St. Teresa's School was named by Reverend Father Jackson MHM in honour of a renowed Carmelite sister. He arrived in Borneo in 1881 upon the invitation of Rajah Charles Brooke to establish Catholic mission schools in Kuching and Kanowit. The name chosen for the convent and school was in fulfilment of a promise made many years ago before by Rev. Father Jackson. While still a student, he found great difficulty in mastering Philosophy and Theology. In his distress he appealed to the great Saint Teresa of Avila to intercede for him and promised he would do something in her honour, if his wished was granted.

St. Teresa was born in Avila, Spain in 1515 and died in 1582. She came from a noble family with high moral values. However, she gave up all her material possessions and became a Carmelite nun in 1536. Because of her great wisdom, intelligence, humility, diligence and integrity she was declared a Doctor of the Church in September 1880. Since it's foundation in 1885, our school has been entrusted under her patronage and protection; and therefore it is expected that the students of St. Teresa's School emulate and uphold her outstanding qualities and virtues.

St. Teresa’s School in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia had its beginnings in a small shop, at 149 Yorkshire Street, Rochdale, in England. The shop was kept by Alice Ingham and her widowed stepmother. Both were devout and hardworking women.

Alice and a small group of friends understood the human need for spiritual and physical food and clothing. They helped in whatever way they could. They conducted religious classes for children; they nursed the sick; they assisted with parish work. After a few years of this, Alice was asked by Bishop Herbert Vaughan to undertake the management of domestic affairs at a newly founded missionary college in Mill Hill, near London.

This meant that she was to be in charge of household toil - cooking, cleaning, pressing linen with heavy charcoal irons until 2 in the morning with four other sisters. They no longer taught, nursed nor earned money for their many charities.

In 1883, the Congregation of St. Joseph’s Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart was officially formed. Some of its members grouped in communities outside the college, but Mill Hill was where Mother Francis (Alice Ingham) lived. It (Mill Hill) was the Congregation’s centre of gravity - it was also the link between Sarawak and Rochdale.

A political exception in its day, Sarawak in the late 19th Century was an oriental principality founded by Sir James Brooke in 1841, who expanded the boundaries of Sarawak, until at his death in 1868, he left a sizable amount of land to his nephew, Charles Brooke.

Rajah Charles Brooke had been in his uncle’s service throughout his adult life. He thoroughly knew and loved Sarawak. He knew what was best for the land and its people.

Rajah Charles disliked European commercial influence of the money-grabbing kind. The Borneo Company was the only foreign firm allowed to operate in Sarawak for a long time. He believed that unchecked western influence was sure to exploit and spoil the natives of Sarawak, and was more than half inclined to add the Christian missionaries in his suspicions, remarking once that “Bishops are a bit of a nuisance out here” and “The missions do not benefit the Dayaks”.

The Rajah expected the missions to settle the Dayaks; to cure them out of their roving habits and aggressive ways: to transform them into law-abiding citizens of the sturdy gentlemen type. When Rajah Charles mentioned ‘Dayaks’, he usually meant the Ibans, Sarawak’s largest tribal group, and the one he understood and loved the most.

And so, when a letter came to him from Bishop Vaughan requesting permission to set up a Catholic Mission in Sarawak, he wrote back:
“...The Sarawak Government will have no objection to there being a Catholic Mission. I would recommend that your missionaries, on their arrival, to a district of Dayaks who have been almost untouched by teaching of any sort. This district would not be far from the capital, in which almost everything in the way of clothes, etc. can be obtained.”.

The Bishop acted on the Rajah’s advice. One year later, the first missionaries were sent to Borneo from Mill Hill. They were Fr. Jackson, the Prefect Apostle, and Frs. Dunn, Kitty and Goossens.

The Rajah granted a block of ten acres to the Catholic Mission a little way out of town. This was the headquarters, but the missionaries traveled up and down Borneo as far as Sandakan, opening stations where needed.

A letter from the Rajah to Fr. Jackson authorized the establishment of schools in Rejang and Kanowit. Both schools were founded. Boys and young men were the earliest Catholic converts, and soon the question of their future was worrying the fathers.

For a flourishing community, these bachelors would need Catholic wives. No girls attended St. Joseph’s School, no man could start catechism classes for females in late 19th Century Kuching. The obvious answer was a Convent.

Fr. Jackson traveled to England in 1884, determined to find an order of nuns who would come to Borneo. He searched far and wide, but in vain. As a last resort, he appealed to the Sisters of Mill Hill. This time, his efforts proved fruitful. Of 26 Sisters, every one volunteered to go to Borneo.

The Congregation was still engaged in running charitable institutions in several parts of England, and managing the house in Mill Hill. Obviously, not all could jump off to some foreign land to convert a couple of non-believers. After serious prayer and consideration, Mother Francis decided that she could spare about 5 of her ‘daughters’ for this great and demanding task.

"Fetch me the sanctuary lamp,” Mother said. She then put slips containing each Sister’s name into its emptied glass bowl.

The next morning, five slips were drawn, and that was how Sisters Helen, Teresa, Aloysius, Mary of the Cross and Josephine were hand-picked as the finest for the grueling task that lay ahead.

To Mother Francis, God had guided her hand. She had full confidence in their capabilities. Mother Francis knew she was sending out the five Sisters best qualified for the heavy work ahead.

Sister Helen Downs was appointed leader of the group. Mother Francis had known her long and intimately. Sister Helen had joined the original Congregation in Rochdale at the age of 16. She was one of the Mill Hill workers, in charge of the kitchens.

Sister Teresa Cheetham, the Mother Francis’ niece, had been teaching and was described as ‘most successful with the children’. She was an incredible pianist, and had a good singing voice. She was also a brilliant story-teller, keeping her listener’s bound with tales of foreign lands which she had heard from the Missionaries at Mill Hill.

Sister Mary of the Cross, who had also joined the Congregation at Rochdale, was in charge of housekeeping in Kuching. She often stayed in the Convent with Sr. Teresa, while the other Sisters went traveling to other stations.

Sister Aloysius Dwyer was Sister Helen’s deputy while they were in Kuching.

The Sisters’ outfit with a tropical kit attracted much attention. Well-wishers sent gifts, from junk to necessities to valuable items, like a harmonium. Fr. Jackson advised them that the Fathers there wore black cassocks, even under the hot tropical sun, so it was black for the Sisters too. They packed linen and household utensils, medicines, food and also books, both for their own use and for the future school. Traveling out as missionaries, they bid farewell for life to fellow Sisters.

Thus the 5 Sisters, accompanied by Father Jackson, set sail for Sarawak on My 15, 1885. Six weeks later, their arrival in Kuching was recorded by the Sarawak Gazette.

Praises were sung in thanksgiving for their safe arrival. The Sisters were then taken to their temporary home, a big wooden bungalow raised on stilts. It had already been named St. Teresa’s Convent by Fr. Jackson.

With the excitement of their arrival over, the Sisters found themselves in an off-beat situation. They lived in a house rented for them by Fr. Jackson. They had to contend with insects, rats, mice and other creepy-crawlies. They were attended by an interpreter-companion provided to them by Fr. Jackson. Financially, they were completely dependent. Home was 9,000 miles away.

The Convent, St. Teresa’s, was ready. However, one question remained: Who were the potential students of the school?

In 1885 the inhabitants of Kuching were basically the Malays, Ibans, a small but very powerful European community, and some Chinese. The Malays were Muslims, and the Rajah forbade any missionary activity among them.