Church's ‘merry band of pioneers'

Church's ‘merry band of pioneers'
Church members saying their prayers after mass at the Church of Saint Vincent de Paul on Sunday, 22 September 2013.

Guided by a French missionary priest, a band of parishioners would serve more than a thousand poor Catholics and Jalan Kayu residents in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the area was still dotted with pig and poultry farms.

On weekends, they gathered at a sarabat tea stall in Jalan Kayu before going on foot to distribute bags of groceries to villages.

'There were vegetable farmers and small-scale traders such as fishmongers as well. Many were very poor and some lived alongside pig sties,' recalled Mr Eugene Wijeysingha, 79, who was part of that group. 'Led by Father Henri Saussard, who had a heart of gold, we carried bags of rice, milk and cooking oil up the hills.'

The life of Father Saussard, who died in the mid-1980s, and the history of the Church of Saint Vincent de Paul, was depicted in a 2 1/2-hour musical put up by the church's youth on the first weekend of this month as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations.

The church, which now has 5,000 members, will also hold a dinner at the Orchid Country Club on Sep 28 to celebrate the feast day of its patron saint, St Vincent de Paul, a French priest who was dedicated to serving the poor, in conjunction with its anniversary.

It is befitting, then, for members to walk down memory lane and recapture the spirit of its founding father and his 'merry band of pioneers', said Mr Wijeysingha, a retired principal.

The church, which now occupies a 40-year-old, four-storey building in Yio Chu Kang Road, did not always have a venue to operate out of.

In its early days, masses were held in the home of a resident in Lorong Tanggam, which also served as a food distribution point and tuition centre.

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