Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dato' Brother Michael Jacques Passes On

AN UPDATE: Body lying in wake at La Salle Hall, PJ. Funeral Mass on Saturday, April 2, 2011 at 10am at SFX Church PJ. 

Dato' Brother Michael Jacques passed away just an hour ago. Our deepest condolence. Details on funeral arrangements will be posted on the blog as soon as Mr Adrian Tsen gets the updates.

A write-up from theSun.

La Salle cleric Brother Michael Jacques has chronicled his 48 years as an educationist in The Man from Borneo

By: by Joseph Masilamany (Wed, 08 Dec 2010)

A photograph of Brother Michael
when he was in Thailand.
BIOGRAPHIES and autobiographies do not have a shelf life. They are read and reread, being purpose-driven literary genres that pickle people, places and events in history into a tidy almanac.Academicians and scholars would treasure them for their arcane details and the armchair reader will succumb to their folksy gems of serendipity.
The Man from Borneo – a painstaking effort by La Salle cleric Datuk (Brother) Michael Jacques is one such book that will be in circulation for a long time before being archived for posterity.
However, Jacques has written more than just a bookish historical edifice in his newly-launched output. He shines as a storyteller with curatorial talent, infusing soulful dynamics to the perpetual serial called "human drama".
At his recent book launch, Jacques was conspicuously missing – and his absence was palpably poignant. For Jacques, the human drama never seems to end its season.
As the book launch peaked to a gala at a hotel in Petaling Jaya, the man carrying the epithet – "The Educator’s Educator" – cut a lone figure, breathing quietly, aided by an oxygen mask at the Assunta Hospital.
Strikingly, in the last leaf of his 390-page epistle, this educationist seems to have prophesised his absence at the launch, penning in Latin: "Dum spiro spero" (While I breathe, I hope).
The frail 94-year-old Jacques would never have expressed an iota of frustration that the successful fruition of his life-long notations encrypted between the covers of The Man from Borneo was celebrated without him.
And as if intended as an epilogue to his Latin musings, the last three lines of his memoir read: "We should never despair while we still have life. I shall have to make the best of it. My watchword is to live as authentic a life as possible, for the relatively short time remaining to me."
Reading between the lines, there is this sublime hint of a man who had romanced with life rather than one who had fleetingly celebrated it.
And Jacques seems to continue this romance even in adversity today, just as he had, during the restive period of the Japanese Occupation when he was under constant fear of being captured and tortured.
The Man from Borneo is an odyssey that is set long before 1916 – the year Jacques was born in Bukit Seranum in Kuching, Sarawak.
Living at the La Salle provincialate, located opposite the popular Raju Restaurant in Petaling Jaya, he was always perceived as the gentle-giant by the patrons of the eatery, as he spoke with "quiet decorum" even if it was just an exchange of pleasantries.
True to his religious vows, Jacques had lived a life of detachment from all things, dedicating his vocation to God and humanity.
Pointedly, it was no mystical beanstalk that had propelled this modern-day "Jack" to lofty heights in the La Salle congregation, but his faithful devotion to teaching and his passion as an educationist.
In his teaching career spanning 48 years, Jacques, served twice as Brother-Visitor in the La Salle provincialate of Malaysia-Singapore-Hongkong. He was also elected to the Asian Assistancy in Rome.
His teaching career took him from his idyllic hometown in Kuching to Penang, Ipoh, Malacca, Singapore, Bangkok, Colombo, Hongkong, London and Rome.
All these cities are mentioned in his book, where he walks the reader through their quaint landscapes and the cultural idiosyncrasies of a forgotten era.
He also reminisces: "I have never lost the spirit of always being a Sarawakian and am proud of it. No matter how long I have been away, my roots are in Kuching where I came from," giving a subtle signal as to why the book was entitled The Man from Borneo.
Jacques is also proud of his French-British-Hakka ancestry. He speaks at length of his mother, Chin Jin Khoi, who was married to a labourer and opium addict, Soon Huat. It was not a happy union and so Chin married William Harry Jacques, a teacher at the Chung Hwa school.
Being the ardent diary chronicler that he was, Jacques, in narrating the life-long works of the La Salle Brothers, was able to dip into his archival largesse for the colourful anecdotes that infused a dose of undiluted glee in his book.
And as no biography would be complete without the inclusion of the inevitable black-and-white photographs, the author has issued a slate of 37 pictures that candidly add a good measure of the old-world charm to The Man from Borneo.
In writing the Foreword, Edmund Terence Gomez, professor of political economy, University of Malaya, describes The Man from Borneo as an exceptional book.
"This autobiography, most of all, will inspire in readers the value of leading a meaningful life, involving service to society," Gomez commented.
La Salle director for Malaysia, Brother Anthony Rogers, in his citation during the launch, said it all about Jacques in just three words: "Someone for all".

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