Former Rector of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd
Fr. Robert Balhetchet, popularly known as Fr. Bob, was the Rector of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd for over 20 years from 1980 to 2001. He was responsible for the Cathedral’s management and upkeep through the 1980s and 1990s, up until the end of the Jubilee Celebrations in January 2001. He was instrumental in the drawing up of the Moral Education Programme for schools in Singapore in the 1980s as part of an attachment with the Ministry of Education. Selected by Dr. Goh Keng Swee to helm the effort, he was regarded as the ‘First of Dr. Goh’s Wise Men’.
Fr. Balhetchet was born on 19 August 1939 as the second of two boys. His family attended the Church of the Holy Family in Katong and were familiar with the parish priest, Fr Rene Ashness. It was to Fr. Ashness that the young Robert Balhetchet said “I want to be like you.” After completing his ‘O’ Levels in St Joseph’s Institution, he expressed the same desire again to Fr. Ashness who then brought him to speak with the Superior of the Minor Seminary in Punggol. Fr. Balhetchet enrolled in the Minor Seminary in 1954 and was ordained on 26 January 1964.
After his ordination, Fr. Balhetchet was appointed Assistant Rector of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. Shortly after, he was sent to Rome to study Vatican II documents on ecclesiology – what it meant to be Church. He was awarded his doctorate at the age of 37 and sent to teach at his alma mater, College General, Penang.
At age 39, Fr. Balhetchet was appointed by the late Dr. Goh Keng Swee, then Minister for Education and Deputy Prime Minister, to be in charge of preparing the curriculum and teaching materials for a revised national moral education programme. In 1980, still working on the programme, ‘Being and Becoming ‘, Fr. Balhetchet returned to Singapore and served as the Rector of the Cathedral. He was also a member of the planning committee behind the building of the St Francis Xavier Major Seminary in Singapore and chaplain of the Carmelite Convent.
When Pope John Paul II visited Singapore in 1986 at the invitation of then President Mr. Wee Kim Wee, Fr. Balhetchet was the overall coordinator of the Papal Visit Committee.
As Rector for more than two decades, Fr. Balhetchet knew that the Cathedral was much more than a building. Like every church, it was and is a place where God’s people gather to worship and share their lives with each other. The community of believers is the one that God calls to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and welcome the stranger.
Long-time Cathedral staff and volunteers would agree that Fr. Balhechet liked to empower those who worked with him, and entrust them with work that would help them grow and come into their own. Cathedral staff Irene Goh said of him: “His character is such that he trusts you all the way. We appreciate that he trusts us”.
Besides local Catholics, Fr. Balhechet saw it as his mission to minister to migrants, especially Filipinos and Koreans, by welcoming them and providing a place where they could feel at home. “I wanted to make them feel that the Church cared for them. Because if they can’t find a sense of belonging in the church, then where are they going to find it?”
Fr. Balhetchet celebrated his Sacerdotal Golden Jubilee in 2014 at the Church of Our Lady Queen of Peace. He passed away on 15 March 2016 at the age of 76.
Extracts and ‘I am the Good Shepherd’ Magazine and Chancery Notice