Newsletter of the District
- June 2003
Origins of Catholicism in Singapore
The Diocese of Malacca was
created on February 4, 1558 by the Apostolic Constitution "Pro
Excellent! Praeminentia" of Pope Paul IV. From the start, Portuguese
Bishops governed the Diocese until the fall of Malacca to the Dutch
in 1641. The last Bishop of Malacca, confirmed by the Holy See,
was His Lordship Alexandre de Sacra Familia who was consecrated
in 1783. But he could not take charge of his See in Malacca. Then,
the Bishops of Malacca were transferred to the colony of Timor.
There was, however, a priest always stationed in Malacca who came
from either Macau or Goa to attend to the spiritual needs of the
faithful. The Diocese of Malacca was then subordinate to the Archdiocese
The Bishops could not go to the town -which was then occupied
by the Dutch - thus the Archbishop delegated the care of the spiritual
interests of Malacca's Catholics to the Vicar of St. Peter's Church
which was built at the beginning of the 18th century.
In 1819, when Sir Stamford Raffles founded the settlement
of Singapore, the then Vicar of St. Peter's Church in Malacca was
the Dominican Friar, Fr. Daniel de Sta. Teresa, who took charge
of the Parish on July 8,1810. His assistant, from 1813, was Father
Jacob Joaquim Freire Brumber. In 1821 or 1822, Father Jacob came
from Malacca to Singapore to take care of local Catholics. He obtained
from Sir Stamford Raffles a site for a Chapel but there has never
been proof that the chapel was built.
In 1826, Father Francisco
Gomes was appointed Vicar of St. Peter's Church in Malacca. In 1840,
he was appointed Episcopal Governor of Malacca and was succeeded
by Father Vincente de Sta. Catarina, a Dominican Friar, who came
to Singapore in 1848. It was Father Vincente who built the Church
of St. Joseph in Singapore between 1851 and 1853.
The Portuguese Mission and the French Mission
On July 16,1821, Mgr. Jean-Louis Florens, Apostolic Vicar
of Siam, wrote from Bangkok: "The Christians of Singapore ...wrote
me twice asking for a priest. Where to find one? They have today
a Portuguese priest."
It seems that the priest was Father Jacob who came from
By 1824, it seems probable that Father Jacob had already
returned to Malacca. About then, three Catholics wrote to Mgr. Florens
asking for a priest. He could not help them as his jurisdiction
did not extend to Singapore.
To look after the Catholics of Singapore, Fr. Francisco
da Silva Pinto a Maia, of the Congregation of the Mission, came
from Macau in 1825 and founded the Portuguese Mission here. Father
Maia was born in Oporto (Portugal) in 1785 and was educated in the
Seminary of St. Vincent de Paul in Lisbon. Once ordained a priest,
he was appointed to the Diocese of Macau where he arrived on June
28, 1813. There he was appointed to the staff of St. Joseph's Seminary
where he taught for many years. But as the Catholics of the new
British settlement of Singapore depended spiritually on the Archbishop
of Goa, Father Maia requested and obtained ecclesiastical jurisdiction.
He arrived in Singapore on June 30, 1825, just six years after the
foundation of the settlement. There was no other Catholic priest
in the Colony at that time.
By the end of 1821, there were only 12 or 13 Catholics
in Singapore. By 1829, they numbered 200, all under the care of
Father Maia. As he had no church or chapel, he said Mass in the
house of his friend, Dr Jose d'Almeida, at Beach Road, where the
present Raffles Hotel now stands.
In 1831, Mgr. Bartholomeu Bruguiere, MEP, Bishop of Capso,
Coadjutor for Siam, called at Singapore on his way to Bangkok. He
said Mass in the house of a Mr. MacSwiney, along Bras Basah Road,
opposite where the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd now stands. Before
leaving for Siam in 1832, he entrusted some Catholics to the care
of Father Julien Marc Clemenceau, MEP; and he wrote to Father Jean
Baptist Boucho, MEP, to come down from Penang to settle certain
difficulties. These difficulties concerned the jurisdiction over
the Catholics of Singapore who now numbered about 300.
The Vicar Apostolic of Siam, in a letter to Father Maia
dated February 10,1831, stated that he had received spiritual jurisdiction
over the district of Singapore from Pope Leo Xn by his decree of
A minor storm arose when the jurisdiction of Father Maia
was contested, as may be seen from this quote from the Singapore
Free Press of August 20, 1840: "Under the right of Patronage
vested in the Crown of Portugal, under an ancient Bull, in favour
of the Metropolitan of Goa, within whose jurisdiction the settlements
in the Straits are included, and under a Faculty from the Prekte,
Padre Maia came to Singapore as Vicar in the early part of the year
"That decree (of Pope Leo xn) bears the date July
1827 and the substance of it is, that having been presented to the
Propaganda that the Catholics of Singapore were wholly unprovided
with a pastor, the Vicar Apostolic of Siam was directed to provide
for the deficiency. Now Padre Maia was here and exercising his duties
for upwards of two years before the issuing of the Decree. And as
this Decree was directed and sent to the Bishop of Siam, are we
not justified in coming to the conclusion that he was the channel
through which these misrepresentations were made? Is it not also
strange that Padre Maia was not made acquainted with the existence
of this Decree by the French Missionaries until the year 1831 -
four years after the date of it?"
Father Maia at once informed his Superior in Goa, who sent
him a pastoral letter, dated May 12, 1832, to be read to Catholics
of Singapore, in which he declared:
"Singapore is in the district of the Diocese of Malacca,
suffragan to this Metropolis of Goa, and by no means belonging to
the district of Siam Mission. This is recognised by the same Sacred
Congregation in the above decree, which says: Quoniam
dicta colonia posita est extra fines Vicariatus Siamensis (the
said colony of Singapore is situated out of the boundaries of Siam
In the same Pastoral letter, the Ordinary of Goa forbade,
under pain of excommunication, Father Maia, the priests and Catholics
of Singapore and Malacca to obey any other Bishop other than the
Metropolitan of Goa.
Father Maia had to obey the Metropolitan of Goa. Father
Boucho had to follow the Vicar Apostolic of Siam. This was the origin
of the double jurisdiction in Singapore, i.e. the Portuguese and
Friction Between the Two
By 1832, there were about 300 Catholics in Singapore. The
Diocese of Malacca, created in 1558, was still in existence under
the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan of Goa who appointed his Episcopal
Vicars for Malacca and Singapore. But on April 24, 1838, Pope Gregory
XVI published the brief Multa Praeclare,
by which the area of the Malacca Diocese was entrusted, provisionally,
to Mgr. Frederick Cao, Bishop of Zamora, Vicar Apostolic of Ava
and Pegu, so that the Archbishop of Goa could not exercise any jurisdiction
over this area. According to this brief, it seems that the jurisdiction
of Father Maia in Singapore and Father Gomes in Malacca should cease
to exist. But they continued to administer to their flocks and exercise
spiritual jurisdiction over these territories as before. Why?
An Episcopal Vicar, a Vicar General or a Parish Priest
receives orders from his Ecclesiastical Superiors and from nobody
else. Their Ecclesiastical Superior was the Archbishop of Goa. When
Father Maia and Father Gomes received copies of the brief Multa
Praeclare, they consulted Goa and both of them received a Pastoral,
dated October 8, 1838, threatening them with excommunication if
they should submit to any other authority other than to their Metropolitan.
These priests could not recognize any other jurisdiction over their
The brief Multa Praeclare
was not recognized as valid in Goa. At the time of the promulgation
of this brief, the Holy See had no diplomatic relations with the
Portuguese Government. The Queen of Portugal, therefore, was not
informed of the contents of this brief which was not sent to Lisbon.
Also notice of the publication of this brief was given to those
directly affected by the change (the Ordinaries of Goa and Malacca),
nor was any copy of it forwarded to them.
The result was fierce opposition to the brief Multa Praeclare. The Ordinary of Goa rejected this brief and
forbade all his subordinates from accepting it and enjoined them
to resist the Vicars Apostolic. The Portuguese priests in India,
as well as in Singapore and Malacca did so and the struggle continued
for many years. In 1841, Portugal renewed its diplomatic relations
with the Holy See. A Concordat was signed on February 21, 1857,
by which Portuguese rights over the Diocese of Malacca (as well
as some Indian dioceses) were recognized by the Pope.
Regarding Singapore, article IX of the Concordat said:
"But the island of Singapore shall continue to belong to the
same Diocese of Malacca." According to the Concordat,
the whole island of Singapore was part of the old Portuguese diocese
of Malacca and this diocese was once again under Portuguese jurisdiction.
new Concordat was signed between Pope Leo XIII and King Dom Louis
of Portugal on June 23,1886. Article IX says that all the Catholics
of Malacca and Singapore, who were under the jurisdiction of Goa,
would pass to the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Macau. Therefore
all the faithful living in Malacca or in Singapore and belonging to the old Portuguese diocese of Malacca passed to
the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Macau in 1886. The diocese of
Malacca was then restored and entrusted to the Foreign Missions
of Paris. By this Concordat was peace restored between the two conflicting
Once the Concordat of 1886 determined the limits of the
two jurisdictions, both Missions came to work harmoniously together.
Lastly, the Holy See, by an instrument dated May 28, 1981,
finally ratified an agreement previously signed by the Bishop of
Macau, D. Arquiminio Rodrigues da Costa, the Archbishop of Singapore,
the Most Reverend Gregory Yong, and the Apostolic Delegate, the
Most Reverend Giovanni Moretti, on July 26, 1977, in Singapore.
The agreement came into effect four years after it was signed for
reasons beyond human control — the death of two popes and the unstable political situation in Portugal, which
had approved the Concordat of June 23, 1886 between Portugal and
the Holy See.
With the promulgation of a decree dated June 26,1981, by
the Most Reverend Gregory Yong, Archbishop of Singapore, the 95-year-old
double jurisdiction in the state of Singapore came to an end with
effect of July 1 of the same year.
(From Glimpses and Memories of
St Joseph's Church and the Portuguese Mission in Singapore 1825
- 1999, by the Church of St Joseph, Singapore,
1999, pp.7-9, 41)