Brother Andrew Tok Geok Seng, SJ

Born: 08 July 1925, Singapore
Entered: 07 September 1963, Cheung Chau, Hong Kong
Final vows: 29 November 1974
Died: 23 November 1993, Kingsmead Hall, Singapore

Andrew Tok was a 26-year-old staunch member of the Legion of Mary when he saw a Jesuit advertisement in the Australian magazine, Messenger of the Sacred Heart. He wrote asking for information about the Jesuit vocation and was startled to learn that there were Jesuits here in Singapore.

After befriending Father Kevin O’Dwyer, SJ, Andrew left his job and became a sacristan in St Ignatius Church … a sort of trial period. “Andrew and Kevin were both strong-willed, straight-speaking men,” wrote Father Desmond Reid, SJ. “But the neophyte survived, Kevin was satisfied and so, on 7 September 1963, Andrew went to Hong Kong for noviceship.”

When he returned after two years, Brother Tok became a familiar face in the church where he was variously sacristan, housekeeper, Minister of the community and Warden of Kingsmead Hostel.

In mid 1986, he was admitted to hospital as a sore on his foot had become inflamed, leading to infection of the bone. Because of his severe diabetic condition, the surgeon amputated from the shin. Despite the setback, Brother Tok still supervised the preparation of meals in the Kingsmead kitchen and gave directives to the live-in helper, Ah Heng.

“In the multi-purpose room beside the St Francis Xavier adoration room, I would often watch him do the blood-sugar test before dosing himself with insulin”, parishioner Maxine Ching wrote in remembrance.

“Many will remember him on a motorised wheelchair zipping about. Then came the day when he had to lose the other leg. But what I saw so clearly was his piety. He had lost one leg in the early days but there was not a whimper of self-pity. In fact he was always there for anyone needing his time and assistance, even in physical ways.”

Brother Tok was the centre of attention whenever he turned up in church on Sunday in his wheelchair, showing only courage and a cheerful spirit. The steady stream of visitors to his room on the ground floor, full of concern and sympathy, was testament to how well loved he was in the parish community.

Brother Gerard Choo, SJ fondly recalls, “His room took stock of all persons moving in and out of Kingsmead Hall and he would welcome anyone to his cigarette-smoke filled den and sit us down to his ‘lectures’. Brother Andrew Tok then had one of his legs amputated and he moved around with a wheelchair, a prosthesis and Ah Heng at his beck and call.”

“Learning that I am a pharmacist, he constantly asked me to administer his medications and to inject his insulin with much protests on my part claiming that I am no nursing aide. I must have meant something to him because before he went for his second amputation, he wrote to me in the Philippines, a short letter that he might not be around soon. I cried when I read that letter.”

A sudden heart attack one night in November 1993 took his life.

Says Maxine: “I believe I accepted Brother Tok’s passing well because he had gone through much and did his best for one and all. He taught me that in evangelizing, it was by our action.”

“He said more conversions could be gained during the wake ministry’s prayer sessions. Many non-Christians/non-Catholics would be there and our prayerful teamwork could move some if not many to be curious and to want to follow Jesus.”

In his memory, Father Reid wrote: “Andrew’s influence in the parish was immense. He was a strict disciplinarian with the altar servers and many were those who felt the sting of his tongue, but as he would say, ‘they needed it’ and indeed he made fine young men of them; they remained intensely loyal to him. Throughout his several illnesses they visited him tirelessly, and during his wake they turned up to pay their respects with their wives and children.”

“He was a tough man to whom prayer was the source of strength. Another boon was his contact with the novices who more or less adopted him and whom he in turn adopted. Many were the tales of ‘wisdom’ imparted to them.”

Father Frank Doyle, who spent a couple of years at Kingsmead, wrote: “He had a special relationship with Kevin O’Dwyer who was the parish priest. He called him affectionately by the Cantonese term ‘lo ye’ which can be translated as ‘old man’. They were both strong-willed but had a deep respect for each other. Between them, they kept the church in immaculate condition and everything running without a hitch.”

“After I moved to Malaysia, my occasional visits to Singapore always had to include a personal chat with Andrew, a chat which would be interspersed with a lot of laughter. His cheerfulness during the progressive deterioration of his health was remarkable and truly edifying.”

Book: 50 years of the parish of the Church of St Ignatius, 2012

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