Short History of St Joseph Church
Indeed, such fighting language by Historian Robert Spencer is especially appropriate when we recall the great sacrifices made by the early missionaries who brought the faith to Singapore. In the 19th century, Singapore was already a thriving port city. While the British ensured that there was money to be made, and jobs aplenty, their jurisdiction of the country extended mainly to the city area. The British authorities cared little for what happens in the the interior of the island as long as the gambier and the pepper found there made their way to the town itself.
Life in the jungle was fraught with danger with the activities of robber bands and secret society gangs filling up the gap in jurisdiction left by the British. Yet filling up this vacuum is also the Catholic Church. Heroic priests brought the faith to the Chinese coolies in the interior. They told them of a God who loved them and had become man, and who reigns not by power and terror and fear so typical of the secret societies and robbers they encounter but through love. They showed their love by living simply with the people, listening to their difficulties, burying their dead, building schools for their children and acting as intermediaries with the British authorities.
In 1846, Fr Anatole Mauduit, of the MEP who had arrived in Singapore two years earlier built a chapel dedicated to St. Joseph. By the 1850s, the Church has grown in numbers sufficient to irritate the secret society chiefs who launched a series of attacks on the Christians in the interior, spilling the soil of Singapore with the blood of its first martyrs. Worst still, tigers roamed freely in the interior possibly devouring a coolie a day in the 1850s. When the authorities did not let the body of a poor coolie carried of by a tiger be buried, wanting to use the human corpse as bait to lure the tiger back so that it could be shot. Fr Augustine Perie protested, retrieved the coolie’s body and prepared it for a decent burial, demonstrating that a poor person should never be treated without dignity, in life and also in death.
Yet through all these, our forefathers persisted and clung to their faith. It’s been already 160 years since the founding of St. Joseph Church. As we look to the future, let us always remember where we have come from, never to take our faith for granted and let what has been hard won be drowned in a flood of materialism, indifferentism and ingratitude. St Joseph, guardian of the Holy Church of God, pray for us!
By Nick Chui
Extracted from St. Joseph’s Church
150th anniversary commemorative magazine.
Year Built: 1846
Patron Saint: St Joseph
Feast Day: May 1st