The first mass was celebrated in St Michael’s on 1st October 1961, with Father John Lei as parish priest.
Up to 1950, there were about 40 to 50 Eurasian families in St Michael’s estate who were mostly Catholic, with a smattering of Chinese and Indian families. The Catholics’ spiritual needs were looked after by the priests from the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, like Father Bonamy who would cycle from the Cathedral to the homes of the people and celebrate mass there.
By mid-1950s, it was realised that there was no place of worship for Catholics between town and Paya Lebar. This led the Archdiocese to buy a large two-storey bungalow on 17 St Michael’s Road. It was on this plot of land that was to become the future Church of St Michael, with the name of the church taking its name from the street where it was sited. The first mass was celebrated in St Michael’s on 1st October 1961, with Father John Lei as parish priest. With no church bells, a taped recording of bells of another church would be played whenever there was a service. According to Monsignor Francis Lau, St Michael’s was the first church that was set up to serve a specific area rather than a particular language or racial group which was a common practice up till then.
The old house was only a temporary solution. A church and a parish house had to be built and basic parish services set up. So during the construction, mass was held in a temporary attap shed instead.
By 19th December 1964, the new single-storey Church and the parish house were completed and blessed by Archbishop Michael Olçomendy. The population grew steadily, especially with flats being built in nearby Whampoa and Jalan Bahagia.
However, when the Church of the Risen Christ was opened in 1971, many found that it was faster to get to Toa Payoh instead. So the church population in St Michael’s declined.
At the same time, after twenty years of existence, the church was in bad need of repairs. The floors were cracking and the poor foundation of the church building was causing it to sink. After some hard deliberation, a decision was made to rebuild the church in 1991; a task that fell on the shoulders of Father Vincent Lee. Mass was conducted al fresco style under a tent dubbed “Holy Tent” by its loving parishioners. Two years later, the new church was completed and opened with a basement columbarium.
More than the physical infrastructure of the church was the need to boost up the parish life of the community. By late 1990s, the parish embarked on a “new way of being Church” under Father Michael Arro MEP, as its parish priest. Parish Assembly and District neighbourhood groups were formed. Mass with healing services took place twice a month and Life in the Spirit Seminars were run annually. It was also in St Michael’s Church that Father Andy Altamirano CICM, set up the Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ACMI).
In 2011, the Church of St Michael celebrated its 50th Anniversary by having a Parish Mission conducted by the Redemptorist Mission Team. For over more than half a century, the Church of St Michael has occupied several physical structures, including an attap shed and a tarpaulin tent. But in spirit, it remains a warm and welcoming bungalow with parish priest Father Peter Tan as its present shepherd.
Faith, Hope, Charity: Church of St Michael 40th Anniversary. (2001). Singapore: Church of St Michael.
Church of St Michael: Golden Jubilee 1961-2011. (2011). Singapore: Church of St Michael.