Olçomendy, Michel

1901 - 1977
Archbishop of Singapore and Malaya, MEP Missionary.
Roman Catholic

Michel Olçomendy was born in Saint-Étienne de Baigorry, in the diocese of Bayonne (Pyrénées-Atlantiques), France, on August 29, 1901.[1] He attended secondary school at the College of St Joseph in his native town in 1913, and with an early calling towards the priesthood, Michel began his ecclesiastical journey at the minor seminary of the College of Notre-Dame de Belloc, furthering his training and education at the Diocesan Seminary of Bayonne in 1918 where he became a sub-deacon.[2] He was admitted later to the MEP seminary on Rue de Bac on September 11, 1925, being ordained a priest only a few months later on May 29, 1926. He was assigned to the Malaccan mission not too long after and set sail for Malaya on September 12, 1926.[3] 

Arriving in Malaya at a time when Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and Malacca still made up one Diocese (The Diocese of Malacca), Father Olçomendy was first sent to Kuala Lumpur, to assist at St Anthony’s Church, where he was also tasked to pick up the English and Tamil languages.[4] With his newfound working knowledge of Tamil, he was assigned as vicar of the St Louis Parish in Taiping in 1927. Here he oversaw a predominantly Indian population consisting of those in the city and the surrounding rubber plantations. He resided at Taiping for roughly a decade, perfecting his Tamil speaking skills throughout that time.[5]

In 1937, Father Olçomendy was assigned to Singapore as parish priest of the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes on Ophir Road, where he not only oversaw the parishioners of the Church, but also reached out to the wider Tamil speaking community of Singapore, and to those who worked in the rubber plantations in the south of the state of Johor.[6] In the same year he was assigned to Singapore, his unfailing dedication to the mission led to his appointment as Vicar- General of the Diocese of Malacca under the direction of Bishop Adrien Pierre Devals.[7] In addition to his regular pastoral duties, Father Olçomendy contributed to the efforts of the Catholic newspaper, the Malayan Catholic Leader, giving his advisory and financial support.[8]

When the Japanese arrived a few years later bringing with them the horrors and tragedies of World War 2, Father Olçomendy saw the Church through several hard days of raids, bombings and shelling’s which brought about much tragedy, and damage to the churches and presbyteries.[9] Managing to obtain the aid of some Japanese officials however, Father Olçomendy began his efforts to repair the church for parishioners be able to still pray and worship with a roof over their heads. Despite the turmoil still surrounding them and the theft of his car which left him having to use a bicycle to reach his parishioners day in and day out, Father Olçomendy was relentless in his efforts.[10] In 1945, upon the passing of Bishop Devals at the beginning of the year, Father Olçomendy was appointed vicar-capitular, and he saw the diocese through the last months of World War 2 as the Japanese surrendered in September of that year, after which his first task was expediting recovery efforts for the Church after the destruction left about by the war.[11]

After the war, and with the growth of the Catholic church in Malaya and Singapore and as both countries were on the verge of independence, the structure of the Church saw a lot of changes in the coming years, with Father Olçomendy in the middle of it all. In 1947 he was ordained as Bishop of the Diocese of Malacca at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd in Singapore by Monsignor Provost, Apostolic Vicar of Rangoon (Burma), assisted by Monsignor Falière of Mandalay (Burma) and Monsignor Chabalier of Phnompenh.[12] He held the title until 1953, when the diocese of Malcca’s status was elevated to that of an Archdiocese, and thus on September 19 of that same year Bishop Olçomendy was ordained as Archbishop of Malacca. In 1955, with the rapid growth of the Catholic population, the Church saw fit to segregate the archdiocese into ecclesiastical provinces, becoming the diocese of Penang, the diocese of Kuala Lumpur, and the Archdiocese of Malacca-Singapore (consisting of Malacca, Johor, and Singapore), with a different bishop to oversee each region and with Olçomendy acting as Metropolitan Archbishop.[13] With Singapore having separated from Malaysia in 1965, administrative actions became a difficult task trying to maintain a singular archdiocese with what was now two different countries and therefore in 1972, the archdiocese was split once again, into what it is today, as the Diocese of Malacca-Johor at the time under the helm of Bishop James Chan, and the Archdiocese of Singapore under the direction of Archbishop Olçomendy, respectively.[14]

During this time, despite the changes going on with the dioceses, Archbishop Olçomendy still managed to see to his everyday pastoral duties. Between the years 1954 to 1976, Olçomendy oversaw the establishment of roughly 16 new parishes. These included the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Queenstown in 1958, the Church of St Ignatius in 1961, Church of the Holy Spirit in 1964, the Church of St Francis of Assisi, Church of St Mary of the Angels, Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea in Sembawang, Church of Our Lady Queen of Peace in Tanjong Katong, and Church of St Francis Xavier on Zion Road.[15] Many of these churches were spearheaded by the various mission groups invited to the country by Olçomendy.

Not only were new churches established but Archbishop Olçomendy saw the importance of the development and expansion of social, health, religious, educational, and charitable movements that could contribute to the wider parts of society, especially to those in need during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Therefore, he brought various charitable, and community based religious orders to work within Singapore and Malaysia, such as the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM) and the Marist Brothers, both groups which would play integral roles in the expansion of Christian education groups in the country.[16] He also helped with the formation of groups such as the Legion of Mary, Catholic Young Men’s Association, Young Christian Students’ Movement, and the Young Christian Workers’ Movement.[17] Furthermore, he contributed to the establishment of the Catholic Wellfare Services in 1959, and instituted the guilds of Catholic nurses, doctors, and teachers. There were two mission groups that were especially significant to contributing to social warfare in the community that Archbishop Olçomendy helped bring in or grow. The first being the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood (FMDM), who were tasked with running the tuberculosis (TB) centre at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, and to set up an accompanying training centre for women in TB care and nursing, and to help take care of a leprosy settlement at Trafalgar home. All of which eventually led to the establishment of the first Catholic hospital in Singapore in 1961, Mount Alvernia Hospital.[18] The other group that while was already established in Singapore, Archbishop Olçomendy contributed further to the growth of the Society of St Vincent De Paul, which was then and still is now well known for their charitable and social welfare works for all members of society irrespective of race or religion. They were especially prominent in the 50’s and 60’s working with the rural communities to provide food rations and other forms of social services.[19]

In addition to all the local administrative changes that the church had gone through and the developments that Archbishop Michel Olçomendy would oversee during his time with the church, he also saw the Malaysian and Singapore churches go through two very big changes that he would be part of. The first being the implementation of the new ways of being church brought about by the Second Vatican Council and the second being the fact he would be one of the last few MEP religious and MEP Archbishops of the region before the roles would be taken over by local born religious. With all he accomplished in so many years, Archbishop Michel Olçomendy retired in 1976 at the age of 75 as required by canon law and was given the title of Archbishop Emeritus.[20] In that same year he suffered his first heart attack, although he survived, and carried out his retirement at the home for the aged run by the Little Sisters of the Poor. While visiting their chapel a year later, he collapsed after suffering a second heart attack, passing away on July 4, 1977, leaving a long-lasting legacy behind. He was initially buried at the St Joseph’s Church Cemetery in Bukit Timah, his remains were subsequently moved and reinterred into the wall of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd in Singapore, on October 10, 2008.[21]


  1. ^ The France-Asia Research Institute (IRFA), “Michel Olçomendy”, accessed February20, 2024, https://irfa.paris/en/missionnaire/3315-olcomendy-michel/.
  2. ^ IRFA, “Michel Olçomendy”.
  3. ^ IRFA, “Michel Olçomendy”.
  4. ^ IRFA, “Michel Olçomendy”.
  5. ^ IRFA, “Michel Olçomendy”.
  6. ^ Gillian Lim, “Michael Olcomendy”, National Library Board Singapore, accessedFebruary 20, 2024, https://www.nlb.gov.sg/main/article-detail?cmsuuid=55a87f39-6b74-4dc4-87ca-42d7d6b226b0.
  7. ^ Lim, “Michael Olcomendy”, National Library Board Singapore.
  8. ^ Lim, “Michael Olcomendy”, National Library Board Singapore.
  9. ^ IRFA, “Michel Olçomendy”.
  10. ^ History of the Catholic Church in Singapore – The Virtual Exhibition, “ArchbishopMichel Olcomendy, MEP”, February 20, 2024, https://history.catholic.sg/archbishop-michel-olcomendy-mep/.
  11. ^ History of the Catholic Church in Singapore – The Virtual Exhibition, “ArchbishopMichel Olcomendy, MEP.
  12. ^ IRFA, “Michel Olçomendy”.
  13. ^ Lim, “Michael Olcomendy”, National Library Board Singapore.
  14. ^ Lim, “Michael Olcomendy”, National Library Board Singapore.
  15. ^ History of the Catholic Church in Singapore – The Virtual Exhibition, “ArchbishopMichel Olcomendy, MEP.
  16. ^ History of the Catholic Church in Singapore – The Virtual Exhibition, “ArchbishopMichel Olcomendy, MEP.
  17. ^ Lim, “Michael Olcomendy”, National Library Board Singapore.
  18. ^ Lim, “Michael Olcomendy”, National Library Board Singapore.
  19. ^ History of the Catholic Church in Singapore – The Virtual Exhibition, “ArchbishopMichel Olcomendy, MEP.
  20. ^ IRFA, “Michel Olçomendy”.
  21. ^ Lim, “Michael Olcomendy”, National Library Board Singapore.

S.A. Richard

The writer has a degree in history with a minor in archaeology from Monash University, and a masters in folklore and ethnology from University College Dublin. Her research interests lie in the fields of cultural, social and religious history, as well as in literary, folkloric and oral narrative traditions.


The France-Asia Research Institute (IRFA), “Michel Olçomendy”, accessed February 20,
2024, https://irfa.paris/en/missionnaire/3315-olcomendy-michel/.

Lim, Gillian, “Michael Olcomendy”, National Library Board Singapore, accessed February
20, 2024, https://www.nlb.gov.sg/main/article-detail?cmsuuid=55a87f39-6b74-4dc4-8…-

History of the Catholic Church in Singapore – The Virtual Exhibition, “Archbishop Michel
Olcomendy, MEP”, February 20, 2024, https://history.catholic.sg/archbishop-michel-