FATHER LAWRENCE YEO was diagnosed with cancer of the prostrate in September 2005. He remained in good spirit throughout his illness after an initial bout of feeling down, said members of his family and parishioners who knew him well.
He was parish priest at Church of St. Joseph (Bukit Timah) when he fell ill. Although he appeared well for some months after his treatment, the cancer returned after that and he had to go through radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
The illness forced Father Lawrence to step down as parish priest in January 2007 after serving in that position since February 2002. He remained at the parish as a priest-in-residence before moving to the home of his younger sister Pauline in May last year.
Archbishop Nicholas Chia wanted to celebrate his 60th birthday but Father Lawrence preferred a quieter affair. He opted for dinner with some parishioners and close friends instead.
"[At the celebrations], he said that he wanted to come back to St. Joseph’s to serve the parishioners," said his younger brother, Father James Yeo. "He had very good fighting spirit. Despite his illness, he wanted to live very much."
Father James anointed Father Lawrence with the sacrament of the anointing of the sick before he was admitted in late July to Mount Alvernia Hospital, where he remained for 14 days until his death. Pauline said he was actually very alert during that period but had problems breathing.
Family members visited him and were praying together in the Critical Care Unit of Mount Alvernia Hospital when they were informed by the doctor that Father Lawrence had passed away in the midst of their prayers at 10.33am.
Pauline said that despite his suffering, Father Lawrence did not complain about the illness or the surgeries and chemotherapy over the last three years. It was only after the last surgery in May when he lost his strength in both hands that he showed frustration at not being able do things on his own. "But he always remained patient about what he had to go through," added Pauline.
She remembers him as a very accommodating and committed priest. "Even if his body tells him something isn’t right, he’ll continue and work till he drops," she said. "On one occasion I went to see him at St. Joseph’s and it was 8.00pm and he hadn’t had dinner and was rushing off to a confirmation meeting."
She added that there was no need to remind him to take dinner because he was simply "very dedicated to his work" and would not stop.
Archbishop Nicholas Chia also told Father Lawrence that he was a "real role model" on one of his visits to him at the hospital.
Even in hospital, Father Lawrence always said he would get better, "with some exercise, day after day". He was looking forward to returning to serve his parish. It was not to be.
Father Lawrence was ordained on Dec 1, 1974 and his first appointment was as Assistant Priest at Church of St. Vincent De Paul where he remained until 1976. He then went to Church of the Holy Family and stayed till 1979 when he left to study for three years for the Licentiate in Sacred Scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome.
When he returned, he was appointed Rector at the St. Francis Xavier Major Seminary and remained there for 22 years until Archbishop Nicholas Chia transferred him to Church of St. Joseph (Bukit Timah).
Father Lawrence Yeo’s funeral at Church of St. Joseph on Aug 11 was packed with friends and parishioners.- By Joyce Gan