By Jerome Pang
The Redemptorists arrived in Southeast Asia as early as 1910. The first Redemptorist, Father P. M. Lynch. came to the diocese of Malacca from the Philippines Islands. Other Australian fathers followed, by way of the Philippines, at various times, preaching missions and giving retreats to the clergy, religious communities and schools.
Bishop Adrien Devals, of the diocese of Malacca-Singapore, was so touched by their work that he wrote to the Redemptorist Provincial Father William Byrne in Australia, requesting for a new foundation to be set up in his diocese. In his letter dated 8th October 1934, Bishop Devals cited the good works of Redemptorist clergy seen from the administration and education returns of 1933. He assured the Provincial that the Redemptorists would not only not have to care for a parish, but that he would be responsible for finding them a suitable site for their residence and ministry. The Redemptorists were given two options, one in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and another in Singapore. Father Byrne, in consultation with one of his confreres Father F.J. Cosgrave, chose the latter. This was accepted by Father Patrick Murray, their Superior General in Rome.
It was thus that the first Redemptorist, Father Aloysius John Brennan, arrived on Singapore’s shores from Australia on 30th July 1935, on board the MS Gorgan. He was appointed the first superior, and along with his community: Fathers James Green, John Moran, Thomas Borthistle, Brothers Denis and Felix.
Their first home was in 339 Thomson Road (which is the current site of the Thomson Medical Centre) until World War Two broke out in Singapore in February 1942. The house was abandoned and some confreres were interned at Changi Prison. After the war, a house at 418 Thomson Road was rented opposite what is now known as the Old Police Academy. This however was a short-term arrangement until the present property at 300 Thomson Road was procured in 1948.
The first post-war Redemptorist mass was celebrated at 300 Thomson Road on July 31 1948. The first Novena devotions to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour was started by the Redemptorist Fathers in January 1949 with just a hundred people.
More than six decades later, the Novena attendance has multiplied by more than a hundred times to 15,000 people attending ten sessions of Novena, every Saturday from 9am to 7pm. The Redemptorists have also been in charge of the annual Procession celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.
Besides the Novena devotion and Procession on the Feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, the Redemptorists have also been involved in undertaking Parish Missions, making their way around to various parishes, two to three months at a time. In addition, the Redemptorist Fathers reached out to the youth with school missions and retreats, and catechetical instructions in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. To date, at least 120 people are received into the Catholic faith annually, most of whom can trace their conversion to their attendance of the Novena devotions.
Today the local Redemptorists carry on the ideals of the congregation founded by St Alphonsus, with 25 priests and brothers in Singapore and Ipoh, Malaysia.
This article was provided by Jerome Pang, Archivist of the Redemptorist Archives in Singapore.