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Newly retired principal pays tribute to Beloved Brother Charles

br charlesTANJUNG ARU – Newly retired principal of SM La Salle Julia Willie Jock paid her tribute to the late Brother Charles O’Leary who died on Christmas Eve, 24 Dec 2015.  In the tribute she wrote:

To the memory of a great man, a great mentor, a true Lasallian, a devoted educationist and religious.  Our deepest sense of loss and affection for our La Salle Brother, Bro Charles O’Leary cannot be adequately described in words.  For with his passing, we, the Lasallian Family have lost a great and wonderful friend.  He left us for a better world so very suddenly on the morning of 24th December 2015.  It was an ending that perhaps he himself might have wished – to depart just as quietly and unobtrusively as when he arrived on the shores of Borneo in 1951.

Born to serve

Bro Charles was born as Michael O’Leary in County Cork, Ireland on 15 October 1928, in a family of five children.  He joined the de La Salle Brothers in 1945 while attending Secondary School at La Salle Castletown and as was the custom he was renamed Bro Charles.  After graduating as a teacher from St Mary’s Teacher Training College London in 1950, he volunteered (although at that time he was only 22 years old) to work in the La Salle Brothers Mission Schools in the Far East.  It is obvious that he was born with a spirit to serve others.  His first posting was St Joseph Secondary School Kuching, Sarawak where he taught from 1951 till 1957.

On to Sabah shores

In 1958 the La Salle Brothers were invited by the late Bishop of the Catholic Church in British North Borneo to administer the Sacred Heart Primary and Secondary Schools in Jesselton.  So in 1958, three pioneer La Salle Brothers: Bro Raphael Egan, Bro Thomas Carney and our very own Bro Charles O’Leary came to our shores.  Together, the Brothers worked with unsurpassed zeal and dedication and successfully laid a solid foundation for La Salle Secondary School.  Thus, began the saga of our Lasallian Heritage, a Lasallian education that focuses on a holistic education rooted in “Faith, Service and Community”, an education that transforms young people, touching their hearts and teaching their minds, inspiring them to be the best they can be.

His home, Sabah                               

In 1962, he went back to Ireland on a three year sabbatical to read for his Bachelor’s Degree at University College Dublin but the lure of Borneo was simply too strong and after graduation, he came back as a teacher to La Salle Kota Kinabalu.  From then on he called Sabah his home and we, La Salle KK, his family.

Teacher and principal

In his 56 years in Sabah, he had worked tirelessly in the education field, teaching English Literature, English Language, History, Religious Knowledge and Latin in La Salle in the early days and even when he was appointed principal of the school in 1969 he continued teaching and to quote him “There is never a day in my life that I’ve not stood in a classroom.  I do think that principals and headmasters must always keep in touch with the classroom.”  Bro Charles was the longest serving principal serving a record 17 years.  He was a dedicated, passionate and caring educator as well as a tough taskmaster.  He believed in discipline and was well-acknowledged by rascal students and blackguards as one who does not tolerate any nonsense when it came to discipline.

He was a towering figure in white walking the corridors of the school and most Lasallians would confess to being afraid of him at first but that fear would quickly turn to respect and love when they experienced his genuine care and love for them.  He had a memory of an elephant and could remember most of his students and also their antics while under his care.  When walking in town he would be stopped every so often, everyone seems to know him and wants to chat with him.

A man for others

“A man for others” is a phrase that best describes Brother Charles for he has dedicated his whole life to serving God, and to educating the young.  Most would describe him as a Servant Leader for he saw leadership as a service serving the young especially the “last, the least and the lost” and to developing the capacity of those around him students and teachers alike.  During his term it was all round development for the boys with strong emphasis on achieving academic excellence while paying attention to sports and games, dramas, culture and other co-curricular activities as well as character formation.  We are proud to say that till today La Salle continues this tradition of nurturing and grooming her students to be “A Scholar, A Gentleman and A Sportsman”.


In 2002, the Daily Newspaper reported of Bro Charles “Few can claim to have taught a Chief Minister but fewer still could match Datuk Bro Charles who taught 3 former Chief Ministers”  To top that Bro Charles also taught the former Head of State,  Tun Ahmadshah Abdullah of the Class of 1967.  Besides that, thousands of young men and women have benefitted from his nurturing and grooming and each one has gone on to serve the state and the nation in their own respective fields.

Man of vision

A man ahead of his times, even in the sixties and seventies, he saw the need to engage the community in the school.  He believed in the saying “It takes a whole village to educate a child”.  Thus, he initiated the formation of the Association of Ex Students of La Salle and Sacred Heart in 1963, the setting up of the Parent-Teacher Association in 1977 as well as the setting up of the Board of Management for both La Salle and Sacred Heart Schools.  These three bodies till today form the La Salle Tripartite Partners in Education working together in synergy with the school to make it an excellent school, a school of choice.

Brother Charles was also instrumental in promoting a custodial type of education where there is power sharing, collective planning by the principal, and staff as well as students.  He promoted the Student Parliament which was started in 1965 and he played an active role as the President from 1967 until his retirement.  The School Parliament was and still is an excellent platform for students to dabble in democracy and hone their leadership and communication skills.

A prime mover

One of the highlights of his teaching career was not only the academic development but also the physical development of La Salle Secondary School.  Despite shortage of money the Brothers were able to undertake the expansion and development of La Salle Secondary School.  Bro. Raphael Egan set the machinery for this development moving in 1963 by securing a three acre site some 300 yards from the original site and built a three storey Science Block.  It was said that money was raised in all sorts of manner and means short of stealing.

Bro Charles continued with the expansion and was responsible for;

  • Perimeter fencing at the Junior and Senior Campus
  • The building of a three storey administration block
  • The building of the Senior Canteen
  • The La Salle Senior School Hall
  • The Language Lab and the Audio Visual Room
  • The Bro Raphael Egan Archives
  • He was also involved in the ten year plan to develop the modern Junior Campus as it stands today and our latest pride and joy; the Brother Charles O’Leary Centre.

As a result of this consolidation and expansion, today La Salle Secondary School stands proud and tall with her two modern campuses.

Never-ending service

Even after his retirement, this tireless man continued serving in the school in official and voluntary capacity as a member of the Board of Management of La Salle and Sacred Heart.  He was also the Bishop’s trustee on the Board.  He continued to teach Religious Instruction to our Catholic students and ran the Benildus Boarding House which he initiated in 1990 providing accommodation for outstation students.  For all his contributions, he was granted the Ahli Mangku Negara in 1982 and the Panglima Gemilang Darjah Kinabalu which carries the title “Datuk” in 1990.

Pearls for Lasallians

Brother Charles’ advice to Lasallians past and present:

“Hold fast to your traditions in matters of Faith, Values and Culture.  Hold fast to that sense of belonging to a great school that has epic proportions in time and space. The Lasallian Spirit is not something mystical or airy-fairy; it is born out of Faith in God and a Zeal or Passion to be of service to your fellow Man.  Take this Spirit with you as you journey through life’s stormy seas and pass it on to others for it will sustain you and those who imbibe it from you; and always have Faith in yourself and Zeal in the service of others”

Life-long inspiration

May the Faith, Zeal and Service shown to us by Bro Charles serve as a life-long inspiration for us to continue serving others especially the young people under our care in the one true Lasallian Spirit.

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