St. Joseph's Private School Secondary School welcomes its first Principal

(This is an interview with Francis Lim Chin Choy, SJ, a Malaysian Jesuit and first principal of St. Joseph's Private Secondary School (SJPSS) in Kuching, Sarawak. Deacon Francis Lim, SJ will be ordained to the priesthood on August 11, 2012. The interview was first published in the July 2012 issue of Today's Catholic, the official monthly publication of the Archdiocese of Kuching. The Jesuits of Malaysia-Singapore thank Today's Catholic for permission to re-publish the article.)

Deacon Francis Lim Chin Choy, SJ, is the first Principal of St Joseph’s Private Secondary School (SJPSS). Today's Catholic thanks him for his willingness to be interviewed. 

Today’s Catholic (TC): Welcome to Kuching, Rev. Francis! How do you find Kuching so far?
Francis Lim, SJ (FL): It is my first trip ever to Kuching and Sarawak. I find Kuching a very pleasant and friendly city, with much less traffic than in KL or JB. I like it very much here.

TC: We are very glad you like it here. Congratulations for being the first Principal of SJPSS! Would you share your background with us?
: Thank you! I was born and raised in Melaka of Chinese Hakka descent. I do not know Mandarin as I went to national schools all my life, namely SRK Bandar Hilir, Melaka and Sekolah Tinggi Melaka. For my undergraduate studies, I did Mathematics, and graduated with a Bachelors of Science from Universiti Malaya. Following that, I did a Diploma in Education at the same university. My first teaching post was in SMK Pitas, Sabah, teaching Mathematics to Form 4 and Form 5 students for three and half years. I then taught Mathematics and Physics in SMK Perempuan Likas, Kota Kinabalu for a year. I returned to Melaka, and taught Mathematics and Physics for two years at SMJK Notre Dame Convent.
In 2001, I finally made the decision to join the Jesuits after many years of discerning my vocation to the priesthood. The main reason why I chose the Jesuits rather than other religious congregations or the diocesan priesthood is because the Jesuits are actively engaged in many different types of ministries. As a Jesuit priest, one can be a professor, high school teacher, social worker, scientist, parish priest, artist, refugee worker, musician, etc. Jesuits serve God and people wherever there is a need and in whatever way. Through all these, the greater glory of God is served. The motto of the Jesuits in all we do is “for the greater glory of God” (Ad majorem Dei gloriam). As a Jesuit, I had my first training in the novitiate for two years in Singapore. After that I went to study philosophy in Sekolah Tinggi Filsafat Driyarkara, Jakarta, graduating with a MA in Philosophy. I then spent two years of regency (pastoral experience) with the Orang Asli ministry in the Diocese of Melaka-Johor. For four years, I studied theology at Regis College, Toronto, obtaining a Master of Divinity and a Master of Theology.

TC: There is presently no Jesuit religious community in Sarawak. Please tell us more about the spirituality, and what education is for the Jesuits.
FL: The spirituality of lgnatius, the founder of the Jesuits, is based on growth and transformation. We believe that each human person and all creation are created good by God. As workers in God’s vineyard, we, Jesuits, try to bring out or draw out that goodness that is already present in each human person, and help them to foster right relationships with God, other people, and creation. Education is to help our young people to realise and be aware of their natural and inherent goodness, and nurture that goodness into full bloom in the best way they can, and all these are done in a holistic manner. Education is to inculcate human and divine values in our young, and teach them the ability to have right relationships with God, other people, and creation.

TC: Being the Principal, what are your sentiments for this new school?
FL: My sentiments for this school are that we, as a team of administrators, teachers, and staff, work together to instill and nurture the much-needed growth and transformation in our students so that they develop into mature and wholly-integrated adults in all aspects of the human person. Academic excellence is only one aspect we stress on in this school. We want to make sure that our students excel in character of mind, body, emotion, and in the social and spiritual aspects as well. As lreneaus puts it, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive." In the process of our students growing and developing into mature integrated adults, they become fully alive as God intends them to be, and the glory of God is manifested in them. The young in this school are encouraged in this learning process to have the right relationships with God, others, and all things in creation.

TC: Serving in a Catholic School is challenging, probably more challenging than the other schools in which you have previously taught. What are the challenges and how do you respond to them?
: The challenges of serving in this school are many. I need to be open to them, and not be narrow-minded in my views. Above all, I need to listen to the people I encounter in and outside the school: to their problems, their various different and particular situations, their needs, talents, etc. I want to be understanding and emphatic to my students, and yet at the same time, I have to be strict when it comes to rules and regulations in order to promote and ensure discipline in the school. I find this the most difficult, because I want to present the figure of an understanding and kind priest, and at the same time I have to be firm and strict in areas of discipline.
I have been asking myself what the Catholic Christian identity of this school means. It has to go beyond the extra lessons of catechism and Bible Knowledge offered in this school; it has to be more than the strong character building, attitudes and values we are instilling in our student; it has to be more than the holistic education we are providing. I still have not come up with the distinctiveness of a Catholic Christian school in contemporary Malaysia.

TC: Thank you, Rev. Franics, for your time! We pray that God will continue to bless you with the wisdom, grace and strength you need for this ministry of yours!