The First Bishop of Kuala Lumpur: Dominic Aloysius Vendargon 1955 - 1983

Bishop Dominic Aloysius Vendargon was born on August 29, 1909 in Sri Lanka. His mother, Gertrude Vendargon nearly died at childbirth.

Oct 06, 2014

Bishop Dominic Aloysius Vendargon was born on August 29, 1909 in Sri Lanka. His mother, Gertrude Vendargon nearly died at childbirth. She made a vow to Our Lady to offer her son to God if she recovered. After her prayer had been answered, with the one-year-old son she joined her husband who was working in Malaya, at Batu Gajah as a surveyor for the Government. She returned to Sri Lanka with her children when World War I broke out.

He attended primary school in the Jaffna College in Sri Lanka and served as altar boy for the Oblates of Mary Fathers.

In 1919, he returned to Malaysia to study at St Paul’s Institution in Seremban. Since he expressed the desire to become a priest, with the encouragement of the parish priest Fr J. Francois, he joined the minor seminary in Singapore in 1925 and the College General in Penang in 1927. He was ordained to the priesthood on December 8, 1934.

He began his pastoral ministry among the Indian Catholics in the plantations of Negeri Sembilan state from 1934 till 1941. Then, he went over to Sungei Petani (1941-1948). There he suffered under the hands of the Japanese soldiers during World War II.

During that time he used to cycle throughout the district as far as Perlis. He even made pastoral visits to the states of the East Coast in Kelantan and Terengganu.

After the war, he taught briefly at the College General for three months.Then he was called right to the south of the Diocese of Malacca to serve in Johor Bahru and the Singapore Naval Base in 1949.

For another year, he was in the Perak state at Telok Anson and from 1951 till 1955 he was attached to the Church of St Anthony in Kuala Lumpur.

He was elected in February 1955 by Pope Pius XII, and ordained the first bishop of the new See of Kuala Lumpur on Aug 21, 1955. Bishop Dominic Vendargon attended all the sessions of Vatican Council II as Bishop of Kuala Lumpur (1962 -1965).

In 1964, he was appointed to one of the Commissions of the Vatican Council in Rome. He was one of the very few Far-Eastern Prelates given the task of solving thousands of questions raised by the bishops on all problems concerning the relationship between the hierarchy and the religious orders.

On June 5, 1968, he received the honorific award of P.S.M. carrying with it the title of “Tan Sri.” (The award P.S.M. or Panglima Setia Mahkota was given only to 75 citizens).

In 1973, Pope Paul VI elevated him to the rank of metropolitan archbishop of Kuala Lumpur after the diocese of Malacca had been earlier divided into the archdiocese of Singapore and the archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur with two “suffragan” dioceses of Penang and Melaka - Johor.

Archbishop Vendargon was elected the first President of the newly formed Consultative Council of Interreligious bodies comprising Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism. This council seeks to represent the interests of the major religions that form the multi-ethnic and religious society of Malaysia.

As the first Malayan Bishop, he had to do many things for the new Diocese — build churches (16), bring in different orders of missionaries because of the shortage of priests and much later, with the Second Vatican Council sessions in Rome between 1962 and 1965, he had to return yearly and spearhead implementation of its resolutions.

Thus, he saw to it that more places of worship were built in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya by the existing churches in strategic locations according to the needs and population of Catholics there. Later, expansion took place as the Church bought land in Bentong, Mentakab, Dungun and Kuala Terengganu.

He invited various religious orders to work in his Diocese. These included the Capuchins, the Jesuits, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Carmelite nuns. Concerned for the sick and the aged, he asked the Sisters of the Poor to set up a home for the aged in Kuala Lumpur, and this took form in Cheras in 1964.

However, new immigration policies stopped the flow of foreign missionaries and there was then an urgent need to train more local clergy and religious. To encourage local vocations, he opened Cardijn House in Bukit Nanas for boys interested in the religious life. But it did not meet with much success and was discontinued. This gap was filled by mature adults seeking to join the seminary.

During his seventeen years as a bishop and eleven years as an archbishop, he greatly encouraged the formation of lay leadership in his diocese and the setting up of Basic Christian Communities in all parishes. As from 1974 the need for training Lay Leaders was felt by most priests, that led to training programmes and sessions for Lay Ministers needed by the Local Church in all fields of church life and in the new small basic groups.

After 28 years of active service to the Church in Malaysia, his request for retirement was accepted by Pope John Paul II on July 2, 1983.

Archbishop Emeritus Vendargon passed away on Aug 3, 2005 at the age of 95. He is buried in the nave of the Cathedral of St John.

An Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese

In 1980, Archbishop Dominic Vendargon was celebrating his Silver Jubilee of service to the Church in Kuala Lumpur and he expressed a desire for an Auxiliary Bishop to help him with the administration of the archdiocese which had increased in number from 31,350 to 57,760 with parishes from 12 to 28.

Earlier, the archbishop had already appointed one of the young priests, Fr Antony Selvanayagam as his Vicar General.

Fr Antony was born in Bentong, Pahang and received his early education in Teluk Anson in Perak. When his father was transferred to Batu Gajah, he continued his studies there. Then in 1948, he went to Sri Lanka, to join his family and finish his studies at Jaffna.

He returned to Malaysia only a few days before the country proclaimed its independence in August 1957. For the next four years, he worked in the Malayan Civil Service in Johor Baru and in Kuala Lumpur.

Then he decided to join the Holy Orders and was admitted to the St Francis Xavier’s Minor Seminary in Singapore in 1961. Three years later, he joined the Major Seminary at the College General in Penang in 1964 and was ordained to the priesthood in St Joseph’s Church, Sentul on December 20, 1969.

Then he exercised his new ministry in three parishes: St Anthony’s Church, KL, St Thomas Church in Kuantan on the East coast of Malaya and St Paul the Hermit's Church in Batang Berjuntai (Selangor).

For six years, he promoted the new diocesan project of Basic Christian Communities (BCC) in that parish (1974-80).

In 1983, Fr Antony was appointed as the new Auxiliary Bishop of the archdiocese. The Episcopal ordination took place in St John’s Cathedral in Kuala Lumpur on September 1, 1980. He was to discharge such duties as auxiliary bishop only for three years before he was given the full authority over the Diocese of Penang (Nov 1983).

For the next twenty years, Bishop Antony Selvanayagam promoted the Diocesan Plan of building up BCC’s or small Christian communities in the thirty parishes of the Diocese. He placed the emphasis on the baptismal duties of all the Faithful to witness to the Kingdom of God as individuals, families and societal life so that “JESUS may always INCREASE” in their hearts and life’s surroundings.

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