The arrival of the MEP Fathers of the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris (Societe des Missions Etrangeres de Paris or MEP) is synonymous with the official establishment of the Catholic Church in Singapore and Malaysia. The Church of St Anthony of Padua has faithfully served the Catholic community in Teluk Intan for 125 years and celebrated its Feast Day on 16th June 2019. (1)

Saint Anthony of Padua was a Portuguese Catholic Priest of the Franciscan Order, was born and raised in Lisbon, Portugal but died in Padua, Italy. (2) Padua is a city in Northern Italy’s Veneto Region. He was known for his powerful preaching, expert knowledge of Scripture, and undying love and devotion to the poor and the sick. He was one among others who was most quickly canonized as a saint in church history.

The origin of the Church of Saint Anthony of Padua in Teluk Intan dates back to 1894. It’s very first priest, Father Rene Micheal Marie Fee of MEP acquired a piece of land and built a small attap-roofed wooden chapel amidst much opposition. (3) While he was resident in Teluk Anson (as it was named then) he established another chapel in Tapah which was made possible with the newly constructed railway line connecting Teluk Anson to Tapah. From then on the two towns formed a single parish covering the whole of South Perak. Eventually it extended to Ipoh and Sitiawan.

Two years later, the Vatican appointed Father Rene Fee as Bishop of Malacca and later as Bishop of Singapore on 22 November 1896. He was succeeded by a young priest Father Louis Perrichon, who continued the work and extended to Kuala Kubu Baru Road to minister to Indian workers scattered in the estates. He too left in 1900 after he was appointed as the Auxiliary Bishop of Malacca leaving the parish work in the hands of Father Louis Duvelle and Father Emile Sausseau. While they were stationed in Tapah, they also looked into the pastoral needs of the community in Teluk Anson. Between 1906 and 1934, a number of MEP priests were posted to continue the parish work; Father Jean Passail (1906-1909), Father Donat Perrissoud (1909-1914, 1920-1928), Father Emile Sausseau (1914-1920), Father Jean Baloche (1929-1931), and Father Michael Bonamy (1931-1934).            

Between 1909 and 1914, Father Perrissoud was in charge and had primary responsibility for the spiritual welfare of the Indian community in South Perak. In 1910, he built the presbytery (the house of the Roman Catholic priest) in Teluk Anson and extended his pastoral work to Lumut and Sitiawan which was a one-day boat ride away. In 1914, while Father Perrissoud was away in Europe to serve in the American Army as an interpreter, the St Anthony’s Church in Teluk Anson was completely destroyed in a fire. A fine new church was built in 1922 only after his return which was his primary concern. The foundation stone was laid on Sunday 7th May 1922. (4)

A building fund of between $60,000 and $70,000 was raised despite the poor economic situation due to the war. Christians and non-Christians donated generously and a list of the main donors can be seen at the entrance of the church as a sign of their generosity. The church was consecrated by the Rev. J.M. Merel, Archbishop of Crania on Sunday 6th May 1923. (5)

In the book entitled “Landmarks of Perak” produced by HRH Raja Nazrin Shah, the Sultan of Perak, Architect Chen Voon Fee provides a detailed description of the Church’s architectural design:

“The Church has a central three storey porte cochere tower topped by an elegant steeple. In the middle of three sides of the tower are louvred quatrefoils in circle. Above these are pairs of louvred, arc-headed windows.

The Church’s simple cross plan can be clearly seen externally with the proportionally tall five-bay nave, two-way transept and a polygonal apse. Shallow plasters divide the bays and also reinforce the corners of the tower.

Rows of plaster mouldings and cornices mark the three stages of the tower, form a steep pattern along the top of the gable walls and adorn the top of each bay.

The Church’s all white interior is treated in just as minimal a manner. Shallow plasters mark the bays, their lines carried over the nave forming flat arches. The junction lines between the nave, transept and apsidal end are picked out in a darker colour. Above the altar are three stained-glass windows depicting scenes of Jesus’ life.” [6]

Architect Chen Voon Fee provides a description of the architectural design of the church building as follows:

“The Church has a central three storey porte cochere tower topped by an elegant steeple. In the middle of three sides of the tower are louvred quatrefoils in circle. Above these are pairs of louvred, arc-headed windows.

The Church’s simple cross plan can be clearly seen externally with the proportionally tall five-bay nave, two-way transept and a polygonal apse. Shallow plasters divide the bays and also reinforce the corners of the tower.

Rows of plaster mouldings and cornices mark the three stages of the tower, form a steep pattern along the top of the gable walls and adorn the top of each bay.

The Church’s all white interior is treated in just as minimal a manner. Shallow plasters mark the bays, their lines carried over the nave forming flat arches. The junction lines between the nave, transept and apsidal end are picked out in a darker colour. Above the altar are three stained-glass windows depicting scenes of Jesus’ life.” (6)

The mission of the church continued with local priests providing pastoral care since 1934. However, 3 MEP Fathers took charge of the work at St Anthony’s Church during this period;

Father R. Bossard (1953-1959), Father Maurice Surmon (1970-1978), and Father Pierre Gauthier (1990-1996). One hallmark of the work in the 1990s was a vision for a united parish among the various language groups including ministry to the Chinese community and the migrant workers from Indonesia who worked in the nearby plantations. The church building also had a new coat of paint and the parish house underwent major renovation. The construction of the Grotto dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes had a strong appeal to many of the parishioners which was completed in June 2003.

In 2012, funds were raised to rebuild parts of the church building; ceiling had rusted, cracks had appeared and the wiring needed to be changed. The steeple had tilted to one side due to earth movement and erosion underneath, although it has settled. (7) The other parish buildings had also been termite infested and needed to be replaced which was finally completed in 2019 at a cost of RM 2.2 million (8).

References:

  1. Herald Malaysia Online, Wednesday November 6th 2019
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_of_Padua
  3. Souvenir Magazine of the Golden Jubilee Diocese of Penang, 1955 – 2005
  4. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), 4 May 1922, page 286
  5. The Straits Times, 4 May 1923, page 8
  6. HRH Raja Nazrin Shah, “Landmarks of Perak”. RNS Publications Sdn Bhd. 2006
  7. Star Online, Monday 17th March 2014. “Deadline over but funds still short to rebuild parts of church on the verge of collapse.”
  8. Souvenir Programme “A Ray of Hope” Charity Gala 2014. In aid of The Church of St Anthony, Teluk Intan Parish Building Fund.

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