Fr Eugene Chong, SVDP’s parish priest, presents Fr Anthony with a Papal Blessing on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination. Photos: Church of St Vincent de Paul

Father Adrian Anthony

Jonathan Peeris

Fiery sermons, the ability to rally and inspire people and a heart for the poor – these are just how some people describe Father Adrian Anthony.

Fr AA, as he is affectionately known, celebrated his sacerdotal Golden Jubilee on Feb 6, 2021 at the Church of St Vincent de Paul (SVDP). Usually, such an event would be celebrated in a big way with hundreds of people attending the Mass followed by a lunch or dinner reception, akin to a 50th wedding anniversary celebration. However, with the current Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, the Mass was limited to 100 people without any reception.

This appreciation might seem to fall short given the years of Fr Anthony’s service, but in retrospect, the humble and sombre Mass was perfectly fitting for a man who had always shunned the spotlight, worked quietly in the background, and always with a heart for the poor and marginalised.

The fourth of 11 children, Fr Anthony attributes his parents for instilling in him at a young age that God is always the most important person in your life. “My parents would always make sure we attended Mass in our Sunday best,” he recalled. “Not because we wanted to show off but because we were going to see the King of Kings.”

Family prayers were a daily affair at 6.30pm every evening and helping out at church in whatever ways was the norm. Then came a chance encounter with Fr Henri Saussard, MEP while taking shelter from the rain at the Church of Francis Xavier that would change his life forever.

Fr Saussard was tasked to minister to the poor in Jalan Kayu and he asked the young Adrian Anthony to help give tuition to the children studying for their PSLE. It was the first time he had seen true poverty and it left a profound impression on him. “Spending time with these people, touching their lives and making a difference, and hearing them say ‘thank you’ gave me such great satisfaction. And that was the beginning of my vocation,” he said.

Fr Anthony was ordained on Feb 6, 1971 at the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary by Archbishop Michael Olçomendy, MEP. His first posting was to the newly-formed SVDP, but only six months later, he was sent to the Church of the Risen Christ in Toa Payoh. After three years, he went for studies in India, Rome and the United States. Upon his return, Fr Anthony spent the next decade (1980 – 1990) as rector of the St Francis Xavier Minor Seminary.

Former student Fr Paul Yeo who gave the homily at the Golden Jubilee Mass thanked Fr Anthony for his teaching and influence. “In the spirit of a pioneer, he believed what he said, and he did what he believed…he pushed boundaries and challenged armchair critics.”

After his time as rector of the Seminary, Fr Anthony returned to SVDP in 1990 where he stayed for the next 12 years. Perhaps Fr Anthony’s biggest task was the renovation of the church which started in 1995. It was a massive undertaking and required numerous fund-raising projects to see it completed. But as Fr Anthony himself admits, it was only a dress rehearsal for what was to come.

Fr Anthony left SVDP in 2003 to become the rector of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd and by 2006, he was already preparing for the extensive renovation and upgrading of the Cathedral which began in 2013. He stayed on-site throughout the renovation, supervising and befriending the migrant construction workers until he stepped down for health reasons in 2015.

Even in his retirement years, Fr Anthony who turns 78 this year, continues his ministry with much fervour and zeal. He attends to elderly parishioners who have difficulty signing up for Mass or who are afraid to attend Mass because of the pandemic. As ever, he remains a dutiful servant of Christ answering the call to love and serve the people.

 

Fathers Eugene Vaz and Johnson Fernandez

Victoria Lim

Things have come full circle for both Fathers Eugene Vaz and Johnson Fernandez who, 50 years after their ordination at the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour (OLPS) in 1971, were reunited at OLPS on Saturday, Feb 13 at 11 am to celebrate their Sacerdotal Golden Jubilee. Though it was a simple celebration due to Covid-19 safety measures with only 100 people gathered for the occasion, more than 7,000 people tuned in online for the livestream on YouTube, a testament to their dedicated and faithful service.

Sharing the secret to a long-lasting priesthood, Mass Presider Monsignor Ambrose Vaz said in his homily that it is important for priests to always remember who is calling them, what they are called to, and to be aware of their own limitations and trust in God so as to allow Him to help them, especially in difficult situations.  Msgr Ambrose, who served at Frs Eugene and Johnson’s ordination Mass as an altar server, also said that priests are called to unravel and make tangible the mystery of God’s unconditional love through their ministry.

Expressing how they felt celebrating their Golden Jubilee Mass together, both priests remarked that they were filled with much gratitude for the fraternal bond and mutual support they had shared throughout the years, and rejoiced in giving thanks to God for reaching this significant milestone in their priesthood together.

Call to the priesthood

For Frs Eugene and Johnson, the call to the priesthood was inspired by the MEP priests of the East District parishes who had a great love for the people of God and were humble and simple in the way they ministered to the people.

Fr Johnson shared that the witness of his mother also drew him to the priesthood. “She was a woman of great faith who would wake up early in the morning to spend time in the adoration room. She would also make it a point that we came together to pray the rosary every night,” he recalled.

For Fr Eugene, seeing his Dad’s brother become a priest made a huge impact as well. “He was always so joyful when carrying out his duties,” he recounted fondly.

Different paths

After their ordination on Feb 13, 1971 by Archbishop Michael Olçomendy, MEP, both priests found themselves on very different priestly journeys. Fr Johnson was posted to the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes for a few months before being sent to Church of St Teresa’s (1971-1977). There Fr Johnson found his giftedness in catechising the young and bringing the young children on camps, finding creative ways to engage them meaningfully with the stories of the Bible.

As for Fr Eugene, he served at the Church of the Holy Family with the MEP priests and remembered how, even though they were much older, he got along really well with them, and they all worked hard to build the parish community together.

Both then went on to work in a variety of roles and capacities in their respective parishes and organisations they were part of. Fr Eugene shared that his time of working in the prison ministry (1994 – 1999) impacted him the most. As a chaplain, he was allowed access to inmates on death row. In his interactions with them, he was grateful to have witnessed the shift in their consciousness from anger to acceptance to total surrender to God. He recalled an encounter with a prisoner which made a deep impression on him. “The man said to me, ‘Don’t worry, Father, I am going to God’. What he said really reinforced for me that our purpose here on Earth is a movement back to our heavenly Father.”

Fr Johnson found catechising the young and sharing Jesus with them through storytelling the most rewarding part of his journey as a priest. He introduced the Liturgy of the Word for children during his tenure at the Church of Divine Mercy (2010 – 2019). He noted, “Children are simple and show us best how to live out our faith – with wonder and curiosity about life, and trustful surrender to God.”

Overcoming challenges

Both admitted that being a priest for the past 50 years was not without challenges.

Fr Johnson shared that it was his quiet moments of prayer and spending time with Jesus in silence and developing that deep relationship with Him which really saw him through the difficult moments. He also admitted that seeing through fundraising and building projects of the various parishes he was assigned to was a daunting task, but the Holy Spirit always sent the right people at the right time to help.

For Fr Eugene, it was the Lord’s assurance in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” which kept him going as he ministered to his flock. St Paul’s words constantly reminded him that, in spite of his inadequacies, whatever he did was not by his own strength alone, but by the grace of God.

Wise words for the future

Looking ahead, both priests shared that the future of the Church lies in families, and parents faithfully carrying out their duty to bring Christ to their children as their children’s first catechists.  They also agreed that the future also depends on establishing, encouraging, and affirming relationships with each other so that we will all be emboldened to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel, and remain creative and relevant in bringing the person of Jesus to all whom we meet.

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