The Cathedral of St John the Evangelist or the Mother Church
as it is commonly referred to, was once just a long wooden hall with some windows - today however, it stands, big, proud and tall in the middle of Kuala Lumpur City Centre.
Its grand white exterior could once be seen from miles away as it sits majestically on the Bukit Nanas Hill, but currently it is surrounded by high rise buildings and developments.
Bukit Nanas or "Pineapple Hill"
was said to have been one of the earliest Malay settlements in Kuala Lumpur and the centre of Malay power – some articles suggest there was an istana in the area.
To strengthen his authority, a ruler sent his team to serve as the garrison, and they chose this place to build their enclosure.
According to one story, pineapples were grown all around the “fort” as a deterrence against attackers - and that is how it became known as Bukit Nanas.
Interesting? Well, it gets even better…
In the late 1800’s a war known as the “Klang war” took place, and traces of a tunnel made during the war can be still seen if you walk through the Bukit Nanas forest reserve, which is the only virgin tropical rain forest left in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.
So, exactly how old is this church?
No one really knows! What we do know is the oldest document in possession is that of a baptismal certificate dated 1 August 1883.
It would appear that the first Church was simply a long wooden hall with a few windows, built sometime in 1883 with the help of a ‘towkay’ named Goh Ah Ngee, a Catholic miner who lived in Kajang.
However, one thing is certain, and that is that the Church of St John was the “Mother” Church and the only catholic Church in Selangor at the time. From it came later, the Church of the Holy Rosary at Jalan Brickfields for the Chinese-speaking Catholics and St Anthony’s Church at Jalan Robertson for the Tamil-speaking Catholics.
Photo by Sergio Delle Vedove. For editorial use only.
1883: The First Parish Priest
It is also known that in 1880, a newly ordained MEP missionary, Fr. Charles Hector Letessier was assigned to the Mission of Malaya, and began work in Penang. In 1883, he was sent to pursue his mission in Kuala Lumpur, after which he became the first parish priest of the Church of St John.
Fr. Letessier’s first parishioners were a handful of Europeans, Eurasians and Chinese converts.
Fr. Charles Hector Letessier
1900s: Church Expansion, Establishment of St John's Institution and Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus
In 1900, Fr Letessier passed away and was succeeded by Fr. Victor M. Renard. As the community grew to more than 1000 people, Fr Renard found it necessary to expand and renovate the church, and would do so every time funds were available.
The increase in congregator numbers can be attributed the establishment of the St John’s Institution in 1904 and subsequently The Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus in 1911.
1950s: Church Building Fund Initiated
Fr Donat Perrisoud then became the Parish Priest of the Church of St John, and it is he who in many ways is responsible for building the Cathedral that we so proudly call ours today. As the community continued to grow, Fr Perrisoud realized the need for a much bigger church and went on to start a church building fund.
A donation of RM6,000 was left to Fr Perrisoud by an English woman with whom he had become acquainted with when he was a stretcher-bearer in France during World War I – and she remembered him in her will. It was this very donation that was significant enough to get the building works on the new church rolling. Unfortunately, Fr Perrisoud who was battling a long illness passed away before the new church was completed.
1955: Church Opens to Public
Five years later, in 1955 the Church of St John the Evangelist opened its doors for the first time.
1962: Church Becomes Cathedral
On January 8th 1962, the status of the church was elevated to that of a Cathedral.
May 2023: Ground Breaking & Blessing Ceremony of the Magnificat Community Centre
In 2023, construction began on the Magnificat, a 4-story Pastoral and Community Center that will house a chapel, conference hall, meeting rooms, offices, funeral parlor, children's catechism classrooms, cafeteria, grotto, PIHD programs, and a social interaction venue to meet the needs of our foreign communities.
Archbishop Julian Leow and Fr Gerard presided the Ground Breaking and Blessing Ceremony of the Magnificat Community Centre on 2 May 2023. For more information, please click HERE.
Mother Church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur
The Cathedral of St John the Evangelist is now the seat of our Archbishop and the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur.