So it was with great rejoicing when the whole Mandai Catholic community celebrated the official blessing and opening of the new Church of St Anthony on 18th December 1960 by Archbishop Michael Olçomendy.
The Church of St Anthony started because of an intense persecution of Chinese Catholics deep in the heart of China’s Swatow province. In 1927, political unrest had spread across China. Many Catholics were forced to flee their villages with only the little that they could carry on their backs, for to remain would surely mean death. Villages like Hui Lai and Pegney tried to fight back, but soon found themselves on the losing end. Help was sought from the Bishop of Swatow, who found them refuge in Singapore.
Thus began the long journey south, with the villagers finally arriving in Singapore on 1st March 1927. With no money, the villages were not able to buy or rent any land. Father Stephen Lee, who was placed in charge of these displaced Catholics, appealed to the Government for a piece of land for the villagers. Some 49 applications later, a piece of hilly land and wild jungles in the heart of the Mandai forest became the refugees’ new home. This commune came to be known as the Catholic Village. Later in recognition of Father Lee’s efforts, the main road was named Stephen Lee Road by the Government.
To attend mass, the Catholic villagers had to commute to and from St Joseph’s chapel in Tek Ko Hill (Bukit Timah) via Sar Kak Eng (Woodlands). The half day journey made on foot and bus meant that a lot of time was spent travelling. A wooden chapel was later built for villagers to worship. It was dedicated by Father Stephen Lee, and came to be known as the Chapel of St Anthony after St Anthony of Padua.
Eventually, in 1957, with the increasing Catholic population in Mandai, Father Joachim Teng from St Joseph’s Church took on the onerous task of fundraising and building a new Church to replace the chapel.
So it was with great rejoicing when the whole Mandai Catholic community celebrated the official blessing and opening of the new Church of St Anthony on 18th December 1960 by Archbishop Michael Olçomendy. The Church continued being an outstation of St Joseph’s Church until 30th May 1965 when Father Rene Challet took up residence and became the Church’s first parish priest. As an outreach, mass was also celebrated every Sunday at the void deck of Block 6, Marsiling Drive till December 1982. Thereafter, buses were chartered to bring the Marsiling Catholics to Church.
Soon the church grew in strength, leading to the formation of a pastoral committee that would later pave the way for a future parish council in August 1985. Important changes also took place in the church, like opening up the priests’ residence to be a place for people to gather, and even building recreational facilities like a basketball court and a car park, to help parishioners treat the Church as their second home.
Just as the parish was getting settled in its ways, a notice of resettlement was issued to the Church and the people of Mandai in 1986. After an appeal was made, a good site at 25 Woodlands Avenue 1 was secured. The new Woodland Church was officially blessed and opened by Archbishop Gregory Yong on 23rd April 1994. Now able to sit 2,000 at one sitting, the Church of St Anthony is blest by how the first small farming Catholic community has grown to some 4,500 parishioners over the years, with Father Terence Pereira as its parish priest since 2002.
This was extracted and edited for brevity from the History of Church of St Anthony. The full article is located at http://www.saint-anthony.org/About/ParishHistory.aspx,.