Catholic News features the Church of the Holy Family in this series on parish communities.
The church serves up to 5,500 parishioners every weekend.
During the Octave of Christmas, Catholics around the world celebrated the feast of the Holy Family. The feast, celebrated on Dec 30, teaches us about Jesus, Mary and Joseph – and about each one of us and our own families. It is in the family that children learn about prayer and their faith thanks to the teaching and example of their parents.
As a family and as individuals, every Catholic is then called to share his or her faith with others living in the community. At the Church of the Holy Family at Chapel Road, “we want to be attentive to the needs of the people around us. They are also part of our family,” said Father Eugene Vaz, its parish priest.
The 73-year-old priest added that to be a good Catholic, one has to live his or her faith in the community in which they belong to, at the workplace and to neighbours who are non-Catholic. Only by doing so can they live out the missionary aspect of the Church.
First and foremost, the family at home has to be the staple of faith and Christ-like values. One of Holy Family Church’s priorities is to ensure that families become communities of life and love by making prayer the centre of their daily lives, beginning the day with a prayer, grace before meals and before bed. Social activities such as barbecues and movie nights are also organised to bring families together.
Having recently concluded its parish assembly in November, the mission laid out for the church was “to strive to become disciples and missionaries of Christ through faith formation, prayer and actions to witness to God’s love.”
The four areas that the parish is focusing on to achieve this mission are faith formation, worship, service and prayer.
“We want to be a parish that is vibrant and alive ... to reach out and form our people,” said Fr Eugene. One particular group of people targeted by the parish is the elderly. A seniors’ ministry, called Club Agape, was opened on Nov 19 to serve as a gathering space for the elderly living in the neighbourhood to spend time interacting with one another while also receiving pastoral care.
Members meet every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8am-noon to take part in activities such as ukulele classes, sewing and dance.
One other focus group are the Neighbourhood Christian Communities (NCCs). “From the NCC comes all these actions we can take as a community to reach out to one another and the community and the world at large. So, the ideal would be that the NCCs take responsibility for the life and needs of the community, whether liturgical, catechetical, familial or social,” said Fr Eugene.
Parish priest Fr Eugene Vaz speaking to Club Agape members, a ministry for the elderly.
1902: The Church of the Holy Family was the first Catholic church built along the eastern coastline of Singapore.
Like the Holy Family, the parish started from very humble beginnings: worship and prayers were conducted in a makeshift hut made by the De La Salle Brothers.
1923: A chapel was built and consecrated in November this year as the Chapel of the Holy Family on a plot of donated
In the two decades before the Japanese Occupation, the faith community expanded exponentially.
Lured by the presence of Catholic missionary schools, a vibrant faith community and the fascination of living near the beach, many Eurasians moved to set up homes in eastern Singapore.
At the same time, many Straits-born Chinese or Peranakans living in the town areas also moved to Katong. They embraced Catholicism and became part of the growing congregation at Holy Family.
Late 1920s: By this time, it was evident that the chapel was too small to house the community of worshippers and plans got underway to erect a new building on the existing site.
1932: Completed this year, the new Holy Family parish became a vibrant focal point for the Eurasian and Peranakan communities in Katong.
1975: The late Fr Alfred Chan became the first local parish priest of Holy Family and served for 19 years. He made immense contributions to the parish including introducing the Peranakan Mass on Lunar New Year’s Eve. To date, this tradition continues.
1994: A plan to reconstruct a whole new church building was drawn up.
The new church features included a seating capacity for 2,000 Massgoers on the first and mezzanine levels, a basement columbarium capable of housing 1,000 niches and above-ground space for 200 parking
1999: A massive two-year church reconstruction was undertaken. One of the new building’s iconic features is its colourful stained glass panel imported from Italy.
2018: The parish is currently building a four-storey parish centre.
The iconic stained glass of the Holy Family at the church.