THE CHEQUERED PAST A BY GONE ERA
The first Prefect Apostolic of this mission was Msgr. Ignatius Brouwer who made Rawalpindi his headquarters. On 13th July 1888, at the time of Maharaja Pratap Singh in Srinagar, Msgr. Ignatius Brouwer obtained permission from the Viceroy to stay in Kashmir. Fr. Daniel Kilty was the first missionary to have set foot in Kashmir. He later went to Leh in August 1888 where he fell ill and died on 23rd April, 1889. The Mill Hill Presence in the dawn of the 20th century was felt in the persons of Msgr. Ignatius Brouwer, Msgr. Winkely, Frs. Densen, Kuhan and Simons. In 1930, Msgr. Winkely died in Rawalpindi and Fr. O'Donoqhoe was placed in charge of the Prefecture. He with the help of Fr. C.B. Simons established St. Joseph's School, Baramulla.
Following the successful establishment of the school at Baramulla in Kashmir, the Mill Hill Missionaries desired to open another educational institution in Srinagar. Fr. Tijssen was assigned this task and Fr. S. De Jong assisted him. They came to Srinagar in 1942 and rented a home from Mr. Mirza at hotel road (now Moulana Azad Road) Srinagar. The building which housed the first Burn Hall School is at present Teachers Training College. Initially, it was started as the Senior Cambridge School, with the hostel facilities for boys and there were students from Punjab and the North West Frontier Province. Although planned for children of Indian nationality, the school also admitted Europeans. The school functioned well and grew from strength to strength. Fr. Tijssen soon set out to acquire a plot of land to construct the school building. But there was no response from the British Govt. and the local administration was very apprehensive of the Fathers' intentions. In 1946 Fr. S. De Jong tried his luck to get a plot of land by putting an application to Hon. Minister Kak, but nothing came through.
Independence came in August 1947 and it added a new dimension to the situation of Kashmir. The Kabali tribals were preparing to invade Kashmir. Every communication between India and Pakistan came to a standstill. In the wake of the tribal invasion, the missionaries and the hostel students had to be evacuated. The students were taken away by their parents as it had become unsafe for them to stay there. The Missionaries went back to Rawalpindi, their Headquarters. There was an urgent need to start a school near Rawalpindi in Pakistan. Msgr. Meyer, the then Prefect Apostolic asked Fr. Tijssen if the school in Srinagar could be shifted to Pakistan. In 1948, Fr. Tijssen opened Burn Hall School in Abottabad, near Rawalpindi and Frs. Scanlon, Boerkamp and Mallet who were evacuated from Baramulla were appointed on the staff. Burn Hall School, Srinagar thus was shifted to Abottabad, near Rawalpindi. Thus, a chapter in the history of Burn Hall School came to an end.
The New Burn Hall School at Srinagar was established in the face of formidable difficulties and challenges after a spell of nine years following the tribal invasion in 1947. This time, Fr. J. Boerkamp was given this task to resurrect the institution: a challenge, which he accepted with remarkable courage and steadfast determination. As the founding father and the first principal of the school, Fr. Boerkamp rendered yeomen service to the cause of education in the valley. It was at the request of Msgr. Shanks, that Fr. Boerkamp came to Srinagar from Abottabad in 1956.Msgr. Shanks had already rented a building "The Willows" as it was known then, from Mr. M. N. Koul, parliamentary secretary in Delhi at that time. He had interviewed two teachers who had agreed to join the school, Mr. Omkarnath Koul and Mr. Prahalad. On 19th of March 1956, Msgr. Shanks and Fr. Boerkamp took possession of the "the Willows" and preparations began at once to make the bungalow fit for a school. Mr. Ghulam Shah Naqashbandi was employed to assist Fr. Boerkamp.
The necessary repairs were done and the school started on 17th April 1956. The school started with 7 students. Fr. Paddy Kenny, who was teaching in Baramulla, was added to the staff of Burn Hall School and he took English classes. Mr. Koul managed Science and Maths. Mr. Prahalad took social studies and Hindi and Fr. Boerkamp himself taught Maths and Moral Science. An Urdu teacher was added later. Fr. Boerkamp later realized that starting with the 6th class was a mistake, because a lot many parents were not prepared to take away their children from their old schools and entrust them to a completely new venture. By the end of the year there were 25 students just enough to have 2 teams to play cricket and hockey! Fr. Boerkamp realized a school without KG and primary classes could never flourish. So the decision was taken to start the KG and Primary classes in 1957. Some teachers from Bombay were employed and the new school in the year 1957 started with 70 students and the year after, the strength rose to 180. The school prospered and its popularity grew steadily. All the four matriculation students passed in 1st division and the confidence in the school surged to new heights.
In 1957, the first expansion was made with the erection of a hall with partition for class rooms. Today, this hall is known as "Boerkamp Auditorium" in memory of the first principal and the founder. In 1961, a new block was built to accommodate the primary classes. And in 1971, the school bought the willows from Mr. M. N. Koul and the Govt. gave the land on a long lease. The school was now in firm foundation and scaling greater heights. Tragedy struck in the form of a major fire that engulfed the school building on March 27, 1976. The school building was completely gutted down.
After fairly protracted negotiations with Misereor of Germany and Cebemo of the Netherlands, financial support came in. It took months of correspondence with the German and Dutch welfare organizations to mobilize the finance to build the monumental Burn Hall School of today. It was Fr. Jones' managerial skills that made the funds available for the monumental building. Fr. Dalziel deserves a special mention as he supervised the construction of the building to its minutest detail.
The Mill Hill Missionaries managed the institution from 1956 to 1977. Among the galaxy of priests and the compatriots of Msgr. Boerkamp, who very ably addressed themselves to this task in one or other capacity from time to time in the successive years, the names of Fr. J. McMohon, Fr. J. Kuipers, Fr. J. Pharro, Fr. Dalzeil and Fr. J. Jones stand out more prominently. They laid a very strong foundation and inculcated good tradition in the staff and students. A high standard of education was kept up which still continues to be the first priority of the school.
In 1977, the charge of the school was handed over to the Capuchin Fathers. Fr. J.C. Hugh became the first principal in 1977. His first major task was the inauguration of the new building. The new school complex was inaugurated by the then Hon. Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Jenab Sheikh Mohd. Abdullah on 20th Sep. 1978. The school celebrated its silver jubilee in the year 1981. Fr. J.C. Hugh was followed by Fr. Dominic in 1984. The Capuchin Fathers kept up the progress and reputation of the school spread far and wide.
In 1989, a group of sisters of the Apostolic Carmel from the western province came to Burn Hall School at the invitation of the then principal Fr. Dominic. They were part and parcel of Burn Hall School for 7 years. Their stay was short but the service rendered by them shall be remembered for a long time.
In 1989, at the request of the then Bishop Rt. Rev. Dr. Hippolytus Kunnunkal, the Montfort Brothers of Saint Gabriel came to Burn Hall School. In March 1990, the brothers took charge of the school under a contract for a period of 12 years. Despite all the odds and difficulties due to militancy, the brothers kept going and the standard of education and discipline in the institution had been taken to new heights. In the year 1997 brother George added an additional section to all the classes from LKG to class 10.
At the end of the 12 years contract, the brothers handed over the institution to the diocese in December 2001. Among the Montfort Brothers, special mention has to be made about Br. V.J.Mani, Br. Raju John, Br. Jacob Kevengal and Br. George Pottakaran for their dedication, courage and efficient management of the school during the difficult times of militancy. The Montfort brothers have left but their sweet memories still linger on and their service will be remembered for the years to come.
The Catholic Diocese of Jammu-Srinagar took over the administration of Burn Hall School from the Montfort Brothers in Dec. 2001. Fr. Maria John and Fr. Johnson were appointed as Principal and Vice-Principal respectively. In May 2005, Fr. Jaimon joined the school in place of Fr. Johnson as the new vice-principal. Under the able leadership of Fr. Maria John besides academic progress, a lot of other unfinished projects were completed.
December 10, 2005 is a red letter day for the Management, staff and students and parents of this institution. A long standing demand and dream of the people of Srinagar was fulfilled with the commencement of class XI. The new building to house the Pre-primary and the Higher Secondary classes has been completed. The beautiful and spacious class rooms are fitted with all facilities for moulding the future of Kashmir.
Today, Burn Hall School stands tall in the mind of the Kashmiri society. The school now boasts of top bureaucrats, efficient civil servants, illuminated politicians, eminent academicians and responsible citizens on its roll of Ex-students. We wish that this institution may produce many more wonderful and enlightened citizens for this society.