, the Brothers returned to their posts and reopened their schools without delay. The fact that they had not run away but had chosen to stay with the people and share their pain, greatly enhanced their standing in the post-war years but this seems to count for little today.

I urge the authorities to do the right thing for Brother Vincent and for all other LaSallian and missionary educators who have sacrificed so much for our country. Provision of a gratuity and a pension, automatic approval of citizenship, appropriate medical and other civil service benefits – surely the country can afford this minimal humanitarian assistance.


La Sallian |2010-03-31
Cheers, Cheers and let them display,
All you La Sallians join in the race,
Send a volley of cheers on high,
Shake down the thunder from the sky,
One, two the odds are great or small,
Dear old La Salle win over all,
While her loyal sons are marching,
Onwards to VICTORY!!!

pastor carey - |2010-03-31
please start a fund for him; we will donate thru cpi
God Bless him

justin - not to late for justice I hope |2010-03-31
I join Mr Koon in calling for the Government to do the right thing for these dedicated Brothers who have sacrificed so much for Malaysia. There cannot be more than a small handful around so it will not cost much to see that they live the rest of their lives in some degree of comfort - in fact a pittance compared with the amounts being thrown around to less noble causes. Surely, the old boys associations of La Salle schools can take up their cause or are the activities of these associations simply confined to having annual dinner binges.

What a shame it is for us to treat our educators in this way.
My2cen |2010-03-31
I didn't know they're not even on govt pension despite serving these schools for so many decades. This is very shameful.

Do the community leaders from their respective churches know about this? Perhaps you should forward the whole list to the Catholic MPs/ADUNs for their onward action to (1) secure citizenship for those who have applied (2) secure a govt pension/fund for them for their decades long service to the Malaysian education (3) pension benefits including medical, dental and others.

They should at least be able to live in good care post retirement. We are not asking for luxuries enjoyed by UMNO ex-MP/ADUN!

If you can draft the list & petition, I'm sure every ex-student of St Michael, starting with Michelle Yeoh, will be happy to sign it.

BTW St Michael produced many drs among its alumni. I'm sure they'll be glad to help out if the story reaches them. (Sorry, left Ipoh when I was in Form 3, never attended St Michael, but heard they do keep an alumni list)
mengkungchng - La Salle |2010-03-31
Dear Bro Koon,

I concur with you that the contribution of the Las Salle brothers to the cause of Malaysian education has been invaluable and their role shouldn't be forgotten.

The key in keeping in touch with these great brothers is a strong and vibrant alumni. In this respect, I would like to applaud the Old Paulian Association for of Seremban for their active role in keeping in touch with their alma mater, former headmasters and teachers, staff and their fellow old boys and girls. Every year without fail, the OPA will host an ex-students' dinner without fail and this tradition has gone on for almost a hundred years. This is a must-attend dinner that every former student look forward to.At this dinner ex-headmasters and teachers will be honoured and friendship renewed. For milestone dinners the OPA even invited and hosted De Salle brothers from overseas, the whole of Malaysia and Singapore. Yes, we shower the with love and respect. Without these well-diggers we the present generation will have no water to drink, metaphorically speaking!

St Aidan - http:// |2010-03-31
Blame it on Mamak Mahathir. He hated anything British lah. The meek civil service followed suit. The late Tunku would have solved Brother Vincent's plight. My my my..they give citizenships plentiful for free to Indons and Pakis lah, the 90s immigrants.

Martin Jalleh - Bro Vincent is recovering well |2010-03-31
Dear Mr Koon
Thank you for your article expressing your great concern for the La Salle Brothers and in particular the “plight” of Bro Vincent Cockery.

Whilst I share the same concern with you, I am afraid what you have written is not entirely accurate and if not corrected, it may cause a lot of anxiety amongst those who know Bro Vincent well and may even result in an avalanche of visitors (which he does not need at the moment) or his e-mail box being “invaded”.

The actual reason for Bro Vincent moving from Fatimah Hospital to the Ipoh General Hospital was not due to the high and unaffordable costs. In fact the costs there were "managable" (as described by Bro Vincent)!

Bro Vincent was informed that the GH there had the best and latest equipment to treat his rare bacterial infection. This has proven to be true and he has described his treatment there as “exceptional” and the services of the staff there, from the doctors to the nurses, as “excellent” and “extraordinary”!

I have just called Bro Vincent, who has confirmed the above and he has asked me to reassure his friends and well-wishers that he is recovering speedily and his prayers are with them.
I wholeheartedly agree and support your call to the relevant authorities that the La Salle Brothers who have served as educators in this country be given a gratuity and a pension. It’s the least and most decent thing the government could do to acknowledge those who have sacrificed their entire lives for the education of the young in Malaysia!

In La Sallian solidarity,
Martin Jalleh
Odysseus - If only he was Indon |2010-03-31
Br Vincent would have had his citizenship approved if only he was an Indon, his bad luck being he was instead a dedicated educator who loves Malaya/Malaysia and its people.

chan kam nam - A towering non-Malaysian |2010-03-31
Bro Vincent and the many Christian Brothers and Sisters who answered the call of God to serve in Malaysia will NEVER get the recognition that they deserve. If they were of a different race or religion, perhaps.

That is the sad state of affairs in Malaysia. I read somewhere that an ex St John's teacher continued to teach until he was in his 80s. He went to the remote regions of Sabah to teach to the 'real' prubumi.

We should give recognition to all who have served our Nation, regardless of race or religion or even Nationality.

That will be the real 1Malaysia.

Dr Suresh Kumar |2010-03-31
If the country could not even take care of such wonderful human beings who have been around since pre-independence,then what is the point claiming malaysia is a caring nation?If the govt of the day could not even care for these distinguished individuals who had cared for it's own citizens for decades,might as well declare 1Malaysia is after all nothing but a mere slogan.This is the fire of racism and religious extremism engulfing our nation today.

I hope a donation drive for Bro.Vincent could be organized as soon as possible,so that we can chip in to assist him financially,the least we can do.This is the only way I can show my gratitude to these amazing individuals as an ex La Sallian. God Bless him.

justin - in defence of Yew Yin |2010-03-31
Martin Jalleh's note is unfair to Mr Koon in that it raises various issues that were not part of Mr Koon's concern eg Koon did not write at all about the quality of the GH service. MJs note therefore really does not correct any 'wrong' or 'inaccurate' impression given by Mr Koon.

The new thing he provides though is that Bro Vincent is well and conveys his good wishes to all. I find this response of Bro V as typical of the wonderful nature of this man - uncomplaining even when in great difficulties and always wanting to put on a brave front. When he uses words like "managable" we should try to put two and two together!

dev - My heart goes out to our great brothers |2010-03-31
I studied at the Lasalle Secondary School in Klang and I am very proud that I am a product of an era when the Brothers who were known as Brother Directors at that time were the principals who went beyond the call of their duty to ensure that we boys turned out to be good citizens when we left school. Discipline was discipline and no parent questioned the brothers or teachers of that era. Caning was the order of the day but it created a sense of honour in wanting to prove that we were worthy. It is a real pity that our country's education system has deteriorated to such lows that students of today can hardly speak English and are just unable to write a formal letter after 11 years of schooling. My heart goes out to Bro Vincent, we should never neglect our teachers who taught us and moulded us to what we are today.

Martin Jalleh - No inference made on Mr Koon |2010-04-01
Dear Justin
I did not at any time accuse or infer that Mr Koon had made a judgment of the quality of the GH service. In the process of explaining why Bro Vincent has chosen to go to the Ipoh GH instead of Fatimah Hospital I had explained:
1. It was not due to the “high cost” in Fatima (as Mr Koon had written: “Unable to afford the high hospital charges given his modest financial position, he decided to seek treatment in the Ipoh General Hospital.”)
2. I also took the opportunity to share and to reassure Bro Vincent’s friends that he was very happy with the equipment and the “excellent” treatment in the GH.
If my “clarification” has come out the way you have interpreted (though quite wrongly I must say) I sincerely apologise to Mr Koon and once again express my appreciation to him for highlighting the plight of the La Salle Brothers. - Martin Jalleh

alwin lim - re: |2010-04-01
Brother Lawrence Spitzig is truly a masterclass.

Those who are fortunate to cross his path will sure hava an eternal memory

francis ngu - Another LaSallian |2010-04-01
From Kuching, I share the LaSallian school rally with CPI readers:

St. Joseph’s School Rally, Kuching:

Sons of St. Joseph a voice is resounding,
Promptly respond to your duty’s sweet call;
Answer you all for the trumpet is sounding,
Your mater’s proclaiming her watchwords to all.
Forward her children dear,
Ever with hearts sincere,
Render with joy to your mater her due;
All that is vile reject,
Heaven will e’er protect,
Sons of St. Joseph’s valiant and true.
Prayer and labour your motto still bearing,
Forward with courage in ways that are just;
True to your standard be doing and daring,
As faithful Josephians in Heaven will trust.

Koon Yew Yin - Response to Martin Jalleh's remark above |2010-04-01
Dear Martin Jalleh

Thank you for your two notes.

Firstly, I am glad that you concur with my main point - that there is a need for the Government to acknowledge the debt that we owe to the LaSalle Brothers for their role in educating our young. Not only the Government but also the many tens of thousands who have received their education from this extraordinary generation of educators.

As to the other points in your note, I believe I am much more personally acquainted with Brother Vincent and with his situation than most other people. However, precisely for this reason, I do not think it appropriate to go into detail to respond to some of the points in your note.

The most important point I want to stress is that the Government should have paid him a proper salary and an adequate pension. Do you realise that he was paid less than any Government labourer with similar years of working experience?

I believe my article has created more awareness and as a result, I hope some good outcomes will happen.

Koon Yew Yin


solomon said...

If this kind of spirit is spread to the community, it shall form the pillar for the country to move forward.

The Brothers' good deeds are remembered. If our country cannot take care of them, the product of them should do so.

I am just short of wondering would they be treated better if some states could afford Datukship for the excellent sportsmen? Where are we when these Brothers are in need? Hi someone out there, do you need some media attention before we act....

lau swee mun said...

I got this msg abt Bro Vincent, I felt v bad deep in my heart. I had organised many dinners in Ipoh during the last few years, and we never fail to invite Bro vincent to join us as the guest of honour.Lately, in fact since last year, we didn't have the time to organise dinner, so I didn't manage to see Bro Vincent for a couple of months. I'll try to get back all our old Michealians to do something helpful to Bro Vincent. To Mr Koon, I deep appreciate your kindness in sharing this very important info, esp to us Michealians.

Anawim said...

Hello people of God,

Shalom, a friend is looking for Bro Finian Ambrose Boudville, FSC (also known as Peter Boudville)

Apparently Bro Finian Ambrose Boudville has passed on and we are wondering when and where did he pass away?

Please help us locate his tomb. we are not sure if he was in Kuching, PJ or somewhere else in Malaysia.

Thank you so much

my email is