Church of the Immaculate Conception, September 2010

Church of the Immaculate Conception, September 2010

conceptionThe September site visit, delayed on account of Ramadan and the Malaysia Day holidays, took place on Sunday, 19th September at the Church of Immaculate Conception on Burmah Road in Pulau Tikus. 45 PHT members and friends took part. The church was founded by Portuguese Eurasians who settled in Penang to escape persecution in Phuket. They were latecomers — an earlier wave of Catholic immigrants arrived in Penang from Kedah in 1786 with Captain Francis Light and founded the Church of the Assumption on Farquhar Street. The Eurasian Catholic community in Phuket, although dwindling in numbers, remained in Phuket until the Phya Tak Massacre of 1810, which forced them to leave.

The Eurasians, or Serani (a Malay-language corruption of Nazarene, a reference to Jesus of Nazareth) as they were locally called, adopted local customs such as speaking Malay, and lived in kampong houses, similar to those in the Portuguese settlement in Malacca. There was a sizable Eurasian community in the Pulau Tikus area of Kelawai Road until after Independence, so much so that the area was called Kampong Serani, and local road names such as Leandro’s Lane still bear their imprint.

The present building of the Church of Immaculate Conception was erected in 1899, and was last renovated in the 1970s. With the moving away of the Eurasian community in recent years the congregation of the church has become predominantly Chinese.

PHT members were briefed on the history of the church and the Eurasian community by Dr. Anthony Sibert, an authority on the history of the Roman Catholic Church in Penang. Dr. Sibert is author of Pulo Ticus 1810-1994: Mission Accomplished, a book soon to be published. He showed us the small museum housed in the northeast corner of the church and explained the many artifacts, documents and memorabilia displayed there. Members of the Immaculate Conception congregation are very proud of the fact that one of their priests was the only parish priest in Malaysia to be canonized (not counting St Francis Xavier). Jacques Honoré Chastan was a Roman Catholic missionary born in France. He taught at the College General in Penang 1828-1830 and served as the fourth parish priest of the Church of the Immaculate Conception 1830-1833. From Penang Father Chastan went on to carry out missionary work in China and Korea.  The Korean authorities became alarmed at the rate at which Koreans were converting to Catholicism and Father Chastan and his colleagues were arrested and martyred in 1839. Father Chastan was beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1984. A monument to St. Chastan was recently erected in the southwest corner of the church grounds facing Burma Road.

By Leslie A.K. James