Good Shepherd cathedral to close for revamp

For the past eight years, Singapore's oldest Roman Catholic church has struggled to raise funds to urgently repair its crumbling building in Queen Street.

But despite raising only $13 million of the $35 million needed, the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd is pushing ahead with the renovations and the construction of a new annexe building.

It will hold its last few masses on Oct 27, and shut its gates for two years. Work is expected to start on Nov 1.

"We're glad to be moving forward," said Father Adrian Anthony, the priest in charge of the restoration project.

"It took a lot of time because it required economic prudence and time to get all the necessary permits approved.

"We did not want to rush into it and end up with mistakes and having to bear extra costs," he said of the church, built between 1843 and 1847 and gazetted as a national monument in 1973.

Cracks first appeared in the cathedral's walls, floors and columns in 2006. They were thought to have been caused by underground construction works nearby. Its bell tower is also crooked and the building suffers from corrosion, water damage and crumbling plasterwork.

One of the most urgent works is to repair and strengthen the cathedral's damaged foundation. It will also be fully air-conditioned and its pipe organ restored. A new basement, adjacent to the cathedral, will house a multi-purpose space which can be used for small masses and will hold a crypt for the cathedral's deceased bishops.

Architects 61, which is overseeing the restoration, has also designed a new three-storey building that will house a function hall, prayer and counselling rooms and a heritage centre.

The Catholic heritage centre is likely to display artefacts such as the diary of French missionary Jean-Marie Beurel who founded the cathedral, as well as other historical documents and artefacts.

It will help Singaporeans feel a connection with the cherished buildings in their midst, said Dr Chua Ai Lin, president of the Singapore Heritage Society, "In this case, it becomes more than just a place for the church congregation but also reminds us that it is a national monument that is important and meaningful to everyone," said Dr Chua.

Money is still streaming in, said Father Anthony. Catholic churches are supporting its fund-raising efforts - the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for instance, held a golf tournament last week which collected $200,000. In 2011, the Preservation of Sites and Monuments disbursed about $1.5 million to the cathedral.

During its closure, masses will be held at St Joseph's Church in Victoria Street at 1.15pm on weekdays and 10.30am on Sundays. Its two priests - Father Anthony and Father Francis Lau - will also have to find alternative accommodation while the rectory undergoes restoration.

Parishioner Josephine Lau, 24, said she is looking forward to the cathedral being restored. "It still stands as a place of worship and serves its original purpose. I'm looking forward to it standing proudly as a beacon in the city."

Father Anthony added: "The newly restored building will be a place for busy Singaporeans to come and find peace, recollect and pray. I hope it will be like old times where the cathedral served as a meeting point where Catholics could socialise and people can gather."

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