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Franciscan Convent Schools Mark Centenary With Thanksgiving Mass

KOTA KINABALU – October 4, 2023 marked the centenary of the blessing and opening of the St Francis Convent School here (then known as Jesselton) by Father Valentine Weber mhm.  This fact was stressed by Damian Lee, chairperson of the Kindergarten Board of Governors, in his speech after the Thanksgiving Mass at the Sacred Heart Cathedral here.

Fr. Valentine Weber, MHM

The school was founded by Mill Hill Missionary Father Valentine Weber (1878-1944) who already saw the need for a convent of sisters to educate and instruct women in 1918.  By 1922, the school was built on a piece of land along South Road (now Jalan Tungku Abdul Rahman) with the help of Tay Bee Chuan.  On 4 October 1923, the school was opened in two streams: English with 60 pupils and Chinese with 32 pupils.  Around 30-40 pupils boarded at the convent per term.  Sisters Rose Charnley and Gerarda Bonegaar of the Franciscan Missionaries of St Joseph (aka White Sisters) taught the English section assisted by two lay teachers.  The Chinese section was started by Thomas Lee Yen Chiang (grandfather of Damian Lee) and Teresa Ho Ah Gu.  In 1946, the Chinese section transferred to the Kung Min School (now Shan Tao Primary School) on the hillock where the Catholic Archdiocesan Centre now stands.  The kindergarten class started in 1946 with 15 pupils while the secondary school moved to the site along Jalan Kebajikan (formerly Harrington Road) in 1959.

After nearly 50 years of contributing to a school of good reputation, the White Sisters had to hand over the running of the schools to the local Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (aka Blue Sisters) in accordance with the government policy of Malaysianisation in 1969.

Today, both primary and secondary schools are sited on a 14-acre land in Bukit Padang along  Jalan Kinabalu International School while the kindergarten is located at Sacred Heart Cathedral Compound along with Shan Tao Kindergarten.

St Francis Convent School was Sabah’s first school for girls.  From its humble beginnings, St Francis Convent has become one of the leading educational establishments in the state showing a high academic record.  Its pupils were among the first girls in the country to be awarded much-coveted overseas scholarships for further education and training and to return to the country with academic and professional qualifications.

In his message for the centenary souvenir magazine, and in his homily as well, Archbishop John Wong summed up the feelings of all present: For a school to reach the centenary milestone is, humanly speaking, a tremendous achievement.  It demonstrates a combined effort of all stakeholders who are concerned with and have the passion for the education of the young.  I am thankful that the Catholic Church has a key role in its inception and its subsequent [development and growth]… It is my hope that, aside from pursuing academic excellence, the school would continue to have programmes to help students grow in their own [faith] so that they could later contribute to the society as women of faith.

The centenary celebrations commenced on 25 March 2023 with the unveiling of the SFC Centenary Wall at the primary school, followed by the primary school’s Cross Country and Open Day on Aug 26 along with the “Centenary Discovery Walk”;  the Centenary Thanksgiving Mass Oct 4 at the Sacred Heart Cathedral presided by Abp John Wong with refreshments and entertainment at the parish centre;  the grand dinner at the Hakka Hall Kota Kinabalu Oct 6 and concluded with a bazaar, school open day and sports day at the secondary school Oct 7. – Sr. Anna Yap,fsp

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