SINGAPORE - Father Joseph Chao, who was assistant parish priest at the Church of the Sacred Heart for many years, passed away peacefully on Jan 7, 2006, at 9.25am. He died of liver cancer and tuberculosis.
Father Chao learnt of his condition after a visit to the hospital about one and a half months ago. In his last few days, he was well taken care of by fellow priests Fathers Paul Tay and Paul Tong, and by his parishioners who cared deeply for him.
Born on Mar 15, 1928 in Zhejian, China, he joined the seminary at the age of 12, after primary school in 1940. His family, which consisted of Catholics from several generations, played a role in his early call to priesthood. When the communists came to power in 1948, he left China for Genova, Italy, to complete his degree in Philosophy.
He was ordained a priest on Apr 17, 1954 in Genova. He then pursued his MA in Sociology with the University of Louvain, in Belgium, where he met and studied together with Father Paul Tong. They completed their Masters at the same time in 1957.
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Unable to return to China at that time as the Communist regime did not allow people from foreign countries into China, Father Chao was sent to Singapore instead. His mission was to serve the Chinesespeaking people here.
Father Chao arrived in Singapore with bosom friend Father Paul Tong in 1958. He started as assistant parish priest at the Church of St. Teresa and later at the Church of St. Joseph (Bukit Timah) before being posted to the Church of St. Teresa in Malacca from 1963 to 1971.
On his return to Singapore, he joined Father Tong at the Church of St. Bernadette as his assistant. As he held a special place in his heart for youth, Father Chao became chaplain of the Chinese Young Christian Students' Movement and the Legion of Mary.
Father Chao had been with the Church of the Sacred Heart since 1985 and was active with the Legion of Mary until his death. He had also been a religious correspondent for the Chinese Catholic newspaper, Hai Sing Pao, providing catechetical instruction by correspondence.
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Bernadette Chia, chairperson of commentators in the parish of the Sacred Heart, described Father Chao as "a very compassionate priest" and "so lovable". "Many of us learned the meaning of love from him," she added. "Despite helping out in the parish for so many years, I never once heard him raise his voice."
Doris Koh, chairperson of the wardens' ministry in the same parish, said she "will remember his face, which is so serene" even in sickness and death. "We all love him," she added tearfully.
Perlita Tiro, former parish council chairperson for several years, described Father Chao as a quiet and generous worker in the article she wrote on him in the commemorative book of his sacerdotal golden jubilee. "The one who will remember him most is Father Paul Tong," she added with tears in her eyes.
"He was a simple and humble man," said Father Paul Tong of his old friend. "I will always remember his smile."
Left, Father Paul Tong leads Mandarin-speaking parishioners in prayers for the soul of Father Joseph Chao after the Requiem Mass held at the Church of the Sacred Heart on Jan 8.