Initially starting out as a modest wooden church, the Church of St Stephen now caters to about 1,500 parishioners. Most are elderly people living in the mature estates in the MacPherson area.
Some of the special characteristics of the church are its hosting of a free tuition service, its senior group ministry and its Block Rosary Group.
Macpherson Free Tuition Project
The church hosts a free tuition service for less privileged children living in the vicinity on Saturdays from 10 am to 11.30 am.The programme started in 2011 after a group of non-Catholic secondary and tertiary students approached the church for help in hosting this programme.
Nowadays, young parishioners join the older polytechnic and university students in tutoring primary and secondary school pupils.
About 30 children and 10 tutors are currently involved in the programme. The tutors use old textbooks and assessment books donated by friends and classmates.
The tutors also organise social outings for their students. Last year, they brought the children to Sentosa. Visits to the Science Centre and Snow City are planned for this year.
Although not all the tutors and children are Catholic, the church supports the programme and welcomes children of all backgrounds to attend.
Senior group ministry
The parish has a senior group ministry of about 15 members who gather once a month for Bible sharing, fellowship and moral support. Their ages range from 60 to 80.
The group celebrates members’ birthdays and also organises outings and pilgrimages, such as to the Santa Cruz church in Malacca and St Jude’s church in Rawang, Malaysia.
Block Rosary Group
On Wednesdays and Thursdays, the church’s Block Rosary Group visits the home of a parishioner who has invited the group to his or her home to pray the rosary and have fellowship.
A small statue of Our Lady of Fatima is placed in the home for a week. Through its ministry, the group hopes to promote daily family prayers.
St Anthony devotion
The devotion to St Anthony in the parish was first started by former parish priest Fr John Khoo.
Having previously organised the devotion at the Church of St Anthony, Fr John decided to start one in the Church of St Stephen.
“When we were fundraising to build the Church of St Anthony at Woodlands, I started the St Anthony devotion and my prayers were answered. So when I was tasked with the renovation of Church of St Stephen, I decided to do the same and bring the devotion over,” Fr John told CatholicNews.
The devotion at the parish is held every Tuesday evening. About 80 people attend it.
The parish conducts occasional health screenings on its premises with help from Mount Alvernia Hospital staff.
“The health screenings allow people to receive free medical advice which I think is something they really appreciate,” said Fr Gerard, 64, who has been parish priest for more than a year.
The screenings are for parishioners as well as people living in the area.
The latest health screening was on June 4, conducted by nurses from the hospital.
Services provided included blood pressure and blood cholesterol measurements.
Eight catechumens were baptised at Easter this year and eight teens will receive the Sacrament of Confirmation later this year, says Fr Gerard.
Due to the small number, the teens will join the cohort from the Church of Our Lady Queen of Peace for their confirmation service.
The church provides two rooms for funeral wakes. As there is a large number of elderly living around the area, “the demand for the use of the ‘prayer rooms’ can be quite high”, said Fr Gerard.
Parish outreach 2015
The church held a celebration last year called Let’s Get to Know Our Neighbour, organised by the parish’s Society of St Vincent de Paul in collaboration with various parish ministries.
A total of 457 beneficiaries attended the event that aimed to reach out to the underprivileged in the area.
Apart from being served meals, participants also enjoyed games, a lucky draw and live performances by the parish’s music ministry. They were also invited for a tour of the church.
“We have such a spacious pantry and dining room in our church, so I hope to start a food ministry soon,” Fr Gerard told CatholicNews. “The various groups can also use the dining area for fellowship and the food ministry can serve by cooking!”
One thing which parishioners can expect soon is the completion of the Downtown Line MRT station beside the church. Mattar Station, to be completed sometime next year, is expected to make the church more accessible.
|History of the church|
The establishment of the Church of St Stephen owes much to the hard work of Fr Stephen Lee.
Then parish priest of the Church of St Teresa at Kampong Bahru, Fr Stephen heard about the plight of the Chinese who were suffering from poverty.
He decided to purchase a piece of land along Aljunied Road, and an orphanage, school and convent run by the Canossian Sisters were set up in August 1941.
The work at the convent was disrupted in December 1941 due to the Japanese invasion of Singapore but continued after their surrender in 1945.
Fr Lee passed away on Nov 29, 1956, and the parish was subsequently named in his honour.
As the size of the congregation grew during Sunday Mass celebrated in the convent chapel, the late Bishop Michael Olcomendy found another piece of land suitable for building a church and it was purchased after the Second World War. The church is known today as the Church of Our Lady Queen of Peace.
During his attachment to this parish from 1958 to 1966, Fr Pierre Bouttaz, a Paris Foreign Missions Society (MEP) priest, started to visit the people living in MacPherson.
Upon his urging, plans were put into action to set up a parish that would serve the area.
The early church was a creaky wooden structure. Thanks to the work of another MEP priest, Fr Rene Challet, and Fr Joachim Teng, funds were raised for a proper church building.
Piling works for the new church building began on Aug 15, 1976, and were completed on April 22, 1978. Archbishop Gregory Yong blessed and opened the new church.
However there was only one meeting room and limited space available. Elderly parishioners found it difficult to climb up to the second floor where the main church was located.
Fr John Khoo was tasked with the renovation of a new church building, which included lifts, a new belfry, priests’ residence and a new annexe building for administration.
The renovated church was blessed and dedicated on Oct 21, 2007, by Archbishop Nicholas Chia.
The feast day of the Church of St Stephen is Dec 26.
More information about the parish can be found at http://www.ststephen.sg/