By the turn of the 19th century, the number of Catholics in Singapore was rising. Many Chinese Catholics from all over the island attended the Church of Sts Peter and Paul. At that time, it was the only church that served the Chinese population. Father Vincent Gazeau, who was in-charge of the Cantonese- and Hakka-speaking Catholics, felt that it would be necessary to build a church that would cater for these two groups, allowing the Teochew- and Hokkien-speaking Catholics to remain at Sts Peter and Paul Church. So in 1908, Father Gazeau started a building fund for this church. It was said that only after a novena to the Sacred Heart was made that the site of an old abandoned soya sauce factory, located behind Fort Canning Hill, was made available for the church.
Designed by French priest-architect Father Louis Lambert, the church was styled in French Baroque style and included two side altars dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes and St Joseph. Life sized statues of Our Lady and St Joseph specially sculptured by Parisian artists were placed on top of French white marble altars carved by French stonemasons.
Early pioneer benefactors of the church included Mr Chan Teck Hee, Mr Low Kiok Chiang as well as Mr Cheong Quee Thiam, to name a few. From these generous benefactors, both land and buildings were purchased and donated to the church. Mr Low donated the teak pews, carved out from chengai wood from Bangkok. Mr Lim Sin Tat presented the church with the Baptismal Font. Mr Low Kiok Chiang gave the church the stained glass features alongside his business partner, Mr Chan Teck Hee.
The outstanding benefactor of the Church was Mr. Chan Teck Hee. He not only presented the central altar but went on to buy and donate the buildings on the left side of the church as well as a piece of land fronting the old Railway Station along Tank Road to the Bishop of Malacca!
The Church was finally completed and blessed by Bishop Barillon, Bishop of Malacca on 11th September 1910, much to the delight of the 200 Cantonese and Hakka Catholics who made up the first parishioners. By the time the Church had its Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1935, the congregation had become 2,150 strong!
Alas! On the fateful afternoon of 15th February 1942, World War II sprang upon Singapore as firing Japanese shells hit the Church’s root and destroyed the ceiling, pews and fittings. It was thanks and praise to God that the destruction did not hurt anyone as the Chinese New Year thanksgiving mass for that morning was already over. Not much was known on how the Church was rebuilt after the war.
Since being built, several rounds of renovations were done in 1969, 1985, 2002 and 2007 to upgrade and improve the Church over the years. The last renovation was undertaken by the parish priest, Father Paul Tay that saw the building of a seven-and-a-half Church community building with two shop houses units as the frontage. At the last round of renovations, a columbarium garden was also built behind the church, making it the third parish in Singapore to have a columbarium at that time after the Churches of St Teresa and Holy Trinity. With Father Tay’s retirement in 2015, Father Stephen Yim, whose parents were married in Sacred Heart, assumed the responsibilities of being the parish priest of the Church.
Did you know?
The original Parochial House was built before the church was erected. It was donated to the church by a generous Chinese benefactor, Mr. Chan Teck Hee. Besides being the priests’ residence, the building has served many functions through the years. It was used as an anti-opium clinic for sometime. It was also where the original Catholic Young Men’s Association (CYMA) convened. Today it houses the Archdiocesan Office for Human Resource.