Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary



The Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, commonly known as just the Church of the Nativity, is a Catholic church located at 1259 Upper Serangoon Road. In its beginnings during the 19th century, the church catered to the Teochew Catholic community, which comprised mainly farmers living in the Serangoon and Punggol areas. It now serves a multiracial community primarily in the Hougang housing estate. The gothic-style church was gazetted as a national monument in 2005.1

History
The history of the church began with the erection of an attap chapel in 1853 by a priest, Ambrose Maistre, on land that he had obtained from the government and with the help of a donation from a man named De Souza. Maistre reserved some land for the building of a presbytery and a school, and distributed the remaining land to Catholics to form a settlement round the chapel.2

As the number of Catholics in the area grew, he replaced the attap chapel with a brick one and named it the Church of St Mary. However, the congregation continued to increase and the new parish priest, Jean Casimir Saleilles, set about building a new church.3 On 2 August 1898, the foundation stone for the new church was blessed and laid by Bishop Charles Bourdon near the existing one.4 The size of this new building was 128 ft long by 46 ft wide, and its height, including the cross, was 152 ft.5

Saleilles not only oversaw the construction, but was personally involved in carrying it out. Besides unloading 300-pound barrels of cement from the cart, he was also responsible for raising the new bell to the belfry, as the workers were unable to do so. The church was blessed and opened by Bishop René Fée on 8 December 1901, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.6

By 1931, the size of the congregation had grown to about 2,700, and the parish priest, Edward Becheras, started making plans for the extension of the church. A sanctuary and a sacristy were added in 1933. This more than doubled the size of the edifice, which was first built in 1901.7

The growth in the number of parishioners over the years led the parish priest at the time, Father Hippolyte Berthold, to build a second church in nearby Sengkang to supplement the existing church. The new parish, the Church of St Anne, was blessed and opened in 1963.8 The Catholic settlement established by the first parish priest, Maistre, had already been replaced by public housing flats when the church celebrated its 160th anniversary in 2012,  and it continues to serve parishioners in the area today.9

Features
Designed by the priest Charles Benedict Nain, the church building currently spans 63 m, including the 34-metre-wide side transepts and the sanctuary. Neo-gothic features of the church include the pointed arch and the ribbed vault. The portico has a huge clock, while there are many arched windows and doors on the front facade.10 In front of the main entrance of the church is a large marble statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary flanked by two angel figurines.11 The statue of Mother Mary was donated by the sultan of Johor and erected with a ceremony on 8 December 1947.12

Inside the church, there are two rows of Corinthian columns at the central aisle of the nave and transepts. The stained-glass windows depict familiar biblical themes. The Chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is on the left of the sanctuary, and on the right stands the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, which houses the statue of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.13

Contributions
In its early years, the church not only catered to the spiritual needs of its parishioners, but also took care of their social needs.14 At one point, there were four schools within the church compound: Montfort School (which had evolved from Holy Innocents’ English School, founded in 1916,15 and known today as Montfort Secondary School16), Holy Innocents’ Primary School for the boys, Holy Innocents’ (Chinese) Girls’ School for the primary level, and the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus primary school.17 The church also currently operates the Nativity Church Kindergarten.18

A chapel for lepers at the Trafalgar Home was built during the 10-year stewardship of parish priest, Father Francis Chan, whose term had begun in 1946.19 Today, the church continues to cater to the needs of the sick and infirm of the parish by administering the anointing of the sick.20 The church currently has a group of lay counsellors who offer counselling services to its parishioners.21

The church was also instrumental in initiating many lay groups, including the Young Christian Workers (YCW),22 Catholic Young Men’s Association (CYMA),23 Legion of Mary,24 St Vincent De Paul Society25 and St Joseph Dying Aid Association.26 These lay organisations aimed to help the poor, develop young children and young adults, and assist with funerals.27 The YCW was later replaced by seven youth groups.28

In April 2008, the current parish priest of the church, Henry Siew, in response to the economic crisis, formed a new group called Matthew 25 to provide free meals to the needy regardless of their race, age or religion.29

On 14 January 2005, the Preservation of Monuments Board (now the Preservation of Sites and Monuments) declared the church a national monument based on its social and historical significance, importance to the community and its architectural merits.30



Author

Gillian Lim



References
1. National Heritage Board. (2015, December 8). Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Retrieved 2016, December 21 from roots.sg website: https://roots.sg/Content/Places/national-monuments/church-of-the-nativity-of-the-blessed-virgin-mary
2. Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Singapore). (1977). 125th anniversary: [Souvenir magazine]. Singapore: The Church, p. 32. (Call no.: RCLOS 282.5957 CHU)
3. Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Singapore). (1977). 125th anniversary: [Souvenir magazine]. Singapore: The Church, pp. 32, 33. (Call no.: RCLOS 282.5957 CHU)
4. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore. (n.d.). Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary: History of the Catholic Church in Singapore. Retrieved 2016, December 30 from The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore website: http://history.catholic.sg/church-of-the-nativity-of-the-blessed-virgin-mary/
5. New R.C. church at Serangoon. (1901, December 5). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Singapore). (1977). 125th anniversary: [Souvenir magazine]. Singapore: The Church, p. 33. (Call no.: RCLOS 282.5957 CHU)
7. Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Singapore). (2012). 160 years magnifying the Lord. Singapore: The Church, p. 62. (Call no.: RSING 282.5957 CHU)
8. Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Singapore). (2012). 160 years magnifying the Lord. Singapore: The Church, p. 97. (Call no.: RSING 282.5957 CHU)
9. National Heritage Board. (2015, December 8). Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Retrieved 2016, December 21 from Roots website: https://roots.sg/Content/Places/national-monuments/church-of-the-nativity-of-the-blessed-virgin-mary
10. Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Singapore). (2012). 160 years magnifying the Lord. Singapore: The Church, pp. 82–83. (Call no.: RSING 282.5957 CHU)
11. Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Singapore). (2012). 160 years magnifying the Lord. Singapore: The Church, pp. 53, 70–71, 82, 91. (Call no.: RSING 282.5957 CHU)
12. Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Singapore). (1977). 125th anniversary: [Souvenir magazine]. Singapore: The Church, p. 35. (Call no.: RCLOS 282.5957 CHU)
13. Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Singapore). (2012). 160 years magnifying the Lord. Singapore: The Church, pp. 71, 74–75, 76, 80, 81. (Call no.: RSING 282.5957 CHU)
14. Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Singapore). (1977). 125th anniversary: [Souvenir magazine]. Singapore: The Church, p. 34. (Call no.: RCLOS 282.5957 CHU)
15. From Montfort boys to men. (2009, December 20). CatholicNews, 59(26). Retrieved 2017, January 4 from CatholicNews website: http://catholicnews.sg/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3633:from-montfort-boys-to-men&catid=208&Itemid=473
16. Montfort Secondary School. (2016). Montfort Secondary School: Our history. Retrieved 2017, January 6 from Montfort Secondary School website: http://montfortsec.moe.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/about_us/history.html
17. Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Singapore). (2012). 160 years magnifying the Lord. Singapore: The Church, p. 140. (Call no.: RSING 282.5957 CHU)
18. Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (n.d.). Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Kindergarten. Retrieved 2016, January 4 from Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary website: http://www.nativity.sg/index.php/office/kindergarten
19. Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Singapore). (1977). 125th anniversary: [Souvenir magazine]. Singapore: The Church, p. 35. (Call no.: RCLOS 282.5957 CHU)
20. Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (n.d.). Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Anointing of the sick. Retrieved 2017, January 5 from Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary website: http://www.nativity.sg/index.php/pastoral/annointing
21. Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (n.d.). Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Counselling. Retrieved 2017, January 6 from Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary website: http://www.nativity.sg/index.php/pastoral/counsel
22. Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Singapore). (2012). 160 years magnifying the Lord. Singapore: The Church, pp. 124–125. (Call no.: RSING 282.5957 CHU)
23. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore. (n.d.). Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary: History of the Catholic Church in Singapore. Retrieved 2016, December 30 from The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore website: http://history.catholic.sg/church-of-the-nativity-of-the-blessed-virgin-mary/
24. Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (n.d.). Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary: The Legion of Mary: Nativity community of young people (NCYP). Retrieved 2017, January 6 from Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary website: http://www.nativity.sg/index.php/ministries/ncyp_legion
25. Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (n.d.). Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Care for the poor (SSVP). Retrieved 2017, January 6 from Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary website: http://www.nativity.sg/index.php/pastoral/care
26. Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (n.d.). Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary: St. Joseph Dying Aid Association. Retrieved 2017, January 6 from Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary website: http://www.nativity.sg/index.php/office/sjdaa
27. Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (n.d.). Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Retrieved 2017, January 6 from Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary website: http://www.nativity.sg
28. Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Singapore). (2012). 160 years magnifying the Lord. Singapore: The Church, pp. 214–215. (Call no.: RSING 282.5957 CHU)
29. Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (n.d.). Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Matthew 25: Service ministry. Retrieved 2017, January 6 from Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary website: http://www.nativity.sg/index.php/ministries/service_matt25
30. National Heritage Board. (2015, December 8). Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Retrieved 2016, December 21 from Roots SG website: https://roots.sg/Content/Places/national-monuments/church-of-the-nativity-of-the-blessed-virgin-mary



The information in this article is valid as at 2017 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
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Religious Buildings
Religious buildings
Monuments--Singapore
Catholic church buildings--Singapore
Arts>>Architecture>>Religious buildings