In 1951, as Singapore recovered from the aftermath of World War II and the Japanese Occupation, the late Monsignor H. Berthold proposed the formation of a local chapter of the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SSVP). This was started at the parish of Sts Peter and Paul, with Mgr Berthold as Spiritual Director. The team grew as these members recruited more of their friends to join the society. Amongst the founders was the late Joseph Ee Peng Liang, who after being persuaded by Msgr Berthold, assumed the task of establishing the society and launched it on the feast of the Immaculate Conception on 8 December 1951. Following its formation, conferences were started in different parishes throughout the diocese.
The SSVP conferences throughout the diocese served the needy in Singapore in a variety of ways. For example, in Nativity Church, the members set up tuition classes for students who had dropped out of school and were too old for the regular schools. Almost all of their 60 students eventually qualified for enrolment in the government’s Adult Education Board Classes later on, and were able to acquire knowledge and skills suitable for employment. The SSVP in Nativity Church also organized a sports club to provide indoor and outdoor games such as badminton, soccer and taekwondo for boys and girls at a time when sports and extra-curricular activities were not deemed important by schools. A library was also set up supplying English and Mandarin reading materials for the many poor families who could not afford to buy story books and periodicals.
On 24 January 1955, the first Particular Council was formed to increase coordination between the conferences. There were 91 members and 2 honorary members in the society at that time, as well as two doctors who gave free medical attention to the FIN (Friends in Need) of the conferences. The creation of particular councils encouraged closer contact between conferences. In 1962, the twinning scheme was introduced, linking the 15 existing conferences with conferences in Ireland. Besides financial assistance from the Irish, the society had the chance to exchange views and support one another in prayer and mutual help. Later, the twinning was also made with conferences in Australia.
On 15 May 1961, the Superior Council of Singapore, which oversees and coordinates Vincentian activities, was formed and registered with the Registrar of Society as a charity. In March 1968, four Particular Councils were formed (North, South, East, and West). In October 1992, the Archbishop of Singapore decided to redefine the parochial boundaries and re-arranged the parishes into 5 districts. On 13 July 1994, The Society of St Vincent de Paul adopted the new arrangement and re-grouped the conferences into 5 Particular Councils (City, West, North, Serangoon, and East). SSVP currently has 29 conferences.
The information and photographs in this article have been provided courtesy of the Society of St Vincent de Paul, Singapore. More information about them can be accessed at http://www.ssvpsingapore.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=46&Itemid=62.