The Catholic Centre S'pore - In The Early Days
The land on which the Catholic Centre stands today was leased for 99 years on Jan. 1, 1922, on the understanding that it would be used for charitable purposes.
Old timers recall that Pere Deloutte lived on the property in an old compound house. When the present two-storey structure was first built, it was not according to Mr. Scully, occupied at first by the Catholic Club, but by some Filipino families. Only later did it become the Club House.
That Club had been founded by the parish priest of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, Rev. Fr. Rivet, shortly after the turn of the century. There used to be a little chapel at the rear.
"One of the first secretaries," says Mr. H. W. Mosbergen, J.P., "was Mr. R. Tessensohn. My father was secretary after him, and held the post for many years. He was succeeded by Mr. C. Woodford, but returned to it later for a couple of years."For more than 30 years one of the Club activities was the annual Christmas Treat for children. It was held in conjunction with a group headed by Mr. C. B. Buckley, a Church of Englander and the place was the Victoria Theatre. Mr. Buckley used to handle the stage side of the entertainment, providing the artists, etc., and Catholic Club members did the rest. A painting of Mr. Buckley still hangs, I believe, in the Victoria Memorial Hall, with the caption under it, 'The Children's Friend'. These Christmas Treat celebrations were continued after his death, and proceeds were donated to the Society of St Vincent de Paul for their 'work among the poor."
Other club activities were: Concerts and garden parties, socials and dances. Membership was open to Catholic parishioners of the Cathedral and St. Joseph's Church (P.M.), and averaged from 150 to 200. There were also a few honourary non-Catholic members, close friends of regular members. At one time the Catholic Club possessed three billiard tables, and for a long period could boast of having the best group of billiard stars in Singapore. " They could raise a team, from one to twenty strong, and successfully challenge a similar number from any club in the city. Singapore's unofficial champion in those days, Mr Alec Lewis, was a staunch member, and practised here daily.
In the Club's early years, the present parish house (built by that excellent musician and architect. P. Nain), did not exist. Pere Rivet used to live upstairs in the main Club building, When the Malayan Catholic Leader started in 1934 its offices were upstairs. The Club room was in the building at the rear, 'hough the upstairs section was used for socia1 affairs. The Catholic Action Society for a time used the room of the present Catholic Students' Society for its meetings. This room was used after the war by the Cathedral unit of +he CYMA. Also, during the Catholic Club days and after, the Singapore Catholic Funeral and Benevolent Association, still very much in evidence, held their meetings and kept their official records here.
"When the Municipality wanted a lane through at the back of the property, it cut off our main billiard room," says Mr. Mosbergen, "and that may have been the beginning of the end for the Catholic Club. A contingent of British sailors occupied the buildings in 1939. After that. though the Catholic Club never formally ended, no more meetings were held and U faded out of existence.
"When war came, the Leader closed down and all group activities ceased. There was heavy bombing over Singapore from Feb. 1st. to Feb. 13th. 1942, and one of the club buildings was hit, I believe on the 13th. Thereafter, 73 Bras Basah Road was used partly as a refuge for homeless families and partly as a store house. Bro. Denis. the Redemptorist who left recently for Australia, stayed here as more or less of a watchman, for the people who went to Bahau left many of their possessions here for safe custody, Fortunately the place was never looted.
"The room at the front where religious articles are now sold was used as an office to arrange for people signing up for Bahau, though this was later changed to the Bishop's house."
- After The War
In 1946 the Catholic Women's League (British army) took over the ground floor of this building as a canteen. The army redecorated the walls downstairs, but the remains of a Japanese bomb could still be seen.
At the room at the back. now used by the MCN, were stored the remains of the old Malaya Catholic Leader office. Upstairs there were also old blocks, address books and other paraphernalia of a newspaper room. Meanwhile, in that same year Father Fox had encamped in an old house, the site of the De La Salle Brothers' new school at Kampong Bahru, where he obtained religious articles for sale from Bombay, When he was recalled to Europe by his superiors. he handed over what remained of this 'shop' to the Vicar General, who, although very shorthanded managed to carry on the· work in an upstairs room at 73, Bras Basah Road. The C.W.L. canteen came to an end with the year 1946.
The new name, "Catholic Centre," was put over the front building in 1948 and Fr. Fox, now back again as Port Chaplain, found helpers to carry on the work of running the shop, organising a lending ·library and carrying on with a tea and coffee stall. The helpers were somewhat shadowy, and only one, Miss Sibyl da Silva, has continued from the very beginning in 1947. Not even Miss Luna Pereira was there, because she did not return from England until Dec 27th of that year. But another Lady was in the background. On Dec. 8th, with the Bishop's permission, the first meeting of The Legion of Mary took place in what is now the MCN main office.
We can say that the Catholic Centre was born on the first Sunday of 1948. On that day a library was opened in the room which is now the shop, A few faithful well-wishers came in after Mass; cups of tea appeared, brought in by a small girl from the back, and the statue of Our Lady of Fair Voyage was put on the pedestal. Steadily, but very slowly, the Centre grew, other rooms were used, a few gifts came in. especially the furniture for the room next to the shop.
The shop itself was brought downstairs and the room where it had been became the meeting-place of Our Lady Gate of Heaven praesidium, whose first duty was to carry on with the Catholic Centre. In November, 1938, Father Girard, the Bishop's Secretary, now no !anger acting vicar of Katong, took over the shop and became financially responsible for it.
In the course of that year Father Fox put up the Apostleship of the Sea sign. Actually the site is too far from the sea, but it’s the nearest Catholic property for any sort of club. But notice that we avoid the use of the word club which has a sound of limits and exclusion. The Centre is open all day to all.
Far from the sea though it is, many sailors have benefitted from the Centre are also many men from the armed forces. Theirs is the gratitude for the devotion of those ladies who give up their evenings, especially Saturdays, to making this a place where they can talk and feel at home. A priest hears an occasional confession there, or arbitrates in a theological argument.
After Sunday Mass the Centre is full of people. The youngsters have a ping pong room.
Gradually other good works have found their focus here. Besides the Legion of Mary there is the Catholic Social Guild, the Young Christian Students Father Meissonnier's Catholic University Students' Society and now the Teachers' Training College, organization. Last but not least there is the MCN.
The Malayan Catholic News, 27 April 1952, page 3