Our History

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As a strategic trading hub even before the 19th century, the first Catholics in Singapore came from other mission lands in Asia, including Portuguese Malacca.
We begin our story against the backdrop of two missionary giants, the Padroado from the Iberian powers and Propaganda Fidei from Rome. Trace the development of the Church through the years as it reaches out to various communities in need of healthcare, education, social welfare, and God.
Read more about each section by clicking on the timeframes below.

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Trace the footsteps of our founding Fathers as the Church grows from Mission to Church. Peek into the diary of an adventurous French priest in the humid jungles of Bukit Timah, or read about the fearsome Chinese secret societies who persecuted the early Christians and how the Church first nurtured the family unit in an immigrant society.


The First Catholic Chapel in Singapore


Father Jean-Marie Beurel, MEP Arrives in Singapore


Chapel of St Joseph in Kranji is Built


The Church of the Good Shepherd was Blessed and Opened


Persecution of Chinese Christian Converts


Building of a Small Church, São José


Establishing an English-Medium Mission School for Boys


Church of St Joseph is Built at Bukit Timah


The IJ Sisters Open the First English-Medium Catholic School for Girls


Church of Sts Peter and Paul is Built


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The Great Padroado-Propaganda Divide
1832

The Great Padroado-Propaganda Divide

Pre-19th Century – 1832
What happened when people believed the world was flat? Find out how Singapore found itself in an epic missionary tug-of-war culminating in a triple-excommunication in 1832.

Pre 19th Century
1493

Pope Alexander VI Divided the Newly Discovered World for Missionary Activities

In 1493, Pope Alexander VI divided the newly discovered world for missionary activities. The Holy See’s arrangement with Portugal was known as the Padroado. An extension of the Padroado eventually found its way to Singapore and was known as the Portuguese mission.


Image: Ortelius World Map 1570

 

1622

1622: Propaganda Fide

The Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Latin: Congregatio de Propaganda Fide or "congregation for propagating the faith") was a group of cardinals in Rome, in charge of Roman Catholic missions. Set up in 1622, as one of the reformations after the Council of Trent, the congregation (“Propaganda” for short) sent priests and bishops to minister to lands that had not been properly cared for under the Padroado. One of these missions which originated in France also found its way to Singapore; it was known as the Missions étrangères de Paris (MEP).


Image & Credit: Crest of Propaganda Fide by By Lalupa via Wikimedia Commons

1824- 1832

The Padroado- Propaganda Divide in the 19th Century

It was on the tiny island of Singapore more than 300 years after Pope Alexander VI’s decree that the Padroado and Propaganda missions found themselves in disagreement and a three-way excommunication. This was known as the Padroado- Propaganda divide.


Image: Chinese Junk in Singapore

1821

Fr Laurent Imbert's visit to Singapore

During his time as a replacement teacher in the College General (Penang), April 1821 to January 1822, the young Father Laurent Imbert was asked to make a visit to the island of Singapore. Mgr Esprit-Marie-Joseph Florens, the Vicar Apostolic of Siam, had been wondering whether to open a mission station in Singapore, but knew nothing of the circumstances there. Fr Imbert reached Singapore in December 1821, and spent about a week here. He wrote a report to Mgr Florens, about the pitiful state of the Catholics on the island.

1822

First visit from the Portuguese Mission

Fr Jacob Joachim Freire Brumber was dispatched from the Portuguese Mission in Malacca, to visit Catholics in Singapore, some of whom may have been part of his congregation in Malacca and worked in Singapore. He ended his visits in 1824.

1824

Catholics in Singapore continue to ask for a pastor

After Fr Jacob from Malacca stopped visiting in 1824, three Catholics had written to Mgr Florens in Siam, asking for another priest. The Bishop rejected them due to a lack of priests and the uncertainty of jurisdiction, seeing as there seemed to be already a Portuguese mission. In the meantime, Mgr Florens wrote to Rome seeking clarification on jurisdiction.

1825

Fr Maia of the Portuguese declares Jurisdiction

In 1825, a priest from Macao (Portuguese diocese), Fr Francisco da Silva Pinto a Maia, arrived and declared himself the pastor of the local Church. Fr Maia held masses at Beach Road, in the house of a prominent merchant in Singapore– Dr Jose d’ Almeida.


 

22 Sept 1827

Singapore given to the MEP Mission in Siam

Pope Leo XII issued a decree giving the MEP mission of Siam jurisdiction over Singapore. However because of a severe manpower shortage, it was only in 1830 that Mgr Florens sent his coadjutor, Mgr Barthelemy Bruguiere, to inform Fr Maia of the Papal decree of 1827.

As the document was not countersigned by the Queen of Portugal, Mgr Bruguiere was flatly rejected and later excommunicated by the self-declared vicar of Christians in Singapore– Fr Maia.

1832

A Three-way Excommunication

When Mgr Bruguiere returned to Singapore in August 1832, he had been excommunicated by Fr Maia of the Portuguese Mission. Celebrating Mass on 21 August 1832 in Singapore, he effectively crystallised the split between MEP and the Portuguese mission.

On top of this, a Spanish priest named Fr Anselmo Yegros arrived in late 1832 from Goa, claiming to be head of the Portuguese Mission, appointed as Vicar General of Singapore and the Riau Islands by the Chapter of Goa. He was excommunicated by Fr Maia as well. By celebrating masses consequently in three different locations, the ecclesiastical trio excommunicated one another.

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1832

Next: The Mission And First Catholic Converts

Trace the footsteps of our founding Fathers as the Church grows from Mission to Church.