After reading the comment posted by IJgirl, i decided to do a search online to see if i could find anything about CHIJ Opera Estate. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any new information on the history of the school. There was a link, however, to CHIJ Katong Convent on Wikipedia and so i went to read up the history of CHIJ Katong Convent. Here’s a copy & paste from Wiki. Didn’t corroborate the facts so i apologise if there’re any errors.
In the 1920s, the Sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus acquired one of the private bungalows on the eastern coast of Singapore as a weekend holiday bungalow for the nuns and boarders of the convent.
In 1930, these rambling buildings were used as a private school and in 1932 the school was given a grant-in-aid status. The first set of students registered in January 1932 was mixed – 171 girls and 26 boys. Upon the completion of St Patrick’s School in late 1932, these boys were transferred there. Katong Convent was no larger than a village school, consisting of 4 classes and a total enrolment of 197 students. Sister St Theodora was the first principal with a staff of only four teachers.
Under Sister St Vincent de Paul, the school building was extended in 1939 with 8 new classrooms. In 1941, just before the outbreak of the war, there were altogether 384 pupils – 60 in the secondary classes, 206 in the elementary and 118 in the primary. There were 4 nuns, including the principal and 8 local teachers.
When the dark clouds of war were gathering in the East in 1941, the staff and students had to practise Air Raid Drills and true to expectation, the first bombs were dropped in Singapore in December 1941. Most parents kept their children at home when the school re-opened in January 1942 and their fears were confirmed, for in February 1942 Singapore surrendered to the Japanese.
At the outbreak of war, the school building at Martia Road was taken over by the British and became a military centre and was subsequently used as an internment camp to house local Japanese civilians as prisoners-of-war.
During the Japanese occupation, the school was used as a Military Base.
School reopened in May 1942 and Katong Convent functioned at St Hilda’s School in Ceylon Road under the name of Ceylon Road Girls’ School. The attendance was 102. There were 2 sessions – the morning session for girls and the afternoon session for boys from St Patrick’s.
Peace came at last in August 1945, and when the school re-opened at St Hilda’s in October 1945 in the afternoon – St Hilda’s being in the morning, there were 12 classes, and 430 students were re-registered for Primary 1 to Standard 5.
In January 1946, there were 483 students and in October, the numbers increased to 747. It was also in October of the same year that there was great rejoicing among the staff and students when the school at Martia Road was restored and returned to the nuns. Prior to this, the building had been used by the British Military Administration as a rehabilitation centre for tuberculosis patients.
After the war, Sister Finbarr was appointed principal. The difficult task of re-organising the school, recruiting more staff, and bringing up academic standards fell on her shoulders.
In 1947, there were 17 classes with 755 students and in 1948, 18 classes with 688 students from Primary 1 to Standard 7. That year those who completed Standard 7 (i.e. Sec 2) had to complete 2 more years in the Convent at Victoria Street.
In 1949, a Standard 8 class was formed and in 1950, the school fielded its first Senior Cambridge candidates. In the same year, 5 new classrooms were built, opposite the oldest block and in 1951, part of this old building was renovated and converted into a Domestic Science classroom. After 8 years of devoted service, Sister Finbarr was transferred to the Kuala Lumpur Convent and left in May 1954.
That year there were morning and afternoon sessions. The morning session comprised Primary 1 to Form 5 (Sec 4), with a total enrolment of 890. The afternoon session comprised Primary 1 to Form 3 (Sec 2) and a special class known as Form 4 Commercial, with an enrolment of 655. The students who made the grade were transferred to the morning session, and the less successful ones were placed in the commercial class.
In the following years, there was such an increase in the intake of students that it was necessary to build a branch school and for this purpose, the students and staff gave their all, in cash and hard work, to raise funds by running Fun Fairs and Lotteries. In 1959, the building was completed and a few teachers from the Primary Staff were transferred to the new Convent at Opera Estate. Also in the same year, the school welcomed Sister Finbarr back and sadly bade farewell to Sister Veronica.
From 1959 to her retirement in 1971, Sister Finbarr did all she could to improve the image that the school had gained all these years. She herself often said that without the backing of her loyal staff, she could not have achieved so much. The school continued to expand and it was again necessary to build a new wing. Again the staff and students worked feverishly to raise funds, this time at greater odds, because previously the Government had contributed half to any aided school extension scheme but now every cent was to be paid by the school. Undaunted, the school persevered, and in 1966, the new wing was completed. For the first time, the students had a proper tuckshop, library, sewing rooms and an Art room. Six new classrooms were also included.
In 1971, Sister Finbarr was given a rousing farewell at her retirement. A senior member of the staff, Mrs Marie Bong was appointed headmistress in her place. On her fell the task of carrying on the good work of her predecessors. Under her leadership and guidance, the school became well-known for choral speaking, creative writing and Shakespearean productions.
In 1982, plans were afoot to upgrade the facilities of the school. The timely offer by the Ministry of Education of a piece of land at Marine Parade in exchange for the site of Opera Estate Convent enabled the secondary school to move to a brand new premise, whilst the primary school was merged with Opera Estate Convent and was relocated to the renovated building at Martia Road.
At the end of 1986, after many months of careful planning, supervision and arduous fun-raising, the school moved into its attractive new building with Mrs Karen Oei at the helm. In 1990, the Primary section returned to the former site at Martia Road and Katong Convent became a single session secondary school.
In 1999, the school won the Sustained Achievement Award – Academic Value-Added, for having provided value-added education to both the Express and Normal Academic students for ten consecutive years (1996-2006). Plans were made to further improve both the facilities in the school as well as the education provided for the convent girls.
2000 & BEYOND
Katong Convent celebrated its 70th anniversary in the year 2000. With it soon came the autonomy status which was granted by the Ministry of Education.
Reading about how the school was used by both the British and the Japanese during WWII reminded me that i used to have this theory that CHIJ Opera Estate may once have been a hospital. I mean, that was the story that was bandied about when i was in school – that the school was haunted ‘cos it had been used as a hospital.
I remember there was this classroom used for the Pri 1s… either the first or second classroom nearest the staff room… small sections of paint had peeled from the wall and beneath the coat of paint, this old light blue wallpaper with prints of rocking chairs shaped like a horse, teddy bears, etc could be seen. That strengthened my
belief that the school might’ve once been a hospital… and perhaps that room might’ve been the children’s ward.