The Catholic Students’ Society of the University of Malaya was established in 1950 with the aim of “[supplementing] the secular University education with religious and spiritual enlightenment”. Against the backdrop of the Cold War and the rising tide of nationalism in Malaya, CSS in its early days was exceedingly concerned with the survival of Catholic education in a secular milieu. The pages of the Society’s annual publication, Aquinas, were filled with the reflections of members grappling with the Catholic student’s responsibilities to society, community, and state.
The 1960s were years of revolutionary social change globally, characterised by the emerging culture of free love, feminism, and environmentalism. Faced with the challenge of living in a world whose values seemed increasingly at odds with those of the Church, CSS members gradually came to recognise the need to more actively demonstrate their Catholic identity. Hence, this decade saw the beginning of discussions in Aquinas about how to share their faith on campus more effectively and a review of the Society’s existing practices with regard to spiritual development and evangelisation.
The first seeds of Catholic student activism sowed in the 1960s were further developed in the subsequent decade, with Catholic undergraduates articulating their role as active shapers of the world through their words and actions. Contributors to Aquinas wrote about issues ranging from family planning and contraceptives, the education system, social justice, and so on. As the editorial of the 1973 issue put it, “there is a noticeable radicalism in some articles in so far as they reflect a profound dissatisfaction with the status quo… a radical interpretation of Christianity wherein all men are to share equally of the goodness of life”.
The 1980s saw CSS take a more active role in social mission. For example, “Work Exposure Camps” were organised, during which members would work in factories so as to better understand the difficulties of others around them and earn a greater appreciation of the Church’s social teachings. These years also witnessed the formation of Contact Groups at the Faculty level, the predecessor of today’s Faculty Cell Groups within CSS. The second half of the decade were trying for the Society and the Catholic Church in Singapore. In 1987, several members of the Church were detained under the Internal Security Act, and in the wake of this, there was a need for CSS to rebuild and renew itself.
Several new initiatives were begun in the 1990s, a period of change and development for CSS. In 1995, the Society witnessed the birth of a newsletter, The Candle, to replace Aquinas, which was ceased publication in the 1980s. The first Catholic Awareness Week aimed at raising awareness of the Catholic faith among students and staff of the university was held in 1996, and the annual event remains today a major activity on the CSS calendar. There was also a revival of charismatic fervour within the Catholic population and among CSS members, as evidenced by the increasingly active Campus Charismatic Prayer Group.
The new millenium has been very exciting for CSS indeed. The Indonesian Catholic Community was formed to minister to the substantial Indonesian student population within NUS. With the election of Pope Benedict XVI, an accomplished theologian, the stage was set for a renewed interest in Catholic theology and teachings. In 2007, the Faith Formation Ministry was established in order to cater to the intellectual formation of members. Over the more than 6 decades of its existence, even through times of trials and tribulations, CSS has always strove to live out its mission “to build a community of disciples, ministering to all, centred on the Word and the Eucharist”.
Source: Fides Et Scientia: Celebrating 60 Years of the National University of Singapore Catholic Students’ Society (Singapore: National University of Singapore Catholic Students’ Society, 2009).