17 November 2022

From Community to Dependent Custody to Autonomous Custody

The Feature Article is a message from Friar Phillip Miscamble, who served in Singapore for 19 years and was our Custody’s first Custos. He was in Singapore in October for our Custody Chapter.

It was a privilege to be a part of the Chapter of the Custody of St Anthony of Padua (Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei), and gather together with 36 of my brothers. We discussed the future direction of the Custody and the outreach of our ministry in the different dioceses in Singapore and Malaysia where the Franciscans have established foundations. It was wonderful to see how this part of the Franciscan Order has developed since I first became involved back in 1986!

At that time, the Australian Franciscan Friars had been in Singapore at St Anthony Friary for 16 years. We were a community of the Province of the Holy Spirit, with houses in Australia, New Zealand and the one house in Singapore. We provided pastoral care for the ever-growing parish of St Mary of the Angels, as the new Bukit Batok town was taking shape, and our formation programme for local vocations was in its fledging stage.

In the following years, we began to see an increase in the number of vocations and in 1992, the General Administration of the Order declared Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei as a Custody dependant on the Province of the Holy Spirit.

The reason for this development is clearly set out in the statutes of the newly established dependant custody. “The Custody is established by the Order of Friars Minor in recognition of the political and cultural differences between the Province and the Custody and to inculturate the friars more firmly in the Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei regions. Thereby an opportunity for greater self-determination and responsibility is given to those friars who are committed to the implantation and development of the Order in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.”

Becoming a Custody gave the friars in this region a clear mandate to work hard to establish the Order of Friars Minor beyond our Singapore foundation, established in 1958, to neighbouring Malaysia. Foundations followed in Kuching, Sarawak (1999); Masai, Johor (2008); Tanjung Bungah, Penang (2018) and Kota Kinabalu, Sabah (2022). In Singapore, our presence increased from the Bukit Batok property to Greccio Friary at Chestnut Drive. These communities were possible because of the young men from Singapore and Malaysia who embraced the Franciscan way of life by joining the Order during the intervening years.

It has been such a joy to see the Order become firmly established in this part of the world. When I arrived in Singapore in 1986, I could never have imagined this providential growth would become a reality. The privilege to journey with this young entity of the Order over the past 36 years has been such a blessing.

Being appointed to our Singapore communities from 1986 to 2005 allowed me to be intimately involved in the life and development of the Custody. I was engaged in different roles with our formation programme, took on leadership as Guardian and Custos, and had the extraordinary opportunity to lead the team for the redevelopment of the Bukit Batok property, while also serving as parish priest of the Church of St Mary of the Angels. Now, as Provincial Minister of the Province of the Holy Spirit, my involvement continues. I count my blessings every day for having such incredible opportunities to serve the brotherhood and the people of God over all these years.

There is now a desire for the Custody to become an autonomous entity within the Order of Friars Minor. At the Provincial Chapter held in Sydney, Australia from 25 to 30 September, the assembled brothers gave their blessing for this new independent entity to be established. This desire was confirmed at the Custody Chapter held in Singapore from 17 to 21 October.

We will now petition our General Administration who will make the final decision about the change of status. While this is an internal governance matter, I ask you our benefactors and supporters to keep us in your prayers during this time of discernment and change.

Regardless of how we identify ourselves within the structure of the Order, I pray we Franciscans will always see our life of prayer and fraternity reflected in the ministry we carry out for the good of God’s holy people, and the Church and society where we serve.

Much of what has been achieved over the years could never have happened without your prayerful support. We will always show our appreciation and gratefulness by remembering you in our daily masses and prayers. I leave you with a blessing so dear to our Holy Father St Francis:

The Lord bless you and keep you, 
The Lord let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you,
The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace, 
The Lord bless you. 

Friar Phillip Miscamble OFM
Provincial Minister
Province of the Holy Spirit

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