The Church of Our Lady of Lourdes was built in 1888 along Ophir Road, Singapore, to commemorate the apparition of the Virgin Mary to St Bernadette in Lourdes, France. It was modelled after the Basilica at Lourdes and therefore has distinctive Gothic architectural features like pointed arches, buttresses and spires.
From 1825 to 1860, Singapore functioned as a penal colony for Indians. With the jail being located around Bras Basah Road, Indian prison employees and suppliers serving the Indian jails lived around the area, such as the dhoby or laundry service which was mainly done by Indians. As Singapore population increased, it also drove up the demand for Indian workers needed for public work developments. When the Bras Basah jail closed down, many of the former jail employees and suppliers chose to stay on in Singapore but turned to being cattle farmers and milk suppliers, living and working in the Serangoon area. From these areas, the Tamil-speaking Catholics would initially go to the Cathedral for mass and later to Sts Peter and Paul when it was built. However the Tamil-speaking community started to feel left out, especially after Father Pierre Paris, parish priest of Sts Peter and Paul and a fluent Tamil-speaking Frenchman, died.
Upon Bishop Gasnier’s instructions, Father Joachim Alexander Marie Meneuvrier, the first missionary sent to Singapore to be exclusively in charge of the spiritual welfare of the colony’s Catholic Indians, was tasked to build a church for his charges. After two unsuccessful applications, he eventually obtained a piece of land located at the bend of the Rochor River, which had become a muddy swamp, after the river had been straightened out into a canal. This low-lying swamp will necessitate many months and hundreds of bullock-carts of earth and demolition material to carry out an extensive land-fill that would level up the ground. The foundation stone was blessed by Bishop Edouard Grasnier on 1st August 1886.
The Church of Our Lady of Lourdes was completed and blessed on 13th May 1888 along Ophir Road, Singapore, to commemorate the apparition of the Virgin Mary to St Bernadette in Lourdes, France. It was modelled after the Basilica at Lourdes and therefore has the distinctive Gothic architectural features like pointed arches, buttresses and spires.
In a letter dated 24 May 1888, Bishop Grasnier expressed his joy over the building of Our Lady’s church. He said, “seeing the attendance made up of people from all races and nations, I couldn’t help emphasizing the catholicity of the Church. Everyone, Catholics, Protestants and non-Christians had contributed to the building of this sanctuary to Mary. The Catholic Mission and the Indians have also given their share. All were happy to contemplate the reproduction of the Massabielle shrine, the Virgin in the grotto and Bernadette kneeling in front of the Immaculate Conception…”
The Church thus focused on looking after the spiritual needs of Singapore’s Catholic Tamil migrants who had settled around the areas of Serangoon Road and Farrer Park along with the wider Indian community. It also looked after the spiritual welfare of Catholic Indians in South Johor, Malaya.
Singapore’s city areas were heavily bombed during World War II in 1942 and two bombs fell within the church’s premises. They damaged the parish school and the presbytery to the left and right of the church, respectively, but the main church building itself was left intact. Under the Japanese Occupation (1942 – 1945), however, the church was used as the Japanese Army’s headquarters.
In 1974, under the direction of the Roman Catholic Church authorities in Singapore, the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes changed its focus from ministering to the Catholic Indian community to ministering to all Catholics in Singapore, especially those living in the areas surrounding Ophir Road. This was a change because parishes used to be determined by ethnic or language groups rather than territorially.
The church was renovated in 1987. It has a grotto with statues depicting Our Lady’s appearance to St Bernadette and stained glass windows depicting the fifteen mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary.
Church of Our Lady of Lourdes Singapore: Centenary Souvenir (1888 – 1988). (1988). Singapore: Church of Our Lady of Lourdes.