4th February 1918 -
18th August 2009
St Johns Institution School Rally written by Bro Lawrence
Cheer cheer and courage display,
All Ye Johannians join in the lay,
Send a volley of cheers on high,
Shake down the thunder from the sky,
What though the odds be great or small,
Dear old St John's will win over all,
While her loyals sons are marching,
Onward to victory,
Rise boys and loudly proclaim,
That ye will never sully her name,
Let the hills and woodlands ring,
Lift up your hearts and loudly sing,
What though the way be rough or steep,
We're unto virtue summons to keep,
And if e'er our country needs us,
Loyal and true we'll be,
Fide et Labore!
Dear Fellow Johannians, It is with deep regret that I write in my blog of the passing of Reverend Dato' Brother Tiberius Lawrence Spitzig this evening at 4.45pm.
I received the sad news from Master Vincent Fernandez when he sent me a SMS at 7.17pm.
I was not blessed to have been a student under Bro Lawrence, but I have heard a great deal of him and read numerous articles written about him.
But both my younger brothers Jothi (in Oman now) and Jesu, were students when he was the Director of St John's Institution for the second time from 1979 to 1983 ( the first was from 1951-1965). I left SJI in 1975.
A Canadian by birth, he has been in Malaya since he was 19 years-old and is a true educationist and a saint to youth.
He joined the brotherhood in 1935 and arrived in Singapore in n1938 and taught there for three years. He came to St John's in 1941. He went to Penang in 1962 and was posted to La Salle PJ in 1967. He was back in St John's in 1978.
During the Japanese Occupation, Bro Lawrence and few other brothers who were at the Convent Bukit Nenas where taken away by Japanese police to Pudu Prison and later we sent to Changi Prison in Singapore for 2 1/2 years. They were only released after the war.
If there was two persons who knew Bro Lawrence well and were personal friends, it must definitely be the Fernandez brothers - David and Vincent - who were students and later taught under him in St John's.
When I asked Master Vincent to describe Bro Lawrence, this is what he had to say: "He was everything one would have expected a father to be and everything and more of what you would expect of a religious person."
I have picked several stories written in newspapers and blogs to give an insight of what Bro Lawrence has contributed all these years. But no words is enough this man who dedicated his entire life to the education and youth.
Bro Lawrence's body will lay in wake from 9.30am onwards tomorrow at the St. John's Institution and the funeral service will be at the St John's Cathedral at 10am on Aug 20 tentatively.
The cover of the 1983 GARUDAMAS magazine dedicated to Brother Lawrence. The dedication (above) read: Rev Bro T. Lawrence Spitzig F.S.G....For someone who has given us so much but has taken nothing but parts our our hearts and memories, we at St John's proudly and sincerely dedicate this year's GARUDAMAS to you, Dear Brother. - Editorial Board' 83
Below are some of the stories, I have attached:
Saturday February 14, 2009
Bro Spitzig’s commitment rewarded with awards
By CHARLES FERNANDEZ (The Star)
The former Brother Director of St John’s Institution (SJI) in Kuala Lumpur, although now hard of hearing and slow in his speech, spoke on the need and the importance of academic achievement.
The retired teacher’s life was greatly influenced by the La Salle Brothers’ commitment to education.
“I left my hometown Toronto in Canada in 1937 as I had always wanted to be a missionary and teach in a foreign country. I grabbed the opportunity when there was a call for volunteers to work in South-East Asia. I was a student brother then,’’ he said.
His first assignment was at St Joseph’s Institute in Singapore in 1938 at the age of 19, before he was transferred to SJI during World War II in 1941 (1954-1960 and 1978-1983); St Xavier’s Institution Penang (1960-1967) and La Salle Petaling Jaya (1967-1974).
Bro. Spitzig was teaching in SJI when the Japanese landed in Malaya. He was 20 years old then.
His foray into education dates as far back as 1935 and besides the datukship award conferred on him by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, he was conferred the Order of Canada, a coveted award, by the Governor-General of Canada Adrienne Clarkson in 2004 for his six decades of education service to the people of South-East Asia.
“See this award. This is in recognition of my services to education in this country,’’ he said.
During his teaching days, Bro. Spitzig was armed with an indomitable spirit and a willingness to serve as he stepped into the different phases of life.
When war clouds were gathering during his first term here, Bro. Spitzig’s hopes were dashed when he was sent to Pudu Prison and later as a prisoner of war (PoW) to Changi, Singapore from 1941 to 1943 during WWII.
“During this time, my endeavor to survive and serve grew even stronger. I started a prison school to teach the young juveniles with disciplinary problems,’’ said Bro. Spitzig.
His passion for education is indescribable.
In 1954, when he was made principal of SJI, he went all out to champion education matters.
In 1960, he was transferred to St Xavier’s Institution, Penang, as principal and seven years later as principal of La Salle Petaling Jaya.
In 1978, he was transferred back to SJI as director and principal where he also retired five years later but his tireless contribution to teaching did not stop.
However, Bro. Spitzig recalls his best days in 1983 when he became interested in schools in rural areas in Sabah.
He had defied advice to visit the children who live deep inside the forest and was often driven there by volunteers in a special vehicle.
“With the help of the Franciscan Sisters, we started a one-room school as nobody wanted to come into the interior to teach the children. I don’t remember much but someone told me that the fate of the children has changed for the better since my first visit here in 1996,’’ said Bro. Spitzig.
Now enjoying his permanent retirement at the Little Sisters of the Poor Home in Cheras, Bro. Spitzig said he got a sense of satisfaction doing what he had always wanted to do.
Bro. Spitzig had volunteered his services to education since he was 20 years old and seventy-one years later, despite his advanced age; he still remains committed to the cause of education through his numerous friends who visit him.
Former student Bank Simpanan Nasional chairman Datuk Seri Azim Zabidi said Bro. Spitzig, although a disciplinarian, was a caring gentleman who was always there in times of need.
“He is compassionate,” said Azim, a former student of St. John’s Institution in Kuala Lumpur.
Azim, who studied at the school from Standard 1 to Form 5, said looking back now, he feels nostalgic whenever he passes by the school.
“Education now is so different from what it was then. Mat Salleh headmasters were in a class of their own,’’ said Azim.
He said he remembered how Bro. Spitzig would follow the school’s football and hockey teams to tournaments outside of school to ensure that the players behaved and did their best on the field.
“He was a no-nonsense principal and his presence alone was enough to keep us on our toes,’’ said Azim.
New Straits Times, July 11, 2004
A Brother beyond compare
By Koh Soo Ling
A LA Sallian Brother was recently honoured with The Order of Canada for six decades of dedication towards the people of Southeast Asia as a teacher and school administrator. He talks to KOH SOO LING on the value of serving others.
IN October last year, Canadian-born Brother Lawrence Spitzig, a retired teacher and a former principal of St John's Institution in Kuala Lumpur, had the pleasant surprise of his life.
The 86-year-old was informed that he was to be decorated with a coveted award - The Order of Canada - by Governor-General of Canada Adrienne Clarkson for his six decades of dedication towards the people of Southeast Asia as a teacher and school administrator.
It is Canada's highest civilian honour, awarded to those who adhere to the Order's motto Desiderantes Meliorem Patriam meaning "they desire a better country".
It was created on July 1, 1967, on the country's 100th anniversary, to recognise Canadians who have made a difference to Canada. The Queen of Canada is Sovereign of the Order and the Governor-General is its Chancellor and Principal Companion.
Spitzig, an unassuming man, was invested into the Order of Canada in February this year at Rideau Hall, Ottawa, Canada.
Fondly known as Brother Lawrence, Spitzig plays down his achievement.
"No matter how lowly a person is, he can still use his talents and gifts to serve others."
Originating from Toronto, Spitzig became a temporary La Salle Brother in 1935.
"I joined the Brothers because I felt attracted to their way of life and their unconditional commitment to a great cause - education. I wanted to be a teacher just like them.
"Normally a brother is not transferred to another country. However, I heard a talk given in 1937 about schools in Malaya, Hong Kong and Singapore which needed volunteers. So I put in my name with three other brothers, Anthony Knoll, Michael Blais and Gaston Trembley. That's how I ended up in Malaya and in St John's Institution many years later."
Within a few weeks, this adventurous quartet was mission-bound and on arrival in Singapore, were quickly assigned to various schools. Spitzig was put in charge of Standard II B at St Joseph's Institute, Singapore.
In 1941, Spitzig was told that he would be transferred to St John's Institution. Armed with an indomitable spirit and a willingness to serve, Spitzig stepped into a new phase of life.
War clouds were gathering at this time and Spitzig was required to take on night patrol duties as an air raid warden.
Night patrols were from 8pm till midnight and from midnight till 6am. Despite this, Spitzig did not neglect his teaching duties.
Then it happened. A squad of soldiers fell in just outside St John's church and arrested five civilians. Spitzig was one of them.
White-faced students stared as the five were hoisted onto a military truck. One little boy from Spitzig's class broke ranks and elbowed his way through the military guards.
He cried out, "Where are you going, Brother Lawrence?"
Spitzig answered, "I don't know."
Choking with emotion, the little boy pleaded, "You can't leave us. We need you."
But it was World War Two in Malaya and Spitzig was sent to Pudu prison.
From his prison cell, he could hear rickshaw bells and music from the kopitiam. Most of all, he could hear the sound of free people.
Later, Spitzig became a prisoner of war (PoW) in Changi, Singapore from 1941 to 1943 during the Japanese occupation, for the simple fact that he held a British passport.
It was during this time that his endeavour to survive and to serve, reigned supreme in his mind.
Spitzig recalls: "As a PoW, I suffered from starvation. I could not communicate with home. I stayed at D-3-1 (Block D, third floor, cell 1).
Letters bearing news of the war were undelivered until the end of the war.
At the time, A. R. Payne, the then Director of Education in Malaya, was deeply concerned about the juveniles in prison.
"Two Gabriellite Brothers, Brother Vincent and Brother Adolphus, started a school in prison for young boys. It was there that I first started teaching boys with disciplinary problems and I made a professional commitment in Changi Prison to become a teacher."
Spitzig's passion for humankind went beyond education. He got involved in medicine as well.
During the war, there was a great shortage of medicine and British doctors and trainers were imprisoned. So there was a need for orderlies (hospital attendants) to join medical training centres to train people for nursing duties like bed-bathing and caring for the elderly.
"There was a very wealthy man from England who was a PoW in Changi Prison. He developed a skin disease and needed intensive care. We took turns to nurse him. He was really bad tempered and flew into a rage when orderlies took over," said Spitzig.
"The chief medical officer asked for three volunteers to help nurse him. Without hesitation, Arthur West, Jimmy Erskine and myself took it upon ourselves to feed him and wash his big blisters.
"Every Monday, bandages were removed from the upper part of his body. The new blisters had to be pricked, soiled bandages put into an empty tin can and then boiled to disinfect them.
"On Tuesdays, we carried out the same routine for the lower part of his body. On Wednesdays, it was the upper part of the body again. We had to reuse the bandages again and again. We all learnt what it meant to care for others."
Six months before the end of the war, the Japanese decided to move 5,000 civilian prisoners to a prison camp called Sime Road in Singapore.
"There were 52 attap shacks and we occupied these shacks. Teaching the boys became more difficult then. We had to go look for the boys in the shacks if they did not come for classes."
Later, Spitzig was repatriated from Sime Road to Canada via Liverpool aboard a small New Zealand military supply ship with no frills called the Monawai.
From Liverpool, Spitzig boarded the Queen Mary 1 to Canada. It was believed to be the biggest ship at that time and was formerly a passenger ship which had become a military ship. It crossed the Atlantic ocean in three days and 21 hours.
Sharing a special bond with young people, Spitzig's forte has always been teaching. He taught English, literature, history and religion.
One significant case was J. Blaikie, a Eurasian schoolboy whose son later became a La Sallian Brother. After that, Spitzig went all out to champion education matters.
In 1954, he was made the principal of St John's Institution. He took charge for six years. In 1960, he was transferred to St Xavier's Institution, Penang as principal.
In 1967, he became a principal in La Salle Secondary school in Petaling Jaya. From 1974-78, he carried out administative work for the brothers.
In 1978, he was transferred back to St John's as director and principal. Finally in 1983, he retired.
But Spitzig's tireless contribution to teaching did not stop. After 1983, he became interested in schools in rural areas in Sabah.
Sonsogon, a small village, caught his attention. It had no piped water, hospitals, doctors, schools or clinics.
Spitzig says: "I used to wear a fully black gown but because it was hot, I changed it to a white one. We started bringing in medicine and provisions for the villagers in Sonsogon.
"After a few years with support from benefactors, we started a one-room school and used it as a chapel. This doubled up as a classroom for the children.
"The nearest hostel was at Kota Marudu which housed 45 children and was run by Franciscan Sisters. These sisters supervised them and sent them to national schools.
"Nobody wanted to come into the interior to teach the children. If it rained, trails became muddy. We raised enough money to build a hostel in the interior. The aim was that in the next five years, as many children aspossible could go to schools. We made use of Landrovers with winches to get through the muddy trails."
What is Spitzig's motto? Fide Labore. This is the zeal and faith for spiritual things. It is the passion, understanding and concern for others.
There was a case where a student's father died and that prompted the student to leave school. But St John's Institution provided him with a scholarship to complete his studies and he later went to Europe to start an art gallery. That, to Spitzig, is an example of Fide Labore.
An early riser - at 6am - who ends his day at about midnight, Spitzig lives life one day at a time.
How does he feel about St John's Institution's 100th-year celebration?
Excitedly, Spitzig says, "This is quite a distinction. Few schools in Malaysia can boast 100 years of educational achievement. Imagine the
thousands of young people who have benefited from this style of education.
"St John's Institution is not a `filling station'. It is a formation centre. A place where young minds and lives are shaped as we impart knowledge and spiritual values to them."
To Spitzig, the perils in life are but challenges. To overcome difficulties is to make a mark on the lives of others.
Perhaps Spitzig's achievements can be encapsulated in the following lines:
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And departing leave behind us
Footsteps on the sands of time;
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
* The writer is an Associate of the Office of Academic Affairs and an Associate Professor at the Academy of Language Studies, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Shah Alam
HONOURED FOR SELFLESS WORK- NST (By Noel Achariam)
Father Simon Lebrooy (left) presenting the Catholic Teachers’ Association of Malaysia’s award to Reverend Brother Lawrence Spitzig last Saturday.
PETALING JAYA: Known to many old boys of St John's Institution as their school's principal director, Reverend Brother Lawrence Spitzig was honoured last Saturday for his contribution to education.
He received the award from the Catholic Teachers' Association of Malaysia in conjunction with Teacher's Day.
The 91-year-old former principal of St John's Institution, Kuala Lumpur, and brother director of the La Sallian Brothers Order was honoured during mass at the Assumption church for his contribution, service and selfless dedication towards the betterment of education in Malaysian mission schools.
Spitzig was born on Feb 4, 1918, into a small family in Toronto, Canada.
As a teenager, he was inspired by the missionaries who dedicated their lives to their work. So, after his studies, he joined the brotherhood at the age of 17.
In 1937, he attended a talk about schools in Malaya which changed the course of his life.
"I heard about schools in Hong Kong and Singapore that needed volunteers, so I signed up with three others," he said.
Within a few weeks, Spitzig was on his journey to Singapore. On arrival, he was put in charge of the Standard II B at the St Joseph Institute. In 1941, he came to the St John's Institution in Kuala Lumpur.
He became the principal of St John's Institution in 1954. Six years later, he was transferred to the St Xavier's Institution in Penang to head the school. In 1967, he left St Xavier's Institution and came back to Petaling Jaya to set up the La Salle School.
From 1974 to 1978, he became the brother visitor and carried out the administrative work for the brothers.
In 1978, he was transferred back to St John's Institution as the principal director where he remained until he retired in 1983 at the age of 65. His lifelong commitment to education did not go unnoticed. In 2004, at the age of 86, he was invested with the Order of Canada at Rideau Hall, Ottawa, Canada.
Recognising the impact he had made in the lives of many Malaysians, Spitzig was conferred the Datukship by Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin in conjunction with the Federal Territories Day in February.
Brother Lawrence? ask this to anyone who says he's johannian. if he doesn't know Brother Lawrence, then he's lying. he's not a johannian. i come from a family that boasts of at least 5 johannians. my late grand uncle Hugh was johannian. he was one of the boarders way back in those days. he's good friends with Brother Lawrence all the way thru to his last years. in fact, he used to have a tipple or two with the good brother. Grand uncle Hugh was the one who enrolled my dad into st john's. i grew up learning the johannian school rally even before i knew how to sing my school song. i still remember the rally today.
my husband is johannian, his two brothers are johannians. my father-in-law's johannian. he went on to TEACH in st johns and that's where he met my mother-in-law.
coming from a family of johannians, the stories i hear about Brother Lawrence are in abundance. i hear it from my dad, my husband and obviously from my father-in-law.
this is a man who's already in his twilight years and he's still doing so much for the education and well being of young children. he's like what? 89 this year? and he's still trying to help the young ones in the rural area of Sabah, Malaysia.
he gives his all, and i mean his ALL. from the time he stepped on Malaya soil in the 1930s to this very day, he still tries his very best to teach, educate, guide and lead our young.
i salute you Brother Lawrence Spitzig. it is truly my honour to have met you and speak to you, finally after all these years of hearing all this wondorous things about you.
a great man. a truly, truly great man.
Brother on a mission
By Loretta Ann Soosayraj (09/06/2003 - NST Life & Times)
DEEP in the forests of Sabah, the village of Kampung Songsogan Magandai is
seemingly untouched by time and progress.
Main meals consist of little else besides tapioca. For variety, the
tapioca is sometimes mashed. Sweet potato sometimes makes it to the table,
as do banana shoots or corn. The villagers have also begun to plant hill
padi, but poverty looms like a dark cloud that refuses to budge.
There isn't a decent road into the village, only a trail through rough
terrain. Visitors also have to wade across a river because there is no
bridge, and that too only when the weather permits. The journey takes two
or three days on foot.
When loggers were working in the area, they built a temporary bridge for
easy transport for themselves. This was a windfall of sorts for the
villagers, albeit a short-lived one. Floods - caused, incidentally, by the
logging - washed away the bridge, and no replacement wash constructed. Oil
palm plantations now stand where trees used to, giving rise to jobs for
some of the men of the village. That has resulted in a little money, but
not enough to buy what they really need.
Electricity is a pipe dream for now. Medical care is sporadic, arriving
every 40 days or so by way of a travelling doctor service. Houses are
constructed from wood and bamboo, which give way in a storm.
Then there's the school, or lack of one. But because education is no
longer considered a luxury but a necessity, 87-year-old De La Salle
Brother Lawrence Spitzig hopes to help in finding the means to build a
In 1996, Spitzig read about Kampung Sungai Magandai in a New Straits
Times article. The village was located near Kampung Songsogan Magandai,
and it was plagued by similar problems.
Deeply affected by what he read, he accepted the invitation of Joniston
Bangkuai, chairman of the Sabah Journalists Association, and the writer of
the article, to make a trip to the village, located some three to four
hours from Kota Kinabalu.
During his time there, he visited Kampung Songsogan Magandai and its
1,200 Dusun Sandayo villagers. "What I saw there left me speechless,"
Spitzig recalls. "Conditions there were even worse than in the first
Aghast, he returned to Kuala Lumpur and began making calls to everyone
he thought could help. Former La Sallians proved to be a good source of
assistance. Perhaps this had something to do with the plea-maker rather
than the plea itself - Spitzig is none other than the former director of
St John's Institution, Kuala Lumpur and former Superior-General of the La
Salle Brothers, and therefore something of an institution himself.
Originally from Toronto, Canada, Spitzig, who now holds Malaysian
citizenship, has been teaching here since 1937 and is still active in La
Sallian institutions despite his retirement in 1983.
Aside from members of the La Salle alumni, various international
charitable organisations such as the Canadian International Development
Agency (CIDA), Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, Rotary
International and the Lions Club regularly provide help in various forms -
medical supplies, generators, clothes, food and shoes. They even see to
informal kindergarten classes for the young ones in the village itself.
The Light of Jesus Christ Covenant Community arranges visits to the
CIDA also recently established a system where water is piped from the
jungle stream right into the village, saving the villagers from having to
trudge for an hour with a bucketful of water every time some was needed.
Collective efforts of all these organisations led to some improvement.
As a sort of interim intervention, in 1997 the first batch of children
was enrolled in a school in Kota Marudu (two hours from Kota Kinabalu),
about 120km from the village. Distance and rough terrain mean that the
journey takes more than four hours in good weather, so the children could
not travel back and forth daily.
To solve the problem, Spitzig and his team built a hostel on the
premises of the St Rose Convent, a Franciscan missionary school in Kota
Marudu, for the children to live in.
There are now 35 children living in the hostel. Cared for by nuns and
volunteers, the children play football in the evenings go to the beach and
learn basic living skills. And they sing together. "They have these
beautiful singing voices ... like angels," he says.
Aside from school lessons, they are also given computer classes.
(Spitzig is in the midst of arranging for the current system to be
upgraded, for which financial assistance would be appreciated. See below
for contact details.)
A good plan, but not one without flaws, as this arrangement means the
children spend most of the year away from home. "They are a close-knit
community, and parents and children hate being separated from each other,"
The task of convincing the villagers that education is the key to
escaping poverty is a huge one, and it is compounded by the fact that, in
order for their children to be schooled, families have to be torn apart.
"They can't handle it ... so they either don't send their children to
Kota Marudu at all, or if they do, they don't send them back once the
children return to the village for semester holidays."
He insists that the only real solution is to build a school in the
village, but that is something that can only be possible if the
infrastructure is improved. This dream may be on the road to realisation,
as a new road connecting Kota Marudu and the village is under
construction, which will shorten the journey to about 45 minutes. The road
is set to be ready by the end of the month, and hopefully will serve as a
catalyst for greater things to come for the simple folk of Kampung
* For more information, call Spitzig at 03-2072-8594 or e-mail him at
* The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org