"GOD WORKS IN mysterious ways," - Father Fabian van Lieshout spoke these familiar words with a sense of wonder as he recounted the story of his life since he was ordained to the priesthood 50 years ago.

He is the 11th of 13 children in his family. His parents were "very staunch Catholics," said Father Fabian and this firm foundation led two of his older brothers to become missionary priests in Brazil, where they remained for 40 years. It seemed that the course was set for the young Fabian too who enthused, "I also would like to become a priest!"

But the journey to the priesthood was neither easy nor smooth. At the age of 12, Father Fabian entered the seminary only to be severely discouraged by his headmaster.

"He told my dad that I should not become a priest because my IQ was a bit low!" he laughed. Thankfully, the boy did not heed this advice. This same headmaster changed his perception and was "so proud that I had become a priest" 13 years later, said Father Fabian.

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"God works in mysterious ways…" Father Fabian repeated in amazement as he remembered the events that took place half a century ago.

Though his heart yearned for mission in Brazil, where his brothers were, his vow of obedience led him elsewhere. In 1957, at the age of 27, Father Fabian set off for England, where he stayed for almost three decades.

"One parish priest [in England] told me I must consecrate every home, whether (the family are) practising Catholics or not, to the Sacred Heart," recalled Father Fabian and this he did for the next 10 years. He travelled from north to south, staying in each parish from a week to six months, blessing homes and families.

Father Fabian spent three years in Liverpool too and he never expected that, many years later, he would see car decals in Singapore that supported the Liverpool Football Club!

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One of his fondest memories of England was of the time he spent in Daventry in the midlands of England. He was there with other priests to build a multi-purpose church near an industrial town.

"We were building a multi-purpose church which was very unusual," he said. The church had a huge sliding door in front of the altar that, when closed, provided an opportunity to dance, drink and smoke, he recalled cheerfully.

Father Fabian intended his happy years in England to continue. But again, God's plan was different from his.

In 1985, Father Francis van Der Linden, who had served at our Blessed Sacrament Church for 13 years, died. The SS.CC. provincial asked Father Fabian, "What about going to Singapore?" since the church was looking for someone who could speak English.

"I don't even know where Singapore is!" he exclaimed. "I told them I'll think and pray about it, which I did." The outcome of his discernment was to come to Singapore.

And who should receive Father Fabian at the Singapore Changi Airport but Father Renckens! The two had not met for 30 years.

"I saw him with white hair and he saw me without hair!" Father Fabian laughed heartily.

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"When I came to Singapore, I was 55 years of age. Some people told me I was crazy - Singapore had a different climate, it was so far and at my age…," Father Fabian trailed off as he recalled the many objections to his travelling here. He insisted that it was Divine Providence that brought him here and "it was beautiful of God to send me here".

His first encounter with the locals at the Blessed Sacrament Church was confusing.

"There were 1,000 Chinese people in front of me and they all looked, to me, the same!" Soon enough, he realised that the Chinese people can laugh and cry just as he did. "In many ways, we are the same."

Today, Father Fabian is retired after serving 20 years in Singapore. He has decided against returning to Holland as he has been assimilated into Singapore.

"I don't want to go back (to Holland) because I'm a stranger there," he said.

Retirement does not mean doing nothing. He still keeps busy reading, walking and counselling via e-mail. He also still blesses homes and visits the sick, as well as celebrate Mass for the elderly at Villa Francis.

In the evenings he indulges in astronomy, an interest he thoroughly enjoys as it enables him to appreciate "the beautiful world that God has created".

(Article by Joyce Gan)

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