When I was 10 years old, I was serving as an Altar server at the daily morning mass in my parish. I decided to become a priest, and four of my classmates wanted to follow as well. In the end only one joined the minor seminary, but he remained only for one year. It was my first year of seminary (12 yrs old), my professor a priest wanted to become a missionary, but his poor health did not permit him to go, and that is why I wanted to go as missionary in his place. This gave me a chance to get to know the MEP, the Foreign Mission of Paris.
Could you share about your parents and siblings, and how they’ve inspired in your vocation to the Priesthood?
My Father was a good mechanic and my mother stopped working in order to care for all five children. I have an elder sister, elder brother, younger sister and a younger brother. I am the third child I the family. Daily family prayer in the evening is a must at home , we will all wait for daddy to be back from work and we will all pray together after that we will all sit together for our evening supper. Once, at an evening supper, my elder brother announced that instead of becoming a priest he would like to work as a mechanic with daddy. I immediately announced, “ I’ll be the priest!” and the following year I joined the minor seminary.
What about your Seminary formation?
I told my spiritual director about plans to join the Foreign Missions of Paris. (MEP- Missions Etrangeres de Paris). But before joining the MEP, I was asked to give one year of service to my diocese by teaching History and Geography to Form 3 students in a college at the “Sables d’ olonne”. After that I joined the Foreign Missions of Paris. After one year in Paris, I was sent to Rome, Gregorian University to complete my last two years of Major Seminary. Then I was asked to prolong one more year for a license in Theology. I was ordained priest on 2nd April, 1956 and at the age of 26, I left France for Malaysia, where I was sent by my superiors of Paris ‘for life’. I remained 57years in Malaysia. I am now 83 years old.
You came to Malaysia in 1957, could you share some of your feelings or discoveries when you first came to an unknown place (Malaysia) for mission…
In October 1957, I arrived in Kuala Lumpur. I was then asked to learn English language for one year. After that I was asked by my bishop to go to India to learn Tamil for two years. I was 18 months in India, when the KL Bishop called me to come back to KL to help replace a Tamil speaking priest who fell very sick. I started to serve at St. Joseph’s Sentul for 4 years. Later I became the Parish Priest of Our Lady of Fatima, Brickfields in the heart of KL. After almost 8 years in Malaysia, I went back home to France for my first home leave.
The first local bishop of Kuala Lumpur, Msgr Dominic Vendargon who was attending Vatican II invited me to come to Rome to join in the last sessions of Vat.II- Nov., Dec 1965. Then I was six months in France to give some conferences on pastoral work in Malaysia. I was truly energized and inspired by all these unexpected invitations by my KL Bishop. Other than English and Tamil, I also learned Bahasa, (BM language) for three months in Indonesia (Permatang Siantar).
You had served in about 10 parishes as the Parish Priest, can you tell us your greatest joy in these years of your priesthood?
I was given a chance to remain for 101/2 years in Seremban Parish. I served at Visitation Seremban from January 1957 to June 1967, the 4000 tamil speaking prishioners. Seremban at that time known as the most significant parish in the KL Archdiocese, and I enjoyed remaining and working there for a long time. As from 1958,besides caring for the 2000 tamil speaking in the town, there were also another 2000 tamil speaking people in the estates, (25 km around Seremban town, eg. Rembau, Marjorie and Nilai). Besides caring for the Catholics , I also organized the “Persatuan Kemajuan Rakyat”, a social movement helping the Tamil Speaking people. Seremban Parish was a great place, a parish and I served well.
You had so far, served under three Archbishops of KL, could you share briefly about these shepherds and how they had motivated your Pastoral duties?
The first 25 years, I am very privileged to serve under the leadership of Archbishop Dominic Vendargon (1957 – 1982). He had invited and accepted me into his diocese, and allowed me to learn English while at St John’s Cathedral helping out with some pastoral work. He had also very wonderfully arranged for me a trip to India, Salem at Aattur to learn 2 yrs of Tamil Language under the supervision of Fr Hermanns. He had so much confidence in me.
I just completed 18 months learning Tamil, Archbishop Vendargon called me to come back immediately to replace Fr Swaminathan who fell sick in Sentul. Archbishop also had invited me to join him in the last few sessions of Vatican II in Rome end of 1965. After that , he sent me back to France to have some conferences to the people there sharing on the pastoral work in Malaysia. My postings in both Seremban 1967 -77(10 yrs) and in Tampin 1977-87 (10 yrs) were those GLORIOUS YEARS of my pastoral work and involvements especially in the Estates among the Catholics and the non- Christians as well. I will never forget those moments. I thank God for this great opportunity. Thanks also to Archbishop Vendargon.
Archbishop Soter Fernandez brought me back into KL to serve as Parish Priest of St Anthony’s Church KL. He is a very good friend who never forgets to call and visit me. He was 20 years my Archbishop and I must thank God for the many work we did together especially in the team of “Five loaves and Two Fishes” responsible for the start of BECs in Peninsular Malaysia- ‘Aggiornamento 1976’.
I must thank Archbishop Murphy Pakiam for the last posting as Parish Priest at Risen Christ, Jln Ipoh (2003 to 2007) after which I retired and has been in Sentul, Klang and now in Kajang. Archbishop Murphy has been always listening to what I share and had always spoken about home visits and its importance . As young priests, we seems to have received tough training under some strict missionaries who inspired much and gave us rich pastoral experience. Thank you Archbishop Murphy for kindly accepting my request to return to France.
About some good priest friends…
I would say that I was very HAPPY with my brother priests everywhere I was posted. Fr Limat has been a great help when I was very new in the Archdiocese in the 60’s. I had also worked closely with so many priests in the parishes- pastoral field. I wish to mention a very special friend, Fr. Anthony Naden with whom I worked closely when he was in Rawang, Batu Arang those days. Now he is completely with the orang Asli caring for them in Negeri Sembilan. Till todate he is writing to me, keeping in touch, and I do visit him regularly. There are also many other priest friends in Negeri Sembilan and Selangor. Never to forget my French companions Frs. Volle (Assumption PJ) and Henriot (Little Sisters of the Poor, Cheras) and Fr George Harrison in Kajang, whom I knew since he was 16 yrs old, and I have the joy of sending him to the Seminary.
Tell us how can one become a Happy and Holy Priest?
He has to be happy and smile all the time! You need to be always be ready to do what Jesus wants you to do… all the time! (ha ha ha… Fr Peter laughed!)