By Joyce Gan
ABOUT 800 PEOPLE gathered at Church of St. Bernadette to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Father John Baptist Tou on Sunday Jun 24. They were parishioners from the various churches the priest has served at as well as people he has encountered in his ministry over the years.
Three-quarters of the Mass was celebrated in Mandarin since Father John is a Mandarin-speaking priest. A dinner to celebrate the occasion was held at Redstar Restaurant at Chin Swee Road after Mass. Father John was delighted with the celebrations. "I was very, very happy that day," he recalls with a joyful smile.
JOHN BAPTIST TOU was born to a devout Catholic family in Sze Ping, in the northeastern part of China on Mar 17, 1929. His father worked as a Chinese teacher to foreign missionaries in the seminary. He joined the same seminary, where some family members were already seminarians, when he was 16. His journey to the priesthood took him across many lands.
From Sze Ping, he travelled to Sengyang and Fushun, then to Beijing and Shanghai, before going to Hong Kong, Macau and Manila. He was finally ordained twelve years later on Jun 29, 1957 in Montreal, Canada.
Father John arrived in Singapore in 1959 and served at Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary for some 20 years. He was also the National Chaplain of the Young Christian Workers (Mandarin) from 1966-1968 and the Young Christian Workers (Mandarin) from 1967-1979.
He taught Mandarin in the Minor Seminary from 1966-1975 before leaving for New York where he served three Manhattan Eastside parishes for 15 years. Upon his return to Singapore, he served at the Holy Family parish from 1995 till 2002.
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Father John was a very quiet priest, says Richard Paul, parishioner of Holy Family. Despite being seemingly reserved to English speakers, perhaps because he is more proficient in Mandarin than English, "he will always try to understand what people want", Mr Paul recalls. "He is a very supportive priest," Mr Paul adds.
Father John has been assistant priest at the Church of St. Bernadette since January 2006. Jean Ngiau, parishioner at Church of St. Bernadette, remembers his kindness. "In 2003 when SARS hit Singapore, Father John showed 'what Jesus would have done' by laying his own personal safety aside and going to administer the last rites to a parishioner who was dying at the Changi General Hospital even though he was ill himself that day," recalls Mr Ngiau.
The terminally ill patient was Mr Ngiau's mother. Father John's act of love is something he will never forget "to [my] dying day", Mr Ngiau says.
Says Father Eugene Chong, Church of St. Bernadette's parish priest, "I always consider myself privileged that (he is) able to share part of the 50 years of (his) priestly life with us at St. Bernadette. In (him) I see a simple yet dignified priest whose prayerfulness and serenity has taught me to be contented and be happy as a priest."