In the year 1662, a Minim priest, Father Nicolas Barré saw the need for the education of the poor in France. He, therefore, recruited educated women to help set up his first school near Rouen. As the enrolment increased, more schools were established, and four years later, the ladies in charge of these schools began to live in a community under a Superior. This was the beginning of a religious congregation whose main work was the education of the poor. The year 1666, therefore saw the founding of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Infant Jesus.
The outbreak of the French Revolution brought about several social and political changes in France but the work of the congregation spread rapidly. Less than twenty-five years after the opening of the Mother-House in Paris, eighty schools for free education and forty boarding schools had been established in France. With the granting of official approval from Rome, the Sisters extended their work to America, England, Spain, Malaysia, Japan and Thailand.
IN THE EAST
In the year 1849, the Rev Jean Marie Beurel of St Brieuc (Brittany) suggested to Govenor Butterworth that it might be worthwhile to found a charitable organisation for girls next to the Church in Victoria Street. In August 1852, Father Beurel bought the house at the corner of Victoria Street and Bras Basah Road. He paid $4000 of his own money for it. Father Beurel also appealed to the Superior General in France for sisters to run the Convent. Four Sisters were sent to the East. After a long and perilous voyage, three of them landed at Penang. One had died at sea. The three sisters established a convent in Penang.
In 1854, Reverend Mother Mathilde arrived in Singapore from Penang and remained as Mother Superior of the Convent for the next 20 years. The sisters got to work and within 10 days took in orphans, did needlework to support themselves and taught 14 children. Soon the number of pupils increased and the school became well-known. In 1894 there were 167 pupils. By 1904, the number had increased to 300. Secondary education began in 1905. Under Mother Hombeline the expansion programme continued.
Katong Convent was established in 1930 as a private Primary English School with an enrolment of 197 pupils, one of 11 CHIJ schools in Singapore. In 1958, in order to cope with the growing demand for places in the school, a branch was constructed in Opera Estate and a few of the Primary school staff were then transferred to the new convent. The new school was named CHIJ Opera Estate. In 1988, work on the project to build a “new school” at Marine Terrace began. The relocation of CHIJ Opera Estate to Katong in 1990 also marked another milestone in the history of the school; for the new name adopted – CHIJ (Katong) Primary, is also reflective of the merger with the primary section of Katong Convent. The ceremony of the blessing of the school took place on 16 November 1990.