Malaysian Catholic History

After a study of many Arab manuscripts, G.R. Tibbets locates Qalah on the west coast of Malaya, near the island of Langkawi. From around this place, Christians have been reported as early as 650 AD.

Feb 01, 2019

Christianity was in Kedah by 650 AD
After a study of many Arab manuscripts, G.R. Tibbets locates Qalah on the west coast of Malaya, near the island of Langkawi. From around this place, Christians have been reported as early as 650 AD.

Others identify Qalah with Klang and/or Kedah, important harbours for the exchange of goods between merchants from India, China and the Indonesian archipelago. Already before 850 AD, Kalah (Chinese Kolo) was a stop en route to China as mentioned by Ibn Khurdadhih. 

During Patriarch Timothy I’s reign (780–823 AD) “...many monks crossed the sea to India and China with only a staff and a script”. On their way to China, they certainly passed the Straits of Malacca. What do we know about Christians in this area? In all probability, the above mentioned place of Qalah, 1,200 parasangs away from India, is the Malayan harbour town of Kalah, somewhere around present day Kedah. During the ninth century, Kalah became even more important to the Arab seafarers who, together with Persians, traded there with Chinese and Malay merchants. Kalah, Lemuri, Fansur, and Nias occur time and again as stops on the way to China from the Persian Gulf via Sri Lanka.

Arrival of St Francis Xavier

1511: Arrival of the Portugese were led by Admiral Alfonso de Albuquerque.

They captured Malacca. It’s well known spice trade flourished.

1545: St Francis Xavier preached in Malacca.

Diocese of Malacca

FEB 4, 1558: Establishment of the Diocese of Malacca by Paul IV into a diocese under the Portugese Patronage, as a suffragan of the Archdiocese of Goa, until 1838.

Dutch Occupation Authorities in power suppressed the Catholic bishops and priests. They captured Malacca. It’s well known spice trade flourished.


Dutch Occupation
Authorities in power suppressed the Catholic bishops and priests.

The Bishops of Malacca Diocese

1. Bishop Jorge de Santa Luzia, OP (Feb 4, 1558 - 1578)
2. Bishop João Ribeiro Gaio (Jan 29, 1578 - 1601)
3. Bishop Cristovão da Sá e Lisboa, OSH (Aug 30, 1604 - Nov 12, 1612)
4. Bishop Gonçalo (Gonzalo) da Silva (Feb 4, 1613 - Sep 6, 1632)
5. Bishop António do Rosário, OP (Feb 9, 1637 - 1638)
6. Bishop Antonio a Saint Theresia, OFM (Jan 8, 1691 - Nov 1701)
7. Bishop Emmanuel a Santo Antonio, OP (Nov 21, 1701 - Sept 3, 1738)

The Bishops of Malacca Diocese

1. Bishop Antonio de Castro (Sep 3, 1738 - Aug 9, 1743)
2. Bishop Miguel de Bulhões e Souza, OP (Mar 28, 1746 - Feb 19, 1748)
3. Bishop Gerardo de São José, OP (Feb 19, 1748 - Jan 1760)
4. Bishop Alexandre da Sagrada Familia Ferreira da Silva, OFM Ref (Dec 16, 1782 - Feb 14 1785)
5. Bishop Francisco de São Damazo Abreu Vieira, OFM Obs (Oct 29, 1804 - Mar 15, 1815)

Vicariate of Malaya

Malacca Diocese ceases
By the Brief Multa Praeclare (Aug 24, 1838), Malacca Diocese lost its jurisdiction and the see of Malacca was transferred to the Vicariate Apostolic of Ava and Pegu (Burma). However, due to an acute shortage of missionaries, the whole Malay Peninsula was temporarily placed under the jurisdiction of the Vicar Apostolic of Siam in 1840. Then in 1841, the Vicariate of Malaya was established. The bishops were:

1. Bishop Jean Paul Hilaire Michel Courvezy, MEP (Sep 10, 1841 - May 18, 1845)
2. Bishop Jean Baptiste Boucho, MEP (Jun 3, 1845 - Mar 6, 1871)
3. Bishop Michel Esther Le Turdu, MEP(Mar 6, 1871 - May 10, 1877)

Diocese of Malacca
AUG 10, 1888

The old See of Malacca was revived by Pope Leo XIII and raised from a Vicariate into a Diocese, as a suffragan to Pondicherry. Rt Rev Edouard Gasnier, the Apostolic Vicar from 1878, was appointed the first bishop. His residence was in Singapore as with the other bishops.

1. Bishop Edouard Gasnier, MEP (Apr 5, 1878 - Apr 8, 1896)
2. Bishop René Michel Marie Fée, MEP (Jul 21, 1896 - Jan 20, 1904)
3. Bishop Émile Marie Luc Alphonse Barillon, MEP  (May 10, 1904 - Jan 10, 1933)
4. Bishop Adrien Pierre Devals, MEP (Nov 27, 1933 - Jan 17, 1945)
5. Bishop Michel Olçomendy, MEP (June 1, 1947 - Sept 19, 1953)


Diocese of Malacca was raised to the rank of an Archdiocese. Rt Rev Michel Olcomendy, MEP becomes the first Archbishop. (Sept 19, 1953 - 1972)


1955 - 1972
Archdiocese of Malacca split and an ecclesiastical province was formed

Metropolitan See

Archdiocese of Malacca-Singapore (Singapore, Malacca, Johore)
Metropolitan Archbishop Archbishop M. Olcomendy

1955 – Suffragan Dioceses

Diocese of Kuala Lumpur
(Selangor, N. Sembilan, Pahang and Terengganu)

Bishop Dominic Vendargon (ordained in St John’s Cathedral, Kuala Lumpur in August 1955)

Diocese of Penang
(Perlis, Kedah, Perak, Penang, Kelantan)

Bishop Francis Chan
(ordained in the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, Singapore in August 1955)

In 1972, the Archdiocese of Malacca-Singapore ceased to be a Metropolitan See but was answering directly to Rome as Archdiocese of Singapore. Archdiocese of Singapore: Archbishop Msgr M. Olcomendy MEP

1955 onwards
Msgr Francis Chan was ordained bishop in the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, Singapore in August 1955.


The faithful paying their respects to the newly consecrated Bishop Vendargon on Aug 21, 1955.

AUGUST 31, 1957
Independence of the Federation of Malaya proclaimed by Tunku Abdul Rahman

Kuala Lumpur Diocese was raised to a Metropolitan See with two suffragan dioceses.

Suffragan Dioceses

Diocese of Penang
(Perlis, Kedah, Perak, Penang, Kelantan) Bishop Gregory Yong Sooi Nghean ordained on 1 Jul 1968

Diocese of Malacca-Johor:
(Malacca-Johor) Bishop James Chan Soon Cheong ordained on June 8, 1973

Sept 16, 1963
The former British Colonies of Sarawak, North Borneo(sabah) and Singapore joined with the states of the Federation of Malaysia to form the Federation of Malaysia

AUGUST 9, 1965
Singapore left Malaysia and proclaimed the Independence of the Republic of Singapore.


DEC 18, 1972

When Singapore ceased to be a metropolitan See, the two states of Malacca and Johore were detached from it and made the new Diocese of Malacca-Johor, and a suffragan of the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur.

Bishop James Chan giving his first episcopal blessing to the faithful at his epicopal ordination, June 8, 1973.

Name Change

1974 - Diocese of Melaka Johor
1992 - Diocese of Malacca Johore

Early Missionary Attempts in Borneo
According to early documentations, the first missionary attempt to reach Borneo was in the 7th century by the Nestorian Missionaries. How ever, they only landed in Java and Sumatra in Indonesia.

The second attempt was by John of Monte Corvino. In 1289 he was sent by Pope Nicholas IV to lead a group to the Far East. However, only one of John’s members, Odoric of Pordenone, a Franciscan friar was successful when he visited the shores near the present day Mukah in Sarawak in 1322.

The third attempt was made in the 16th century but out of the many Portuguese merchant fleets, only Antonio Pereira, a Jesuit priest, reached Borneo accidentally. In 1608, on his way to Manila, a sudden storm wrecked his ship along the coast of North Borneo. He and his crew landed in Tempasuk, Kota Belud but were captured by the Illanuns who enslaved them. After four months, the Sultan of Brunei heard about the incident and rescued them. They were also allowed to preach the Gospel to the people in Brunei. Nothing much is known about the missionary work of Fr Pereira except the fact that the Bruneians appreciated and admired him for his gentle approach. After one year, Fr Pereira was drowned when the ship he was in sank on its way to Manila.

In the next two hundred years, there were other missionaries from Europe who tried to set foot on Borneo. Nevertheless, it has to be noted that missionary activities during this period were merely exploratory in nature. It was only toward the turn of the late 19th century that the Borneo Mission under went a complete new start.

Blessed Odoric of Pordenone

A little known Italian missioner, Blessed Odoric of Pordenone OFM, visited Asia long before St Francis Xavier arrived in 1541. The missioner is believed to have landed on Borneo island sometime between 1323 and 1324.

However, this was only a stopover, for his mission was to reach China to assist Franciscan Archbishop John of Monte Corvino of Peking (Beijing).

Odoric’s trip to China began in 1322, traversing the Persian Gulf with stops at Thana, near Bombay, Sumatra, Java and Borneo, according to Church sources.

He is the first European, after Marco Polo, who distinctly mentions the name of Sumatra. The cannibalism and community of wives which he attributes to certain races of that island do certainly belong to it, or to islands closely adjoining.

“Odoric ranks high amongstthe world's great travellers, not merely for the extent of his journeys, but for the amount of information tha the collected,” wrote historian Robert Nicholl in The Brunei Museum Journal.

Nicholl described him as “ indefatigable seeker after truth,”who “...tirelessly questionedthe in habitants of the placesthat he visited”.

During his stay in Borneo,Odoric made detailed observations of local customs, such as the natives’ use of areed called “casan” for many purposes, including sails,rough clothes, huts, and body armour. Nicholl believed those descriptions fit the sago palm, nipa palm, rattan and ipohtree, all of which flourishedin Borneo. In May of that year, Odoric carefully narrated his experiences to fellow Friar Guglielmo of Solagno at the Friary of St Anthony at Padua.

His manu script, known asthe Relation, reportedly became a famous travel journal in the Middle Ages. Odoric died on Jan 14,1331 at Udine, Italy, andwas beatified by Pope Benedict XIV in 1755. He is venerated as the patron of the Chinese missions and also of long distance travellers.


FEB 2, 1993
The Diocese of Keningau was established.(covering the interiordivision of Sabah)

MAY 6, 1993
Msgr Cornelius Piong was ordained and installed as the first bishop of the diocese.

July 16, 2007
The Diocese of Sandakan was created from the territory of KotaKinabalu Archdiocese with Bishop Julius Dusin Gitom the first bishop of the diocese.


In 1879, the Prefecture of Sarawak, North Borneo and Brunei was entrusted with an independent mission by Propaganda Fide to the Mill Hill Missionary Society (MHM).

The following year, Rajah Charles Brooke approved Bishop Herbert Vaughanof Salford’s request to start a Catholic mission in Sarawak.

It was part of the Prefecture Apostolicof Labuan and Borneo until 1927 when it was split and became the Apostolic Prefecture of Sarawak.


SEPT 4, 1855
Erected as the Apostolic Prefecture of Labuan and Borneo with Msgr Don Carlos Cuarteron,a member of the Third Order ofthe Trinitarians, the first Prefect. Fr Thomas Jackson MHM was appointed as the second Prefect Apostolic on March 30, 1881

FEB 5, 1927
Renamed the Apostolic Prefecture of Northern Borneo. Lost territory to form the Apostolic Prefecture of Sarawak with Fr Edmund Dunn MHM as the first Prefect. Fr August Watcher MHM was the second Prefect.

FEB 14, 1952
Promoted to Apostolic Vicariateof Jesselt on withBishop James Buis, MHM as the first Apostolic Vicar.

MAR 22, 1968
Name changed to Apostolic Vicariate of Kota Kinabalu with Bishop James Buis, MHM as the first Apostolic Vicar. Bishop Peter Chung was the second Apostolic Vicar on 1970.

MAY 31, 1976
Elevated to Diocese of Kota Kinabalu (suffragan in the ecclesiastical province of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Kuching)

Bishop Simon Fung Kui Heong was installed as its first bishop on May 19, 1977.

Diocese of Kota Kinabalu lost two territories:Keningau - Dec 17, 1992 Sandakan - July 16, 2007

MAY 23, 2008

Elevated to Metropolitan Archdiocese. Suffragan Dioceses:Diocese of Keningauand Diocese of Sandakan

Archbishop John Lee Hiong Fun-Yit Yaw was appointed as the first Archbishop of Kota Kinabalu


Erected as the Apostolic Vicariate of Miri. (The diocese was formed from the Vicariate of Kuching)

MAY 5, 1960
Fr Anthony D.Galvin, MHM consecratedas the first Bishop.Ordained by Pope JohnXXIII in Rome.

MAY 31, 1976
Pope Paul VI established anew Church province. Miri Vicariate was raised to the level of a Diocese.

NOV 20, 1977
Fr Anthony Lee was ordained in St Joseph’s Cathedral as the first Bishop. Proclamation of Diocese of Miri.(suffragan of Archdiocese of Kuching)

NOV 11, 1997
Lost its territory(Brunei) to establish Apostolic Prefecture of Brunei.


Fr Cornelius Keetstarts the Sibu CatholicMission.(A small hut was builtfor the priest to stay onhis travels to Bintangorand Sari (Sarikei).Although it wasonly a short stay, hemanaged to converta few hundred peopleto the Catholic faithbefore he was recalledto Kuching.

MAY 1942
European priests were interned by the Japanese at Batu Lintang camp, Kuching.

Fr Joseph Chin was the only remaining local priest in the whole of the Rejang region,and had to go under ground to carry out his priestly duties. He went house to house offering Mass secretly. Twice, he was caught and was flogged and jailed. He was highly esteemed by all who knew him. He died of cancer in 1969.

JAN 6, 1987
Sibu became a new diocese. Fr Dominic Su was ordained by Pope John Paul II as Bishopof Sibu in Rome.


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