An approachable priest who cared for his flock – that is how former parishioners and those who knew the late Fr Joseph Tan remember him.
Fr Tan returned to the Lord on Aug 27 after a battle with cancer, a few weeks shy of his 65th birthday. His funeral was scheduled for Aug 30.
Fr Tan was ordained in 1973 and served as assistant priest and parish priest at Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour (1973-1981).
He was subsequently parish priest of Church of St Bernadette (1983-1996), Church of the Holy Spirit (1996-2005), and Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary from 2005 until the time he stepped down due to ill health.
His interests were in family life; Marriage Encounter, where he was spiritual director; Neighbourhood Christian Communities; and the St Mary of the Cross cancer support group which he helped found in April 2010.
He had also served in the Senate of Priests and Lay Apostolate Commission, and was chaplain to the Joyful Van-guard.
Fr Peter Zhang, CDD, who had worked with Fr Tan at the Church of the Holy Spirit, said Fr Tan was “an approachable priest who got on well with parishioners of all ages”.
He truly had the “character of a diocesan priest”, a “priest for all seasons”, he said.
Fr Tan was like a father figure to him, said Fr Zhang, adding that the late priest would often take him along when visiting parishioners.
FMDM Sr Eucharia Tan, Fr Tan’s sister, who cared for him during his illness, said her brother was very upbeat and lucid right to the end.
He even celebrated his birthday in advance with members and friends from the cancer support group, she said.
She recalled that he prayed the Stations of the Cross and the rosary during the last moments of his life.
His friends from the cancer support group, comprising patients, cancer survivors and caregivers, spoke of how Fr Tan had been an inspiration to them.
Ms Veronica Kok described Fr Tan as a brave “fighter”, and even though he was at times sick and breathless, he would still attend group meetings.
Ms Rosa Lim, another member, recalled that despite his ill health, Fr Tan conducted a Lenten retreat for the group last year.
“Fr Joe knew first hand the pain and discomforts of cancer patients; and all the side effects ... that come with chemotherapy treatments,” she said.
“He also understood the heavy load of worries and anxieties of caregivers ... He felt it was important to share experiences, journey together.”
She added, “I think he fought the biggest fight of his life in the last two months.”
His former parishioners also described how Fr Tan touched their lives.
Ms Sue Tan from Church of St Bernadette said Fr Joe was the first priest she knew.
“I probably wouldn’t be Catholic today if not for him because he was such an important role model when I was growing up,” she shared.
“He was such a good man, a good priest, and when I had questions about my faith, knowing that someone that good was a priest helped keep my faith strong,” she said.
Madam Cheryl Goh, from Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, said that Fr Tan was a “great priest and approachable”, and recalled his persistence in inviting her to a Parish Renewal Experience.
Ms Joan D’Cotta, a Holy Spirit parishioner, said Fr Tan brought the old church building “into the 21st century”.
The former building, with its limited capacity, was getting overcrowded, and Fr Tan was instrumental in building the current church, she said.
He was “simple, pastoral and fatherly”, and always concerned about parishioners’ lives, she said.
By Darren Boon