St Joseph’s Church in Victoria Street celebrated its centenary recently.
A 1,000-strong crowd attended the centennial Eucharistic celebration of St Joseph’s Church in Victoria Street on June 30.
Archbishop Nicholas Chia, apostolic nuncio Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, rector Fr Michael Teo, together with other priests, concelebrated the Mass at the historic church.
The first St Joseph’s Church building was officially blessed and opened in 1853. In 1906, this church was demolished to make way for a new building. In 1912, the present church was completed and blessed by the Bishop of Macau.
In his homily during the recent celebration, Archbishop Chia traced the roots of the former Portuguese-mission church, which was handed over to the Singapore archdiocese in 1981, and highlighted the milestones in the church’s history.
In his talk, he urged practising Catholics to take a proactive approach in encouraging lapsed Catholics to return to their faith.
Archbishop Chia also urged all Catholics to live their faith by practising it in their daily lives.
Towards the end of the Mass, Dr James Boss, chairperson of the Parish Pastoral Council, told the congregation that the Preservation of Monuments Board has granted the church $532,000 for the restoration of its stained glass windows. Work is expected to begin this month.
“We call the stained glass windows the jewel of St Joseph’s Church,” he said, adding that the designs “amount to more than 4,000 sq feet (370 sq m) which is the largest stained glass collection in Singapore”.
The church, which has had many Eurasian Catholics among its members, was gazetted as a national monument in 2005.
Members of the diplomatic corps were also present at the celebration. They included Mr Afonso Henriques de Azeredo Malheiro, Head of Mission of the Portuguese embassy; Timor Leste ambassador Roberto Sarmento de Oliveira Soares; and Singapore’s ambassador to the Holy See, Mr Barry Desker.
Copies of a book written by Dr Boss, titled The Portuguese Mission in Singapore (1825 – 1999) St Joseph’s Church, was presented to the crowd at the end of the Mass.
Grandpa donated bell
“One of the three bells in this church was donated by my maternal grandfather, Mr L L de Rosario,” said Mr Derek Scully, 52, who has been a warden since 18.
He shared that his uncles and father had also served as wardens.
The annual Good Friday procession has always been a big event for the church, he said, adding that until the 1970s the church doors would be opened till the next morning after the evening procession.
“This church was the mainstay of the Eurasian community for many years till the 1980s,” he recalled.
“Before that during the Portuguese mission, Eurasians attended Mass at this church no matter how far away they stayed,” he said.
“However, due to the dwindling number of Eurasians, fondly remembered traditions like the Christmas party – where church members celebrated on the church grounds with food, drinks and music – had stopped,” he added.
Mr Scully also recalled the kindness of the Canossian nuns who had their convent beside the church in the 1950s. “Back in those days, the nuns took in female babies and young girls who were abandoned by their families or left at the convent doorstep,” he said.
“The sash I’m wearing is over 60 years old and it was handsewn by the Canossian nuns,” said Mr Scully with a wide smile.
“My family for many generations had been a part of the Portuguese Mission,” said Singapore Ambassador to the Holy See, Mr Barry Desker, 65.
“I was baptised here, had my First Holy Communion, Confirmation and got married here”.
Mr Desker said the church holds many fond memories for him because of his family affiliations with the church which go back to the 19th century. “My family have always attended all major feast days or days of obligation at this church,” he said.
“I’m very pleased that the restoration of the stained glass is taking place soon and it will be preserved, because for many this church represents a history of the Catholic faith in Singapore.”
Good Friday procession
“I served in this church for about 45 years, and in the past 20 years as a lector. Prior to that I helped put together the weekly bulletin,” said Ms Teresa Ng.
“The most ... popular event in this church is the Good Friday procession which I can recall since the 1960s,” she shared. “The highlight of the event is the taking down of the life-size statue of our Lord on the cross.”
She recalled that in the 1960s, “my family and I were one of the few Chinese here. Nonetheless, we got on very amicably with the Eurasian community who made us feel welcome in church”.
Ms Ng also remembers a publication called The Rally, which was produced to promote the Catholic Young Men’s Association of the church.
“It was called The Rally so as to rally members into the association, promote the faith and encourage healthy recreation,” she said.
Ms Teresa Ng