The CHIJ convent occupied a full street block bordered by Bras Basah Road, Stamford Road, Victoria St and North Bridge Road. The iconic church was deconsecrated during the 1980s. Part of the Sisters’ quarters has been demolished and converted into the offices of SMRT Corporation. Most of the original buildings were redeveloped as part of the Heritage Board’s preservation scheme. The complex has since been redeveloped into a high-end retail complex called CHIJmes while the church is now a popular attraction for tourists and those interested in history. The former school moved out after World War II and has since split into CHIJ Secondary and CHIJ Primary, both located in Toa Payoh. There are currently 11 different CHIJ Schools in Singapore.
In September 1852, the Congregation sent four sisters to Penang, with Reverend Mother St Mathilde in charge, to guide and support the little group of sisters who had arrived earlier in Penang in April 1852 to set up a Convent school for girls. A year and a half later, Rev Mother St Mathilde Raclot and three other sisters sailed from Penang to Singapore to establish a convent and school. Their mission was to provide an education for girls regardless of their social class.
Just 10 days after arriving in Singapore and moving into Caldwell House in Victoria Street, the nuns began to take in students. Soon they also started a Convent Orphanage and a Home for Abandoned Babies as they found day-old babies were being left at their doorstep.
The nuns conducted two classes – one for fee-paying students and the other for orphans and the poor. To raise funds for their work, St Mathilde taught needlework to her fellow nuns and their students, and they sold their products to the wives of the local Chinese merchants.
The school grew rapidly and by the turn of the century there were some 300 students. Today the 11 Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) schools in Singapore stand as a testament to St Mathilde’s work.