The Catholic Church and the Mission Schools

reply by a Senior Physician

Uppercaise is too kind to the Catholic church and the clergy. Let me use this space to explain why this body of people has been lacking in the simple wisdom that is required to keep pace with a changing modern world. Let me refer to two examples. 

In the 1980s a senior partner of Ernst & Young, a Catholic, some senior Christian officers in the Ministry of Finance and EPU and myself decided that the Catholic schools and the Catholic church had to become financially independent and reject government aid. Our plan was to examine large pieces of land owned by the church for conversion to commercial use. This land thus converted for commercial purposes would be then built upon so that a steady source of revenue would flow to the Catholic Church to fund church activities including support for schooling. We realized that there were enough well-to-do people who would support private schools which they as well as the public very much wanted. The LaSalle schools would be highly acceptable because they had a reputation.

The land that we were looking at were mainly in Penang, Kuala Lumpur, and Johor Baru. These were choice pieces of land which only did not have value so long as they were occupied by government aided buildings. A notable case in point was land in Bukit Nanas.

This effort failed for the following reasons. There were conflicts in the heiarchy of the Catholic Church. Bishop Vendargon insisted on selling a very valuable piece of land occupied by a seminary in Penang to the private sector which he did. The public does not know where that money went. The Bishop and his advisors held meeting after meeting. They then informed us that they will not go along with our plan. They would rather leave everything to the wisdom of God. 

Next was a plan that I together with two friends proposed specifically to SFI. Briefly this plan (supported by the Melaka State government) consisted of surrendering their existing school land including the land that belonged to the Sacred Heart Convent in Melaka for a much larger piece of land in Ayer Keroh. On this land would have been built two modern school buildings, one for SFI and one for the Convent with solar panel roofing (to save electricity), a chapel, a multipurpose athletic and games field with a running track to be shared by both schools, a basketball court, tennis and squash courts, and a boarding for upmarket local and foreign students.

All this would be done by a renowned developer picked by the State government known to have the financial means, who had to build first before the schools relocated to these buildings. The State would support these new schools with generous infrastructure including roads, drainage, sewage and landscaping. 

The State was keen that these schools be converted to private schools (this required approval from the education department which the State would assist in getting) so that students from other countries would come to Melaka.   

The land in question was owned by 3 parties – the Catholic Church, the LaSalle brothers, and the Convent. To our astonishment we discovered that all these 3 parties would not talk to each other. There were also disagreements about changing these schools to private schools. Neither I nor other promoters of this idea were allowed to address these owners of the property. They seemed to be content to be sitting on these decaying properties in spite of the possibility that their land may be forceably acquired. 

This plan was therefore scrapped.

These two incidents should show Uppercaise the kind of people in the Church that we are dealing with. They are solely responsible for the sorry state of affairs of the premier Catholic schools in this country. Of course the government changed. This had to happen in a democracy. But you will notice that they did not touch private schools. 

I believe that the leaders of the Catholic church had the clout to influence government leaders as time went by. Unfortunately these church leaders behaved like foreigners in their own country.

In a separate letter “a Specialist” has written about the abuse that has occurred in the Assunta Hospital, another public project started for the poor by the Catholic Church. This matter was raised by “a concerned Malaysian” to which “a Specialist” responded. There does not seem to be anything that the “concerned Malaysian” can do. The board of directors of Assunta Hospital as well as Bishop Pakiam has maintained a discreet silence. 

The lay public of the Catholic church must hold the church leaders including Bishop Pakiam responsible for the sad state of affairs that exist today.