Gregory Yong



Gregory Yong Sooi Nghean, Archbishop Emeritus (b. 20 May 1925, Perak, Malaysia–d. 28 June 2008, Singapore) was the Roman Catholic archbishop of Singapore from 1977 to 2000. He was the second archbishop of Singapore and the first local clergy to be appointed to this role.1

Early life
Yong was born in Perak, Malaysia, in 1925.2 He was the fifth-born in a family of ten children, and had three brothers and six sisters.3 His father Yong Ah Choy worked as a dresser or hospital assistant, and was an active Catholic.4 His mother died when he was 13 years old and an older sister took over the role of mother.5


Yong received his education at the St George’s Institution in Taiping and St Michael’s Institution in Ipoh. He entered the St Francis Xavier Minor Seminary in Singapore in January 1941 and went on to the major seminary at College General in Penang in 1944. He was ordained as a priest in December 1951.6

Yong’s first parish posting was to the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Upper Serangoon Road in Singapore. In 1953, he  furthered his studies at St Peter’s College in Rome, Italy, and was conferred a doctorate in Canon Law in 1956, becoming the first priest from Malaya to obtain this qualification.7

Upon his return to Singapore in August 1956, Yong joined the Church of the Sacred Heart at Tank Road as an assistant parish priest. He subsequently joined the teaching staff at the St Francis Xavier Minor Seminary. In 1965, he started a short stint at the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary at Highland Road, but took up a teaching position at the College General in Penang a year later.8 On 1 July 1968, he was ordained the Bishop of Penang, taking over the role from Bishop Francis Chan, who had died in October 1967.9

Archbishop of Singapore
In 1977, Yong returned to Singapore to succeed Archbishop Michael Olcomendy, who had retired.10 Yong became the second archbishop of Singapore and the first Asian to be appointed to this role.11 He was officially installed as the archbishop of Singapore at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd on 2 April 1977.12


During his term as archbishop, Yong had to deal with many momentous developments such as the implementation of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), which advocated changes in the Catholic church. These changes included holding ecumenical dialogues with other religions as well as the increased involvement of the laity in the church.13 Other developments that Yong had to handle were the growing population of Roman Catholics in Singapore, which led to the building of new churches; the establishment of diplomatic relations between Singapore and the Vatican; and the unification of the Roman Catholic ecclesiastical administration of Singapore.

The last development was the negotiated transfer of the Portuguese Mission’s St Joseph’s Church on Victoria Street from the Bishop of Macau to the Archdiocese of Singapore.14 The Portuguese Mission in Singapore was established by the Portuguese and came under the administration of the Bishop of Macau, not Singapore.15 This transfer ended the anomaly of the church being under the administration of another country’s bishop. Wider societal developments also demanded Yong’s attention, including economic affluence leading to increased stresses on family life and social relationships; the issue of abortion; and the detention of 22 Catholics on suspicion of involvement in subversive activities in 1987.16

Yong held the office of archbishop for 23 years and retired at the mandatory retirement age of 75 in October 2000.17 In October 2001, he was succeeded by Father Nicholas Chia, who was then a parish priest at the Church of the Holy Cross.18

Accomplishments
St Francis Xavier Major Seminary
Before the separation of Singapore and Malaysia in 1965, Catholic priests in Singapore studied for four years at the St Francis Xavier Minor Seminary in Singapore before proceeding to the major seminary at College General in Penang for their advanced training. The separation made it difficult for the seminarians to proceed to College General, as the Malaysian government did not recognise the college as an institution of higher learning. To make matters worse, the governments of Malaysia and Singapore imposed quotas on the number of foreign missionaries.19


On 24 February 1983, Yong established the St Francis Xavier Major Seminary in Singapore, which operated on the grounds of the old St Francis Xavier Minor Seminary. The major seminary enabled candidates for the priesthood to receive their complete education in Singapore. Its current building at Ponggol 17th Avenue was completed in 1987 and officially opened on 28 January 1988.20

Singapore Pastoral Institute and Family Life Society
Yong initiated many projects with the objectives of nurturing a well-informed Catholic community, safeguarding spiritual values and promoting family ties. These included the establishment of the Singapore Pastoral Institute in 1978 and the Family Life Society in 1983.21


Yong founded the Singapore Pastoral Institute together with Father Nicholas Chia, who succeeded him as archbishop. The institute was set up to provide courses on the Bible, church teachings and pastoral training programmes, and is now a key unit in the Catholic Archdiocesan Education Centre.22

The Family Life Society, registered in 1985 under the Societies Act of Singapore, is a non-profit organisation that serves both Catholics and non-Catholics by providing counselling services and educational programmes.23

Member of presidential councils
Yong served on the first Presidential Council for Religious Harmony, which was formed in August 1992 after the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act came into effect in March 1992. One of the key roles of the council is to consider and report to the Minister for Home Affairs matters concerning the maintenance of religious harmony in Singapore.24


Yong was also a member of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights. The main function of this council is to scrutinise legislation passed by parliament to ensure that there is no discrimination against any particular race, religion or community in Singapore.25

Death
Yong’s health faltered in his later years.26 His last public appearance was in April 2004 when he was a prosecution witness in the trial of Catholic priest Joachim Kang, who was subsequently jailed for misappropriating S$5.1 million in church funds.27 On 28 June 2008, Yong died of heart failure at the age of 83 at St Joseph’s Home in Jurong.28




Author

Jean Lim



References
1. Wijeysingha, E. (2006). Going forth... the Catholic Church in Singapore 1819–2004. Singapore: His Most Rev. Nicholas Chia, Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore, pp. 150–152, 174–175, 180–182. (Call no.: RSING 282.5957 WIJ); Ex-Archbishop dead. (2008, June 29). The New Paper, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Wijeysingha, E. (2006). Going forth... the Catholic Church in Singapore 1819–2004. Singapore: His Most Rev. Nicholas Chia, Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore, p. 174. (Call no.: RSING 282.5957 WIJ)
3. Pates, I. (1986, November 12). He’s great-grandpa to 105,000The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Khor, C. K. (1968, July 1). The ‘awesome’ responsibility of being a bishopThe Straits Times, p. 10; Penang bishop’s father found dead in pool. (1970, October 22). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Pates, I. (1986, November 12). He’s great-grandpa to 105,000The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Wijeysingha, E. (2006). Going forth... the Catholic Church in Singapore 1819–2004. Singapore: His Most Rev. Nicholas Chia, Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore, p. 174. (Call no.: RSING 282.5957 WIJ)
7. Archbishop Gregory Yong, D. D. episcopal silver jubilee, July 1, 1993. (1993). Singapore: [s.n.], p. 20. (Call no.: RCLOS 262.122 ARC)
8. Archbishop Gregory Yong, D. D. episcopal silver jubilee, July 1, 1993. (1993). Singapore: [s.n.], p. 20. (Call no.: RCLOS 262.122 ARC)
9. Khor, C. K. (1968, July 1). The ‘awesome’ responsibility of being a bishopThe Straits Times, p. 10; Khor, C. K. (1967, October 29). Voting – to pick new bishop. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Ooi, T. (1977, February 26). New Archbishop says: I’m so happy to be back. New Nation, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Wijeysingha, E. (2006). Going forth... the Catholic Church in Singapore 1819–2004. Singapore: His Most Rev. Nicholas Chia, Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore, pp. 150–152, 174. (Call no.: RSING 282.5957 WIJ)
12. Archbishop. (1977, April 3). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. O’Malley, J. W. (2008). What happened at Vatican II. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, pp. 2–3, 291. (Call no.: R 262.52 OMA); Wijeysingha, E. (2006). Going forth... the Catholic Church in Singapore 1819–2004. Singapore: His Most Rev. Nicholas Chia, Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore, pp. 146, 182–183, 280–281. (Call no.: RSING 282.5957 WIJ)
14. Wijeysingha, E. (2006). Going forth... the Catholic Church in Singapore 1819–2004. Singapore: His Most Rev. Nicholas Chia, Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore, pp. 183–188, 191–192. (Call no.: RSING 282.5957 WIJ); Boss, J. N. (2009). An account of the Portuguese mission in Singapore (1825–1999): Founding of St Joseph’s Church. Singapore: James Newton Boss, pp. 5–7, 112–121. (Call no.: RSING 282.5957 BOS)
15. Wijeysingha, E. (2006). Going forth... the Catholic Church in Singapore 1819–2004. Singapore: His Most Rev. Nicholas Chia, Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore, pp. 184–185. (Call no.: RSING 282.5957 WIJ)
16. Wijeysingha, E. (2006). Going forth... the Catholic Church in Singapore 1819–2004. Singapore: His Most Rev. Nicholas Chia, Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore, pp. 176–179, 196–200. (Call no.: RSING 282.5957 WIJ)
17. Archbishop Yong steps down. (2000, October 20). The Straits Times, p. 56. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Leong, P. (2001, June 24). Father Chia chosen as new Archbishop. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Wijeysingha, E. (2006). Going forth... the Catholic Church in Singapore 1819–2004. Singapore: His Most Rev. Nicholas Chia, Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore, pp. 180–181. (Call no.: RSING 282.5957 WIJ)
20. Wijeysingha, E. (2006). Going forth... the Catholic Church in Singapore 1819–2004. Singapore: His Most Rev. Nicholas Chia, Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore, pp. 180–181. (Call no.: RSING 282.5957 WIJ)
21. Wijeysingha, E. (2006). Going forth... the Catholic Church in Singapore 1819–2004. Singapore: His Most Rev. Nicholas Chia, Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore, pp. 181–182. (Call no.: RSING 282.5957 WIJ); Archbishop Yong steps down. (2000, October 20). The Straits Times, p. 56. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Wijeysingha, E. (2006). Going forth... the Catholic Church in Singapore 1819–2004. Singapore: His Most Rev. Nicholas Chia, Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore, pp. 181–182. (Call no.: RSING 282.5957 WIJ)
23. Family Life Society. (2002, August 18–25). The Catholic News, p. 4. Available via PublicationSG; Wijeysingha, E. (2006). Going forth... the Catholic Church in Singapore 1819–2004. Singapore: His Most Rev. Nicholas Chia, Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore, pp. 200–201. (Call no.: RSING 282.5957 WIJ)
24. First religious harmony body appointed. (1992, August 2). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Wijeysingha, E. (2006). Going forth... the Catholic Church in Singapore 1819–2004. Singapore: His Most Rev. Nicholas Chia, Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore, p. 175. (Call no.: RSING 282.5957 WIJ)
26. Li, X. (2004, June 20). Former Archbishop Yong very ill. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Lum, S. (2004, April 8). Priest’s embezzlement trial. The Straits Times, p. 10; Ee, W. W. J. (2008, June 29). Ex-Archbishop Yong diesThe Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Ee, W. W. J. (2008, June 29). Ex-Archbishop Yong diesThe Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2010 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Yong, Gregory Sooi Nghean, 1925-2008
Bishops--Singapore--Biography
Philosophy, psychology and religion>>Religion>>Christianity
Personalities>>Biographies>>Religious Leaders
Religious leaders
Catholic Church--Bishops--Biography