Archbishop Emeritus Nicholas Chia was born on 8 April 1938 to a Catholic family in Singapore. His family lived in an attap house, where he described life as “simple but happy”. He studied at Holy Innocents’ English School. During upper secondary, he ‘’felt drawn to the Priesthood’’, where he felt the desire to know more about vocations.
He was ordained a Priest on 26 January 1964, together with Fr Robert Balhetchet and Fr Aloysius Doraisamy, in the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, after which he began his ministry in the Church of Saints Peter and Paul. There, he preached in English and Teochew, and was placed in charge of the Altar Boys, choir and Legion of Mary. In 1966, he went to Kuala Lumpur to study Mandarin, before returning to Singapore where he served in the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. He spent two and a half years there before heading to Rome for his further studies, in 1969.
During his studies in Rome, he studied moral theology and obtained his Masters in Theology, and studied Comparative Religions. Upon his return to Singapore in 1973, he was posted to teach at the Penang College General, where he spent five years. After his return to Singapore, he served as director of the Singapore Pastoral Institute (SPI) from 1978 to 1990. In 1980, he began his tenure as Parish Priest of the newly-built Church of the Holy Cross. Concurrently, he served as chaplain to the Catholic Students’ Society of the National University of Singapore for ten years. In 1995, he served the Archdiocese as the Chancellor and Procurator.
In 2001, he succeeded Archbishop Gregory Yong as Archbishop of Singapore. The Episcopal Ordination took place on 7 October 2001 in the Singapore Indoor Stadium. Attending the Ordination where then-President of Singapore Mr S.R. Nathan, dignitaries, bishops, priests, Catholics and representatives of other religious groups. With his ordination, he became the first Singapore-born Archbishop of Singapore.
Archbishop Chia worked on the promotion of priestly vocations. The Archdiocesan Vocation Team was appointed by him to study this decline. On 10 February 2006, he inaugurated the Serra Club of Singapore, with the aim of promoting vocations to the Priesthood and Consecrated life. In the same year, the Serra Club published Archbishop’s Chia’s reflections on his journey to the Priesthood and as a priest. In this publication, he also emphasised on the importance of priestly vocations.
During his term, Archbishop Chia introduced different Parish structures for the local Parishes to undertake. The Parish Pastoral Council was introduced, as an organisation consisting of members of the Parish tasked to serve for two years. Some members of this group would also form the parish executive committee.
Archbishop Chia also recognised the importance of spirituality for Catholics. In an interview prior to becoming Archbishop, he expressed the need to increase the spirituality of priests to help them overcome materialism. He also “officiated” at the establishment of the Catholic Spirituality Centre, which was tasked to help the laity and members of church organisations grow in their Catholic spirituality. A Youth Centre, responsible for the formation of youth, was also opened. Through a letter read at all churches, he urged parents to enrol their children in Catholic schools.
On reaching the age of 75 in 2013, Archbishop Chia was succeeded by Msgr William Goh on 18 May 2013. After his retirement, he took up residence at the Catholic Spirituality Centre. On 26 January 2014, he celebrated his Golden Jubilee as a priest, with a Mass celebrated at the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a dinner thereafter.
On 18 February 2014, Archbishop Emeritus Chia suffered a fall and was admitted to the intensive care unit of Mount Alvernia Hospital. After a period of recovery, he was transferred to St Theresa’s Home where he continued to recover and receive necessary care. Since then, he has continued to attend some key events in the Archdiocese, such as the Catholic Church’s celebration of Singapore’s Golden Jubilee on 4 July 2015 and Dedication Mass of the Church of the Transfiguration on 6 August 2017.
On 7 April 2018, a celebration was held for Archbishop Emeritus Chia’s 80th birthday, with a Thanksgiving Mass celebrated at the Church of the Holy Cross.