Throughout his years as an educator, Brother had never wavered in one belief: that art is “important to the human spirit and human psychology. On a larger scale, it is essential to a nation, its people, and even its economics. life-enriching, life-enhancing” (Asia Magazine, 6 March 1988).
Having nurtured many young artists as a teacher and principal, Brother felt there was still more he could do. He had one dream remaining upon retirement, which was to stay in Singapore and set up an arts college. In the 1980s, this was a bold endeavour—especially for a De La Salle brother without funding. However, Brother was steadfast in his vision.
Prior to establishing LASALLE, Brother had already made many contributions to arts education in Singapore. As an advisory committee member for the Ministry of Education and the then-Ministry of Culture, he was a consultant for the new Arts Elective Programme and was involved in revising the art syllabus for all levels of education.
1984: LASALLE opens its doors as the St Patrick’s Arts Centre
Brother held his first classes in cheaply rented buildings on the St Patrick’s School grounds, funded through his own means. The first cohort of 27 LASALLE students were enrolled in full-time Diploma studies in painting, ceramics, sculpture and music.
LASALLE was founded to enhance the lives not only of the artists who would emerge from it, but of all Singaporeans. No aspect of life is unworthy of the concern of LASALLIAN artists, musicians and designers.
Slowly but surely, the arts college began to grow from strength to strength. Brother’s tireless lobbying for support from the government, industry, charitable foundations and private donors began to pay off. More and more students were enrolling, and new disciplines, such as graphic design, interior design, drama and multimedia art, were being added to the arts centre’s offerings.
1986: St Patrick's Arts Centre expands, renamed LASALLE College of the Arts
With support from the National Arts Council's arts housing scheme, LASALLE expanded to Telok Kurau to accommodate its growing student population. But by 1991, the College had an enrolment of about 700 and the search for a larger permanent campus became ever more pressing.
1992: Opening of the Mountbatten Campus
In 1992, the government granted LASALLE the use of premises on Goodman Road. A $15 million donation from Singapore Airlines helped fund the construction of new buildings, and the Mountbatten Campus on Goodman Road was officially opened. It remained LASALLE's home until 2007, when the College moved to its current premises on McNally Street. Many of the movers and shakers of Singapore's art world today received their education at the Mountbatten Campus, and have fond memories of their time on Goodman Road.
Brother Joseph McNally retired in 1997 as President of LASALLE, but continued his practice as artist-in-residence at his studio on the Goodman Road campus. His work can be seen in public spaces and institutions throughout Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Australia and his native Ireland, as well as in New York and Washington DC. His legacy continues to inspire generations of students, and he is dearly remembered by all who were touched by his generosity and indomitable spirit.