1. Archbishop Emeritus D. Vendargon is probably the oldest living alumni of College at present. He entered the seminary in 1927 and was ordained in 1934. He has happy memories of the seminary although life was tough and spartan.
In those days, we go home only once a year, that is in August. All the other holidays and weekly off-days(ie. Wednesdays) were spent in Mariophile. It must have been quite a sight then to see a group of about 150 young men in black soutane marching off to Mariophile at 8 am. and back at 5 pm. Once on our way to Mariophile we passed by an orchard and one of the seminarians bought a sack of mangosteens for a dollar. Suddenly one of the professors, Fr. Destombes, passed by and we were afraid he would report us to the Rector because we were not allowed to keep any money then. But much to our surprise (and relief) it was not reported. At Mariophile we cook our own meals - fish from the sea or frogs from the streams. Many also kept bees and after a while most of us were immune to the stings!
Life was simple and spartan. I remember once we were served with beef that was so tough that it could not be chewed!
The new buildings now is too posh. Will it produce softies? My message
to young priests is : You must be prepared to rough it out in the villages,
estates and kampungs. Reach out to the underprivileged. Be humble and obedient
- like Jesus.
2. The high point of a seminarian's life is his ordination. Fr. Emile Fernandez ordained on 13th. September 1942, still remembers vividly his big day.
Nostalgic memories of Mariophile will haunt me for a long time. Mariophile was an oasis of rest and a "getting away from it all". Focal point of all the buildings in this oasis is the little Chapel of the Sacred Heart, where on 13th. September 1942 the first ever in the annals of College an ordination was held and I was the sole ordinand. It was a beautiful liturgical setting with a crowd of almost 70 seminarians in worship and praise, rendering in Latin the Motets of "Tu Es Sacerdos in Aeternum", (You are a priest for ever) and "Quid Retribuam" (What thanks shall I render thee). Bishop Adrian Devals D.D was the ordaining prelate. In those days the Latin ordination rites and liturgical settings were very different from the present day socio-cultural settings with pastoral backgrounds. In the evening I had the pleasure to sing the vespers in Latin and perform the Benediction service much to the joy of the seminarians. To the present staff and students of College General at Mariophile, I say "Vivat et Floreat" (Long live and flourish).
3. Fr. Thomas Chin, who has been a priest for about 51 years narrates to us some of his past experiences in College General, Pulau Tikus. Described as an "obliging priest" by one of the sisters in the Little Sisters of the Poor Home in Penang, Fr. Thomas still renders unwavering service to the Catholic community.
I entered the seminary in 1939 and was ordained a priest on 26 November 1944 at the Church of Visitation, Seremban. In 1942, during the Japanese occupation, Pulau Tikus was occupied by the Japanese and we had to move to Mariophile. At that time the community was only about 40 and we came from Malaysia, Thailand, Burma and Vietnam. I still remember staging a play about the College martyrs. What I treasured most at that time was the liturgy and the sacraments especially the Eucharist. We as priests must take great interest in learning and treasuring them and above all we need to cultivate a deep sense of appreciation of the Mass and the Sacraments. These are the spiritual treasures given to us. A strong spirit of self-denial and discipline was inculcated in us and these two vital elements need to be fostered among the seminarians now, as before.
4.Towards the end of World War 2, the seminary community at Mariophile was told to evacuate for the Japanese Marines. While the rest returned to Pulau Tikus, the Malaysian and Singaporean seminarians were not allowed to stay in the seminary. They took refuge in the Church of the Holy Name of Mary, Permatang Tinggi on the mainland for about half a year. Fr. Anthony Dorett who was among the group recalls this unique episode in the history of College General.
I was in the seminary from May 1942-47. We came after Singapore fell to the Japanese. In College, the Japanese officials persuaded us to learn Nippongu and we were taught by a fellow seminarian who was just one lesson ahead of us!
In 1945 when the community was directed to go back to Pulau Tikus, about ten of us from Malaysia and Singapore were not allowed to join them. Two French professors, Frs. Piffault and Paroissin, then accompanied us to the Church of the Holy Name of Mary, Permatang Tinggi (which is on the mainland) where we stayed for about half a year.
We stayed at the parish house which was on a hill-lock and I remembered we used to carry water from a well at the base up to the house. We studied for half the day and the other half was spent on gardening. We grew tapioca, sweet potato, long beans for our own subsistence. The priests would buy rice from the smugglers and rationed it out for us (we found out later that some were destroyed by rats). We had rice only once a day. Meat was also rationed and I remember fishing from the paddy fields and nearby streams. Once a fortnight we would go over to Batu Kawan Island to buy raggi - a type of cereal which can be eaten with coconut or sugar. Time passed by very quickly and six months later we were reunited with the rest of the community at Pulau Tikus.
During the war we did not have any news about what was happening. Some Penang seminarians on their monthly home leave would sneak in some newspapers for us. But after the war, we were told to read the memoirs of Winston Churchill!
The French fathers were very strict. But life was not boring. The discipline made us strong in our vocation and most of us persevere in our vocation as priests.
5. What was it like to be a seminarian during World War II? Archbishop Gregory Yong of the Archdiocese of Singapore describes the life in College General during the later part of the war. Ordained in 1951, he later returned to the seminary as a professor in Moral Theology after completing his studies in Rome.
During the Japanese occupation, the staff and students of College General moved to Mariophile. There, we spent half the day for studies and the other half for gardening. We needed food for the mind and food for the tummy as well! The tide determined which half of the day was for studies and which half for gardening. We fished in the sea when the tide was low to supplement our diet of tapioca, sago, potatoes and vegetables. We relied on self-made organic fertilizer for vegetables. We also reared rabbits, goats and poultry.
The caves in the hill provided air raid shelters for us. From these we could watch the B-29 planes - also called the Flying Fortresses - bomb military installations in Georgetown. The Japanese built a network of tunnels into the hill in case of an Allied landing. The tunnels are still there but no one dares to venture into them. One may not find one's way out.
We had seminarians from Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Swatow, Malaysia and Singapore. All our manuals, lectures and exams were in Latin. Our professors had to teach what they were told to teach. We were adequately formed for the priestly ministry.
After the war, recreation in the form of badminton, sepak-raga, contra murum, volleyball, football took place after lunch. We bound our own books, built our own desks and lockers for personal use in our holiday villa.
Wednesdays were spent in Mariophile. Bee-hunting and honey-collecting was a beneficial and lucrative past-time. There was no pastoral activity nor cinema going. We found ways and means to recreate and to amuse ourselves. We were allowed to go home only during the December holidays.
I remember the Burmese for their skill in playing bamboo flutes, big and small ones. The Thais always produced the most beautiful arches for our annual Corpus Christi procession. Our Gregorian chant was of high quality as we had the Solemnes Monks for our models. It was a joy to listen to the polyphony singing on special occasions like the sending off of newly ordained priests.
Ordination to the priesthood always took place on 3rd. December - the Feast of St. Francis Xavier, Co-Patron of Missions. All seminarians from Malaysia and Singapore were ordained in College General up to the late 1950s. Our family members and close relatives witnessed the memorable and unforgettable event.
Looking back, I can see God took care of us well and equipped us for the priestly ministry with the help of the human and material resources available at that time, and we made full use of the time and the opportunities we had to be good, knowledgeable and faithful priests.
I never dreamt of being made a bishop(1968) or archbishop (1977). All I wanted to be was to be a good and faithful priest.
6. College General has been a refuge for a lot of overseas seminarians who have to flee their country because of persecutions. The story of Fr. Peter Shyu, a China-born priest now serving in the Church of St. Michael, Alor Star is typical of these courageous young men whose desire to be priests is not extinguished by the trials they have to undergo.
I joined the minor seminary in Xin-jiang when I was still studying in primary school. Later in 1940 it was closed down for some time by the Japanese. It was reopened later only to be close again - this time by the Communists in 1947. So I left my homeland to study in a Franciscan seminary in San-yuan. One and a half years later, we were forced to leave when the communists took over the territory. I then joined the seminary run by the MEP in Cheng-du. There I met Fr. Chao (currently parish priest of the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus, Penang). We were there for only half a year before the communists closed it down. Despite these difficulties, the desire to be priests was still strong and we decided to continue our training even if we have to leave the country. I arrived in Penang on 13th August, 1949, with eleven others from China.
Altogether there were about 40 of us China-born seminarians and we made up about half of the enrolment in College General. We all slept in dormitories and had to converse in Latin. The food was not very good. I remember during class one day, the professor asked if soup could be used for baptism. One of the seminarians quickly answered, "The soup from other homes cannot be used but college soup can be! (because it was so diluted)"
But I was happy and grateful for the opportunity to continue my priestly training in college. I was not well for about 2 years and the professors were especially kind to me. They adapted the course for me so that I studied only the core subjects and I took some of the exams in the hospital. Back in college, I had an egg everyday and slept in my own room - much to the envy of the others!
We thought that at the end of our training we would be able to go back to serve in China, but it was not meant to be. However I have no regrets. I have gone through a lot of difficulties before and I am prepared for anything.
7. The MEP Fathers taught at and maintained College General for 300 years. Fr. Andrew Volle MEP, one of the last French professors of College, describes life in the seminary in the 50's and 60's from the perspective of a formator.
I landed in Penang in October 1949. It was a Wednesday and therefore a day-off for the students. Next day it was another day-off in honour of the new professor while I was taken round the parishes to pay my respects to the pastors. On Friday I was given a textbook and told to start teaching Dogma in Latin. For the first class in the morning, I just managed to last till the bell. In the second class in the afternoon I was completely dry and empty. I said, "Frates, habete me excusatum..." ("Sorry, but you had better read your textbook quietly...!") After these humble beginnings it took me some time to feel comfortable with Latin and with the seminarians.
Penang was beautiful and fascinating, the students were friendly and easy to please. There was time for a swim or for visiting places in the island or outside. I was happy although it was not an easy life: no pocket money for the students and not much for the staff either. The food was of poor quality although I enjoyed the bananas (with lots of seeds) planted by the students. I remember the best meal of the week was lunch on Saturday when we were served with "lap-cheong curry"!. It was also the period of the "Emergency" with insecurities, lots of soldiers, communist activities, and a good amount of poverty all around.
It was like a monastic life for us in the seminary and discipline was strict. The staff lived for the students and the students were taking care of one another, with a lot of prayers, rosaries and visits to the Blessed Sacrament or the little cemetery at the back. If it was difficult to teach Theology in Latin to the struggling students (later I would be teaching Philosophy), imagine what it was for the young Thai or Karen boys to learn almost by heart and in Latin the long pages of Metaphysics of Logica Minor! Fortunately the second or third year students were there to explain or translate words into their own language. They encouraged the younger ones with, " Don't worry so much. We have done it, you'll do it also, you'll see"!
One of the thing that we appreciated was the way the time was divided. We had 3 months of study in Pulau Tikus followed by a month-long break in Mariophile. If life and discipline were demanding during the term, then Mariophile was a time of freedom and relaxation. There were plenty of fish, crabs and shell in the sea. The jungle was there with the wild bees, monkeys and fruits. Each country or each diocese had its own "hut" where they could speak their own language, practice preaching or singing and do a little cooking while sharing whatever news they had received from home.
Although they were from different nations, cultures and language groups, there was a strong family or community spirit among the seminarians. A voice was proclaiming very loudly, "I depend on you and you depend on me. We are following the same difficult road preparing to become priests. I happen to be senior to you and sometimes I seem to grumble a lot and not to care too much about the rules, but I am serious about what I want. I feel so bad when one of us goes back home or is told to leave. I feel strong and happy when I see you happy in your vocation......"
Slowly things began to change for the better. The "Grey Sisters" came one day to take charge of the kitchen and the laundry; the library received a number of books and some magazines; the bicycles arrived a few at a time; the Thai students were allowed to go back home once a year like the Malaysians and they came back with lots of goodies to share; the Burmese students were sent to different parishes for a welcome change of air; new professors with new ways of teaching new things joined us; English replaced Latin; individual cells replaced the dormitories; more pocket money became available; committees were set up for better communications and sharing of responsibilities. When Vatican II opened, I remembered how excited all the professors were; trying to get as much news as we could in order to understand what was taking place in Rome and to share with the seminarians the new way of looking at the Church as the people of God or the new spirit in the liturgy...
The Rector made it a point almost every evening to face his children, to share his thoughts and his spirit with them and to give shape to the community. Priorities were maintained. "We are here to become pastors if the Lord wants us. There are many, many other things we could learn and perhaps we will learn them one day but if we are here, it is to become men of God, priests and shepherds around our Bishops."
Looking back I find it is important to see that even with clumsy methods at times, the College never lost sight of its main goal: we are here to train pastors for the Church in Asia. I am glad to have seen the students themselves playing a large part in training and enriching one another. They kept laughing, playing and struggling together in a kind of community life that lasted six full years which was seldom made soft for them.
May College continue to bear fruits of Grace.
8. How was it like for the young seminarian from East Asian countries to be away from home for years, in their quest to answer God's call? Bishop Lawrence Thienchai Samanchit of Chantaburi Thailand, who was in College from 1953-58, likens it with the Israelites in exile.
The life of the Thai, Burmese and Chinese seminarians in College General was like that of the Israelites in the exile, for we were to stay there for 6 years without returning home. The promised land have not yet been given. Anyhow all pain and sacrifices helped us to grow and be more mature.
We are proud of our Alma Mater which has so many alumni martyred, blessed and canonized. What I owed to the College General is my formation especially in my spiritual life through the Spiritual Director who advised me every two weeks. For this I am very grateful and I would like to recommend and stress the indispensable role of spiritual direction in formation. I implore God's blessings through the intercession of Our Mother, Queen of the Apostles, on College General SO that she will continue to form well trained shepherds after the Lord's heart.
9. "Adversity introduces a man to himself" - Anon. This seems to be an apt expression to describe the experiences of Bishop James Chan of the Diocese of Malacca-Johore who was in the second batch of Malaysian seminarians to join the seminary after the War. He was ordained on 9th. August 1959 and has been a bishop since 1973.
"The one thing that stands out in my memory during my days of formation in College General was the inculcation of discipline and spiritual formation in the image of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. None of the College Fathers in my time were specialists in their field, but yet they were able to give us the basic and solid foundation to launch ourselves confidently in our priestly ministry. During our formative years, love and respect for authority were gradually but firmly instilled into us. There were hardships that we had to endure and pressure too, be it physical or mental. Looking back over the years, I believe that these hardships really prepared us to face the same in our priestly ministry. I will be the first to admit that it is not easy to be a Bishop. But if I am able to withstand the obstacles, the opposition, the frustrations and even insults, I give credit to my formators in College General.
It is my hope and wish that priestly formation in our Alma Mater will not forget the valuable experiences of the past, incorporate and adapt them into the present and confidently look forward to send out hardworking, saintly and well balanced priests for the future.
10. It takes all sorts to be a priest. Some like Fr. Athanasius Mg Si U of Myanmar who describes himself as loud, frank, and jolly not only became a priest but was later made rector of a major seminary. Rev. Fr. Athanasius Mg Si U, now a parish priest in the Catholic Church, Shwebo, Myanmar was a student of College General, Pulau Tikus Penang from 1956-1961.
Now looking back at our seminary days in Penang, I feel young and enthusiastic again. The six years of formation at College General were the happiest days of my life. I feel very proud of it. May the dear Lord shower down His choicest blessings on the MEP Society and on all our old professors.
Dear friends, I was ordained a priest on 14th. January 1962 - that is 3 weeks after returning from Penang. I was appointed as quasi- parish priest of a large area in southern Chin state with 13 Catholics. It was real test of self-denial and sacrifice which I had learnt in College General. After working for 9 years, I was appointed as rector of the minor seminary in the Archdiocese of Mandalay. After another 9 years in the minor seminary, I became the rector of the national Catholic major seminary of Burma at Rangoon from 1980-1983. It had an average number of 200 students. Since 1983 I have been here at Shwebo as parish priest.
Dear friends, to tell you frankly the priestly training we had in Penang was really tough -like "commando training". We were spiritually, morally and physically tough. This was the trade mark of the "MADE IN PENANG" College seminarians. Our dress was quite special and our hairs were short. Our trousers were 'DEPONENT'. As we were of different nationalities it was quite natural that there were some competition among us, usually healthy ones. Some pious and devout seminarians mindful of their future apostolate in the hilly countryside and jungle villages, slept without pillows. I too so as not to be considered "soft" had slept many months without a pillow! (Isn't it a healthy competition?) In our days, under the supervision of Fr. Tual, our weight was taken every six months and those who lost 4 pounds would get to eat at least two eggs daily. I never had this special privilege since every six months my weight increased by 3-5 pounds! Moreover I never fell sick in my seminary days. Dear friends I am sure by now you must have guessed that I am rather tough and strong. In addition to this I have a big mouth and a loud voice! My voice was sonorous and I had a good command of the Latin accent. Therefore soon I was appointed as a lector!
I remembered when our six years of training came to an end, our Malaysian and Thai brothers went home first while we wait for our ship. While the rest received their examination marks before leaving, I did not get mine. The Rector Fr. Le Du, was my former spiritual father, and just before we got into the college car, he gave me the examination result slip. He said that he dared not show me earlier because I may boast about it to my Thai friends. I felt a bit annoyed and retorted back that I had known them earlier and he could ask them if I ever bragged about it. "Sufficit diei Malitia Sua"(Sufficient is the evil of the day thereof).
In conclusion let me say that talking loudly, to be jolly and frank and constructive in discussions and arguments does not mean one is boasting or bullying. It is rather a charism of the Holy Spirit. "COLLEGIUM GENERALE LUCEAT LUX TUA PER ORBEM"(COLLEGE GENERAL MAY YOUR LIGHT SHINE THROUGHOUT THE WORLD).
11. Fr. Michael Arro "Olim in Collegio Generali", is the present regional superior of the MEP based in Singapore. His recollections aptly entitled "SNIPPETS FROM YESTERYEARS" (strictly for the Latin literates only), recalls two humorous incidents during his stint in the seminary.
In those days Latin was the official language of the College, not only for lectures, but for all the details of daily life. As such there was a very pertinent piece of advice in the toilets: "post usum hujus loci, placeat unicuique paululum irrigare." (for the uninitiated, this can be translated to "after the use of this place, please 'irrigate' a little).
The oral tradition handed down from former seminarians has it that a new comer who knew little Latin was badly mistaken. He understood "paululum" which means "a little" as applying not to the flushing system of the toilet, but to the "flushing system" of the person using the toilet! As a result he was using the toilet with moderation and putting up with the discomfort until it became unbearable. Can you imagine his relief when a senior seminarian explain to him the correct sense of the sentence!
I was sent to College in July 1960 and later in September Fr. B. Blais joined us. We were the youngest of the staff then. We were just 29 years old, full of energy and enthusiasm. After a few weeks the following comments came to our ears:
"Isti novi professores habent nimiam energiam. Ille bonus Pater Piffaut scit quod possumus facere!" ("These new professors have excessive energy. The good Fr. Piffaut knows what we can do!" - Fr. Piffaut was an old and experienced professor - Editor). Well said, is it not? But it did not slow the pace of the new professors!
12. "Tom Yam College General"? How is Tom Yam and College General related? Read on to discover the connection made by Fr. Michael Vira Phangrak, the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Chanthaburi, Thailand studied in College General from 1963-68. His article aptly entitled "Tom Yam College General" describes well the mixture of nationalities and experiences that made College General unique and exciting!
"Tom Yam" is one of the best known and most tasted food in any Thai restaurants abroad. It combines almost all the possible tastes together: sour, salty, sweet and hot. You can take all sorts of food (for example chicken, beef, pork, fish) to cook Tom Yam. It's therefore much loved and longed for by those who have tasted it.
Isn't our College a "Tom Yam" too? E pluribus unum (from many to become one) - from various nations, races, likes and dislikes, opinions, feelings etc. the College "cooked" them together and make one Tom Yam. Throughout its history, this College has been one of the best renowned and admired by all.
Tom Yam is also loved by many for its flavour of various kinds of condiments. On this aspect, I flash my memories back into the lives and experiences of the Thai seminarians who once lived in Pulau Tikus with their joys and sorrows, happiness and loneliness, successes and failures etc. I still remember the times when these seminarians were not sure of having their next meal, and cat or monkey meat was considered their "epulae lautae" (royal banquet). During the said period the Japanese language was considered compulsory for all whether they like it or not.
My happy memories also go back to our dear superiors like Frs. Davias, F. Ledu and J.M. Bosc and to all the kind professors - particularly to those who pretended neither to see nor to report on the Thai seminarians who were plucking coconuts or picking durians and even worse, eating mangosteens happily up in the trees and dropping the skins almost on the heads of the professors who were passing by!
It is still fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday! Thai bee hunters being chased by the wild bees. Some jumped into the sea! The others ran into the Chinese cemetery and snatched the burning joss sticks from the hands of some worshiping Chinese who without knowing what was happening shouted " Ai Ya!" and ran for their lives.
Finally, my memory goes back to the annual rendition of the farewell song "JAM JAM TEMPUS" by which we sent the seniors back to Thailand, to work in the vineyard of the Lord. The history of Thai seminarians in College General terminated when Lux Mundi Major Seminary was gradually hatched in Thailand.
I am now dreaming the impossible dream i.e. an exchange of professors and students between our two major colleges. Who is going to turn this new page of history?
13. One of the most colourful characters of College General is Fr. James Gnanapiragasam, ex-scripture professor, ex-rector and now the parish priest of the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Mentakab, Pahang. In this short article, entitled DANCES WITH SNAKES, he describes candidly life in the seminary in the 1960s.
Slouched in my armchair in one of the rural parishes of central Pahang as I watched Kevin Costner's magnificent portrayal of the last outpost soldier deep in 'injun' territory on video, I was taken back some thirty years to my days when I was a student in College General. Not that College then had any Indians on the warpath, or wolves to keep us amused. Instead, snakes, centipedes and scorpions were the order of the day. They lurched in dark corners keeping us constantly distracted as we made our holy rounds. With them, the tamer members of the animal kingdom - mosquitos, frogs, rats, lizards, bees and beetles joined in the fray. We were incessantly reminded that we were being prepared for the rough roads of ministry in God's vineyard.
It felt more like God's jungle! There were eighty of us in black cassocks parading in and out of classroom and chapel looking like saints to some and malnourished prisoners to others. We kept the rules - you could be sent home, no explanations given. We slid off the cassock the first chance we got to relax in our so called 'college blues' with a cigarette rolled up from the rough tobacco that was rationed out to us every month. A long draw on that roll-up would send our minds to the sandy beaches of Batu Ferringhi!
Oh, how we found pleasure and fun from the slightest item not found in the well-detailed programme, that I always imagined came from 17th. century France. I remember a very shy seminarian who saw a snake while taking a shower and ran out stark naked! I heard he was later elected vicar general- obviously not for his courage! We were told by older students that being asked to plant plants upside down was one of the ways to test our obedience. They could test our obedience and poverty, but I racked my brains trying to find out how they were going to test our celibacy. There was another student who was either scientifically inclined or did not take much to theology: he spent hours watching a pet- hen lay an egg. There were days when we had outsiders sneak in to steal our belongings. Days like these were full of fun, when students had maximum freedom and minimum theology. We hoped more thieves would come to throw a spanner in the works.
My evening years in College saw the tridentine council set-up caving in with the onslaught of Vatican II. Rules were relaxed and even broken by daring members. The French Fathers had begun a process of adaptation to the local cultures. It augured well for us and some of us had to be sent to become professors. When I returned to teach in College in 1973 the first thing I heard was that fifteen students had been sacked en bloc - drugs I believe it was - sent off before they turned out to be junkies. What a change from that long cool draw of a roll-up and the flight of fancy lounging lazily on Batu Ferringhi beach.
14. There is a growing emphasis in community building in the Church of Asia and Fr. Eugene Vaz recalls how as a seminarian (from 1965-70), this spirit was nurtured and fostered. It was not easy at times but what he learnt then is bearing fruit now. He was ordained in Singapore on 13th. February 1971 and is presently the Director of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Institute.
I was privileged to have been studying in College General at the time it celebrated its third centenary in 1965. We had a grand celebration to mark that auspicious occasion. I remember we enacted the history of College General in a very well directed stage presentation.
What first struck me when I arrived at College General was the majestic (though old) building, with its spawning campus. Soon I was to discover that this was not the really fantastic thing about College General. It was the community in College General in those days that made it such a wonderful and inspiring experience. The community was made up of seminarians from Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore and we even had one from Mexico. We used to have country/diocesan meetings regularly. These meetings helped us to forge bonds of unity and understanding among ourselves and we encouraged, supported and accompanied one another as we journeyed through our seminary formation. What impressed me was that even though we came from different countries, we managed to have a strong sense of community. We played together, worked together, prayed together, studied together, even fought against one another but were inevitably reconciled together. We made deep and lasting friendships which are still cherished thirty years later. This experience of community has left an indelible impression on me and has influenced much of the efforts in my priestly ministry. The Singapore Pastoral Institute is making serious efforts to foster the establishment and growth of Small Christian Communities and one of the reasons why I believe in this so much is my experience as a seminarian in College General.
Another thing that inspired me greatly during my days in College General was the Pastoral Training. I was part of a group of seminarians working in St. John Britto parish. In those days there was no church building yet, but there was a wonderful community of people. It was an enriching formative experience for me to work among the people who were striving to organise themselves into a parish community. What we learnt from our lectures had to be put into effect in the concrete life and situation of the people. Suddenly, Scripture, Theology, Liturgy, Catechetics, Ecclesiology were not just academic subjects but pastoral ministry alive, in serving and journeying with the people. What helped to make the experience so rich and powerful was the reflection we in the team used to have together with the priest-formator (Fr. Felix Faure) on the staff in College General. Together we look at what we were doing and why and whether it was the best thing to do in relation to the situation of the people and their needs; we were constantly being encouraged to discern and discover more meaningful ways of forming a dynamic Christian community. I learnt the meaning of teamwork in the pastoral ministry; it was a deep joy!
I hope that the experience of community is a meaningful and joyful one in College General today and that the Pastoral Training during the seminary days is still motivating and invigorating as we get ready to move into the third millennium and meet the challenges ahead!
15. Joining the seminary opens up a whole new world of learning and relationships for many seminarians. Here Fr. Alexander Edwin, currently the parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes, Ipoh, recalls those interesting and exciting seminary days (1970-76).
I am particularly grateful to the French MEP professors, especially Frs. Dantonel, Morreau and L. Hour for giving me a strong foundation in philosophy, Christian Mystery and Scripture. For me, it was like the opening of a door - the door of the mind and heart to a new world. What I value most in all these was the openness and the readiness of the professors to allow us to question, probe and explore. They accompany us in the adventure into the world of learning.
I have fond memories of Saturday afternoons in College. Saturdays were manual labour days and it was fun working as a team. At the end of the day, the whole seminary looked spick and span. To this very day the smell of burning leaves brings to mind happy moments spent in College.
The after-dinner walks along Gurney Drive with fellow seminarians and at times with one of the professors were moments for relaxation and building friendships. This and other activities brought many of us together although there were moments of tension in relationships as well! I was impressed by the togetherness of the Fathers in College. Some of them complemented one another in their work and they were there whenever we needed to see them. There was a real 'family' feeling among us.
I sincerely wish that this 'family' spirit between the Fathers and the seminarians and among the seminarians themselves will continue in the future generations of seminarians and Fathers as they prepare to be builders of the Family of God in the midst of a world that at times can appear so divided and self-seeking!
16. Not everybody who enters the seminary will eventually become a priest. Discernment is essential in seminary formation and Martin Jalleh who was a Capuchin seminarian (OFM) studying in College General from 1978-79, is appreciative of the process (in the midst of many other activities) that has helped him in making a definite decision. Martin is now married and has 2 children. At present he is working with the Consumers Association of Penang.
I have good memories of College General. There was Fr. John Ha with his glass of water as he made his way to class. During the first term he made us set test questions for one another. Although it was an ingenious idea, it also created a bit of tension when the seminarians protested against having to answer questions like "How many years did Sarah live " (80,120,128)?(!)
Who could forget Fr. James Gnanapiragasam who taught us New Testament? I was with the Capuchin then and we had the Redemptorists as our neighbours. We attended class with the diocesan seminarians. Fr. James would take great pride in reminding those of us from the religious orders that the diocesan priests, by virtue of the fact that they belong to the "Order of Melchizedek" was far more superior than the religious priests! We were in no position to argue then! And no one was more patient with us than Fr. Noel Chin. Many of us struggled with Philosophy but experience had taught the Tai-chi master how to keep us awake - especially during the afternoon classes when the incoming sea breeze puts many of us to sleep.
Perhaps what was most unique about College General then was the God-given opportunity to know and grow with seminarians not only from the three dioceses but also from East Malaysia and Singapore. The comradeship, brotherhood and shared experiences of fellow seminarians were no doubt a source of strength and encouragement especially during difficult times.
College General has been a very important part of my faith journey. The knowledge and formation that I had received from College General have helped me considerably in my role as a lay person today. It was a journey that enabled each of us to discover our identity, sense of belonging and a clarity of purpose in life. To our brothers in College General, I wish you a happy journey and may each moment be a moment of grace, so that you may declare always "It is the Lord!".
17. John Voon Ah Sim or affectionately known to us as "Ah Seng" is our general maintenance supervisor. This unassuming man of many talents, has worked 45 loyal and dedicated years for College. Ah Seng has seen his fair share of College life; the transition from the MEP Fathers to local professors and the joys and challenges of seminary living. He reminisces on the College days of old.......
Discipline was the order of the day. We were not encouraged to speak to the seminarians much. If a seminarian was seen talking to a kitchen staff, the seminarian would be called up and questioned as to the matter of the conversation. Then, the kitchen staff was also questioned. We feel so much more at ease now with the present situation where we can interact freely with the seminarians.
I also remember the times when, with the help of seminarians, we used to chop fire-wood as fuel for cooking. We did not have gas or electrical stoves then, just the good old-fashioned fire-wood cooking. Some Thai seminarians could not get use to the food and were falling ill. With the coming of the 'Grey Sisters', our students began to have better meals which were more nutritious and balanced.
I still remember our French professors fondly. Although they were very strict, they were also kind, caring and have a good heart. I dream of some of them occasionally and pray for them. The way things were done then and now is different. I understand and appreciate fully the way the seminary is run and how important and crucial it is to provide the best to obtain the best.
18. Peter Low Lam Kin or better known as "Ah Pek", is the grand old steward of College. He joined College in 1957 and now 72 years of age, is still very witty and fit. He is a valuable member of the College staff, bringing joy and laughter to the place (not to mention sighs too!).
The seminarians of today are very fortunate. They are able to receive female visitors in the College visitors' lounge. The seminarians of yesteryear could not even see the shadow of a woman within the premises of College! It was an all-male institution until the 'Grey Sisters' came. It is healthier now for the brothers to be able to interact and communicate freely with females as this will assist them in their pastoral ministry later.
I know the journey to the Priesthood is very challenging. I pray constantly
for our brothers to persevere, to struggle and to let God be their beacon
in life. When they become priests, we feel proud that we have contributed
a part (however small) to their formation. We feel happy when they
drop by College, as they are passing through, just to say "hello". God
Bless all our priests!