In October 1852, four French nuns arrived in Penang after having travelled overland from their native country in caravans. Reverand Mother Mathilde Raclot, leader of this group, was to become a key personality in the early history of the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus on Victoria Street.
From Penang, the nuns sailed to Singapore on a mission to build a Convent, which is now known as CHIJ Secondary Toa Payoh. On 5 February 1854, they reached the island's shores and took up residence at the first convent quarters, the now Caldwell House. The house had been purchased for the convent by Father Jean-Marie Beurel, a French missionary, who also established Saint Joseph's Institution, the former site of which is now the Singapore Art Museum, and the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, where he was the parish priest.
The nuns began taking in pupils only ten days after moving in. Reverend Mother Mathilde staffed her school with sisters from the parent Society, the Institute of the Charitable Schools of the Holy Infant Jesus of Saint Maur. She dedicated 20 years of her life turning the convent into a school, an orphanage and refuge for women. Two classes were conducted, one for fee-paying students and another for orphans and the poor.
The convent was closed after it held its last religious service on 3 November 1983. Careful restoration work has preserved much of the original structure of the convent and the chapel. After almost five and a half years of conservation and construction work, what was once the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus and the seat of education for generations of Singapore girls, has been converted into a plaza of theme retail and food and beverage outlets interspersed with ample outdoor spaces and courtyards, cloistered walls and long, covered walkways. This haven in the city hub of Singapore, is now known as CHIJMES.