History of Parish

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Ever since Francis of Assisi received God’s discernment: "Repair my church" in the 12th century, he and his followers have laboured to promote the spirit of love, sacrifice and peace not only in their homeland but to all men of goodwill on the face of the earth.

With these ideals and spirit of the Franciscan missionary, the St. Francis of Assisi church was established in 1979. The church while being a place of worship was also a centre for training and formation, for social reform action and activities and a place where service and projects can be initiated and organised. When newly built the church offered all these possibilities and opportunities in design and in character.


Origins of SFA

The origins of Gethsemani Friary is closely linked with the arrival of Reverend Father Gerrard, the Superior of the Capuchin Missions, to Malaysia in September 1963. The objective of Father Gerard’s visit was to review the work of the missionary work of the Order, further extend their work to newer areas especially in the estates and rural areas, and at the same time find a permanent location to serve as a centre for the mission.

Father Gerard held discussions with the Bishop of Kuala Lumpur Diocese – Tan Sri D. Vendargon on this matter, and the latter, offered a two-acre plot of land in the city. The proposed location was found not to be suitable. It was also at this time that the Capuchin Mission had an offer for sale, from an estate owner, of five acres of land on the outskirts of the city.

The location, about seven miles from the city appeared promising, as it was isolated, close to Mother Nature and yet accessible to the surrounding estate communities. Although finance posed a problem, Divine Providence came their aid in this hour of need. A lawyer volunteered his services to arrange the transaction and necessary legalities. The property was charged to the bank and a loan raised to meet the RM80,000/- needed to meet the purchase.


The new friary

By mid 1964 the rubber trees were felled and the land cleared. Construction work soon started to erect a modest building comprising of a chapel and a block for the friars quarters. Funds were raised through the support and generosity of well wishers and friends. A seraphic school soon followed.

On 4th April 1965, the Bishop of the Diocese – Tan Sri D. Vendargon christened the new friary – GETHSEMANI FRIARY. The former friary at Batu Arang was consequently returned to the Bishop after the friars had shifter to their new home.

Reverend Father John of the Cross assumed responsibility as the Superior of the Friary with assistance from Father Hugolin and Brothers Agatho and Reginald. Together as a team, they worked hard to develop the community and expand their missionary work to the surrounding areas. It was during this period too that a Parochial Hall, behind the friars’ quarters was built to serve as a centre for training and formation.


Life-sized Statues

Perhaps Gethsemani is best known among the Catholic population in the country for its life-sized statues of the Stations of the Cross. The project was originally conceived by Father John of the Cross in 1965. To honour the Friary and to project this place as a centre for worship, Father placed an order from India for the fifteen stations of the cross at a cost of RM30,000/-. These Stations stand at the crest of the hill in the friary grounds. Local skilled craftsmen were engaged to erect these Stations, within walking distances apart from each other. The cost of assembling and erecting these Stations cost an additional RM15,000/-.

(Please see Stations of the Cross for further information and pictures)

Missionaries

Through the years that followed, Gethsemani Friary has seen changes to its missionaries. Capuchin Priests and Brothers, mainly from India, have served in the Friary and every one of them has given himself freely to others in the true Franciscan spirit of love, service and charity. On some of the them fell the task of promoting and extending the faith in the surrounding rubber estates and plantations. To others, the missionary responsibility was to organise seminars and retreats all over the country and preach the Word of God.

Some of the Friars will be remembered for their efforts in helping the young to devote their lives to the religious and adopt the Capuchin Order as their way of life. Some worked tirelessly to build lay leaders to assume leadership in the life of the Church. However, one of the most significant tasks successfully realised was the building of the new Church of St. Francis of Assisi to meet the growing needs of the area.

The Gethsemani Friary has often been the meeting place for a number of Church organisations and movements. Seminars, General Assemblies, Parish Meetings, Retreats and Annual General Meetings have been held here. The facilities for staying, the isolated location and the quietness of the place all seemed ideal for the occasion. The Friary has since its inception seen thousands of people including its youths pass through its portals. To every one of them the place has left an impression of serenity and peace. Let us hope that this spirit will continue to attract yet others to the Friary.

[Adapted from church of ST. FRANCIS of Assisi, Official Opening and Blessing Souvenir]

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