Every time I attend mass at the Church of the Holy Spirit, I fondly remember two of the priests who played a big part in my late wife’s conversion from a Buddhist to a Roman Catholic.
Doris Lau, my beloved wife of 40 years who was called to the Lord on Maundy Thursday 17th April 2014 was as a teenager drawn to the Christian faith way back in the early 70s, even before I met her. As a student, Doris was curious about life and although her family were devout Buddhists, she was more inclined to learn about Christianity. Why was this so? She told me when were courting that she was inspired by Jesus, who even after having endured so much suffering and humiliation at when he was crucified on the Cross, was still able to forgive all those who had brutally tortured and killed him. Doris was thus drawn to seek more knowledge and insight. She then took up two correspondence courses on two chapters of the Bible, and with the help of Elizabeth Choong, a kind-hearted Christian colleague, she passed with flying colours.
Choong was an exceptional person, who not only imparted good Christian values in my wife, but more importantly, never discriminated against her severe mental disorder – schizophrenia; an illness which Doris tried so hard to cope with for 44 years. Choong was also supportive of our courtship, with me being a Eurasian, and Doris a Chinese. Mixed marriages were not a common thing during those days.
The attributes of care, compassion, and absence of prejudice towards Doris’ mental illness were virtuously displayed by the late Reverend Fathers Antoon Schotte and Louis Fossion, who were to be instrumental in her conversion to Catholicism.
One of Doris’ most treasured memories was of a beaming Father Schotte presenting her with a certificate for completing a Catechism course. Father Schotte with his white hair and well trimmed white beard was a soft spoken man of few words. But he had a very fatherly manner and friendly disposition which made Doris feel at home whenever she attended Catechism classes.
After getting our marriage registered at the Registry of Marriages, we had intended to have a church wedding, but Father Fossion, would not approve of a church wedding as my wife was still not yet converted, even though I myself was a born Catholic.
“No, no , you must both be Catholics before I can marry you in church, you understand Doris, Raymond ?” came the directive from this no-nonsense Belgian priest. As he puffed away on his cigar, Father Fossion put on his stern face and directed: “And I want you, Doris, to attend Catechism classes in my office every week, without fail.”
My wife followed Father Fossion’s directive and was very comfortable attending the classes because Father Foisson turned out to be rather jovial. His teachings would be peppered with jokes and he would take a dig at me whenever I played truant on Saturdays when we attended church service: “Last week, Raymond, you did not come for mass, huh? So now today, you have come with Doris, oh my goodness lah! I think it is going to rain tonight, ya.”
And by some strange coincidence, it DID rain!
After Doris completed all the Catechism classes, Father Fossion happily married us in a simple ceremony at the Church of the Holy Spirit. Two witnesses were there to lend support. In his traditional wacky and humorous style, Father Fossion made it a day to remember. In his trademark Singlish, he added after the vows were said: “Let me kiss the bride also, lah Raymond, ya.”
Father Fossion often went beyond the call of duty, giving a helping hand to the needy. He played a crucial role in assisting us to set up our first marital home in a 2-room HDB rental flat. Knowing that we were poor and I was trying to cope with a kidney ailment at the time, he took pains to source for second-hand furniture for our living room. He literally went the extra mile when he made three trips to deliver the furniture set to our flat in his faithful Volkswagen Beetle.
Our years together were filled with many ups and downs because of her schizophrenia. But I would still say my marriage to Doris was beautiful. It was because of the faith which Fathers Antoon Schotte and Louis Fossion had instilled, which enabled both of us to beat the odds.
Contributed by : Raymond Anthony Fernando