On 8th December 1901, in front of a joyous crowd, Bishop Rene Fee blessed the new, beautiful and majestic edifice that was renamed the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In 1852, the rural areas by the sides of Serangoon River made up a district which was known by its Teochew moniker, Aukang, located 11 kilometres from town. Into this scene, stepped Father Ambroise Maistre MEP. Setting out to negotiate for the land in Aukang, Father Maistre’s persistence paid off when the British East India Company granted the land, which he wasted no time in building a church, a small presbytery, a school, a Catholic settlement and a cemetery. The Church was first named the Church of St Mary.
Not long afterwards, Father Pierre Paris MEP, was appointed to take over from Father Maistre.
By 1898, the Catholic population had grown so much due to the fervent zeal and reach of the various priests who were posted to serve the Church. It was time to build a larger church! Without further delay, the foundation stone was laid on 2nd August 1898 by Bishop Charles Bourdon. Architect-priest Father Charles P. Nain proceeded to design the church which was built in a Neo-gothic style.
Then on 8th December 1901, in front of a joyous crowd, Bishop Rene Fee blessed the new, beautiful and majestic edifice that was renamed the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
By 1920, Father Edouard Becheras took over as parish priest and under his charge, he established Holy Innocents’ English school (now known as Monfort school) and Holy Innocents’ (Chinese) Girls’ School. Father Becheras also formalised the St Joseph Dying Aid Association in 1926.
In 1933, the side transepts, the sanctuary and sacristy were added to the original church building, and thereby more than doubling the size of the original church.
During the Japanese Occupation years, parish priest Father Michael Seet kept the community together, and allowed the church building and St Francis Xavier Minor seminary across the road to become places of sanctuary where parishioners, especially young women, could hide from the Japanese.
However, after the war years were over, much of Aukang was left in poverty. So one of the first priorities of the church was to reunite the parish. Under Father Francis Chan’s stewardship, he started the Catholic Young Men’s Association and the Children of Mary Movement. It was also Father Chan who, through his friendship with the Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim, which led the Sultan to present Nativity Church with a marble statue of the Immaculate Conception of Mary that stands in front of the Church courtyard. Father Chan was later installed as Bishop of Penang. It was also during this period that Father Gregory Yong came to the parish as assistant priest for a short spell until he was sent off for studies in Rome.
With urbanisation and housing redevelopment in the late 1970s, land around the church was acquired by the government to build Hougang New Town, beginning with St Joseph’s Lane and Kok Nam Lane, both of which were mission land. Nativity Church, over time, became more multiracial and multilingual, as time went by. More new church ministries were formed to serve the Church, including to reach out to migrants.
On 14th January 2005, the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was gazetted as a National Monument of Singapore under the Preservation on Monuments Act (Cap 239).
Right through Nativity Church’s history, the church has continued to be a home where needs are met, talents appreciated and used for the betterment of all and where people continued to encounter God and His Kingdom here on earth.
160 years Magnifying the Lord: Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary 1852-2012