Church to hold dialogue on exhumation plans


  • Nation
  • Thursday, 10 Jun 2004

BY PRISCILLA DIELENBERG

PENANG: About 10 to 15 interested parties have responded to the notices on the Roman Catholic Church’s intention to exhume the graves at its late 18th century burial ground in Penang Road. 

Penang Bishop Rev Anthony Selvanayagam said the church would be contacting them soon for a dialogue. 

“Now that there seems to be reaction to the plan, we will face it and see whether it is destined to be or if the children will be without a playground,” he said yesterday. 

It was earlier reported that the 204 scattered graves would be exhumed for systematic reburial within the same compound, to make room for a playground for the children from the nearby St Joseph’s Home. 

The bishop had given an assurance that every marker and the remains would be preserved in accordance with the Catholic principle of respecting the dead, and everything salvaged from the burial ground would be treasured. 

Some of the graves at the Roman Catholic Church's burial ground in Penang Road. The church is planning to exhume all 204 graves for systematic reburial within the same compound, to make room for a playground for the children from the nearby St Joseph's Home.

Rev Anthony said: “Our intention of exhuming the graves is to maximise the use of the land for a good purpose. We have no hidden agenda.” 

He said to date, about 10 to 15 family members of those buried there had responded to the notices.  

“Although the deadline for feedback is tomorrow, we will continue to entertain responses that come in after that,” he said. 

A new three-storey block comprising a hall, a 40-bed girls’ dormitory, utility room, resource centre, meeting room and study room is now being constructed over the open area where the orphans used to play. 

Rev Anthony said there were more than 50 boys and girls at the home, and they needed a place to play games and “mooch around”. 

He added that there were also squatters occupying the other side of the church land, near where the home’s old dormitory was located before it was destroyed in a fire last July. 

St Joseph’s Home building fund committee chairman Teng Chang Yeow said the home respected the church’s decision to give it more space. 

The Alumni Convent Light Street (ACLS) had said on Tuesday that one of the graves was that of the convent’s founder, Mother Pauline Marie Rodot, who died in 1852. 

In a statement, ACLS said that Mother Pauline left Antwerp in Belgium in 1851 with six nuns to start the school in Penang.  

The school, which is the first girls’ school in Malaysia and Singapore, is the precursor of many other convents in this region. The contribution of these nuns to the development of women’s education in Malaysia was enormous. 

Penang Eurasian Association president Gerald Green said he had received calls from several members expressing their shock and dismay, and seeking further information as well as intervention. 

He said the association’s key members would meet soon to discuss the matter. 

“We intend to meet the bishop for a clearer idea of the church’s plans and intentions, and the steps to appease the living relatives of those buried at the cemetery,” he added. 

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