When the Church of the Good Shepherd was built in 1847, its congregation moved from the small French Mission chapel on Bras Basah Road into the new church.
Colloquially known as Greja Franchis (French Church), the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd is the oldest Roman Catholic church in Singapore and the seat of Archbishop William Goh. Having been established in 1832 by missionaries from the Société des Missions étrangères de Paris (MEP), services were first held in the house of Denis Lesley McSwiney until 1833 when a modest wooden chapel on the site of the former Saint Joseph’s Institution (SJI) along Bras Basah Road was completed. As years passed, the chapel became too small for the growing congregation and the cornerstone of the present church was laid on 18th June 1843, on the feast of Corpus Christi.
On 6th June 1847, in the presence of more than 1,000 people, the completed church designed by McSwiney was blessed and opened by Father Jean-Marie Beurel who had for the completion of the church, labored tirelessly and traveled to as far as the Philippines and China to raise funds.
In 1888, the church was elevated to the status of cathedral when the Diocese of Malacca was revived. However, the consecration ceremony was performed only on 14th February 1897 by Bishop René Fée when the Cathedral had finally repaid its debts incurred from the extension of the nave in the late 1880s.
MOTHER CHURCH OF THE ARCHDIOCESE AND A NATIONAL MONUMENT OF SINGAPORE
The Cathedral’s architecture is reminiscent of two famous London churches – Saint Paul’s, Covent Garden and Saint Martin-in-the-Fields. Its neo-Palladian porticoes and steeple are its most prominent features. Within its interior, 14 large oil paintings of the Way of the Cross blessed in 1907 adorn the walls of the nave while the gallery houses Singapore’s oldest pipe organ, a Bevington and Son instrument blessed by Bishop Emile Barillon in 1912.
Three bishops were interred in the Cathedral: Bishop Edouard Gasnier, the first bishop of the revived Diocese of Malacca; Archbishop Michael Olçomendy, the first Archbishop of Singapore; and Archbishop Gregory Yong, the second Archbishop of Singapore.
As mother church, the Cathedral has been host to numerous important events in the history of the Archdiocese. These include the 1948 visit of Francis Cardinal Spellman and Venerable Fulton Sheen, and Archbishop Olçomendy’s investiture with the pallium by the Apostolic Delegate to Malaya, Archbishop Martin Lucas in 1954. The Cathedral was also where Archbishop Emeritus Nicholas Chia was ordained as a priest in 1964 along with Father Robert Balhetchet, Rector of the Cathedral from 1979 to 2001. In 2006, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Singapore, and the 20th anniversary of the pastoral visit of Pope John Paul II to Singapore, a statue of the Saint in the grounds of the Cathedral was unveiled and blessed by Renato Cardinal Martino.
Priests of the Cathedral were instrumental in the development of churches, schools and other services within the Archdiocese and official records as well as personal anecdotes relate of their selfless spirit. Father Beurel was responsible for the founding of SJI as well as the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ). Father Charles Nain, a trained architect was responsible for designing the curved wings and dome of the former SJI, the neo-Gothic chapel at the former CHIJ, the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Cathedral’s rectory. Father Henri Rivet established the Singapore Catholic Club in 1900 as a social and recreation venue for Catholics. In 1923, Father Pierre Raudel built the Cathedral’s outstation chapel in Katong dedicated to the Holy Family and in 1953, Father Michel Bonamy completed the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Prior to the fall of Singapore to the Japanese in 1942, the Cathedral was used as a place of refuge and an emergency hospital. During the Japanese Occupation, Father Bonamy was witnessed to have braved the wrath of Japanese soldiers by pleading with them to spare a Chinese boy from being killed.
For its social, historic, cultural and architectural significance, the Cathedral was gazetted as a national monument on 6th July 1973 and continues into the future to be a centre for peace and refuge from the buzz of the city. As mother church of the Archdiocese as well as a national monument, the Cathedral belongs to all Catholics as well as all Singaporeans.
On 27th October 2013, the Cathedral held its last Mass before closing to embark on comprehensive restoration and redevelopment works headed by Father Adrian Anthony to address structural defects and upgrade its facilities.
A new basement chapel and crypt will be built. On the site of the old outhouse, a new 3-storey building will house a function hall, a café, prayer rooms as well as a heritage gallery. Works are expected to be completed by the first half of 2016.