Featured image: Former Santa Rosa de Lima convent
One of the things we love most about Macau is the subtle combination between old and new, historic and contemporary, and the harmonious co-existence of both Chinese and Portuguese cultures that have been living together, creating a unique place on earth. While exploring the city, you’ll spot high-rise buildings, tarmac roads, and shops. And tucked in the middle of these modern things, you’ll also witness blasts from the past, historical and heritage items preserved through time to tell us the story of how Macau came to be what it is today. Next to kitsch Cineteatro–in Rua do Campo–lays one of these gems, right on top of an imponent flight of stairs. Now a school, it used to be a convent.
Centuries ago, clerical institutions were the pinnacle of religion. Churches, convents and other venues alike were used to preach religion, give sermons, hold confessions, and praying. They also served–and still do–communities all over the world, especially countries with Christianism as their main religion. Besides doing charitable work such as helping sick and poor people, they also sheltered young mothers, battered women and many others in need. What you might not know is that some of these institutions served as day schools or boarding schools. There are still some left and in Macau. Here, we unravel the history behind Santa Rosa de Lima school, formerly a convent with a different name.
Although it’s now one of the top primary and middle schools in Macau, Santa Rosa de Lima wasn’t always an educational institute. Built around the 1600s, the building used to be the Santa Clara convent–also the name of the street where the building is located–managed by a group of Clarissa nuns from the Philipines who lived there in confinement. Records show the surrounding walls and flight of stairs might have been built in 1622. The school is believed to have been founded by bishop D. Marcelino José da Silva in 1726. It previously housed orphan girls.
Unfortunately, a huge fire burnt down part of the structure in 1824. Although convents ceased existing in 1835, Santa Clara survived. The convent underwent some management shifts, including nuns from the Congregation of the Mission of S. Vicente de Paulo in 1848. In 1852, the Santa Clara convent was converted into a hospital that operated for 12 consecutive years.
Also read: Lesser Known Historical Stories of Macau
Some documents address the building as “convent” and others, as “monastery”, both pointing to a place where members of the clergy lived. The different building within the surrounded areas served different purposes; while the monastery housed the confined sisters, another building fitted Santa Rosa de Lima school, created sometime during the 1870s. D. Teresa da Anunciação Denemberg was one of the school’s first directors, famed for her knowledge and teaching methods. In 1883, the then extinct convent’s assets were passed on to Santa Rosa de Lima.
The Charity Canossian Daughters–Canossian sisters–managed the school up until the start of the 20th century, later passed on to a group of missionary Franciscan sisters who arrived in Macau in 1903. That same year, bishop D. João Paulino de Azevedo e Castro handed over the Portuguese section of Santa Rosa de Lima’s management to the sisters. This bishop arrived in Macau on June 4, 1903, and was quite an active person in the city. He not only brought theologian seminarist, José da Costa Nunes–there’s a local kindergarten named after him–with him, but also founded the Macau Diocese’s Ecclesiastic Bulletin.
However, the decision–in 1910–to ban every religious order from Macau had a major impact on the life of this school and the Franciscan missionaries. They had to leave, thus setting up in school in Shiu Hing, China. It was only in 1932 that these sisters returned–at the request of the then bishop D. José da Costa Nunes–and kept managing the Portuguese section, also inaugurating an English section.
Much needed expansion
It was only in 1933 that Chinese schooling was added, with all three sections–Portuguese, English, and Chinese–operating in the same building area until 1975. The Portuguese section operated in the main building right up the stairs and the old convent also conceded part of its building to the school, which needed several improvements. Besides primary and middle school, Santa Rosa de Lima also had a program on Domestic Economy, eagerly received by many Macanese young women, and young girls from Portugal.
As more and more students enrolled, the school needed more capacity and created a new hub right in Dr. Rodrigo Rodrigues Avenue, a bit further from Hotel Lisboa. Santa Rosa de Lima was a very popular school amongst Portuguese expats throughout the 1960s all the way into the 1980s. Everyone who’s lived in Macau long enough recognizes the cute white and blue school uniforms with a silver emblem on the front. Both buildings have been revamped over time to make improvements for the students’ well-being. Due to the transfer of sovereignty in 1993, this marks the last year Santa Rosa de Lima offered education in Portuguese.
Santa Rosa de Lima 367 Av. Dr.Rodrigo Rodrigues, Macau, +853 2857 3619, www.srleng.edu.mo