A Brief History of the Church of the Holy Family Kajang

Introduction

In 2001, the parish of the Holy Family, Kajang, celebrated her centenary anniversary. 25 years later, the parish is preparing for the celebration of the quasquicentennial anniversary which will be held in the year 2026.  It is right to give thanks to the Lord for His divine direction over the years. We, the church, can rightfully be pleased that we can commemorate 125 years in Kajang.

Early Catholics and Missionaries in Kajang (1899 – 1940)

In the late 19th century, a number of Catholic populations outside of Kuala Lumpur began to grow due to the mining workers and labourers who settled down in Kajang. His Lordship Bishop Rene Fee, the then Bishop of Malacca, expressed his concern on the spiritual welfare of these Catholics living outside of Kuala Lumpur. This led to the Paris Foreign Missions (MEP) priests starting a Catholic Mission in Kajang to serve the spiritual needs of the Catholic Community in the Ulu Langat district as well as a centre for evangelisation. In 1899, Rev. Fr. Francios Terrien MEP was assigned to Kajang. Fr. Terrien was able to construct a chapel that was a small bungalow to celebrate Mass while travelling between Kajang and Kuala Lumpur with the aid of a charitable Catholic man named Towkay Goh Ah Ngee. He generously donated land to the church that included the current church location, the Convent school, the Catholic centre, as well as the residential flats opposite the church. Fr. Terrien had intentions to construct a church on the given property as Kajang's population began to increase, and on March 19, 1900, His Lordship Bishop Rene Fee visited Kajang to lay the church's cornerstone and dedicate it to the Holy Family. The church has a tall bell tower and a gothic appearance. It was the first church in Kajang and the Ulu Langat district. There were three stained glass windows in the church, each showing a member of the Holy Family (the same stained-glass windows in the church today). His Lordship Bishop Rene Fee dedicated the Church of the Holy Family on February 24, 1901. Parishioners costumed in national costumes attended Bishop Rene Fee's Pontifical High Mass. In 1901, there were 51 baptisms. On July 16, 1901, the first Confirmation and First Holy Communion ceremonies were held. In 1901, there were already 150 Catholics in Kajang, compared to only 12 in 1899.

Due to the rising Catholic community in Kajang and Ulu Langat, Fr Terrien applied for a burial cemetery from the district office on May 20, 1901. On March 26, 1903, the church was given a plot of land for a burial site thanks to the generosity of Towkay Goh Ah Ngee (which is still in existence). In 1904 Fr Terrien was assigned to the parish of the Holy Rosary in Kuala Lumpur. Fr Etienne Brossard MEP became the Holy Family's second parish priest, with Fr Jean Marie Vey MEP serving as the third. In 1910, Fr Etienne established a girls' school. Due to the advent of World War I (1915 - 1918) in Europe, many foreign missionaries were called back, and the parish has been without a parish priest since Fr Etienne was relocated in 1914 until 1952.

The Holy Rosary parish provided pastoral care for the parish. The frequency of priests' trips to Kajang depended on their availability. There were 380 Catholics living in Kajang in 1923, although many of them had a poor faith. The IJ sisters started offering religious instruction in the 1930s, and eventually erected a school (the current Convent school) in 1939. Fr. Goyhenetche MEP celebrated masses during this time.

Second World War: A Time of Trials and Tribulations (1941 – 1945)

The parish of Holy Family, Kajang, experienced hardships in the early 1940s. The Japanese Imperial Army invaded Malaya at the height of World War II, and on January 12, 1942, Japanese warplanes bombed the school and church grounds. The three stained glass window panels amazingly only sustained minor damage despite the church being severely damaged. Many people rushed to the church as refugees because there was a lack of food and medicine, and the IJ Sisters and a few Chinese catechists did their best to assist them. Because the church was badly damaged and wasn’t safe for worship, a temporary chapel was built. Rev. Fr. Rene Girard MEP from the church of Holy Rosary, Kuala Lumpur cycled to Kajang every Tuesday to celebrate the Eucharist.

Midway through the Second World War, in 1944, a malaria outbreak in Kajang led to a large number of fatalities, which made the situation worse. Malaria was also contracted by Mother Martha IJ, who oversaw the Convent school, and her fellow sisters, but it was caught early and was able to recover. They were forced to leave Kajang owing to health concerns, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise since the Japanese Imperial Army subsequently took control of the Convent school. The British arrived back in less than a month after the war ended in August 1945.

Rebuilding the Church (1946 – 1961)

Even though Kajang did not experience as much damage as other areas did during the conflict, it was nevertheless a trying time, especially for the parishioners of Holy Family. The Holy Family parish began to be rebuilt in the 1950s. After 38 years (1914 – 1952), the parish was fortunate to have a permanent parish priest when Rev. Fr. Etienne Mamet MEP was appointed. On his motorcycle, Fr. Etienne began to visit every parishioner in the Ulu Langat and Kajang districts. The IJ Sisters came back to Kajang, and the Convent school was reopened. Fr. Ronald Brossard MEP, who Bishop Olcomendy appointed as the Assistant Parish Priest, assisted Fr. Etienne. Catholics and non-Christians alike knew Fr. Etienne and Fr. Ronald well. In Kajang town, they used to preach in front of the public at night. Despite being Europeans, people enjoyed hearing them speak "Hakka." Every Sunday, priests from Kuala Lumpur would travel to Kajang to celebrate Holy Eucharist and perform sacraments for the Tamil-speaking population. The priest Fr. Dominic Vendargon was one of them (the late Archbishop Tan Sri Dominic Vendargon).

Parishioners and Fr. Etienne decided to construct a permanent church, which commenced in 1953. A permanent church was built in 1955 with donations from parishioners from all around Malaya. Fr. Etienne designed it in the shape of a triangle to honour the patronage of the Holy Family. The installation of Bishop Dominic Vendargon as our first local bishop, as well as the establishment of the Diocese of Kuala Lumpur, made 1955 a watershed moment for all Catholics. On November 27, 1955, His Lordship Bishop Dominic Vendargonon consecrated the new church, which was also the first church he consecrated since being ordained bishop. Fr. Etienne was relocated, and Fr. Jacques Dermigny MEP took over. The temporary chapel was converted into a kindergarten and was known as a place for elementary education for children in Kajang. Fr. Jacques built a grotto with a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. Fr. Etienne served until January 1960 with 426 Catholics living in Kajang then.

Spirit of Vatican II and a New Way of Being a Church (1962 – present)

The Roman Catholic Church underwent a significant period of rejuvenation in the 1960s. His Holiness Pope John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council in 1962, and His Holiness Pope Paul IV declared it to be over in 1965. The Second Vatican Council reiterates the church's identity as the "People of God." Laity were invited to take part in church events and the apostolate to a greater extent. In order for the laity to comprehend the liturgy better, Latin usage was eliminated and replaced with vernacular languages.

Rev. Fr. Philip So took over as parish priest in January 1960 and again in April 1973 while Rev. Fr. Anthony Chan served as the parish priest in December 1967. Both of them had to cope with the changes and challenges demanded by Vatican Council II. In 1973, the parish was divided into 12 zones – Happy Garden, Semenyih, Jalan Bukit, Jalan Reko, Bangi, Sungai Chua, Town Area, Kajang Garden, Jalan Gereja, Suntex, Sungai Jeluk and Cheras. The home communities started at the diocese level in 1974 but Kajang started it a year earlier. In 1973, His Holiness Pope Paul IV elevated the Diocese of Kuala Lumpur to Archdiocese and Bishop Rt. Rev. Dominic Vendargon was elevated as the Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Kuala Lumpur.

The following decisions were made during the Aggiornamento in 1976: a) creating Christ-centered communities (Basic Ecclesial Communities, or BECs); b) fostering unity among bishops, priests, religious, and laypeople; c) providing training for laypeople and young people; and d) engaging in dialogue with other Christians and non-Christians. The Parish Council, the parish's decision-making body, was established by the Holy Family parish in 1976 and was comprised of delegates from zones and BECs. After his arrival in July 1977, Rev. Fr. Antoine Henriot MEP increased parishioner involvement in the liturgy and other aspects of the church.

As a result of the creation of numerous Federal institution centres of higher education, Kajang's population began to increase in the 1980s. The church hall was constructed on Fr. Henriot's proposal and was given the go-ahead by the local council, and was blessed by His Grace Archbishop Tan Sri Dominic Vendargon in July 1980. The two wings of the previous triangular church were expanded as the population increased.

After 13 years as the parish priest in Kajang, Fr. Henriot left to serve at the Good Shepherd parish in Setapak in 1991, and was followed by Rev. Fr. Leo Chang. The Ministry of the Poor (MOP), Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Family Life Commission, and the Rite of Christian Initiation are just a few of the lay organisations that were founded in the early 1990s (RCIA).

In 1995, the Parish of Holy Family established three new organisations to take the place of the Parish Council. There were three of them: a) the Parish Pastoral Council (PPC), b) the Parish Coordinating Council (PCC), and c) the Parish Finance Committee (PFC). Holy Family was one of the few parishes in the Archdiocese to establish three organisations. At the Peninsular Malaysia Pastoral Convention II in 1996, a priority was established to build the New Way of Being Church (NEWBEC), which is to transform parishes into Communion of Communities.

In the 1990s, Kajang's Catholic population began to expand, outstripping the capacity of the old church. As a result, the parish priest and the lay leaders believed that a new church was desperately needed. With Mr. John Khor serving as the project architect, work on the new church plans got underway in 1992. Plans were submitted to the government in 1994, and on October 15, 1997, they were eventually authorised. The same year, a Church Building Fund Committee was formed to help with all the preparations for constructing a new church.

The final mass in the old church was celebrated on 31 August 2000 morning by Fr. Leo Chang. Since September 2000, all liturgical celebrations were held at the new church. The grotto that was built by Rev. Fr. Dermingy MEP in 1958, was given a facelift. On December 31, 2000, a thanksgiving and reunion luncheon was held to raise donations for the new church and to greet the new year 2001. The new church, with a seating capacity of about 3000 people, is the largest in Peninsular Malaysia. It is fully air-conditioned, has computerised projection, and a fully equipped audio-visual area. The Most Rev. Anthony Soter Fernandez, Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, consecrated the Church of the Holy Family on May 26, 2001.

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