The early years

Trailer for the documentary Brother Joe
Brother Joseph McNally with his class in St Joseph’s Institution, Singapore, 1948.
Brother Joseph McNally in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 1967.
Brother celebrating his 50th birthday with students at St Patrick’s Pre-University, 1973.
Brother in 1978, when he was principal of St Patrick’s Secondary School.
I would like to be remembered as an educator, both as an educator in the classroom, as a principal of a school and as an educator through the arts… I would see myself really as an educator, first and last.
– Brother Joseph McNally, Arts Central: Self-Portraits, 1 September 2002

Brother Joseph McNally was born on 10 August 1923 in Ireland. Having grown up on a small farming community in County Mayo, the young Joseph McNally’s lifelong vocation as an educator began at just 14 years of age, when he left his hometown to join the De La Salle Order of Brothers.

In 1946, Brother arrived in Singapore and began his career at St Joseph’s Institution. His love for teaching led him to De La Salle schools across Malaysia, including St Paul’s Institution, Seremban, St Xavier’s Institution, Penang, and St John’s Institution, Kuala Lumpur, where he was principal from 1962 to 1967. To this day, Brother’s design for the St John’s Institution badge is still in use, while many of the murals and sculptures he created in these schools stand proud in his memory.‍

Ever curious and passionate about art, Brother also worked to further his own studies during these years. He received a fine art diploma from Ireland’s National College of Art in 1954 and an MA from Columbia University, New York, in 1969, where he staged a solo exhibition of his paintings and sculptures. In 1972, he was awarded a Ph.D. in Art Education from Columbia.‍

Brother returned to Singapore in 1973 and went on to become principal of St Patrick’s Secondary School, a position he held until retiring in 1982. With a storied and accomplished teaching career spanning almost three decades, a restful retirement might have been on the cards for anyone else—but not for Brother, who still had one more dream to fulfill.