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Diocese of Kota Kinabalu

fungFung: 1975-1985

Born on 3 June 1931 in Sandakan, Simon Fung was ordained priest on 29 Dec 1963.  His episcopal ordination took place on 14 Nov 1975.  25 June 1976 marked an important era for the Church in Sabah for the then Vicariate of Jesselton was constituted as the Diocese of Kota Kinabalu.  Fung was installed as its first bishop on 19 May 1977. This development has significant implication to the Church in Sabah. It signified that the once missionary Church in North Borneo has finally come of age, in fact, the persecution experienced by the Church in the early 1970s had expedited the process. Henceforth, she has to look after her own affairs and needs. She has to be self-reliant in every aspect of mission work and organization. This development has also brought about a fundamental change to the status of the Mill Hill Missionaries to that of the employees of the local diocese. At the time of the erection of the diocese, there were about 100,000 Catholics (approx 14.3% of total population) in 26 mission stations. They were administered by 14 diocesan and 7 Mill Hill priests, and 120 catechists. There were six religious brothers, 75 local sisters and two foreign sisters.

Under Bishop Fung’s leadership, additional mission stations were opened. Fung was instrumental in propelling the physical development of the diocese. New mission lands were acquired and the Bundu Tuhan Retreat Centre (1984), the Catholic Diocesan Centre in Taman Hiburan Penampang (1988), and a private secondary school (which would later become the St Simon Educational Complex comprising Maktab Nasional [1985], SRS Datuk Simon Fung [1988] and Taska and Tadika Datuk Simon Fung [1990]) were his projects. He initiated as well as supported the construction of church buildings and chapels throughout the diocese, including the new Sacred Heart Cathedral (1981). During his tenure, PAX was further streamlined to play a more pastoral role9. Many local seminarians completed their studies in Penang Major Seminary and were ordained priests. Among them were Frs Cosmas Lee (27 Dec 1976), Alex Sipnaul (31 Dec 1976), Cornelius Piong (27 March 1977), Nicholas Ong (3 Oct 1978), Thomas Makajil and William Poilis (11 Nov 1978), Bede Anthonius, Joseph Lainsim and Joseph Gapitang (24 April 1980) and Primus Jouil (1 May 1980).

By then, relationship between the Church and the new State government was improving. For the first time on 16 Sept 1982, the head of the Catholic Church was awarded a Datukship, a recognition of the contribution of the Church to the development of the state. However, on the 10th anniversary of his episcopate, Fung passed away on 16 Nov 1985 in Melbourne Australia.  He was buried next to Fr Valentine Weber’s tomb at the memorial plot in front of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of the Sacred Heart Cathedral.

leeLee: 1987 – 2008

Fung was succeeded by Fr John Lee, the third son of Thomas Lee Yen Chiang, one of the few Chinese catechists at the time of Msgr Wachter. Born on 5 Oct 1933 in Jesselton, he was ordained priest on 27 Dec 1964.  His episcopal ordination took place on 26 June 1987.  Bishop Lee complemented his two predecessors’ efforts which had, to a great extent, taken care of the administration and physical developments, by placing greater emphasis on the need for spiritual development and renewal among the faithful. This was reflected in his many undertakings including the PAX Assemblies where he introduced themes such as Make my Word your Home (1988) and We are a Eucharistic People (1991).

During his tenure, among those ordained by Bishop Lee were Frs Martin Wong (8 Sept 1988), Julius Dusin Gitom (19 Nov 1988), Ambrose Atang (21 Nov 1988), Charles Chiew (25 Nov 1990), Gilbert Engan (8 Dec 1990), Patrick Jerome (6 Jan 1991), Boniface Kimsin (4 Nov 1991), Bruno Yasun (6 Nov 1991), Aloysius Fidelis (13 June 1992), Alex Jimsy (23 Oct 1995), Marcellinus Pongking (17 Feb 1996), Nicholas Stephen (9 Jan 1997), Simon Kontou (1 Sept 1997), John Wong (21 Jan 1999), Michael Modoit (12 Feb 2000), Jalius Sading (4 June 2001), Jasery Gabuk (16 Sept 2004), Thomas Madanan (4 Dec 2004), Wilfred Atin (3 Dec 2005) and Paul Lo (10 Dec 2005).

More religious congregations were invited to serve in the diocese: Religious of the Good Shepherd (Good Shepherd Sisters) who arrived on 5 Oct 1988, Daughters of St Paul who reopened their house on 25 Jan 1989, Brothers of St Gabriel (Montfort Brothers) on 6 Aug 1998, Sacred Heart of Mary Sisters on 22 July 2002 (in Sandakan only).

To help the faithful mature in their faith life, formation programmes such as Sunday School classes for First Holy Communion and Confirmation (1974), Life in the Spirit Seminars (1974), Youth Camp (1976), Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) and for Children (RCIC) (1982), Children’s Liturgy of the Word (1991) and various seminars/talks/workshops/retreats on the bible, liturgy, catechetics, marriage and family life, priestly and religious vocation, environment, etc were organised in the parishes. Attention was also paid to minority groups such as the Filipino and Indonesian migrants, the deaf, the sick, the handicapped, the aged and the needy. The St Joseph’s Benevolent Fund was launched on 18 March 1984 to assist the dying, to assist in funeral arrangements and to undertake the maintenance and beautification of Catholic cemeteries. The Catholic Service Centre was established in 1988 to look into Chinese translation of catechetical materials, outreach services and the running of the Catholic Books Distribution Centre (bookshop) in 2002. In view of the mushrooming of colleges and universities in the diocese in the 1990s, the campus ministry was formed in 1996 to assist the tertiary students. The idea of the Diocesan Archives was mooted in 1999 and was realized in 2000. The Social Communication Commission was formed in 2001 to look into the communication needs of the diocese.

By the late 1980s the Local Church has grown in size and stature. One of the first tasks of Lee was to recommend for a division of the diocese for easy governance. It was not until 2 Feb 1993 that Rome announced the erection of a new diocese, the Diocese of Keningau which covers the interior division of Sabah. Thus the boundary of the Diocese of Kota Kinabalu was re-delineated to a more pastorally manageable size. Msgr Cornelius Piong, vicar general, was ordained and installed as the first bishop of the new diocese on 6 May 1993. The boundary of the diocese became even smaller with the erection of the Diocese of Sandakan on 16 July 2007 with Rev Julius Dusin Gitom as the first bishop. He was ordained and installed on 15 Oct 2007.

Archdiocese Of Kota Kinabalu

jleeLee: 2008 -2012

History was made when Pope Benedict XVI erected the Ecclesiastical Province of Kota Kinabalu on 23 May 2008, raising the Diocese of Kota Kinabalu to an archdiocese, with the Dioceses of Keningau and Sandakan as its suffragan sees. He appointed Bishop John Lee as the first Metropolitan of the province.

The thanksgiving celebration of the threefold event was held on 1 September 2008 at the Sacred Heart Cathedral. Twelve other arch/bishops, including Apostolic Delegate Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, and over 70 priests of the Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei Region, England and the Philippines concelebrated the Eucharist presided over by Archbishop Lee, witnessed by 3,000 faithful.  He retired from active ministry on 1 Dec 2012.

jwongWong: 2013

Coadjutor John Wong Soo Kau took over from Abp Lee on 1 Dec 2012.  The installation ceremony took place on 24 January 2013.  Born 6 June 1968 in Sandakan, he was ordained priest on 21 January 1999.  He was appointed coadjutor to Lee on 21 June 2010.  His episcopal ordination took place on 1 Oct 2010.

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