CHIJ schools supervisor Sister Deirdre O'Loan dies at age 83

Former CJC principal and supervisor of the CHIJ schools in Singapore Deirdre O'Loan died on Aug 13, 2016, aged 83.
Former CJC principal and supervisor of the CHIJ schools in Singapore Deirdre O'Loan died on Aug 13, 2016, aged 83.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/VIVIENNE LIM

SINGAPORE- The first Catholic nun to lead a junior college here has died.

Sister Deirdre O'Loan, a former Catholic Junior College (CJC) principal and supervisor of the Convent of Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) schools here, died last Saturday morning (Aug 13) of pancreatic cancer at the CHIJ Convent in Chestnut Drive.

She was 83.

The Irish nun had received the Public Service Star in 2014 for her contributions to education.

Ms Vivienne Lim, chairman of the CHIJ Board of Management, said Sister Deirdre was a well-loved educator who embodied the CHIJ motto of being "Simple in Virtue, Steadfast in Duty", working tirelessly for others right till the very end.

"She saw what was unique in each child, and gave of herself to all around her. From students in the schools, to the custodians, carpark attendant, she would always make time to stop and share a kind word with them."

Affectionately known as "Sister D", the nun taught in Malaysia before coming to Singapore in 1974.

She had been with CJC since its founding in 1975 as a General Paper teacher. She later headed its English department, and was responsible for setting up the school's library. In 1986, she was appointed vice-principal before she served as principal from 1988 to 1994.

A Straits Times report in 1989 highlighted CJC's cosy atmosphere, styling the school as one that "marches to the beat of its own drummer" and allows teenagers' personalities to flower, with the college experience being about happiness, friendship and fun rather than the pursuit of accolades.

Back then, Sister Deirdre said that common stereotypes of the school's students being a "fun-loving, outgoing and rather frivolous lot" are unfair judgments.

"Fun-loving is used in a derogatory sense to mean people without a sense of responsibility...I like to hear students speak about their junior college life as a period of great companionship, where they made friends for life."

Medical doctor Lawrence Ng, 53, who graduated from CJC in 1981, said Sister Deirdre was committed to the character formation of students under her charge.

"She had an austere veneer and would pull you aside if your uniform was out of place. But if you interact with her personally, she was warm and would greet the students that she knew by name."

He remembers once when he was walking beside her, she suddenly stopped and bent down to pick up a piece of litter on the school grounds. "Now when I see litter in public places and do the same, it would strike me that I had learnt to do so from her example."

Ms Lucy Davis, 47, a former assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University, got to know Sister Deirdre in the 1980s when her father was an English teacher at CJC.

"I had always assumed (mostly from movies) that nuns were strict and serious . Sister D was so very funny, outgoing and generous. She used to look after my brother and I, taking us out to swim at East Coast Park beach and for satay after; she also showed us the French stained glass in the chapel of CHIJ Victoria Street."

In late 1994, the nun became the supervisor of the CHIJ schools, overseeing the management of the 11 primary and secondary schools here.

Mrs Karen Tay, principal of CHIJ Secondary (Toa Payoh), said Sister Deirdre regularly attended school events and actively gave principals of the CHIJ schools a lot of support and direction to uphold the mission and motto of the schools.

"We have gained a lot from her generosity of spirit and wisdom. She has a calmness about her that gives us a sense of peace when we do our work. She has always had a listening ear for everyone," said Mrs Tay.

Her wake is held at the CHIJ Convent at 4A Chestnut Drive, with daily mass and prayers at 7pm.

Her funeral mass will be held at St Joseph Church on Upper Bukit Timah Road on Wednesday (Aug 17) at 10.15am.

yuensin@sph.com.sg