It was 1858…on a hillside far away in Lourdes, France, 14-year old Bernadette Soubirous, knelt down to pray and Our Lady appeared to her. On the site she dug a stream which became a source of healing and grace to thousands of pilgrims even today.
Bernadette became a nun in 1866 and lived the rest of her life at the Convent of St. Gildard under the Order of the Sisters of Charity at Nevers. She died in 1879 at the age of 35 and was canonized a saint on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on 8th December 1933. . Her still incorrupt body lay at the Convent of Nevers to this day – a testament to her holiness and God’s favour.
In commemoration of the centenary of the apparitions of Our Lady by St. Bernadette, the foundation stone of our Church was laid on 14th September 1958 by the late Archbishop Msgr. M. Olcomendy who commissioned Rev. Fr. Pierre. Abrail to build the Church. In no time, the zealous priest, with the help of a group of lay men and women, raised about $200,000, of which $156,670.31 went into the construction of the church and the rest on furnishings and fixtures. Three bells, inscribed with the names of St. Bernadette and her parents, were imported from France at a cost of $6,000 while the crucifix at the main altar came from Italy, for $400. The building was erected in record time by architect, Alfred Wong and on 30th March 1959, a mere 61/2 months since the laying of the foundation stone, it was officially opened by Archbishop M. Olcomendy. The Church of St. Bernadette, with its unique structure and the blue neon-lit crucifix atop the roof, has become a landmark at Zion Road. Today, St. Bernadette continues to be a vibrant church, serving nearly 2800 parishioners, despite all the changes that has taken place around it. And like the shrine of Lourdes in France, the Church of St. Bernadette is a source of spiritual grace and a beacon of hope to many.
Growth of the Parish
In 1997, to make space for its growing community and its numerous activities, the Church of St. Bernadette took over the premises of the former CHIJ Kellock Convent next door, the latter having moved out to a bigger location. Refurbished to the tune of $2.08 million, the school building was renamed the 'Parish Centre' and opened on 14th November 1999. The three-storey high centre now houses the church canteen, audio-visual rooms, class rooms for Sunday School, offices, meeting rooms and a gift shop.
In the year 2002, part of the Priest House was converted into a prayer room or what we call “The Upper Room”. Renovated at a cost of $85,000, the Upper Room holds the Blessed Host and offers serenity and comfort to parishioners who seek solace and strength. In 2003, an idea for a grotto depicting the scene of St. Bernadette praying to our Lady, was mooted and by April 2004, the grotto was completed at the cost of $25, 741.00. Situated at the corner of the Priest House, the grotto is popular with passers-by and parishioners alike who can be seen praying the Rosary on Wednesdays or just a short prayer or an act of reverence as they pass by.
Six parish priests have come and gone, with the longest serving being Fr. Joseph Tan who was at St. Bernadette for 14 years from 1982 to 1996. The last parish priest, Fr. Patrick Goh – who was transferred in February 2002 to Holy Family Church – served a total of 17 years, both as assistant priest and parish priest. Currently, the parish priest is Fr. Eugene Chong who came to St. Bernadette on 18 February 2002. He is being assisted by Fr. Alfred Chan and Fr. John B. Tou.
Among the assistant parish priests, the honour of longest serving goes to Fr. Joseph Chao who served an impressive 22 years followed by Fr. Pierre Bouttaz who served 16 years.
Over the years, the Lord has blessed the church with four priests from its congregation. They are Fr. Anthony Ho, Fr. Alfred Chan, Fr. Nicholas Ho and Fr. Aloysius Ong.
From its humble origins of serving the local Catholic community in the surrounding areas, a significant 35% of its congregation now comprises of foreigners. This is in keeping with the changing landscape of Singapore as it becomes more cosmopolitan.
Besides the English-speaking and Mandarin-speaking communities, we also have a strong presence of Indonesians and Filipinos. This diversity of cultures has greatly contributed to the vibrancy and variety of talents among its congregation as manifested in the 50 or so parish ministries and groups active in St. Bernadette.
The Next Phase
We have, in 2009, in the Golden Jubilee Year of the Church, completed the renovation of the Church building and celebrated its Dedication on 18th October 2009. The beautiful edifice, which was declared a 'Conserved' building by the URA after the renovation, stands as a monument not only to the uniqueness of its architecture but as a testament of the enduring love, care and concern of its parishioners for their church. With the building secure and solid, our focus will now inevitably shift to the upgrading of its software – our parishioners and all those who come into its motherly embrace. The Church of St. Bernadette, has been and will be, well poised to meet new challenges as it continues in its mission of witnessing Christ to the world in the spirit of a participatory church and in the simplicity and style exemplified by St. Bernadette of Lourdes.
Compiled by Parish Secretary
updated March 2010