My Vocation Story

I was born on 15th December 1967. My parents wanted a name in line with the season, like Noel or Nicholas.

But, Mother Superior prayed and opened the book of names. Valerian was a minor Saint who saved the sacred vessels from persecution. I was named after him.

I had a happy childhood. My family lived in Marine Parade, so we spent time cycling and jogging along the beach. We attended mass at the Church of the Holy Family (CHF).

My father taught my older brother and I to make the sign of the cross. My mother was a staunch Anglican who became a Catholic just before marriage. She taught us to pray.

In the 1970s, we only had catechism classes on the sacramental years, to receive the first Holy Communion and Sacrament of Confirmation.

For the former, I was taught by Archbishop William Goh, who was just about to enter national service in 1975. I did not realise that he was going to be my seminary formator later. I made excuses to get out of class.

I also joined the CHF altar servers. I was a reluctant server and rarely attended meetings. After I completed my primary education at St Stephen’s School, I stopped serving as an altar boy. I knew it wasn’t the right fit for me.


A young Fr Valerian Cheong.

Fr Valerian (left) and his brother in 1973.

Guiding hands

My father taught my older brother and I to make the sign of the cross. My mother was a staunch Anglican who became a Catholic just before marriage. She taught us to pray.

Then, I went to St Patrick’s School, where I became a member of the school military band. To me, I had a deeper calling there. I had already learnt to play the piano since primary school. The band got me interested in learning to play the clarinet. It was there that I discovered a passion for music.

One day, I attended a Saturday anticipated mass at CHF. There was no choir or organist and I thought that the mass was extremely dry.

After mass, I approached the late Fr Alfred Chan, who was then the Parish Priest. I told him that I would like to play the organ. He was happy to oblige.

Truth is, I didn’t know how to play the organ but I had a friend who did. This friend, Chris de Silva played the organ with me the following week. Now based in America, he wrote some of the hymns and mass parts which some of our churches sing today. He taught me how to play the organ.

As time went by, more friends joined. I sang, conducted and played instruments. Because we were teenagers, we were afraid to manage adults then. So we put a rule in place: No one in the choir should be older than ourselves.

That was how I started Genesis II, a youth choir that still exists today at CHF.

I passed the GCE O-level examinations and went to Victoria Junior College, which was just across the road from where I lived. Coming from an all-boys school, there were now girls in class and we invited the Catholic girls to join the choir.

The choir grew. We had a lot of support from the Priests, namely the late Fr Chan, Fr Johnson Fernandez and Fr John Lee. They saw potential in having a youth choir cum youth group.

The growth of the choir is part of my vocation story. I found more meaning in my faith, as compared to the earlier days where I was altar serving. I now saw liturgical music as something that I wanted to pursue.

We made sure that the choir had some form of spiritual preparation. On Saturdays when we sang, we would meet as early as 2pm and end at 9pm.

Sessions were opened with a prayer meeting, followed by preparation for evening mass. After singing at mass, we would have choir practice for the next week.


Fr Valerian plays the piano at the ordination Mass of Fr William Goh, on 1st May 1985. In the background is Fr Peter Koh who was a cantor for the Mass.

A deeper purpose

The growth of the choir is part of my vocation story. I found more meaning in my faith, as compared to the earlier days where I was altar serving. I now saw liturgical music as something that I wanted to pursue.

Because the choir took up my entire weekend, it was a part of my life that I would share with people who were closer to me. Later on, my former girlfriend said: ‘Do you realise that you treat Genesis II like your little church?’

‘That’s not church,’ I replied. Then, it struck me. She saw that I was pastoring to the younger members, who would approach me with their problems.

There was no alternative youth group in those days, so the choir became a magnet. All the teenagers who were getting confirmed started to join. Eventually, some members married each other. Many of them are friends until today.

I was very involved in church, to the extent that my parents became worried. I assured them that I could manage my schedule. Boy was I wrong.

In 1985, I flunked the A-level examinations and was made to repeat the year. On my daily walks to school, I prayed against the rising sun and asked: ‘Lord, why do I have to do another year?’ I asked Him all sorts of silly teenage questions.

That year, my father was involved in a car accident and fractured his leg.

He was hospitalised for a few months. Once he came home, he relied on crutches to get around the house.

Six months later, the doctors removed the screw in my father’s leg. Only then did they discover the cancer in his gallbladder.

My father had to go for chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I now realised why the Lord allowed me to take an extra year. I was there to be his support. My mother was working and my brother was doing his national service. Nobody would have been at home to render assistance.

I was beginning to make sense of the happenings and saw them in perspecive. Then I really believed: There is a God who is in-charge of everything. I knew that He was alive and present in my life.

Struck by cancer

My father had to go for chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I now realised why the Lord allowed me to take an extra year. I was there to be his support.

I retook the A-level examinations and scraped through. Just before my national service enlistment, my father’s cancer gave in. He died when I was only 19 .

The beginning of 1986 was very shaking for me. I felt terrible for my mum. I questioned what the Lord wanted me to do in life.

Almost overnight, I had a sum of money which I knew I had to be responsible for. I set some aside for my education as I planned to study journalism in Australia or New Zealand.

During national service, I had trainings and field camps in the wilderness, where there was no contact with the outside world. There were long nights where I was put on duty, which I utilised as moments of prayer. I felt even closer to the Lord in solitude.

Discerning His plan for me, I recognised that I did not want to study further. I searched for a job in the service industry and started working at the front desk of Orchard Hotel. I had planned on it being temporary, but the time rolled into months and years.

I was doing something that I enjoyed. The management noticed potential in me and sponsored my studies at SHATEC, where I obtained a Diploma in Hotel Management.

After the hotel expanded, I switched departments and took up the role of assistant sales manager. I knew that the Lord was paving the way for me.

As part of my work, I had to attend trade shows and network with leaders in the industry. I was acquainted with successful business owners, travel agents and airlines. Still, there was an emptiness in my heart. There was a nudging feeling that I wanted to do something more in life.

I regularly visited the 24-hour adoration room at CHF. On one occasion, I dropped by after a night of serious work. My pocket was filled with business cards. There were about 200 of them.

I realised that I had met people from all over the world, but I didn’t recall their faces or know who they were. I only had their names and contact details for business purposes.

In front of the Blessed Sacrament, I thought: Lord, if only I could mention your name to each one of them, I would have felt very fulfilled.

Deep down, there was a desire to talk about the faith and tell others about Jesus. There were no concrete thoughts about Priesthood, yet since my junior college days, I had already been approaching several religious congregations to find out more about their way of life.


Moving to Shanghai for work.

Finding meaning

I realised that I had met people from all over the world, but I didn’t recall their faces or know who they were. I only had their names and contact details for business purposes. In front of the Blessed Sacrament, I thought: Lord, if only I could mention your name to each one of them. I would have felt very fulfilled.

When I made up my mind to join the Redemptorists, they told me not to rush into it. Although they invited me to stay with them, I was silly enough to interpret it as a rejection.

The next day, I received a call from a colleague who was working in Shanghai. She told me about an opportunity there.

The Westin Shanghai needed an expatriate to deal with consul generals, multinational corporations and foreign companies. It would be my responsibility to help the local staff with English as well. I agreed to go.

Ask Fr Valerian

CN: Why did you take it up?
Fr Valerian: The money was good. In the 1990s, China was an attractive place for business and career advancement, especially for those without family commitments. I wanted to focus on my career. As it was also a communist country, I didn’t want to think about religion. I wasn’t sure about religious life then. Every time there was a draw to it, I would be thrown off guard by a promotion, an increment or something else that told me to stay on in my job. I seriously thought that the Lord was playing with my feelings.

I had colleagues from many different countries. When they found out that I was Catholic, they brought me to church.

Because China was just opening up, we only had a hall to worship in. We were not allowed to evangelise and religious organisations had to be closed by 7pm.

Once again, I saw an opportunity to offer my services by playing the organ and eventually built up a choir comprising of numerous nationalities. For Pentecost Sunday, we had members singing in eight different languages. It was a beautiful experience.

On Maundy Thursday in 1996, the church committee boldly made a request to the government to open past 7pm. We were given permission to open until midnight. As the locals were not used to visiting churches past 7pm, I finally realised that it was only myself and the sacristan left.

As I gazed at the Blessed Sacrament, it dawned on me that I was running away. Years on and miles away from home, it hit me that I was avoiding a call... even a call to the Priesthood.

The time I spent working in Shanghai had opened my eyes to the injustice of the world. Even though I worked alongside locals, I was paid over 20 times more than them and had everything provided for, including food, lodging and laundry. I knew of colleagues who were living in cramped conditions, having to share a toilet among six households. I wondered if it was fair, just because I spoke English?

I became conscious of the fact that God has blessed certain people, and it is up to us to be blessings to others. Life was more than earning my keep.

God’s call

As I gazed at the Blessed Sacrament, it dawned on me that I was running away. Years on and miles away from home, it hit me that I was avoiding a call... even a call to the Priesthood.

On my next trip back to Singapore, I met CHF’s new Parish Priest, Fr Anthony Ho. I told him that I was thinking about the Priesthood. ‘Oh, so you are the one. Your name was brought up to me,’ Fr Ho said.


Spending Christmas in Shanghai

He explained that the Vocations’ team was praying for vocations and for those who were discerning. I took it as an affirmation from God.

Returning to Shanghai, I decided to quit my job, without knowing what to do next. I had about six months before the seminary’s academic year began.

I took the opportunity to travel around the world, since I had an international airline client who offered me a very attractive round-the-world fare.

From China, I went to the United States, Mexico, Belgium and France.


Fr Valerian visits the Great Wall of China.    


Spending time with friends in the South of France.

On the plane to Paris, I sat next to a Catholic who was wearing a crucifix. We talked and she told me to include Lourdes in my itinerary. I had completely missed it out.

At the grotto where Mother Mary appeared to St Bernadette, the feeling that I was running away hit me so strongly. It was stronger than what I experienced in Shanghai. I committed myself to joining the seminary.

I realised that I may have been putting it off because I did not want to study.

Ask Fr Valerian

CN: Studying is part of seminary life. How did you come to terms with it?

Fr Valerian: During a silent retreat in Shanghai, I had a vision. I was on board a bus and carrying a stack of books. I wanted to leave them on the floor because the books were covered with cobwebs or dirt. Then, the Lord Jesus came on board and started to open the books with me. I saw it as a promise that He would help me with my seminary studies.

Even though I didn’t plan on returning, Lourdes became a very special place for me. Little did I know that it would feature at every turning point of my priestly journey.


Fr Valerian (centre) with Fr Frederick Quek, the late Fr Alfred Chan,
Fr Paul Shie and Fr Brian D’Souza.


Having fun in the pool.


A fun game of Jenga with Fr Kenny Tan, Fr Brian D'Souza and Fr Damian De Wind.


Being prayed over by the seminary’s Rector, the late Fr Lawrence Yeo.


Lending a helping hand during his pastoral work.


Fr Valerian and his batchmates at St Francis Xavier Major Seminary. Seated are Fr William Goh and the late Fr Alfred Chan.


Fr Valerian at a family camp in Batam in 2003. He is pictured here with parishioners from the Church of St Anthony.


The ordination of Fr Damian de Wind and Fr Valerian Cheong at CHF on 7th August 2005.


Receiving a hug from the then Fr William Goh.


Fr Valerian hugs his mum.


Fr Valerian and Fr Damian with Archbishop Emeritus Nicholas Chia.

Even though I didn’t plan on returning, Lourdes became a very special place for me.

Little did I know that it would feature at every turning point of my priestly journey.

When I was in Loudes on a pilgrimage in 2008, Archbishop Emeritus Nicholas Chia called. He said that I would be sent to Rome, to study scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute.


Fr Valerian singing during the Joy SG50 thanksgiving Mass.


Fr Valerian with youth after their Sacrament of Confirmation.

Fishers of men

I have served the Vocation Director for Diocesan Priests for more than two years now. It is a different calling. When I asked Archbishop William Goh about the length of my posting, he said that I should stay as long as possible.

The seminary is currently at a temporary location at the Church of St Teresa. There is a timetable to follow, which starts with morning prayer before mass and lectures of the day right through the night.

Thrice a week, I teach evening classes at the Catholic Theological Institute of Singapore. I spend a lot of time preparing for lessons and looking into the formation of students in the seminary.

As Vocation Director, we don’t pick any Tom, Dick or Harry from the streets. We sieve candidates out. At this point, we have an idea of candidates who will be joining us in the ensuing years.

Ask Fr Valerian

CN: What are some of the criteria?

Fr Valerian: A candidate must be single. In addition to a medical check-up, he must pass a psychological test. We fly in a qualified Priest pysychologist to conduct it. He should also be able to answer this question: What is your vision of the Priesthood? There’s more to the Priesthood than celebrating mass, going for confession and visiting the sick. It does not matter if they are introverted or extroverted. What matters is the desire to serve, and the willingness to be with the people of God. He should want to have the heart of Christ.

Most importantly, a candidate must be willing to submit to the Lord. This is different from being submissive. He must be open to the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is like a wind that blows. It could speak through your peers, or through your readings and reflections.

The Holy Spirit could speak through your superiors.

Ask Fr Valerian

CN: Any advice for those considering the Priesthood?

Fr Valerian: Find a spiritual director who you can regularly talk to. Use the time to bounce off ideas and share your struggles, both spiritual and situational. This will help in processing the decision. Then, once your spiritual director is agreeable, get in touch with the Seminary Rector. There is an e-mail address at the back of this book. That is when the journey begins.


Fr Valerian with his sister-in-law, brother and mother.


Celebrating mass at a church in Holy Land.


Fr Valerian Cheong’s Vocation Journey

December 1967 : Born as the younger son to a Catholic family

1972 : Enrolled in St Hilda’s Kindergarten

1974 : Started studies at St Stephen’s School, served as an altar boy at the Church of the Holy Family

1980 : Began secondary education at St Patrick’s School

November 1983 : Started the Genesis II youth choir at the Church of the Holy Family

1984 : Commenced education at Victoria Junior College

1985 : Failed the GCE A-Level examinations. His father was involved in a car accident and diagnosed with cancer of the gallbladder

1986 : Retook the GCE A-Level examinations and passed

January 1987 : His father died from cancer. Enlisted for national service

1989 : Joined Orchard Hotel as a front desk staff

1991 : Sent by the company to study hotel management at SHATEC

1992 : Promoted to assistant sales manager at Orchard Hotel

1995 : Took up a job at The Westin in Shanghai

June 1996 : Quit his job

1997 : Joined St Francis Xavier Major Seminary

1st March 2005 : Ordained a Deacon at the Church of the Holy Trinity

7th August 2005 : Ordained a Priest at the Church of the Holy Family. Began serving as Assistant Parish Priest at the Church of the Holy Cross

2005 : Appointed chaplain of the National University of Singapore Catholic Students’ Society

2007 : Assistant Parish Priest at the Church of the Risen Christ

2009 : Sent to Rome to complete a course at the Pontifical Biblical Institute

2014 : Posted to the seminary as Initiation Year Director & Spritual Father of the House

2015 : Appointed Dean of Studies & Vocation Director for Diocesan Priests


For enquiries on vocations to the diocesan priesthood contact:

Fr Valerian Cheong
Diocesan Vocation Director
Email:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

For updates on all diocesan vocation promotion activities in the archdiocese visit www.sfxms.org.sg


Editorial Team
Graphics               :    Christopher Wong
Editor                  :    Annabelle Liang
Managing Editor    :    Fr Richards Ambrose

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