Blessed Nicolas Barre, the founder of the Order of the Infant Jesus Sisters, was born in France in 1621. He grew up in a deeply religious family and was a brilliant student. At the age of 18 years, he joined the Seminary to study to become a priest.
At that time, there was widespread poverty in France and only the rich could afford to have their children educated. Children, especially girls, were illiterate and exploited. Further, they knew little about the religion that they professed. Fr Barre saw the need to open schools for these girls so that they could learn to read and write and come to know and love God.
In 1662, he gathered together a few generous and devoted young women to start ‘little schools’ for the poor. Their aim was to help the young, especially girls, to develop their talents, to become the persons God wants them to be – happy, loving and living committed and meaningful lives.
Fr Barre invited these ladies to form a community so as to be better able to serve God in their mission of education and to make Jesus Christ known and loved. Although they did not have any material security, these women committed themselves wholeheartedly to the mission. They trusted completely in God for everything they needed and God blessed their efforts and their trust.
Soon, this type of school spread to many parts of France. In 1852, nearly 200 years later, the Sisters of the Infant Jesus set foot in Malaysia and founded the first Convent in Penang. Two years later, in 1854, the Sisters arrived in Singapore to establish the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) at Victoria Street to provide education for girls. Soon after the Sisters arrived, they found babies abandoned at their gates. Children and babies were also left at the Convent because their parents were too poor to care for them. Thus, the Convent Orphanage and Home for Abandoned Babies was established.