“Hey, is that a church?” Passers-by on Star Street, Wan Chai, often ask. Yes, it is. The words “Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church” are clearly marked on the wall next to a separate entrance of a residential building.
The Church has witnessed the growth of the Catholic community in Wan Chai area, where more than a century ago, Catholics first gathered. There were religious communities, Catholic hospital, and homes for abandoned babies and blind women. As early as 1845, St Francis Xavier Chapel was the place of worship for the Wan Chai parishioners. St Francis Street and St Francis Yard were named accordingly. As the number of faithful grew, St Margaret’s Church in Happy Valley was built and opened in 1925. Nevertheless, many Wan Chai parishioners still went to the chapel in the Canossa Hospital to attend Mass. As the chapel was stretched beyond its capacity, the parish priest, Father James Zilioli, and the Wan Chai faithful were determined to build a new church.
Preparation work started from scratch. The Wan Chai parishioners had neither land nor money. What they had was their full confidence in Christ. They prayed, did penance, appealed and offered masses to the holy souls. On 24 October, 1934, they offered the first novena to the holy souls. In 1936, Bishop Enrico Valtorta offered Mass in the chapel and also on the first Sunday of each month for the special intention of building a new church. Even during the turbulent times of World War II, the Wan Chai parishioners offered Mass for the holy souls on 24 October each year.
Wan Chai residents were mostly poor people. They saved every cent to donate to the construction fund. They were like the poor widow in the Bible, giving all they had. In 1939, a man of faith, Mr Wong, bought a piece of land for the church to be built. In 1940, Bishop Valtorta launched a fund raising campaign which was supported by other parishes, schools and associations. In 1948, the construction plan was approved by the Government but only half of the money required had been raised. Bishop Valtorta decided that the diocese would pay the remaining sum. At the end of February 1949, construction work began. Parishioners continued to raise money for the fixtures and decorations. The new church was finally opened in 1950 on 16 July, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, with Mass celebrated by Father Thomas Ryan, Superior of the Hong Kong Jesuits and the parish priest, Father James Zilioli. The church was named “Holy Souls Church”.
Ki Lap School was housed inside the church and provided primary education for the children in the vicinity. In 1957, the church was renamed “Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church”. Later, with the changes of time and the reduction in the number of students, Ki Lap School completed its mission and was closed down in 1994.
In 1990s, the diocese sold the church and the lot and the proceeds were used for the development of other parishes. The church was rebuilt inside the new building on the same site. The new church was officially opened on 10 November, 2001 by Bishop John Baptist Wu.