Brother Joe was ahead of his time. To envision a place where different art forms meet was pretty progressive in the 1970s, but to have made it his lifelong mission and inspired generations to keep going – that’s what makes him visionary.
As a LASALLE student in the 1990s and pioneering staff member of the Marketing and Corporate Communications departments, I witnessed the College’s formative years from the Goodman to McNally campuses until I left as Marketing Director in 2010.
When I applied to join LASALLE as a student in 1993, it was Brother himself, then Principal, who reviewed my portfolio with a kind and reassuring voice, making no fuss about my poor Maths grades. I was accepted, unaware that years later, I would be working across his studio to encourage current and future Lasallians in their creative pursuits.
I remember sitting at one of our school assemblies as a sceptical teenager, baffled by Brother’s speech on the “infinite possibilities” of the arts and technology. Later, the fine arts and music majors were paired up to experiment on paintings inspired by sound, and sound inspired by paintings. The resulting exhibition was hardly groundbreaking by today’s standards, but looking back, Brother was pointing us towards the infinite possible outcomes when different creative disciplines meet.
Throughout the years at Goodman, Brother made time for us – in our studios and at every open house, orientation, graduation show and convocation ceremony. After retirement, his presence continued on the board, at College events and in his on-campus studio. At one of the partnership degree shows, Brother – by then President Emeritus – whispered to my boss and I, “Why is LASALLE still not offering its own degrees?” It was a vigilant reminder to be ahead of our time.
In his lifetime, Brother fought for the arts to gain support for our College. One life gathering many lives to bring us here – at the forefront of an alliance with the University of the Arts Singapore, 40 years after our founding and 100 years after his birth, enabled by an enduring vision of limitless possibilities that we live and breathe as Lasallian alumni, educators and students.
I first came to know Brother Joseph as a young junior aspirant to the religious order of St John Baptist de la Salle in 1960. Brother Joseph was then an art teacher at St. Xavier's Institution in Penang, Malaysia, although I was not taught by him. All the students knew of his large wall murals around the school which I found very captivating and accomplished.
My association with the De La Salle Christian Brothers' schools in Malaysia and Singapore gave me occasion to meet him and also to know and see his many early metal sculptures in their schools.
My closest association with Brother Joseph was while I was teaching art at St Patrick's School when he was the principal. A number of trees in the school compound had been cut down and he suggested that I use the plentiful wood to teach my students how to carve. That started my early development as a sculptor.
When Brother Joseph started the modest beginnings of St. Patricks Arts Centre in the back area of the school, he asked me to undertake the sculpture programme, and I readily agreed to do so. Brother Joseph’s single-minded push to start a new art school for Singapore saw his determination to overcome all odds, even, as I understood, the hesitant support from his own religious community.
I remember his untiring efforts working on his own sculptures in his small workspace at St. Patrick's to fund the building of LASALLE College of the Arts, the premier arts college that the St. Patrick’s Arts Centre grew into.
It was Brother Joseph who also introduced me to bronze casting. I have fond memories of travelling with him to Bangkok, Thailand, when he introduced me to the Kinaree Bronze Foundry in Thailand where he was casting his sculptures. We once stayed in the same hotel in Bangkok where we enjoyed a drink of his favourite whiskey.
I celebrate my practice and life as a sculptor, with heartfelt gratitude and fondest memory of my confrere in Christ, Brother Joseph McNally.
In the late 90s as diploma students, we would sit boisterously in the old Goodman Road campus canteen between classes, and Brother Joe would walk by in his signature suspenders and bow tie.
My friends and I would call out to him and he would smile happily back, sometimes stopping by to ask how we were.
His sculpture studio right next to the art store gave us a window into his creative life. What a privilege it was to have had the chance to peek while he was working.
I remember meeting Brother Joseph McNally in the printmaking Studio. I loved working there.
He spoke to us about health and safety which is very important. Not far from the printmaking studio was his sculpture studio where he would work and answer any questions.
Always inspiring me with creativity just by walking past heading to classes for a fleeting second with a quick observation of him in the studio tinkering and doing something out of the ordinary in the early 2000s.
Brother Joseph McNally was a crucial person for my family and I in Singapore.
I arrived in Singapore in the year 1991. Our daughter Ana enrolled in the Drama programme at LASALLE College of the Arts in 1992, and here she met Brother Joe. Brother Joe invited my wife Delia and I to produce a solo exhibition at the LASALLE Gallery where he was the guest of honour. It was at this exhibition that he invited me to teach at LASALLE, and in 1994 I was employed by him as a Senior Lecturer.
We have had the good fortune to have many great conversations over good food and wine enough to last a lifetime.
One of my fondest memories about Brother is his extreme generosity and humility. The door to Brother’s studio and office was always open so that anyone could just walk in and have a conversation with him.
One of my most enjoyable moments was to have animated conversations with Brother about his work and also about sculpture. He would tell me about his latest works and the challenges that he was facing. It’s through these conversations that Brother inspired and spurred me to undertake my pioneering research work on pre-war and post-war sculpture in Singapore.
Brother McNally will always be remembered with great fondness as a kind, generous and vibrant man. He was not only integral in building a strong foundation for LASALLE but also touched the lives of many students. The memory of him lives on!
After my first meeting with Brother Joe and the former librarian Mrs Eleanor Smith, I joined LASALLE in 1996. At that time, I remember we were in the red but Brother paid staff salaries from his own pocket. His heart for others was immense.
There was one day I was going through my usual routine in the library and someone came over to tell me Brother wanted to see me in his workshop. So I went over immediately and in his workshop sat a young, skinny, scrawny Indian man. The moment Brother Joe saw me, he greeted me with his charming and heartwarming smile, which remains fresh in my mind today. Brother wanted me to converse with that Indian man, who spoke the same native language as me, Tamil. The man had run into hard times and was hiding in a park where Brother had picked him up. What touched me most was that Brother, having just met this stranger, could tell he needed help and had gone out of his way to help him out. He wrote to the authorities on the young man's behalf. Brother could touch anyone from the aristocracy to the common man.
Brother Joe's vision and mission so moved me when I first joined. I continue to believe in his vision and mission for art education and have seen the fruition over my many years here at LASALLE.