The Teochew Catholics of Aukang – A Catholic Convert

Angeline Yeo – Catholic convert

“I was born in 1942 and stayed at Upper Serangoon Road. My family had a provision shop directly opposite Nativity Church but I wasn’t a Catholic. We stayed at a house just behind the shop. In 1969, I converted because I got married to a Catholic. My Mother-in-law was very old fashioned and didn’t like marriages of mixed religion. I was a Buddhist before that, but we never really followed the religion. Also, I felt that it would be better if I just followed my husband’s religion. Moreover, I had to convert or else we couldn’t get married in Church. At that time, I did not want to go against the church rules, so I just followed my husband. My mother was insistent on Teochew family traditions, she asked for the typical 4 types of gold – usually a golden necklace with a pendant would consist of 2 things and then either a bracelet or anklet followed by a ring. My mother-in-law gave me a pair of earrings and a necklace and pendant. When I had my own daughters-in-law, I changed the practice a little bit. I still gave them the 4 types of gold, but the pendant would be a crucifix, and the ring was a rosary ring.

When I converted, I had to go for one-to-one Catechism with a lady we called Fatty Ng. She was a teacher in a school and taught Catechism in Teochew before I was baptised. We were taught Teochew prayers for a year, about two times a month. From the moment I converted, I worked for the church until now. During my time in church, I think my faith became stronger than my late husband’s faith, because I truly experienced God’s love through the priests. Fr. Berthold married us in church. He was nice and welcoming towards me, especially because he was close to my husband’s family. After I converted, I worked for the church, sweeping the church, and the priests would always give us fruits and snacks. Two years after I converted, Fr. Matthias Tung started the Teochew choir, of which I was the pioneer batch. My goodness, Fr. Tung’s Teochew was a mishmash of Hokkien and Singlish and English. He was not very fluent in Teochew, but he wanted to have Teochew Mass for the Teochew people. Sometimes the other priests would help to celebrate mass in Mandarin – Fr. Peter Lu and Fr. Jeannequin – and we would answer in Teochew.

The priests always put the people first. They would attend all our meetings and go to people’s houses. They would show us all kindness. I think that is why Aukang people are always known for being pious and warm-hearted, because we were taught well by the priests. Eventually, people used to refer to the cemetery next to the church as the “holy land of Singapore”. When we exhumed the cemetery for re-development, there were quite a few perfect bodies, non-decomposed. So many of us witnessed the exhuming and were amazed at the bodies still intact, people said it truly was a holy land. Also, people said it was a holy land because we have the most number of seminarians and most number of jubilees celebrated in our church. Many people, after seeing the examples set by the priests, all wanted to join the seminary.

Now, even though I’m nearly eighty years old, I still continue my service to the church in whatever way I can. The priests who doted on me so much have all gone back to Jesus. Before I join them, I still want to serve this Church and continue their good work. In return I see God blessing me with good health and the love of everyone around.”


Excerpts from interview conducted on 9 Jan 2017 by Bryan Benjamin Goh for his thesis “The Rhythms of a Catholic-Teochew Community: Church, Family and School in Hougang (1945 – 1981)”, Department of History, National University of Singapore, AY2016-2017

 

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