Sunday, July 24, 2016
The first missionary to have ever set foot on Seremban soil was Fr Pierre Henri Borie MEP, who in 1847, was sent by Bishop John Baptist Boucho MEP, the Vicar Apostolic of Malacca-Singapore, to work among the indigenous people in Seremban.
In 1848, there already existed a small Catholic community thanks to the efforts of Fr Borie. Fr Deluette, a priest from Malacca was appointed to cater to the needs of these few Catholics in Rasah and Seremban. He in turn appointed a catechist based in Rasah to cater to the needs of this small community.
In 1885, Seremban came under the jurisdiction of a priest from Kuala Lumpur, Fr Hector Letessier, MEP.
Initially, he visited Seremban once or twice a year. He later negotiated for a piece of land on which a tiny chapel made of planks and attap was erected. From that moment, his visits became more frequent.
Once every two months, he journeyed to Malacca to hear confessions. The trip took two weeks on a jostling bullock cart over roads which were far from being a credit to their makers. Under such circumstances, it was a great boon for poor Fr Letessier to have a stopping place at Seremban where he could rest his shaken frame and say Mass for his wayside flock. Aptly therefore, the chapel was named Visitation — more out of reference to Fr Letessier’s periodical stops than out of deference to the Blessed Mother.
In 1888, Fr Peter Perrichon, MEP was appointed as the first resident priest for Seremban. Fr Perrichon stayed for a period of five years. When Fr Perrichon was transferred to Ipoh, Fr Letessier had to resume his visits from Kuala Lumpur to Seremban. He could only do it for 3 years, after which he was transferred to Penang.
The next priest who came in 1895, Fr Antoine Catesson, MEP was able to build a new church with money raised mainly by the miners of Broga. Among the benefactors was Goh Ah Ngee who gave a generous donation of $1,500.
The congregation kept on increasing and the priest maintained the principle that the one Church was to serve all Catholics, whether Indians, Chinese or Eurasians — the request of having a second church in Seremban for the Indians was not adopted. So, a much bigger church was needed to cater to the growing community.
In 1910, the Church was extended and two wings were added to the side.
A new presbytery for the Visitation Church was built in 1913, by Fr Salvat Fourgs, MEP who served in the parish from 1903 to 1911 and again from 1919 to 1928.The years 1914 to 1918 saw a lamentable depletion of clergy, most of whom were recalled to Europe during the war. During this time, Fr Georges Auguin, MEP was made responsible for the Catholics in both the districts of Seremban and Malacca. When he was transferred to Singapore, he was succeeded by Fr Noel Maury who was an expert in the Cantonese language.
The year 1922 saw the installation of electric lights in the Church. Catholics were delighted at the innovation and the bill of $500 was readily and easily met by their contributions.After a short holiday in Hong Kong, Fr Auguin was back in Seremban, this time for 15 years (1931 to 1946). One of his thoughts was to rebuild the Church which was now inadequate to hold the growing number of Catholics. Everything was conceived on a vast and grand scale. Only the two side walls were retained, the nave was lengthened almost by half, the roof raised, a new apse and two large wings were added together with a belfry with a steeple that made the Church a landmark in Seremban town.
Nearly every item in the Church was new — bells, statues, altar, organ, pews, confessionals, vestments etc.
Fr Auguin had rebuilt the Church and made it one of the most beautiful in the mission. It was blessed in Sept 1935 by Bishop Adrian Devals, MEP.
A blight fell on the Church during the Japanese occupation in 1942. But it was to the everlasting credit of the Catholic Church that her ministers did not flee in the face of onslaught. Seremban parish suffered least, comparatively. Still caution was the watchword, and the lack of transport plus the gruelling restrictions of the police reduced activities to the minimum. Those hectic months proved a splendid opportunity for conversions, and the scores of converted at that time served to show that God can always draw good out of evil.
In 1944, a memorable event took place at the Church of the Visitation. Catholics saw for the first time, the ordination of four priests — Fr Aloysius Chiew, Fr Anthony Khaw, Fr Anthony Michael and Fr Thomas Chin. Bishop Devals was at that time Governor of the Catholic colony of Bahau. Passport difficulties prevented him from going to Penang which is the usual venue for ordinations.
Hence Seremban was chosen.
September 1945 brought victory and relief when the Japanese were defeated. Once again, the Church resumed normal duties in full vigour and liberty and set upon the task of grappling with post-war problems of reconstruction — morally, spiritually and economically.
The Church of the Visitation saw the last of the French missionaries with the departure of Fr Edward Limat, MEP in 1978. From 1980 onwards, the parish has been shepherded by local clergy. Other than the changes resulting from the transfers of priests, the layout of the parish and the church’s structures have remained unchanged.
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