Singapore's oldest Catholic church may soon begin overhaul

But still no fixed start date as project awaits approval, permits after 3-year delay

SINGAPORE'S oldest Roman Catholic church could soon be getting its much-needed overhaul after being plagued by three years of delays.

Plans discussed in 2010 to embark on a two-year, $40 million project to rescue the cracked walls and crooked bell tower of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, built between 1843 and 1847, were put on hold due to a lack of funds, said the project's supervisor, Father Adrian Anthony.

The church also needed more time to decide on the design and restoration so that it would be cost-effective. "We really have to ensure that there is no display of extravagance, taking every measure to make sure we spend cautiously so that it remains accessible to everyone," said Father Anthony.

No official commencement date for the restoration project has been set but Father Anthony said he hopes repairs will begin soon now that the process of acquiring building and upgrading permits from Government agencies is drawing to a close.

"We are waiting for approval for various permits and final approval from the Archbishop," he said.

When the time comes, the church will close for two years and worshippers will have to make alternative arrangements to attend other churches. The cathedral, at Queen Street, does not have a fixed parish but serves Catholics in the vicinity.

The Preservation of Monuments Board disbursed about $1.5 million to the cathedral in 2011 which it said it must use by this year.

The cathedral, which began services in 1832 as a small wood and attap chapel, was gazetted as a national monument in 1973. It is also where Catholic Archbishop Nicholas Chia resides.

The board's architectural consultant, Mr Chern Jia Ding, said it is "monitoring the restoration work very closely to ensure that the funding is utilised in a timely and proper manner".

Mr Chern added that the $1.5 million figure was based on what was assessed for the urgent restoration of the monument, for example, to strengthen the foundation and belfry of the cathedral as they have weakened due to ground settlement.

Other extensions planned beyond the extent of the national monument do not qualify for the grant.

Cracks first appeared in the cathedral's walls, floors and columns in 2006. Its bell tower is also crooked and the building suffers from corrosion, water damage and crumbling plasterwork.

Father Anthony said he is also struggling to raise money for the project as the church does not have a parish. It has collected just $10 million since fund-raising started about eight years ago.

Retiree William Gay, 57, who has been volunteering at the church for the past 20 years, said the delay also stems from the high level of expertise needed to restore the national monument.

"Master craftsmen need to be hired to take on works at the heritage site and there must be enough funds before the church can embark on any upgrading effort," he said.

The church depends solely on contributions and Father Anthony appealed to the Catholic community and members of the public for help.

He added: "Amid the hustle and bustle of a busy city, the church has always been a source of peace and comfort. It's worthwhile restoring a building with this function and such a legacy."