Church of St Alphonsus (Novena Church)
300 Thomson Road, Singapore 307653
The first mass at 300 Thomson Road was celebrated on 31st July 1948 in a chapel converted from one of the rooms in the house.
By Jerome Pang
Intrinsically tied to the coming of the Redemptorists, Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (C.Ss.R) back in 1935, is the establishment of the Church of St Alphonsus. Although dedicated to St Alphonsus, the church came to be better known among locals as Novena Church. In fact, Father Paul Pang, one-time Rector of the Church, was known to have commented that if one were to “ask any driver where Novena Church is and they will know. Ask then where the Church of St Alphonsus is, and they will just blink at you.”
The humble beginnings of the Church started at 339 Thomson Road, the site now occupied by Thomson Medical Centre which was the Redemptorists’ home base until 15th February 1942 when Singapore surrendered to the Japanese and the house was abandoned. After the war, the Redemptorists moved into rented premises at 418 Thomson Road. However, the place was far from being habitable, being plagued by leaking roofs, white ants infection and not to mention the occasional burglar!
Interestingly during a visit to Singapore, Father Provincial Cullen had remarked to the local Redemptorists that the larger buildings at 300 Thomson Road would fit their needs better! Many prayers were lifted to heaven for a new home.
The powers of prayers worked so well that the property, originally owned by a Chinese towkay, was one day put up ‘For Sale’. With only a very short time to react, after receiving his rector’s approval, Father Moran signed the necessary documents and had the lawyer personally deliver the papers to the housing agent’s office that very night before the dateline was up! 300 Thomson Road was thus secured for the Redemptorists! The first mass at 300 Thomson Road was celebrated on 31st July 1948 in a chapel converted from one of the rooms in the house.
A year later in January, the first Novena devotions were started in the chapel with only 100 people in attendance. The growth of the Novena began so ordinarily that there was little record of the actual start in the Redemptorist’s archives, save for the simple records that the perpetual novena was gaining strength in numbers.
The temporary chapel was quickly discovered to be insufficient to contain the growing number of people drawn to Our Lady’s Novena. Realising this, under the direction of Father Minister Moran, in January 1950, construction work began for a proper church building. On 14th May 1950, Archbishop Michael Olçomendy blessed the building making it a very happy day for the confreres and devoted helpers. The first mass in the church was celebrated on 28th May 1950.
In 1952, new confessionals were added and in 1955, sixty feet were added to the nave extending the entrance outwards with the iconic three arches and stained glass of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. The arches symbolise the three great places in salvation history, namely Mount Tabor, the site of the Transfiguration of Jesus, Mount Sinai where the tablets of the 10 Commandments were given to Moses and Mount Calvary, the site of the Crucifixion of Jesus. In 1959, the side porticos were added on both sides and in 1964, the front walk way and bell tower were added.
As the devotees to the Novena grew, a second session was added by the end of 1951. This increased to eight sessions in 1957 and to ten sessions in 1963.
This article was provided by Jerome Pang, Archivist of the Redemptorist Archives in Singapore.