Chaplain: Fr Albert Chan MSC
Assisted by Fr Harry Chan, Br Jack Ho and Fr Baiyi Gong.
Mass Times (Subject to COVID-19 restrictions; contact community)
Sacred Heart Centre, 80 Nemies Road, Runcorn
1st Sunday Month (English) 10:30am
2nd Sunday Month (Cantonese) 10.30am
3rd Sunday Month (Cantonese) 10.30am
4th Sunday Month (Mandarin) 10.30am
5th Sunday – No Mass
About the Chaplaincy:
Father Albert Chan arrived in Brisbane in January 1985 and first ministered to the PNG (Papua New Guinea) Chinese and later to the Hongkong Chinese during an influx in the 1990s. At present, Chinese Sisters belonging to two Congregations – Sisters of St Paul de Chartres and the Chinese Sisters of the Immaculate Conception — who arrived in 1988 assist him in his ministry to the Chinese Community. The Sisters of St Paul de Chartres have established a Residential Aged Care at Boronia Heights and the Chinese Sisters of the Immaculate Conception has established a Residence for female university students at Upper Mt. Gravatt.
Father Chan’s Congregation currently consists of Hong Kong Chinese, PNG Chinese, and some Taiwanese and Malaysian Chinese. He celebrates Mass in Cantonese, Mandarin and English but gives the homily in English. The Chinese Sisters assisting him say the homily in Mandarin and Chinese.
The Catholic Chinese Community built and manage their own Centre called the Sacred Heart Centre in Runcorn. The Chaplaincy also runs a very successful Chinese School (Mandarin and Cantonese).
About the Chaplain:
Father Albert Chan was born in Rabaul, New Britain (now part of Papua New Guinea) in November 1933. He is tenth of 14 siblings (of whom three are priests and two are religious sisters). His father migrated from China to Rabaul in 1896.
Father Chan spent his early childhood in Rabaul until the start of World War II when from age 8 to 12 (1942-1945) he was a prisoner of war, first in New Britain then in New Ireland (PNG). At the end of the war in 1945, like many other children at the time, Father Chan was four years behind in schooling. But that did not stop the young Albert.
In February of 1948, Father Chan left war-torn Rabaul to continue his education at Downlands College in Toowoomba.
Father Chan recollects his early days in Australia:
“Like everywhere else, Australia was then still recovering from the effects of war. Her soldiers were still returning from overseas. Some things were rationed. I can still remember we were issued with coupons for some food items. There were not many Chinese around. Only two Chinese families lived in Toowoomba. One couple there, Mr and Mrs Lum, had a shop. They lived in Toowoomba for years. Mr Lum was born in Australia. They were highly respected people and were very well known to many. At that time, Australia was still applying strictly the White Australia Policy, a time when “Two Wongs don’t make a white,” so said Arthur Calwell later, leader of the Australian Labor Party.
“It was a predominantly white Australia with immigration policies excluding non-whites” This policy began in the 1850s with restrictions being placed on the number of Chinese on the goldfields One’s dignity was judged by the colour of one’s skin. For those of us here, the policy of assimilation was well in place. Simply lose your own identity and become one of them. They had yet to invent the word ‘multiculturalism’.
Father Chan said this for a good reason as he remembers his first impression of the country when he first arrived:
“There were eight of us students who came together by plane and landed in Cooktown as our first port of call. There we went through the immigration procedure. It was there that we suffered the indignity of being Chinese in Australia. We all had to place our fingers in black ink and give the customs officer our fingerprints. It was into such an intolerant society that I came. Criminals would be the other people who had to do thisï¿½ But how things have changed since then. Australia has since become a multicultural, multingual and multireligious society.”
Father Albert had some interesting stories while a student at Downlands. “In the beginning at school, some students called us insulting names like ‘Ching Chong Chinaman or Chink’. I had fights with some of them. But I was well accepted by them afterwards.”
In 1954, after spending 6 years at Downlands, Father Chan went to St. Mary’s Towers, a Minor Seminary in Douglas Park, NSW for his secondary education and novitiate. Then he prepared for priesthood at the Sacred Heart Monastery in Croydon, Victoria and was ordained a priest in July 1962. Father Chan belongs to the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart founded in 1854.
In 1963, Father Chan worked as assistant priest at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church in Randwick, NSW. For the next 21 years he taught Religion, Chemistry and General Science in three of the Secondary Colleges managed by his Congregation.
In 1985, Father Chan left the area of education to do pastoral work for and among the Chinese Catholic Community in Brisbane. To this date, Father Chan continues his ministry and has even extended his pastoral work beyond the Chinese Community helping Christians and non-Christians alike. When the Indonesians did not have their own Chaplain yet a few years ago, Father Chan used to celebrate Mass for them.
A word of advice from Father Chan: “Working as a priest, it is rare that I encounter any prejudice or discrimination among the white Australians. It certainly helps that I have mastered the English language. When one speaks fluently, others really take notice of one. This is my experience and my conviction. Hence, it is of utmost importance that newcomers to this country should learn English well.”
CHINESE CATHOLIC COMMUNITY BRISBANE 1985-2005 – THE FIRST TWENTY YEARS
In the Beginning
“It was in January, 1985, when I came to Brisbane with diffidence to establish the Chinese Catholic Community. Like all beginnings, we took a tentative step forward.” February 2000 Newsletter
What was waiting for Father Albert Chan in Brisbane?
In 1980, the Catholic population of Brisbane was over 299,000. There is no record of the number of Chinese Catholics living in Brisbane or of the existence of a Chinese Catholic community. Chinese Catholics living here attended Sunday Mass at the local parish. Fine for those fluent in English. Not so for those fluent only in Cantonese or Mandarin. Full and active participation particularly in the Liturgy of the Word was not possible.
Without a Chaplain, many would have drifted from the Church and stopped practising their faith altogether.
In 1985, Father Albert Chan Tin Chin was 51 years young. Born in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, Father was the 10th of 14 children.
Ordained in 1962, he spent the next 23 years teaching at Downlands, Monivae and Daramalan Colleges. When asked about those years, Father just smiles. They don’t call the classroom the blackboard jungle for nothing!
Father was standing at the crossroads. He felt the need for a change in direction, a more hands-on ministry. Father, be careful what you wish for. You might get it!
Visiting old friends, Father noticed the growing presence of Chinese immigrants in the once backwater city of Brisbane. He empathised with these people. He knew what it was like to be a stranger in a new land.
In the late 19th Century, his parents had emigrated from China to Papua New Guinea, ‘the land of the wild men’. After World War II, Father, a mature-aged student, travelled to Australia, armed only with a piece of paper that indicated that the bearer was an Australian-protected person. He had first-hand experience of being viewed as an ‘alien’ – treated with suspicion and fingerprinted like a criminal.
For years, ethnic groups such as the Poles, Italians, Greeks and Croatians had their own chaplains. Chinese Catholics in metropolitan Melbourne and Sydney had their own chaplains. Brisbane’s Chinese Catholics were a flock without a shepherd, a vineyard without workers. This was the ministry Father was looking for.
Father was released from teaching duties and parish work in Canberra. Archbishop Rush of Brisbane then appointed Father as Chaplain to the yet unformed Chinese Catholic community. Father was ready and willing.
The Immigrants Arrive
Australia was in the throes of great change. For many decades, Australian pursued the White Australia Policy which discriminated against those who were not of European origins.
Australia is of the Asia/Pacific region. Traditional ties to Mother England were weakening as England repositioned herself with Western Europe. Australia was forced to re-evaluate its position and re-adjust its policies, establishing closer links with countries in the same region. In 1973 Australia officially ended its racist immigration policies.
A new approach to immigration, taking into account Family re-unions, Skills and Finances, came into being. The Business Migration Program encouraged Chinese business people to invest capital via the establishment of businesses.
Asians were now able to emigrate under the new policies. USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand were seen as desirable destinations. San Francisco was known in Asia as ï¿½The Gold Mountainï¿½ and Australia ‘The Big, Gold Mountain’. Gold in fact was found in these places and they were therefore regarded as lands of opportunity. The number of Chinese immigrants jumped in the late 1970’s. By 1988 about 40% of the immigrants came from Asia.
The reality today, Australia is a multicultural nation.
“Thank you very much for the very warm welcome that you have extended to me since I came to Brisbane. You have made me feel that I belong. The opportunity is there for us to pray and workshop together, and to have a social gathering afterwards. In this way, we can together build up a community supportive of, and concerned for, one another.” Father’s First Letter 10 March 1985
Father arrived in Brisbane in January 1985. It was a typical hot, Queensland summer day.
The term ‘Chinese Catholic Community, Brisbane’ (CCC) was chosen for the new community. Father’s chaplaincy would take him to places he had never dreamt of as the Archdiocese of Brisbane extends from Coolangatta in the south to Childers in the north and Gatton in the west!
The Right Man for the Job
The problems facing Father were diverse:
- Language – Chinese immigrants speak a host of dialects: Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka, and Fukien etc. Father’s first language was English!
- Distance – Brisbane is a sprawling city and Chinese Catholics are scattered throughout Brisbane like the twelve tribes of Israel.
- Different Needs – Chinese immigrants come from different parts of Asia. Not everybody has the same needs, some more, some less.
- Lack of Facilities – No place to call ‘home’.
Father found himself saying Mass at Camp Hill, Fortitude Valley, Wishart, Mt Gravatt, Upper Mt Gravatt and the Gold Coast!
Despite the many problems, Father had the right skills for the job ahead:
- Contacts – Father had old friends in the Brisbane PNG Chinese community. Being predominantly English speakers, they assimilated easily into Australian society. They provided Father with valuable advice and financial/moral support. They were in fact the core group of the new CCC.
- Networking – In order to reach more people, Father joined many different organisations. One such organisation was the Cathay Community Association (ex-Cathay Club), which had been started by the PNG Chinese group in 1981. Originally a social club, it later branched into social and welfare services, migrant settlement and home care for the elderly etc.
- Multi-lingual skills – Father speaks English, Mandarin and Cantonese.
A preliminary meeting took place at the home of Tom and Winnie Chow. The word was out, “Father Chan’s in town to start a new community!”
Father’s first important decision was to hold Masses in English on the first Sunday of each month at St Thomas’ Church, Camp Hill.
The Lean Years
Father does not talk about the hardships of the early years. The Archbishop wisely installed Father as Assistant Pastor at St Thomas’ Church, knowing the fledgling community could not financially support a chaplain.
Father’s sole income 1985-89 came from the one collection at the 1st Sunday Mass. His average monthly ‘wage’ was $110. To supplement his meagre income, the small community ran a hamper/craft raffle every month. His biggest expense was petrol. We suspect Father had divine help in balancing the books!
The infrastructure, facilities and services that we take for granted today were non-existent.
- First Mass – Held on Easter Sunday, 7 April 1985. A very auspicious start, ‘The Lord is risen!’ Jennifer Ho played the organ at that 1st Mass.
- First Committee – An informal committee was formed, comprising of Tom and Winnie, MaryRose Chow, August and Judy Leo, Liz Lam and the late Tessie Chan.
- First Christmas Eve Mass – Celebrated in 1986 at St Thomas’ Church. Tom conducted the choir at that 1st Christmas Eve Mass.
- First Cantonese Mass – Celebrated on Palm Sunday, 1989, at St Patrick’s Church, Fortitude Valley. The Cantonese Mass was extended to St Catherine’s Church, Wishart in 1990, and to the Sacred Heart Church, Gold Coast in 1997.
- First Mandarin Mass – Celebrated at St Catherine’s Church in 1994. In 1995, Father John Yang arrived from Taiwan and took over the Mandarin Mass until his departure two and a half years later. Father John Selvamani celebrated the Mandarin Mass for the next 5 years until his posting to Taiwan. We are grateful to both Father Johns for their invaluable assistance to our community.
- First Easter Triduum – Celebrated at Seton College Chapel, Mt Gravatt, in Cantonese in 1999.
“With a growing Chinese population, they will be a great help to all of us.” 1989 Christmas Letter
Recognising that one person could only do so much, Father decided on a bold new move. He sponsored 2 religious orders from Hong Kong. In 1989 the Sisters of St Paul de Chartres and the Chinese Sisters of the Immaculate Conception arrived.
To date, the Sisters of St Paul de Chartres have opened a 60-bed/Aged Hostel, a 48 unit/Retirement Village and a 40-bed/high care Nursing Home at Boronia Heights.
In 1994 the Chinese Sisters of the Immaculate Conception opened a 48 room/Hostel called St Antony’s Women Student Residence at Upper Mt Gravatt. For many years St Antony’s served as the CCC’s unofficial headquarters.
We are indebted to both groups of Sisters for their immeasurable assistance to our community; eg running catechism classes, RCIA programs, faith re-education, retreats, the use of their facilities, homilies and other pastoral work.
The Chinese school was started in 1990 by Sister Joanna Wong, a Canossian nun. A handful of students enrolled in the 1st year at Gregory Terrace. The school consisted of 1 classroom. In 1992 the school was transferred to Wishart. In 1997 it was officially re-named the Sacred Heart Chinese School.
The school enjoys a reputation for high academic standard. The biggest problem facing the school is its own success – insufficient classrooms and the mounting costs of leasing classrooms.
Mandarin, Cantonese and English Conversation classes are available for adults.
We thank past and present members who put in the groundwork and laid the foundations for the community.
- Liturgy Group – Meets regularly to plan programs for Eucharistic celebrations, retreats, seminars and workshops.
- Rosary Groups – English, Cantonese and Mandarin Rosary Groups are firmly established.
- Care and Concern Group – Formed in 1994 under Sister Elizabeth and the late Rosanna Choi. Visits the elderly and the sick. The monthly Seniors Gathering gives seniors the chance to catch up with old friends and make new ones.
- Evangelization Group – set up in 2002. Its aim is to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to all.
- Youth Group -‘started in 1991. Enjoys many social/sporting activities. Assists at many of our functions and holds regular working bees at the Centre.
- Alter Servers’ Group – We are blessed with many young boys and girls assisting at Mass.
- Social/Recreation Group – Busloads leave for the Marian Shrine at Canungra, Toowoomba’s Flower Festival, wine tastings at Stanthorpe, warehouse shopping, sight-seeing at Byron Bay to name but a few.
- Editorial Group – A monthly bi-lingual newsletter and a quarterly magazine are published to let members know what is happening in the community.
- Fund-raising Group – Organised a variety of activities such as dinner parties, variety shows, bar-b-ques, fetes, walkathons, dances, garage sales, raffles etc. Thanks to a very enthusiastic and hard-working team, many thousands of dollars have been raised.
(Source: Catholic Chinese Community 1985 – 2005 Souvenir Booklet. For a more up to date information on the community, visit the CCCB website)
For a quick guide on general culture visit SBS Cultural Atlas.