A Brief History of College General
In 1658 the Paris Foreign Mission (MEP) Society received formal instructions from the Congregation of Propagation of the Faith to establish seminaries in mission lands. This lead to the establishment of the Seminary of the Holy Angels in Ayuthia, Thailand in 1665 by two Vicar Apostolic Bishops, Pallu and Lambert de la Motte. By 1670, there were 33 major and 50 minor seminarians from all over Asia studying at the seminary. Since then the seminary was commonly known as College General not only because of the international make-up of its students but perhaps because it was also a vocational college that offered courses in skills training.
The Burmese invasion from 1760 to 1765 forced the seminary to relocate itself to Chanthaburi, Thailand and later to Hondat in Cambodia. However, in 1770 there was another move to Pondicherry in India due to an unstable political climate. This however was found to be unsuitable since it was too far from China and Indo-China, where most of the seminarians originated. Hence in 1782, the seminary was temporarily closed down until a more suitable place could be found.
After much consideration, Penang was chosen because of its political stability and strategic geographical location. The seminary was re-established in Pulau Tikus, Penang in 1809 with the arrival of five seminarians from Macao. Soon the arrival of other nationalities again justified the name of College General. Some of the missionaries on their way to the mission field offered their services at the seminary. This was how Frs. Imbert (later Bishop) and Chastan, future martyrs in Korea, were engaged as professors. In 1834-35, persecutions of Christians in Annam (Vietnam) forced the Vicar Apostolic and a score of seminarians to flee to Penang to continue their priestly studies and among them was Philip Minh who was martyred in Vietnam in 1853, beatified in 1900 and canonized in 1988. Throughout its history about 47 students of College have been martyred and five declared Saints and one Blessed. Thus, the seminary is also known as the College of Martyrs. Some of the relics of these martyrs are displayed in the College Chapel.
During World War I (1914 – 1918), there was an increase in the number of seminarians mainly because many seminaries in the region had to be closed. During World War II (1939-1945), the whole college took shelter in Mariophile, our current location. In February 1945, they evacuated Mariophile to make room for the Japanese Navy and the seminarians went to stay in the Church of the Holy Name of Mary in Permatang Tinggi. In August 1945, after the armistice, the whole community was reunited again in Pulau Tikus. In the late 1940’s and 1950’s College General again played host to the persecuted and exiled seminarians when the Communist persecution in Manchuria and China forced many young seminarians to flee their country. However, in the 1950’s and 1960’s there were fewer seminarians from the neighboring countries as the local churches too began to set up their own local seminaries.
In 1965, College General was officially affiliated to the Pontifical Urban University in Rome, and the seminarians who passed their examinations were awarded the Baccalaureate in Theology. In 1966, English became the official medium of instruction. In 1970, the MEP Fathers in fulfilling their mission handed over the care of the seminary to the local ecclesial authorities. In 1982 a new seminary was established for the church in Sarawak and Sabah, and the church in Singapore too set up its own seminary in 1983. Since then College General has become the regional seminary for the 3 dioceses in Peninsular Malaysia. In 1984, College General was relocated from Pulau Tikus to Mariophile in Tanjung Bungah which had earlier been the seminary’s holiday bungalow as its buildings were too old and big to be maintained by the smaller number of seminarians. Our new buildings were completed in 1989 with the second phase in 1994.The Blessing and Official Opening was held in October 1995.
Currently we are not running the Theology cycle of studies and are instead sending our students to Singapore due to the small number of students. We also began a Pre-Initiation programme in 2005 to upgrade the standard of English of students who needed it before they embark on their seminary training proper.
In 2008, we celebrated the 200th year of our presence in Penang, with the theme “Celebrating Faithfulness in Thanksgiving.” Since its inception 340 years ago, College General has produced about 1000 priests. Today, as we look back at its long and exciting history, despite our small enrollment, we treasure our past, live the present moment to the fullest and await the future with hope.