The Church of the Holy Family, which is located at the junction of East Coast and Chapel roads in Katong, has been a centre of activity for the Roman Catholic community in the East Coast area since it was built in 1932. The church's beginnings were humble, starting out with a small group of Eurasian families gathering for prayers at the home of the De La Salle Brothers, which was used as a makeshift chapel. A chapel was built in 1923 but this became too small over time for a growing congregation. The chapel was demolished and the Church of the Holy Family erected in its place. The church was designated a parish in 1936.
When East Coast Road was constructed in 1902, many Eurasians congregated at Katong to purchase land and soon established themselves as a distinct community in the area. One of the first to do so was James Leonard Scheerder, who acquired the plot bounded by Sea Avenue, Marine Parade, Chapel Road and East Coast Road.1
Many Eurasians, being devout Roman Catholics, saw the need for a church to be built for their own community. However, before the church was constructed, a handful of Eurasian families gathered at the residence of the De La Salle Brothers for prayers. The Brothers lived in timber buildings in Katong (which were later torn to make way for St Patrick's School) during the holidays. One of these buildings was used to house temporary chapel facilities.2
In the decades that followed, Katong established itself as a developing suburb. When the Catholic community continued to expand in size, Father Pierre Ruaudel, who was then the parish priest for the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd at Queen Street, approached Scheerder for land to build a chapel. Scheerder agreed on condition that the land must not be put up for sale. He also stipulated that should the land not be used for the intended purpose, it had to be returned to the donor’s estate.3
Plans for the new chapel building were ready by early 1922. The foundation stone was laid and blessed by the Right Reverend Emile Barillon, Bishop of Malacca. By the following year, the building was ready for use. The chapel was blessed by Bishop Barillon on 11 November 1923, and upon Scheerder’s request, it was named the Chapel of the Holy Family.4
The late 1920s and early ’30s saw a sustained growth of the Roman Catholic population in Katong. The presence of good schools and the chapel, which was the centre of activity for all Roman Catholics in Katong, attracted many Eurasians to the area.5 This population growth soon extended to Peranakan (Straits Chinese) Catholics. Before long, the Chapel of the Holy Family became too small for the growing congregation. Therefore, on 23 August 1931, the chapel was closed and subsequently demolished to make way for a bigger place of worship when plans for a new church had been approved. Permission was then sought to use the Arcadia, the first cinema hall in Katong, to hold Sunday mass.6 This cinema hall was the predecessor of the now demolished Roxy Cinema (Roxy Square stands in its place today).7
The Church of the Holy Family, also known as Katong Catholic Church, was built in 1932 on the former site of the chapel. The church was blessed by the Right Reverend Pierre Louis Perrichon, Coadjutor Bishop of Malacca, on 19 June 1932. In 1936, Bishop Perrichon decided to make the church a parish. Father Ruaudel was appointed the first parish priest on 25 April 1936. The first Christmas midnight mass was celebrated in the church on 24 December that year. Father Ruaudel was the parish priest until his demise on 6 July 1937.8
In the meantime, urban development led to many people moving to live in the nearby rural area of Siglap. This resulted in an even greater number of Roman Catholics attending the Church of the Holy Family. In 1955, the parish priest Father Rene Ashness conceived a plan for a Catholic church to be built in Siglap. On 7 October 1961, the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, located at the junction of Siglap and Changi roads, was officially blessed and opened by the Right Reverend Michael Olcomendy, Archbishop of Malacca and Singapore.9
Until the 1990s, the Church of the Holy family remained a single-storey building with a distinctive belfry.10 In December 1997, the church began major renovation works at a cost of S$10 million, resulting in a four-storeyed air-conditioned building with a distinctive facade, stained glass windows, more comfortable seating, and parking space at the void deck. The project took two years to complete, and parishioners made do with masses held at the St Patrick's School hall in the interim. The new church building officially opened on 26 December 1999. Till today, the church continues to connect and reach out to its parishioners through its ministries and services.11
In 2006, the church ran an Advent Project that provided financial support to the Marine Parade Family Service Centre for needy families and the elderly. By 2014, the church had a vibrant faith community which included overseas parishioners.
2016 marked the parish's 80th anniversary. Events such as a Family Food and Fun Fair were held during its year-long celebration. A commemorative book titled From Stones to Living Stones was also commissioned and launched at the year-end Feast Day celebration.12
Holy Family Church13
Katong Catholic Church14
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja
1. Lily Kong and T. C. Chang, Joo Chiat: A Living Legacy (Singapore: Archipelago Press, 2001), 35, 37, 102. (Call no. RSING 959.57 KON-[HIS]); Church of the Holy Family (Singapore), 50 Years of Service: Holy Family Church (Singapore: Holy Family Church, 1973), 9. (Call no. RCLOS 282.5957 FIF)
2. Church of the Holy Family (Singapore), 50 Years of Service, 9; Church of the Holy Family, Diamond Jubilee Souvenir Magazine [of the] Church of the Holy Family (Singapore: Parish Council of the Church of the Holy Family, 1983), 5. (Call no. RCLOS 282.5957 DIA)
3. Church of the Holy Family (Singapore), 50 Years of Service, 9.
4. Church of the Holy Family (Singapore), 50 Years of Service, 9; “New Roman Catholic Church,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 14 November 1923, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Kong and Chang, Joo Chiat: A Living Legacy, 37.
6. Church of the Holy Family (Singapore), 50 Years of Service, 11.
7. “Cinema As Church While New Edifice Is Built,” Straits Times, 7 June 1932, 7; Lim Kwan Kwan, “Remember This?” Straits Times, 15 May 1984, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Church of the Holy Family, Diamond Jubilee Souvenir Magazine, 5, 6; Church of the Holy Family (Singapore), 50 Years of Service, 11; Church of the Holy Family, “Holy Family Church in Katong,” 31 December 1997, video, 01:00. (From National Archives of Singapore accession no. 1998001560)
9. Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour: 30 Anniversary, 1961–1991 (Singapore: Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. 1991), 10. (Call no. RSING 282.5957 CHU); “Archbishop Will Bless New Church for Siglap Area Catholics,” Singapore Free Press, 5 October 1961, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Holy Family Church at Chapel Road in Katong Area, 1932, photograph, in Church of the Holy Family, Diamond Jubilee Souvenir Magazine [of the] Church of the Holy Family (Singapore: Parish Council of the Church of the Holy Family, 1983), 6 (From BookSG); Church of the Holy Family, 1971: General View, 1971, photograph, Lee Kip Lin Collection, National Library Board.
11. Magdalene Lum, “Katong Landmark Church to Be Redeveloped,” Straits Times, 11 September 1997, 3; “The First Noel in New Katong Church,” Straits Times, 27 December 1999, 4. (From NewspaperSG); Church of the Holy Family, The Holy Family Connection, 4, no. 3 and 4 (1997). (Available via PublicationSG); Kong and Chang, Joo Chiat: A Living Legacy, 100.
12. “Our History,” Church of the Holy Family, accessed 25 July 2019
13. “New Church, Bigger Temple,” New Paper, 29 December 1997, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Church of the Holy Family, “Holy Family Church in Katong.”
Yen Feng, “Catholic Church Reviewing Policy on Niches,” Straits Times, 23 May 2011, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
The information in this article is valid as at August2019 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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