No closure yet for Father Joseph Ho

When Vincent and Beng Lan were doing pioneering work as Community Organisers under JIM (Jurong Industrial Mission), Fr Joseph Ho was their important ally, and friend. He was the true Shepherd of Jurong, whose work as a Parish priest in the 1970s brought light, not just in the spiritual sense, but also in a socio-political way, to young workers under his charge during the early years of the industrialization process in Singapore.

He was the chaplain to the Young Christian Workers, and a member of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Church. His Parish work brought him into contact with workers, and therefore their workplace problems such as issues relating to graveyard shifts. – a term I learnt from him.

One issue we worked together in 1972 concerned workers welfare at an American owned Gulf Plastic factory. In the quest for foreign capital, workers basic rights and interests were sacrificed in the name of national interests. There was no avenue for the workers to air their grievances, the trade unions were compromised, protest was illegal, people were scared to speak.

By facilitating meetings in his humble parish premises, we got acquainted with workers from Gulf Plastics, and shared their plights with concerned Singaporeans. Eventually a Jesuit Priest at Nanyang University and his students were involved. Likewise the Quarkers and students from Singapore University and my mates from the Architecture faculty were also mobilised to give solidarity to the mostly female workers from Gulf Plastic.

Miraculously we even managed to obtain a bus to transport the workers and other supporters from Jurong to the American Embassy at Hill Street to lodge a protest. That was regarded as the best way to highlight the issues of exploitation by transnational companies. The event was publicized in the US media. It was unsurprisingly followed by the usual crackdowns, arrests, and deportations.

A decade and a half later during the Operation Spectrum, such laudable priestly concerns for his flock’s earthly welfare was condemned by Lee Kuan Yew as evidence of Marxists infiltration and religious intervention into politics. The ISD even sent their officers to the CIA during Operation Spectrum to learn how to combat Liberation Theology.

Vincent Cheng was arrested without trial in 1987 during Operation Spectrum.

Vincent Cheng: “Of course Fr Ho was mentioned in the interrogations. He was chairman of J&P. But ISD queried me little about the YCW itself. They were more interested in how the YCW related to J&P… After my release in 1990, I could only get ISD permission to visit him once. He was paralyzed by two strokes and couldn’t talk. Four months later he died, and I was only allowed to attend the funeral service, but not the burial. I carried his coffin and cried uncontrollably. ”

This good Parish priest whose work went beyond preaching pie in the sky is now forgotten by the Catholic Church in Singapore. When Vincent tried to trace the whereabouts of FrJoseph Ho grave, he discovered that the general office of the Catholic Church did not have his record! He was likewise regarded as ancient by those currently in charge of his Parish, and they were unable to help.

After making more enquiries, Vincent eventually identified the cemetery where Father Ho was buried. With great reluctance, and some difficulties, the cemetery janitor managed to identify the plot number where Fr Ho was buried. To his dismay, Vincent discovered that there was no headstone or plot number, just two mounts of earth where Father Ho burial plot was supposed to be. Eventually, he placed some fresh flowers over one of the mount, and prayed, hoping that it was the right grave.

Still troubled, he approached the janitor before leaving. After further examination of the record, Vincent was told that he had visited the wrong grave, and was given a new plot number.

He found the right plot, but still without a headstone. After agonizing over whether retrieve the fresh flowers from the first mistaken plot, he decided not to disturb the dead buried there, and bought new flowers and prayed.

But why an unmarked grave? He returned to the janitor who was not at all pleased to see him. He had already waived the $20 enquiries fees. ‘Oh, the remains were exhumed sometime ago”, declared the Janitor. There was no record of the remains new whereabouts, or by whom it was exhumed.

When Vincent related his adventures in his search for Father Ho grave, we had a good laugh. I was thinking, where was God going to file the two mis-prayers over the unmarked mount.

After more leg work, Vincent discovered that Fr Ho remains were exhumed by his family, and he is now resting at St Michael’s Church. Niche 561.

Now that Vincent has come to the end of the search, I wrote him a note, “at least there is now a closure”.

“But where is the closure? Fr Ho’s name and history have to be publicly corrected.”

Vincent is right. This May is the 30th Anniversary of Operation Spectrum, and history has to be put right.


Tan Wah Piow



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11 Responses to “No closure yet for Father Joseph Ho”

  • PAP has the mandate:

    The PAP government will need to apologize to those who were wrongly prosecuted, anyway, I do not think it will happen but I am glad the evil LKY is dead.

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  • LIONS:

    so,this consecrated man of the Roman Catholic Church is still an ‘ORDAINED PRIEST’ of the SINGAPORE ARCHDIOCESE or not?

    tot ONCE consecrated n ordained,FR JOSEPH HO will forever remain a CATHOLIC PRIEST,no matter what?

    now,if this is the case of officially ordained priest,WHY HAS THE ARCHBISHOP neglected his bodily remains n left his family to take care of it???

    Being LAW-ABIDING is one thing; being afraid of DOING THE RIGHT THING is altogether another n that shud never be condoned especially by persons who pride themselves as MEN OF GOD???

    he was just a mere mortal prime minister of SG,elected by the people n for the people.
    LKY was not even a demi-god???



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  • LIONS:

    BTW,it is hypocrisy to make special efforts to offer a ‘national-level’ MASS for LKY but neglect a fellow brother,an ordained priest in this manner,is not it?

    SAD to witness so much hypocrisy here.

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  • Bapak:

    Welcome to North Korea!

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  • Jman:

    These names are from the dim and distant past.

    So many years have passed, and there are now so many Singaporeans who haven’t a clue what this is all about.

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  • Lye Khuen Way:

    It is indeed sad that the Late Fr Joseph Ho passed on without record in our Catholic Church in Singapore.
    The attempt to demonize those detained under Operation Spectrum and anyone associated had been pretty successful to-date.

    Our younger generation are so out-of-touch with local history.
    Just look at how the debacle of naming the Old Ford Factory developed. The short lived renaming to ” Syonan Gallery ” was a clear indication of the poor upbringing of our youths and the not soo young. Yes. No Home Education in Mandarin.

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  • Pink Noise:

    The power of the day had been vindictive to have Rev Joeph remains buried in an unmarked grave. This Rev is a man of god and should have been accorded a decent burial with a tombstone.There will be more shit flowing out for the public to see !!! KNN MF PAP !!!

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  • reminder to the 70%:

    Wow poor guy. They really tried to make him disappear for good. Cant even find his burial plot.
    May he R.I.P.

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  • Perspective:

    Was the late Fr Joseph Ho a Marxist liberation theologian? Did he preached armed rebellion? Or was he simply following in the footsteps of his Savior who came to bring hope to the poor and down-trodden, the love of God and the kingdom of heaven to them? They charged him of being a rebel-rouser with a political agenda to overthrow the Roman government, and so they crucified him for a crime which he was not guilty of. Fr Ho’s life makes an interesting case study for priests and believers in the RC church. What did Jesus say to his disciples who wish to follow him?

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  • singapore cowboy:

    mr tan,good article n timely.

    social justice cannot be compromised like before.
    we are an educated and civilised modern society that some ministers boast as FIRST WORLD NATION.

    We should apologise to each other for our offences n make amends;else,are we still considered first world civilised nation?

    more netizens should read this article and be aware.

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  • SingaFool People:

    There are many Chinese Christians (and Indians too) join churches just to cover their ugly side, hope this dead one was a good one.

    2 centuries ago, Cantonese joined Christianity in order to get into the UK “royal” business — opium, the commodity that almost accounted for 25% China GDP then and almost wiped out the entire country with the help of Indians to plant and distribute. Today this part of the history is forgotten and what happen in SingaFool today is a fact that history can repeat itself.

    To counter that, the number 1 job all SingaFool people need to do is to drive out ALL Indians from SE Asia, expulsion!

    For the mendacious Cantonese, that’s easy to deal with. Educate them.

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