Since the convent's founding in 1854, scores of baby girls - wrapped in rags or newspapers - were abandoned at its front door to be cared for by the infant Jesus Sisters.Their altruism led this door to be renamed as the Gate of Hope in 1996.
Caldwell House is the oldest building in CHIJMES and was commissioned by H.C Caldwell, the magistrates' clerk, after whom the house is named. Designed by the renowned Irish architect, George D. Coleman, Caldwell House and the former CHIJ Hall were collectively gazetted a National Monument in 1990. Today, the building still retains its original state.
The early twentieth century saw the Infant Jesus (IJ) Sisters sailing to Singapore from Europe. They furthered their mission to care for those in need, inspiring the communities they helped. After World War II, Singaporean women undertook the vocation, drawn by their faith in the Mission of the IJ Order.
Located on the former premises of CHIJ, CHIJMES houses Caldwell House, CHIJMES Hall and several historic buildings. At its height in 1983, CHIJ spanned a city block, comprising schools and residences for the Sisters. Extensive renovation work has reinvigorated CHIJMES as a contemporary hub that possesses a rich legacy.
Following CHIJ’s move from Victoria Street, the complex needed repair. Restoration works began in 1983 to preserve the historical buildings. Preservation specialists focused mainly on restoring the chapel (CHIJMES Hall). Today, CHIJMES Hall and Caldwell House are collectively a National Monument of Singapore, and the CHIJMES complex is a designated conservation area.
The orphanage established by the IJ Sisters received mostly baby girls abandoned at the Gate of Hope without any identification. The Sisters brought them up, with sewing commissions from wealthy European ladies. The orphanage had a baby house in which abandoned infants received care from the Sisters and older orphans.
Founded in 1933, St Nicholas Girls’ School (initially known as Victoria Girls’ School) provided a Catholic education for Chinese-speaking girls in anticipation of the growing Chinese migrant population. Today, only one building from the original school complex remains standing. It is currently occupied by the SMRT Corporation.
The buildings that were demolished following CHIJ’s move in 1983, were built to accommodate the increasing student population. These include the primary and secondary assembly halls and classrooms. Bounded by Victoria Street, Bras Basah Road, North Bridge Road and Stamford Road, they were constructed in various styles, each reflecting its respective era.
Before the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, which began on 15 February 1942, seven Japanese bombs devastated the city, destroying the baby house, the chapel and the windows around the high altar. During the Japanese Occupation, the convent was renamed Victoria Girls’ School. Students were taught Japanese songs and shown Japanese films.
CHIJMES Hall (formerly chapel of CHIJ) was completed by 1903 by French priest Father Charles Benedict Nain. It includes 30,000 pieces of Belgian stained glass and 648 column capitals - each carved with motifs of flowers and birds. The former CHIJMES Hall and Caldwell House were collectively gazetted as a National Monument in 1990.