Golden Jubilee of the Diocese of Malacca-Johore (December 3, 2022): St. Henry’s Church

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Formerly called Bandar Penggaram, this township lies about 90 km south of Melaka and 130 km north of Johor Bahru.

October 28, 2022

Formerly called Bandar Penggaram, this township lies about 90 km south of Melaka and 130 km north of Johor Bahru.

The parish priest of Johor Bahru, Father Henry Duvelle, MEP, established his first Catholic chapel in 1925 and installed a resident catechist to look after the pastoral needs of the small community growing there. It was one of six centers that Father Duvelle set up in northern Johor between 1910 and 1930.

Later, he bought land with a house, renovated it and transformed it into a chapel which he named “Chapelle Saint-Henri”, presumably in honor of his patron, Saint-Henri, King of Germany.

Prior to the establishment of the chapel, there were only nine Catholic families in the district, including government officials. Priests from Johor Bahru traveled there occasionally to minister to their spiritual needs. After the creation of the chapel, Father Duvelle visited the parishioners and said mass in the chapel once a month.

However, during the administration of Fr. Duvelle, the land on which the chapel stood was taken over by the government to build the current police station.

Subsequently, a new site was acquired and a chapel built. This is the premise of the current church. In 1938, after the completion of a new chapel, Father Duvelle retired due to health problems.

Father Joseph Lee, then parish priest of Johor Bahru, took over the upkeep of the chapel until the Japanese occupation, when the chapel remained closed for nearly four years. It was maintained by the caretaker, Paul Tan Soon Chong.

After the end of World War II in 1945, the chapel reopened and the parish priest of Kluang Church, Father Anthony Dass, looked after the interests of Indian Catholics in Batu Pahat. Father Innocent Fernandez then PE Fernandez succeeded him.

The Chinese parishioners were in the hands of Fr. Ashness, Fr. Lionel Cordeiro, Fr. Paul Munier, MEP, (who served as pastor until he was furloughed from 1953-56) and Fr. Louis Danion, ME P. Father Danion commissioned the construction of the first parish house, now owned by the Montfort school.

In 1958, the archbishop of the diocese of Malacca-Singapore, Mgr Michael Olcomendy, MEP, appointed Father Yves Bourel as resident pastor of the chapel. Fr. Bourel organized a religious correspondence course for 70 catechumens. It is also thanks to the tireless efforts of Father Bourel and the cooperation of the parishioners that the Montfort school, Batu Pahat, was born and was then entrusted to the Brothers of St Gabriel.

In 1960, Abbé Bourel was replaced by Abbé Francis Kou, and five years later the old wooden chapel was demolished and a new building, which is the current church, was built. Thanks to the generous contributions of parishioners and supporters and the intrepid spirit of Father Kou, the concept of a modern structure, compatible with the needs of a growing community, became a reality.

Shortly after the new church, a two-storey parish house was built. Fr. Kou, who served until December 1972, left a thriving community and church, of which the parishioners were justly proud, to his successor Fr. Leck in 1972.

Prof. Felix St Martin served as parish priest from 1975 to 1979. In 1985, Fr. Matthew Lee was the parish priest and he used to say mass at Yong Peng for the Chinese community. Fr Thaddeus Foo served in 1995 before Fr Clement Balashunmugam led the Batu Pahat herd from 1995 to 2001. Fr Clement also served the Tamil community of Kluang, Cha’ah and Tangkak.

In 2002, Father John Yu took over the parish. Father Louis Chin has been parish priest since 2019.

Parish Vocations

1. Bishop Emeritus Paul Tan Chee Ing, SJ
2. Sr. Katherine Mascrinhos, FMDM
3. Father Ignatius Huan (fire)
4. Bishop Peter Ng Kai Huat
5. Father Dr. Lawrence Ng Yew Khim
6. Father Sebastian Koh SJ
7. Brother Peter Isaac SG

PS There are no official records of this church from which authentic information can be drawn. The content of this article is based solely on the recollections of those parishioners who are still living and have watched the church grow from its humble beginnings in 1926 to what it is today. Human memory is short and as such, inaccuracies and omissions are unintentional and are regretted.

Extracts were also taken from “History of the Church and of the Churches in Malaysia and Singapore (1511-2000)” by Fr. Paul Decroix, European Deputy.

Editor’s note: If you spotted any factual/historical inaccuracies in the article, let us know. Please provide us with relevant citations/documentation/links etc. to back up your claims and send them to: [email protected]

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