New Image of the Parish
The first French missionaries (MEP) who set foot in Seremban came from Malacca. In 1845, Bishop John Baptist Boucho, the Vicar Apostolic of Malacca-Singapore sent a French priest, Fr. Pierre Favre, MEP to start the parish of St Francis Xavier in Malacca. Thus those who laid the foundation of the Christian community in seremban were visiting priests from Malacca.It would seem that Bishop Boucho was paying special attention to the material and religious formation of a group of people, the indigenous people living in the Malayan forests, so the bishop appointed a young missionary Fr.Pierre Henri Borie to work among these people.
Jalan Rasah in 1848
In 1847, Fr. Borie made contact with these indigenous people and regrouped them in a settlement named “ Village of Mary” at Roumbea until 1860 when he had to transfer them into another location, know as Ayer Salak near Malacca. He took care of these poor parishioners until 1871 when he had to return to France due to ill health. Fr. Borie had also been anxious to encourage the few Christians he visited as early as 1848 in Seremban and Rasah. After he left, the visits were continued by the visiting priests from Malacca.
The next priest who was given great responsibility to ministers to the people in Negeri Sembilan was Fr Hector Letessier, MEP, the young parish priest of ST John’s Church in Kuala Lumpur. Fr. Letessier was given the duty of hearing confessions in Malacca, a journey which he undertook once in two months. On the way he would stop in Seremban. The ‘stop and rest’ in halfway Seremban was found to be necessary considering the fact that their mode of transport on the rough and undulating roads at that time was the bullock-cart.
Attap church in 1885
These stops would therefore seem to linked to having the reason for the name ‘visitation’ by which the later came to be known. On a piece of land secured by Fr Letessier through negotiations with the authorities, an attap chapel was erected sometime between 1883 or 1885 and dedicated to Our lady of the Visitation. With the establishment of the chapel, visits by Fr. Letessier to Seremban were more frequent. The chapel was believed to have been named Visitation more out of reference to Fr. Letessier’s stops than the deference to our Blessed Mother’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth.
Foundation of the parish
Thus the date of the foundation of the parish can be taken as 1848, when Fr. Pierre Borie made his first visit to the Christians in Seremban and Rasah and the year 1885 as the date of the building of the first place of worship. This was also the year when priests from Kuala Lumpur were given the jurisdiction over Seremban.
New Church building
It was only in 1888 that Seremban saw it’s first resident priest, Fr. Peter Perrichon who assumed office as Parish Priest of the Visitation Church. In that year there was just one baptism were reported. In the ensuing three years 37 more baptisms were reported. Fr Perrichon remained in the parish for four years. In 1892 Fr. Hector Letessier assumed responsibility as the Parish Priest and served for three years before handing over to Fr. Antonin Catesson in 1896 who remained in Seremban till 1904. In 1899 Fr. Catesson built a new Church with funds secured through a fund-raising drive among the miners in Broga near Lenggeng in Negeri Sembilan.
New church in 1889-1934
Among the benefactors was one Ngo Ah Bee who was reported to have donated the most. It was Fr. catesson who while serving as Parish Priest of the Visitation, was responsible for the establishment of the Chapel of Mary Mother of God in 1901 at the Orang Asli settlement in kampung Tekir near Labu in Negeri Sembilan. From 1904 to 1907, the parish was served by Fr Charles Nain. Fr. Salvat Fourgs who first served as assistant priest and later Parish Priest from 1907 to 1909 catered to the needs of the Chinese-speaking community. The tamil-Speaking community were placed under the care of Fr. Donat Perissound who also responsible for the Tamil-speaking communities in Malacca and Tapah.
Massive clergy depletion was experienced between 1914 and 1918 when the French Missionaries were recalled to their homeland following the development of a major crisis in Europe due to World War I. During this time, Fr Georges Auguin was made responsible for the Catholics in Seremban and Malacca from 1914 to 1920. When he was transferred to Singapore and Penang, he was succeeded by Fr. Noel Maury (1929 to1931) who was an expert in Cantonese.
Church become a landmark
After a short holiday in Hong Kong, Fr. Georges Auguin was back in Seremban, this time for 15 years (1931 to 1946). The Church was by then structurally inadequate to accommodate the growing number of Catholics in the community, In his capacity as the parish vicar, Fr. Georges Auguin initiated a vast expansion, which involved the nave of the Church. The roof was raised and a new apse with two large wings and the belfry was introduced.
Church expansion in 1934
The Church was described as “one of the most beautiful in the mission”. This gave the Church a standing in Seremban and it was elevated into a landmark in the town. In 1935 Bishop Adrian Devals, MEP blessed the new Church and played a major part in the introduction of the present three-tone bells, the statues and the invasion and subsequent occupation by the forces least affected the Church.
In 1941 conversion were in excess of expectation and two years later in 1944, the Church saw it first ordinations – Frs. Aloysius Chew, Frs. Anthony Khaw, Frs. Anthony Michael and Frs. Thomas Chin. The ordination prelate was the Bishop Devals who was also at that time the Governor of the Catholics colony of Bahau in the state of Negeri Sembilan. He died in 1944. The end of the war saw Parish Priest Fr. Auguin and Fr. J lee at the helm of the Church grappling with and addressing post-war problems, which included reconstruction and redevelopment in the areas spirituality and economy.
Church as in 1985
Statistics show that between 1946 and 1985 there were 5.675 baptisms with large numbers in the early part of that period compared to smaller numbers in the later segment. The last of the MEP Fathers at Visitation parish was Fr. Edward Limat who completed his tenure in 1978. Among the priests who served in the parish from 1980 to 1990 were Frs. John Hsiong and Joachim Tan.
Forging ahead after the French missionaries
The Church of the Visitation saw the last of the French missionaries with the departure of Fr. Edward Limat, MEP in 1978. From 1980 onwards, the parish has been shepherded by local clergy. Other than the changes resulting from the transfers of priets, the layout of the parish and the Church’s structure have remained unchanged.
Church as in 1996
Today the Church of the Visitation is blessed with ultra-modern structures lending support to the overall parish layout. The shape of the Church building itself did not go any change apart from specific renovations within, which included the replacement of the main altar and the introduction of an awe-inspiring crucifix in the sanctuary. The new structures include a large hall, air-conditioned training rooms above the hall and a formation center with a cafeteria below. These new facilities are result of a farsighted venture and firm commitment by Rev. Fr. Anthony Thomas who was the parish priest from 1991 to 1998. The facilities, costing about 2 million, were ready for use in 1996. The dedication ceremony, held a year later, was presided over by the then Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, Archbishop Anthony Soter Fernandez.
New Image of the Parish
In 2006, the Parish Pastoral Council under the leadership of Rev. Fr. Albet Arockiasamy and his assistant, Rev. Fr. Michael Chua, conducted a survey to ascertain the aspirations of the parish community in order to determine a course of direction for the next 10 years. The result of this survey is the Parish Vision Statement.
In the following year (2007), the Parish launched the New Image of the Parish (NIP) renewal programme. The NIP basically seeks to facilitate the transformation of the parish into a Welcoming Church, a Communion of Communities, i.e. to realise the Parish Vision Statement. NIP as a method can be understood as "a strategic way of facilitating parish planning and renewal with clear goal-oriented objectives, systematic monitoring and evaluation mechanisms."
This renewal plan stretches over 9 years beginning 2007. In the 10th year, we hope to be able achieve the goals set out in our parish vision statement.
Due to the rapid rise in Sunday School student population, the present classroom facilities in both Visitation Hall and the Formation Centre were deemed inadequate. A fresh search for new premises was initiated.
The Parish finally decided to acquire an adjacent 4 1/2 story commercial building at the cost of approximately RM1 million located along Jalan Yam Tuan in 2008. The Building was blessed and officially opened by His Grace Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam DD, Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur on the 7th of February 2009. This new building, renamed Wisma Visitation, now serves as additional classroom facilities, formation centre, and a counselling centre on the Mezzanine floor.