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Seven lean years followed by a decade of progress in exile

 

The government sequestered funds for the relocation of the school and land was provided in Perth Street, Kowloon. The building of 22 wooden classrooms was completed in time to open the school at its temporary location on 17 October 1949.

The period of exile in what looked more like racehorse stables than an educational institute, proved to be one of tension and argument over who was responsible for the repair and upkeep of the temporary accommodation.

After protracted negotiations the army got the bill and was also stuck for redecoration, as it became obvious that the promise of 18 months only was not to materialise, and on top of that, the military squatters also reneged on their promise to keep the sporting facilities open for college use.

However, an editorial in the 1953-1954 Lasallite, notes, “We are still in our temporary quarters. As you know, they are not exactly palatial… But I wonder if it matters a great deal. Some people may be inclined to think that for the generation of the big ideas, you need a stately building. Actually, that is not true. Much effective thinking and planning can be done even in a hut or a tent.”

But on the bright side, the brothers learned how much support they had in the wider community from the huge public pressure put on the colonial government to foot the bills for the temporary school and to hurry the process of returning the college to its rightful home.

“This was expressed very specially in a sustained flow of reminiscences in the popular press, both English and Chinese,” Brother Cassian wrote in his diary.

The period of exile was also a time of change. Brothers were fewer and the importance of lay staff in sustaining the De La Salle charism increased. Brother Cassian notes, “The formation of our lay teachers is quite advanced. In the absence of sufficient religious, we are obliged more and more to have recourse to the devotion and expertise of our lay teachers.”

But the brothers continued to be held in high esteem by the students.

Upon the sudden death of Brother Hugh in 1953, The Prawn magazine recorded, “He was one of those who gave men confidence in life… With the warmth of his sympathy and the encouragement of his words, he would cure the disease of our defeated mind. In the purity of his intentions, we see something more than kindness, more than love, and that something is greatness.”

The school was also being looked at for the human qualities it was producing in its students.

When the college’s champion sprinter, Stephen Xavier, travelled to Manila to represent Hong Kong at an athletics carnival, the China Mail related, “The crowd warmed to him the first day when, after being eliminated from the 100 metres, he kept chasing after Abdul Khaliq, later to win the title of Asia’s Fastest Human, finally caught up with him and stretched out his hand. It was the first occasion in the stadium since the start of the games that any athlete had bothered to do that.”

It continues, “The fashion introduced by Stephen Xavier caught on and before the four days were over, Japanese, Koreans and Chinese were heartily pumping each other’s hands.”

It may be called discipline, but in 1956, the new principal, Brother Felix, finally introduced a school uniform.

Even though previous photographs show that the students were never shoddy, and as one commented, “We wore what we had,” which was mostly white shirts with dark or light coloured trousers.

Although blazers and ties had been available since 1952, they now became compulsory, as did the striped tie featuring the college crest, but the crest on the blazer remained optional, as it was expensive.

Then, in 1959, after seven lean years and a decade in exile, La Salle College was finally ready to go back home.

At his last speech day at Perth Street, Bishop Lorenzo Bianchi said, “I pray and I hope that this is the last time this ceremony takes place in this poor excuse for a school building. May God grant that you, the De La Salle Brothers and the La Salle Boys go back soon, as soon as possible—to your grand La Salle College.”

And so it came to pass and a new page in the book of history was turned.