Back then, St Anne’s Church was very much a ‘kampong church’ and considered as one of the biggest buildings in the vicinity.
In February 1961, a piece of land adjacent to the former Meng Teck School (currently St Joseph’s Convent) and located at the 9th milestone, was acquired and Father Hippolyte Berthold was credited with building St Anne’s Church in Ponggol. It was intended to serve the growing Catholics in the area who were mainly engaged in farming and small scale fishing, and were mostly Teochew-speaking.
The Church was completed on 26th July 1963, St Anne’s feast day, when Archbishop Olçomendy blessed and declared the Church open for worship. Father John Yu was the first Parish priest and he served till 1968 when he was posted back to the Archdiocese of Malacca-Johor. Back then, St Anne’s Church was very much a ‘kampong church’ and considered as one of the biggest buildings in the vicinity. Interestingly, during the elections campaign in 1965, Father John Yu recalled that members of the People’s Action Party had approached the Church during their campaign in Ponggol to allow Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the Prime Minister of Singapore, to sleep for an hour at the parish house!
In the 1970s, the entire area was cleared of farming and animal husbandry and the Church population dwindled to around 300. Father Berthold was said to have remarked that “we have more pigs then men”, and there were even plans made to close down the Church.
Thankfully, the blueprints for Sengkang and Ponggol new towns were released and St Anne’s Church was seated right in the centre of the new town. Meng Teck School was closed down some time in the 1980s and the empty school was initially used for youth camps and later as a hostel for visiting Malaysians who were in Singapore for the Pope’s visit in 1987. Eventually, the Gift of Love home under the Missionary of Charity occupied the old school. Many older parishioners also recalled the lovely orchid garden that was first started by Father Berthold in the back grounds of the Church.
In 1998, St Anne’s Church had only one mass on Sundays at 8am compared to the four Sunday masses plus one Sunset Mass on Saturdays which commenced in the year 2004. It was with foresight that Ponggol would develop such that the Church, under Father John Lau’s leadership, set themselves to renovate the church and the parish house into what it is today. The scenario is very different now with St Anne’s being one of the fastest growing Parishes in the Archdiocese with Father Francis Lee as parish priest.
This article was extracted from and edited for brevity from the publication, St Anne’s Church 50th Anniversary Book. (2013). Singapore: St Anne’s Church.