The arrival of the MEP Fathers is synonymous with the official establishment of the Church in Singapore. Although there had been Catholics before the arrival of the MEP, they were not known to be mission-oriented, and no priest lived on the island among the people.
The missionary priests of the MEP spread Catholicism through Asia as far back as the 17th century, and were one of the first religious groups to reside in Singapore after Raffles claimed the island for the British. Set up for the Church’s specific need to re-evangelise the lands under the Padroado, the MEP had just three mission objectives: adapt to local customs, establish a native clergy and keep close contact with Rome. The first MEP priest to reside in Singapore, Father Etienne Albrand, started the evangelical work of the Church in 1833 from a humble chapel comprising of four walls and a few planks for an altar. Since Father Albrand could not speak Chinese, he worked closely with a Chinese catechist who was a physician by trade and had been converted in the Penang mission in 1829. He took pastoral care of other non-Chinese communities such as the existing Catholics who had lapsed in their faith. He also saw to the needs of new Christian arrivals and solemnized marriages.
In 1839, after Father Albrand left Singapore, Monsignor Courvezy arrived with three others—Fathers J.P. Galy, J.M. Beurel and John Tschu. The latter two Fathers became most indispensable to the local Mission.
Father Beurel fought hard to bring the Infant Jesus Sisters and the Brothers of the Christian Schools to Singapore, and succeeded in providing local Catholics with English-medium Catholic schools whereas they would previously have gone to English schools of other denominations. He was also a shrewd businessman who purchased land for the Mission in Singapore that continues to be owned by the Church today.
Father Tschu was put in charge of the Chinese Mission, which flourished under his care. By 1845, his congregation had grown so large that they had to erect a new house within the Mission ground for the instruction of new catechumens.
As the Catholic population in Singapore grew in the second half of the 19th century, the MEP priests built new churches such as St Joseph Church at Bukit Timah, Our Lady of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sts Peter and Paul, Our Lady of Lourdes and Church of the Sacred Heart.
After World War Two had ended, MEP Father Michael Olcomendy was consecrated Bishop of Malacca-Singapore at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. His predecessor, Bishop A. Devals had passed away during the war. 6 years after in 1953, Singapore received 20 MEP missionaries who had been expelled from Communist China. They too brought about a new aspect of growth to the diocese.
Over the years, the MEP Fathers have worked to build the local Church in the Malayan peninsula. Singapore is now an Archdiocese with its own local bishop and clergy.
Liew, C. (1994). The Roman Catholic Church of Singapore 1819- 1910: From Mission to Church (Unpublished Honours thesis). National University of Singapore: Singapore.
Magnificent founders of Singapore. (2007, February). Retrieved from http://catholicnews.sg/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1849:magnificent-founders-of-singapore-church&catid=111:february-2007&Itemid=79
All images in this article have been reproduced with the kind permission of Fr Rene Nicolas, MEP.