By Julian Leow

Very few seminaries in the world are blessed with so many saints and martyrs as College General, which is also called the College of Martyrs. Their faith have inspired many seminarians and lay persons in their fidelity to their own vocation. Julian in this article reflects on their significance after having done some research on their lives.

College General, Penang is one of the few seminaries in the world which possesses relics of martyrs who were once either students or professors who have borne the ultimate witness to Christ, in blood. Its rich tradition of heroic men who have achieved martyrdom is a testimony to all Christians, especially those who have walked along its corridors as well as those who will do so in the future.  It is hoped that the faith of these martyrs will inspire and motivate us to emulate their love of Christ.

The men who have endured suffering and undergone death were:

Two French Priests of the Paris Foreign Mission Society (MEP), who were professors of College, martyred and canonised in Korea:-
          1) Bishop Laurent Imbert
          2) Father Jacques Chastan

Five Vietnamese Priests, seminarians of College in the early 1800s, martyred in their home country and canonised in Rome:-
          1) Father Philip Minh
          2) Father Peter Qui
          3) Father Paul Loc
          4) Father John Hoan
          5) Father Peter Luu

About fifty other martyrs, mostly Vietnamese, martyred in the 19th century.  Among them was Fr Paul Chau, whose crucifix  was sent to College General according to his wishes.

The Family........cradle of Vocations

While researching the lives of these exceptional servants of the Lord, I discovered they had quite a few things in common.  They were all born into families who were Christians and they had contact with family members who were priests or religious or somehow had been entrusted into the care of priests.  Hence, I strongly believe that the family is the cradle of vocations, be it directly or indirectly.  It is in the family that one sees, experiences, and shares in the love of Christ.  These young men, I am sure had the seed of vocation to the priesthood sown in them at a tender age.  This together with the environment in which they grew up and served, led them to their final destiny.

Struggles towards answering the call of God

These young men were indeed courageous.  They  left their homes for a distant land and undertook an arduous journey - be it by boat or by land.  They left their homelands for Penang with a sense of adventure and determination.  We too, are encouraged by them, in the quest to be shepherds like Jesus, our Good Shepherd.  We, as seminarians are motivated to renew our commitment  when we recall the struggles these men had to undergo in their priestly formation. Many, if not all of them, only saw their families after the seven years of formation had elapsed.  Little did these men realise then that, their formation was to prepare them to face the ultimate challenge of being a disciple of the Lord.

Persecution and heroism of these shepherds

Missionaries from France began arriving in and around Cochin China or Vietnam in the 1600s and thousands of Vietnamese were converted to Catholicism.  The rulers looked upon these missionaries with suspicion and were continually persecuting them.  Persecution also awaited all of these newly ordained priests in their homeland.  The two main waves of Christian persecution occurred around the late 1830s during the reign of Emperor Minh Mang and in the 1860s during Emperor Tu Duc's reign.  Despite being looked upon with suspicion and even despised as traitors, these brave men discharged their duties as shepherds, with utmost dedication.  Their zeal and enthusiasm to serve the flock in spite of the danger and intimidation, reflected a deep sense of trust in the Lord which would take these men to the "greatest of all graces - martyrdom" (Karl Rahner).

When they were denounced to the rulers and tortured, they never denied their faith.  Foremost in their mind was to protect the flock and many sacrificed themselves so that others might be spared from persecution.  "The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep" echoes loudly in their hearts.  Even while in captivity and tortured, they were at the service of others. They consoled and cared for the spiritual as well as material well-being of their fellow prisoners.  They were selfless in providing comfort to the others and always had their interest in mind.  It must be the fervent prayer-life that had sustained these men in their time of suffering; a prayer-life each of us should aspire to and cultivate.

Pray for us sinners now and at
the hour of our death....

Besides a deep sense of Prayer, a devotion to our Blessed Mother also sustained our martyrs to the end.  Saint Paul Loc had a great devotion to our Mother while Saint Peter Luu was seen praying and reciting the rosary till his head was severed from his body. Clutched in Saint Peter Qui's hand was a little statue of Mary. They faced death bravely, drew strength from our Mother and were joyful to have been able to be a witness to Christ.

Inspired to love till the end.

What can we learn from these brothers of ours, who have lived a life of Faith, Love and Fidelity?  It is to trust in our God whole heartedly, in spite of setbacks and failures -  for God's way of leading and guiding us are often contrary to the way we imagine them to be.  We are also to remain faithful to God who knows every fibre of our being and our strengths as well as our weaknesses.  He will never forsake us but instead lead us to discover Him even more intimately through the trials and tribulations of life.

Not all of us will be asked to bear the ultimate witness as these men had willingly undergone.  However, to bear witness to Jesus we must!  We do this when we respond in love in our daily dealings within our families, circle of friends, colleagues at work, our Church members, persons close to us, as well as persons we would rather avoid.  Our martyrs had loved to the end, even embracing death itself.  We implore that through their prayers, we too will be able to embrace all trials in life and share Christ, who is Love, to all.



O Holy Martyrs, so faithful to Christ even
to the point of shedding blood for Him.
May your example inspire and strengthen us
to live in faithful witness to Christ and to work
in His Church for the salvation of all people.
We make this prayer in the name and precious blood
of our Lord Jesus Christ.



Canonisation - the official act of the Catholic Church whereby persons are proclaimed with the title of 'Saint'.  They are men and women whose lives have been outstanding and heroic examples of Christian perfection and holiness.  Thus the church discerns that these people who had lived such outstanding holy lives on earth, must certainly be with the Lord in glory, now that they have died.

Saints are venerated and honoured but not worshiped, as St Augustine said, "The Christian community, assemble to celebrate the memory of martyrs with ritual solemnity because we want to be inspired to follow their example, share in their merits and be helped by their prayers".

"Semen est sanguis Christianorum."
("The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.")
Tertullian (c.180-230AD)


The martyr cannot be dishonored. Every lash inflicted is a tongue of fame; every prison a more illustrious abode; every burned book or house enlightens the world; every suppressed or expunged word reverberates through the earth from side to side. Hours of sanity and consideration are always arriving to communities, as to individuals when the truth is seen and the martyrs are justified.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
American essayist, poet, Unitarian minister
Let us all be brave enough to die the death of a martyr but let no one lust for martyrdom.
Mahatma Gandhi
Sweet are the uses of adversity;
which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
wears yet a precious jewel on his head.
William Shakespear
(in As You Like It)


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