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Catholic Mission Schools in Sandakan

blu-cross.gif (1118 bytes)   St. Mary's Boys Primary blu-cross.gif (1118 bytes)   St. Mary's Boys Secondary
blu-cross.gif (1118 bytes)   St. Mary's Convent Primary blu-cross.gif (1118 bytes)   St. Cecilia Convent   Secondary

 St. Mary's Primary School   Boysbandar.jpg (259139 bytes)  St. Mary's Sandakan, has the unique distinction of being the oldest school in Sabah. It began with the acquisition of 5 acres of land in Sandakan by Monsignor T. Jackson, the prefect Apostolic of the Mill Hill Order of Missionary Priest in May 1883. In July 24, 1883. Rev. Father. Prenger and Fr. Pundleider began the first school in Borneo, St. Mary's School.

The first pupils, 5 in all, were housed in a kajang hut. In February 1884, Fr. Pundleider left Sandakan to open up Bundu Mission. However, in November 1885, Fr. Prenger was ordered by Msgr. Jackson to leave because " Sandakan unhealthy, many Chinese sick, no good water and Fr. Prenger often ill."

The closure of the school was temporary. Rev. Fr. J. Byron, on his visit to Sandakan in July 1886, found 26 Catholics there. However, it was only a year later that Fr. Byron was able to re-establish the Mission and School in Sandakan. On August 15, 1887 Fr. Byron re-opened St. Mary's School, but only 1 boy turned up for registration. Untaunted, Fr. Byron continued his efforts. Slowly, the enrolment rose to 12. By 1888, a new building was built in order to cope with the rising student population.

The War years did not seem to have affected St. Mary's unduly and a major mile stone in the history of the school was reached with the appointment of Rev. Fr. A Stotter to the Rector of Sandakan in 1920.  In 1923, he invited two De La Salle Brothers from Hong Hong to take over the running of St. Mary's School. Shortly after Fr. Stotter returned to Europe to attend the Chapter of his Congregation. On his return in1926,  Fr. Stotter saw the need for a bigger school and a site was prepared. A new 3 storyed wooden building was completed in 1929. The ground floor comprised of classrooms; the first floor made up of class rooms and rooms for the priests. The third floor was mostly dormitory.

In 1927, Rev. Fr.  B.J Davis came to Sandakan and and was put in charge of St. Mary's the following year. In 1931, he entered some candidates for the Hong Kong Local Exams, with great  success. The following year he switched to the Cambridge Locals, also with success. St. Mary's became officially recognised as the centre for Cambridge Local Examinations.

However, war broke out in 1939 and North Borneo was under Japanese occupation from 1942 - 1945. It was in 1943 that  the Japanese razed St. Mary's to the ground. There was neither Church or School standing. The period after the war belongs, rightly to, Rev. Fr. Anthony Moulders. He was visionary, architect, planner, contractor, all rolled in one, in the difficult process of reconstruction after the devastation of the war, and credit for putting St. Mary's back on its feet should be given to Fr. Moulders. On his arrival in Sandakan in 1952, he wasted no time in getting down to business. Through his tireless efforts, not only 1 school, but 2 schools were opened. In 1953, he built a 2 storyed 11 classroom school besides the church. But it was soon found to be too small and inadequate for the numerous students whose education had been disrupted by the war and who had a lot of studies to make up for.

In 1954, Rev. Fr.J.Van Haaren obtained a large piece of land at Mile 2 1/2, Labuk Road and he constructed a school to house the secondary school students while the previous school was turned over exclusively to the Primary school, being know as St. Mary's Primary School bandar (photo).

In 1991, Mr. Francis Tan  took over as Headmaster. A catholic, he has done a lot in the beautification of the school and  gave the school a facelift. Likewise in the field of  academy, the school also excels in their annual  UPSR examinations.

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  St. Mary's Secondary School

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The history of St. Mary's Secondary Boys School is incomplete without going back more then a century to the Catholic missioneries who started the St. Mary's Primary Boys School back in 1883.( Please refer to the St. Mary's Primary School above ).

St. Mary's Secondary School was officially declared open in December 1954. There were rooms for 5 classes and rooms for the priests and a chapel ( the present integrated Sc. Lab.) Expansion grew apace, and in 1959, a modern two storeyed eight classroom block was completed by Fr. Crowther ( the present Form 3 block ) and for the first time, science was introduced as a subject. St. Mary's now had 292 pupils and 11 teachers. To cater for the smaller children a primary feeder school was started with 4 classes from kindergarten to primary 3. It was named Our Lady of Fatimah School, and classes were held in the afternoons. In 1962, Our Lady of Fatimah School was handed over to the Franciscan Sisters who moved to a new building and renamed the school St. Cecilia's Convent Secondary.

In 1963 saw a new milestone in the annals of St. Mary's School, when the Mill Hill Fathers invited the De La Salle Brothers to take over St. Mary's Secondary School. The school population was now 320 boys in 8 classrooms. Rev.Bro. Fridolin became the 1st principal of the School, while Rev. Bro. Xavier was put in charge of the primary school. Further expansion was in store: in 1966, a 3-storeyed reinforced concrete modern building was erected with 3 well-equipped science laboratories, a new school office, and a staff room plus 5 classrooms ( the present Form 6 block ). The project cost $300,000.00 and as usual, the people of Sandakan, well-wishers, benefactors and old pupils rose to the occasion and donated generously. Hence it was only right that the first Form 6 class on the east coast of Sabah was started in St. Mary's in 1967. Pupulation was now 480 boys in 12 classes. Rev. Fr. Raphael Egan was at the helm until 1971, with Rev. Bro. Frederick assumed Directorship of the school.

The helm changed hands again in 1973 when Rev. Bro. Finian was appointed Director of the school. By now the school population has expanded to about 800 with a staff strength of 31. Various extensions were made, a basketball cum volleyball court was built with the help of the old boys. In 1974, Bro Finian embarked on a 2 storeyed building comprise of a School hall and a Libaray. In the midst of this extension, Bro. Finian was replaced by Rev. Bro. Peter Ng. The new hall was declared open by the Resident of Sandakan, Datuk Ben Stephens. By 1976, a new basketball court and a tennis court were added to the facilities of the school, and St. Mary's was tge best equipped school in Sandakan.  

The population had by now risen to about 1000 pupils in 25 classes with 38 staff. Performances both academic and on the sports field were gratifying. St. Mary's was tops in all the schools for the H.S.C. examinations for the year 1976-1977. St. Mary's also scored a first when one of its faithful sons Simon Fung became the first Bishop of Sabah.

A grand Centenary Celebration was held in 1983 to commemorate the 100 years of St. Mary's and tribute to the selfless Pioneers, Mill Hill Fathers, De La Salle Brothers and Teachers who have been associated with it since its inception in 1883. 

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The school has expanded, facilities for the students population of 1144 have been brought up to date, academic standards continue to be good.   As Rev. Fr. Hurley had said back in 1920, " St. Mary's is the oldest school in the country, with a wonderful tradition behind it, and its Old Boys in the top place in Government and commerce as a glorious witness to its greatness."  The present Principal,  Miss Yap Pak Soon with her 65 teaching staff and 12 non teaching staff pledge to continue this great tradition which has always been the desire of its founding fathers. . 

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  St. Mary's Convent

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4 years after re-opening the St. Mary's Boys School in August 15, 1887, Fr. Byron foresaw the need for a Girls' school. He traveled to Hong Kong to collect funds for the new school he was planning for the girls. He also tried to recruit schoolmaster and school mistress. He was able to open a new convent school on November 5, 1891, and not only that, he also obtained 4 Franciscan Sisters to run the school. The new school cost $4,600.00 and so began St. Mary's Convent. Education in Sandakan was thus consolidated and assured for some time to come.

The school was originally housed in a simple attap-roof building. The first floor was the living quarters of the nuns. Another part of the first floor was occupied by the boarders, orphans and babies. The ground floor was used as classrooms. It was estimated that there were about 100 occupants comprising of boys and girls who stayed in the convent as full-time or daily boarders.

The Japanese Occupation from January 21, 1942 created havoc to the school. The European priests and the Blue Systems namely Mother Immaculate, Mother Aloysius, Mother Francis and Sr. Consolate were taken prisoners at Berhala Island. The 4 pioneering local Blue nuns were left on their own to take care of the boarders on their own.

Two days before Christmas in 1942, the Japanese Military issued a three day notice to evacuate the whole mission school in Sandakan. The convent thus became the living quarters for the Japanese soldiers. There is still a tunnel behind the present convent which serves as a reminder of the Japanese occupation.

The European nuns were sent to the main prisoners camp in Kuching, Sarawak in January 1943 and remained there until the Japanese surrendered on September 2, 1945.   When the white nuns returned to Sandakan, they found the town completely devastated. The convent that they had built was completely destroyed. Sr. Edwarda, Sr. Cletus and Sr. Thaddeus had to start from scratch to rebuild the convent. One can visualise that the period after the war was a state of confusion both social and economical. However, with unshaken faith on God and determination, and with help from the local people, they managed to put up a building and started a new chapter in the education of young Sandakanites.

In 1954, Sr. Henreitta and Sr. St. John came to help with the administration and erection of the new school building which is the present St. Mary's Convent. Since then, the school has gone on track and achieved excellent  academic results in the Government examinations.

Today the school has sixteen classes split into morning and afternoon sessions with an enrolment of  684 students and a staff of 36. 

As a result of the increase in enrolement both in the kindergarten and primary schools, the nuns' living quarters which was part of the school building was moved to a newly built convent nearby in 1980. Likewise, the kindergarten has also moved to a new three storyed building in December 1990. With limited room for expansion, plans are made to relocate the school to Mile 2 behind the present St. Mary's Secondary School in 1993 .

The construction of the new school building was completed in early 1998 and by May 1998, the students of St. Mary's Convent will be moving into one of the most modern and spacious school in Sandakan,  thus entering into a new era in the education of young Malaysians  undertaken by the Catholic Mission.

The Franciscan Missionaries Sisters of St. Joseph have left us a school of good reputation which has always maintained a high level of excellence both academically and disciplinary.  It is with deep appreciation that we pay tribute to the Founders of St. Mary's convent for their invaluable dedication and service.

The headmistress,  Mrs. Rose Solibun, a Catholic  together with her staff pledge to undertake to continue the same spirit in upholding the heritage of   St. Mary's Convent which had been alway the desired of the founding Blue Sisters.


St. Mary's Convent

We Salute Thy Name

We shall continue to

Proclaim Thy Name

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St. Cecilia Secondary School

Before the St. Cecilian's Primary School was built, there was a co-education Primary school at St. Mary's,  Labuk Road. It was known as Our Lady of Fatima and Rev. Fr. Crowther was its director.

In 1963, Mother St. Leonard built the St. Cecilian's Primary School and some of the boys and girls were transferred from Our Lady of Fatima to this new school. In 1966, the St. Cecilia Convent Secondary School was built next to the primary school block and was officially declared open by the Honourable Datuk OKK Mohd Yassin on December 1, 1966. The whole of St. Cecilia's School was converted into a pure secondary school when the primary school was dissolved and the students left to join the St. Mary's Convent Primary School in Town. 

The founder, Rev. Mother St. Leonard continued to run the school as its principal which until then was confined to lower secondary education. In 1967, Form 4 was started and the first batch of Form 5 students sat for their Senior Cambridge Examination in 1968. In the same year, Mother St. Leonard was replaced by Rev. Mother Francis Theresa.

The era of the Blue Sisters came to an end in 1971 and Miss Dora Ho was appointed acting principal in June 1971.

St.Cecilia continues to excel both in academy and in other related fields of education . The present principal is Mrs. Ngiam Eng Hong. With a teaching staff of 59 and a student population of 1563, St. Cecilia Convent stands today as one of  the most prestigeous schools  in Sandakan.     

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