St Patrick's School Class of 1969 reunite to thank their teachers

Mr Coleman Baptist (left), 83, who taught generations of students at St Patrick's School over four decades and retired in 2016 at age 80, with one of his "children", Mr Khoo Teck Kim, 65, from the Class of 1969.
Mr Coleman Baptist (left), 83, who taught generations of students at St Patrick's School over four decades and retired in 2016 at age 80, with one of his "children", Mr Khoo Teck Kim, 65, from the Class of 1969.ST PHOTO: JEREMY KWAN

It began as a casual conversation among a group of St Patrick's School old boys last December, but ended up becoming an exhaustive attempt to track down as many batch mates and teachers as possible for a 50th anniversary reunion.

Some had died, others had seemingly vanished without a trace, and a number of those contacted declined to turn up for professional or personal reasons.

In the end, more than 50 St Patrick's School alumni from the Class of 1969 gathered at the Singapore Cricket Club last Thursday to thank 13 of their teachers for helping shape them into the men they are today.

"It was a time-consuming and occasionally distressing undertaking. I tried to contact 130 of us and 15 teachers in all, and some had passed on or were down and out," said engineer Wesley D'aranjo, 66, chairman of the organising committee and retired brigadier-general from the Singapore Armed Forces.

"But it was worth the while since we are here only because of the teachers.

"In those days, we were called 'the best school in the world' by the waterfront because St Patrick's had a reputation for gangsters, and the brothers (Catholic clergymen who served as teachers) were the ones who controlled the situation," said Mr D'aranjo.

Mr Coleman Baptist, 83, was one of the Catholic clergymen who taught generations of students at St Patrick's School over four decades.

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My message to all students out there is: If you've had the good fortune to have teachers like we had, don't wait until it's 50 years down the road to let them know how grateful you are.

FORMER ST PATRICK'S STUDENT PAUL JANSEN, on not being able to meet his former literature teacher, the late Ms Mabel Tan, who nurtured his love for writing.

He joined the school in 1965, leaving to teach at another Catholic school, St Joseph's Institution, from 1972 to 1982 before returning to St Patrick's until his retirement at 80 in 2016.

Brother Coleman, as he is known to his students, was the man behind St Patrick's emergence as a football powerhouse in the 1960s and the annual inter-class football league.

He was a vigorous football player himself and was so fit that "if you knocked into him on the field, you fell down", said Mr D'aranjo.

Mr Baptist, who taught English and history, said: "I have no children but I would always say, if someone asked, that I have 40 children every year. The students are my children."

St Patrick's School was established in 1933. Notable alumni include Singapore's seventh president Tony Tan Keng Yam, former Cabinet minister George Yeo and diplomat Barry Desker.

The Class of 1969 produced a President's Scholar in Mr D'aranjo, 1973 SEA Games judo champion Choo Kah Wah, former national footballer Brian Batchelor and former Straits Times journalist and associate news editor Paul Jansen, among others.

Mr Jansen, 66, who was at the reunion, expressed regret that he was not able to show his appreciation to the teacher who made the most impact on him.

 

His former literature teacher Mabel Tan had encouraged and nurtured his love for writing, which later led him to journalism.

He did not manage to meet her again before she died of cancer more than 15 years ago.

"She was loud and demanding and pushed us right to the wall and over it. But she had a heart of gold and would dig into her own pocket to fund our class activities," said Mr Jansen.

"So my message to all students out there is: If you've had the good fortune to have teachers like we had, don't wait until it's 50 years down the road to let them know how grateful you are."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 18, 2019, with the headline 'St Patrick's School Class of 1969 reunite to thank their teachers'. Print Edition | Subscribe