CM Indonesia



By Armada Riyanto CM



1835 was not the year of the beginning of Vincentian mission in Indonesia. Yet, it was the time of blessing from which the Vincentian spirit of missionary activities flowed in Indonesia. In 1835 the Great Missionary and Martyr, Saint John Gabriel Perboyre CM, arrived at Batavia, the contemporary capital of Java Island (Indonesia). At the same year he lodged for a month at Surabaya, to where the first Dutch Vincentians would be sent almost a century later (1923) by the Propaganda Fide to announce the Gospel.


“Since July 14 (1835) we were at Surabaya … For three weeks we stayed there. This occasion was a really blessing for us. It was like a holiday in which we could take a walk and breathe fresh air of the mountains stood around Surabaya. Once or twice a week we celebrated the Holy Eucharist. Afterward, sometimes we walked through the beach of Java or Madura …” (Letter of Saint John Gabriel Perboyre, September 9, 1835).


Vincentian Mission to Indonesia has often been considered by the missionaries as mission of following “footprint” of the Martyr and Saint John Gabriel Perboyre CM. Fr. de Backere CM, the superior of the first five Vincentians in Indonesia wrote a touching letter on November 15, 1923:


“The Blessed John Gabriel Perboyre has been an invisible friend and guide for us in our missionary journey to Java … we are sure that our apostolate in this fertile land may be fruitful as it had been carved and blessed by the “footprint” of our Great and Blessed Missionary.”


In history of the Vincentian presence in Indonesia Saint John Gabriel Perboyre CM could not surely be considered as pioneer of mission. Yet, his sojourn at Surabaya for a month before continuing his journey to China in 1835 became a prelude of missionary presence of the first Dutch Vincentians in 1923.


Indonesia was a colony of the Dutch. As colony, it was called Oost-Indië (the East-Indies) with Java as one of the most important Islands. The land of Vincentian mission is the east part of Java Island.


The call of the Propaganda Fide


The beginning of mission was in 1923. Father François Verdier CM, the Superior General, announced the mission to the East-Indies in his Circular of 1923 as follows:  “The Dutch Province in China has already had a Vicariate guided with gracious wisdom by Mgr. Geurts CM … I do hope that the Java Island may soon be open as the new land of mission of the Dutch confreres.”


The five Dutch confreres were chosen as the first Vincentian missionaries to Indonesia. They were Fr. Dr. Theophile de Backere CM, Fr. E.E. Sarneel CM, Fr. Jan Wolters CM, Fr. Theodore Heuvelmans CM, and Fr. Cornelius Klamer CM. The first four left from Holland on May 25 1923 to Paris (then Rome) and finally they boarded into a ship Johan de Witt from Genova on June 6, 1923 to Indonesia. The fifth confrere came from China, as he had been the missionary in the Vicariate of Yung Pingfu. He joined the other four in Singapore. On July 6, 1923 the first missionaries of the Vincentians arrived at Surabaya. They were called by the Propaganda Fide to set up mission in the East Java that had been initiated by the Jesuits.


At the beginning of the mission there were three regions (Surabaya, Rembang, and Kediri) of which the Vincentians took responsibility. But, in 1928 the Vincentians took over the region of Madiun as well.


The three regions altogether possessed 20.000 km2. They are as big as two third of Holland with 6 millions of population, of whom 60.000 Chinese and 15.000 Europeans. The indigenous Catholics were only 40 persons. With such a condition our first missionaries faced hard challenge. Aside from it, they also suffered a lot in connection with the very hot tropical climate in Java.


The spirit of the first missionary Vincentians


They were sons of the times. During the first mission to Indonesia, Pope Benedict XV released an Encyclical Maximum Illud (November 30, 1919) that promoted strongly indigenous vocation and responsibility to mission regions. Besides, the Encyclical described missionaries as messengers of Christ. “Leave and forget your country and family!” Such was the missionary motto promoted by Maximum Illud. The people outside the Catholic Church were considered as those who did not possess knowledge of salvation. There were three goals of mission: 1. to propagate the Catholic faith, 2. to build the Christian communities, 3. to spread the Reign of God.


The spirit of the Encyclical Rerum Ecclesiae (February 28, 1926) of Pope Pius XI also fostered the missionary spirit of the first Vincentians. Our missionaries were inspired to evangelize the indigenous people, rooting the Christian faith into their own culture, and educating children. To learn the Javanese culture became very important for inculturation. Besides, Rerum Ecclesiae underlined the role of the indigenous vocations in mission as well.


The concerns of the first Vincentian missionaries in Indonesia were in conformity of both Maximum Illud and Rerum Ecclesiae. They strived to plant the Christian faith into the hearts of the indigenous people, to build Christian communities in villages, and to promote vocations of the native young men. The vocational promotion was realized in 1933 when the two young Javanese were sent to Holland for their novitiate formation as the first CM candidates. They were Dwidjosoesastro and Padmosepoetro. The former became the first indigenous Vincentian in Indonesia (priestly ordination in 1940), whereas the later left his vocation during his formation. At the same periods before the Second World War our missionaries also promoted vocations for diocesan priests. There were two diocesans. One of them, Rev. Dibyokarjono then became the second bishop of Surabaya (1982-1993).


First apostolates to build the Prefecture of Surabaya


At the time when the first Vincentian missionaries arrived, there were many Europeans people at Surabaya. Nevertheless, since the beginning of mission, our missionaries were sure that they were sent firstly to evangelize the indigenous people of the East Java. How did they start to do evangelization of the natives? They did home visits wherever the Catholic families lived, built chapels and schools in villages, and constructed mission centers, health services, and even hospital.


“We spend our times to do home visits. We visit families in the afternoon or evening. During the day time we learn the Javanese language and prepare many things for liturgical celebrations in the evening …” (Letter of Father Th. de Backere CM, March 1925).


As mentioned above, there were five priests as the first missionaries. They shared missionary tasks as follows: Th. de Backere CM was the superior of the mission; Theodore Heuvlmans CM was responsible with the pastoral service for the Europeans; E.E. Sarneel CM served as parish priest; C. Klamer CM was the one who did pastoral service to the Chinese people; and Jan Wolters CM, the youngest, was assigned to visit towns and villages outside Surabaya, evangelizing the indigenous people of Java. In one of his letters, Jan Wolters described himself as the “missionary of the muddy road,” as he had to walk all the time through villages with bad and muddy roads and only sometimes he took horse when crossing hills or valleys. In the first year of his presence, concerning his assignments Jan Wolters complained (in a good sense), “The area of mission in Java is as big as two third of Holland, but there is only a missionary who should walk through … Who wants to help me to bring these good people to the salvation?” (Letter of Fr. Jan Wolters CM in 1924).


Under the Dutch colonial government, education of the indigenous in small towns and villages was much neglected. In villages there was even none of educational institution for the Javanese children. Education at that time was so expensive and elite.


In 1925 or before our missionaries created the Foundation with the patron saint of the Blessed John Gabriel Perboyre. This Foundation would provide financially all things necessary for pastoral works in the educational fields, health services, building chapels or churches. With the help of this Foudation our missionaries started to construct many school buildings in villages. They were called the desa schools. They refer to modest buildings where children of villages (desa) could gather together and learn how to read and write. Our missionaries were inspired by the lack of education so as to build more and more school buildings everywhere. Only in ten years (1923-1933) there were more than 40 the desa schools constructed by the Vincentians. Generally in villages they built both schools and chapels. Or, chapels were also used as schools where the Javanese children could listen to the Christian faith while learning the materials in schools.


In the same year 1925 the Vincentians set up a hospital named RKZ (Roman Katholieke Zieken Huise) of Saint Vincent de Paul. The hospital was handed over to the sisters of servant of the Holy Spirit (S.Sp.S), as the Daughters of Charity did not come yet at that time. Presently the RKZ St. Vincent de Paul is much developed and becomes one of the leading hospitals in Surabaya.


To set up the Prefecture of Surabaya (1928)


When the first Vincentian missionaries arrived, Surabaya was only a parish that became a part of the Vicariate of Jakarta (almost 1000 km from Surabaya). In 1928 the Prefecture Surabaya was set up. Mgr. Dr. Th. de Backere CM was the Prefect Apostolic. At that time there were 15 Vincentian priests, 25 religious brothers, 88 sisters of Orsulines and of the Holy Spirit, and 10.345 Catholics.


The creation of the Prefecture of Surabaya produced new phase of the Vincentian mission. The missionaries had to distinct “missionary administration” of the CM and of the Prefecture. Though there were some misunderstandings, they were united into one intention of building the Prefecture of Surabaya. In 1934 the superior of the mission was Fr. Smet CM who replaced Mgr. de Backere CM, the Prefect Apostolic.


Vincentian presence in the Prefecture Apostolic Surabaya was dictated more by circumstances and contextual needs than by policy. The Javanese people needed more and more schools and health services especially for the indigenous. And, so did they during their first missionary apostolates in Surabaya, Rembang, and Madiun.


The magnificent inculturation of the “Pohsarang” church building


The term “inculturation” was somewhat too early to describe the magnificent church building in a village called “Pohsarang”. Yet, there would no exact word except “inculturation” that designates the purpose of such a building. It was built in 1936 by Fr. Jan Wolters with the help of Mr. Maclaine Pont, an architect who had been concerned with the preservation of the Javanese archeological artifacts.


The church building of Pohsarang has been much well known since the beginning of its construction. In the present time, it becomes the shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary most frequented by the Catholics. The architectural stile depicts the sense of the Javanese culture. It creates an atmosphere of a kind of the house of the king in Javanese background. Its gate is narrow so as to offer personal sense of welcoming given by the king to those who want to come.


“The dark nights” of the missionary periods


By “dark nights” I mean times of persecution during invasion of the Japanese troops in Indonesia along with the Second World War (1942-1945). The Japanese militaries looked nice to the Indonesians, as they wished to free them from the Dutch or Western colonization. But the fact was this. On the arrival of the Japanese troops new miserable condition of the Indonesians began. Victims of evil violence done by the Japanese were immense. In the meantime, the Dutch missionaries suffered a lot during that time. Priests, religious sisters, laymen – as long as they were Dutch – were all brought to the camps (internir), tortured, punished and even killed.


How was the condition of the missionary apostolastes? Christian communities especially in villages were almost totally abandoned, as there were no enough indigenous priests who could take care of them. Schools, church buildings, chapels, convents, houses of priests (pastoran) were damaged or taken over by the Japanese for military functions.


All of our missionaries had the particular stories and vignettes that have come to us paint a picture of loyalty, fidelity, suffering, imprisonment, love of the people and attachment to their vocation. Fr. Gerard van Ravestein CM, the vlootaalmoezenir (priest who is in charge of the Navy military) sank together with the ship bombarded by the Japanese military on the Java Sea. Fr. Gerard Boonekamp CM and Fr. van Goethem CM suffered a lot because of physical tortures given in connection with false accusations. Fr. van Megen CM was best remembered as a sick prisoner who was fed with “rat meat” by the Japanese officers.


After war our missionaries returned to parishes where they had been before, but due to the very tired body and mind during living in the miserable camps they went home to Holland for medical treatments. There were about 12 Vincentian priests who returned home. Providentially there were new comers of Vincentian missionaries who just came from Holland. They would restore the mission apostolates that had been damaged and destroyed by the war.


During the war the Prefecture Surabaya was change into vicariate in 1942. Mgr. Michael Verhoeks CM was the Vicar Apostolic. Due to pulmonary illness Mgr. Verhoeks passed away in 1952. Mgr. Johanes Klooster CM then inherited the responsibility as the Vicar Apostolic.


The providential start of the minor seminary


To built seminary was the very longing of the Vincentian missionaries since the beginning of mission. As recommended by the Encyclicals Maximum Illud and Rerum Ecclesiae, indigenous vocations were so important in mission. Due to difficult situations and times of war, there had been no success to initiate seminary formation. In 1948 there was a providential event. Fr. Dwidjosoesastro CM, the first ever indigenous Vincentian, brought with him from Kediri 8 young men to Surabaya with one purpose; they wished to be formed in a seminary. There were difficulties to travel from Kediri to Surabaya due to military conflicts between the Dutch and the Indonesian Republic troops. At that time, Fr. van Megen CM was the superior of the mission in Surabaya. He then became immediately the rector of the minor seminary. Fr. Herman Niessen CM took responsibility of English and Dutch.


The start of minor seminary was indeed in reason of the divine providence or even unplanned by the confreres. Fr. Dwidjosoesastro had not told the confreres before coming to Surabaya. From this time onward and into the next decades there would be an increasing seminarians formatted in the Vicariate. Later on in 1958 the minor seminary at Surabaya transferred to a small town called Garum (Blitar) until now.


Beside minor seminary, in 1958 a Catholic university, Widya Mandala, at Surabaya was also built by the help of our Vincentian missionaries. This university depicted the missionary spirit of the Vincentians to build fervently the more qualified human resources of the Javanese people. Fr. Paul Janssen, CM whose concerns were in educational field, started to create an institution for producing Catholic lay teachers in Madiun. 


Toward an autonomous province of Indonesia


In 1950 the new phase began. Indonesia became a vice-province of the Dutch. There were minor seminary already built with more than 40 seminarians, many Dutch confreres joined to work in the Vicariate Surabaya; there were three indigenous priests (a Vincentian and two diocesans), schools well established by the religious sisters and brothers. In 1958 Indonesia became autonomous province. The majority of the priests were still Dutch but there were already some indigenous candidates who would eventually be ready to take over the province.


To build the major seminary needs land and persons who could in charge of formation. In 1952 there were some young men who wished to become CM priests. With the blessing of the divine providence, our missionaries built the major seminary at Rembang (about 300 km from Surabaya). Fr. Piet Boonekamp CM who had been expelled from China due to the revolution of the communists took job as rector and teacher of philosophical subjects. After two years of philosophy, the candidates were sent to Holland for theology. Because of diplomatic conflict between Indonesia and Holland concerning the so-called “Irian Jaya” in 1958, our seminarians transferred from Holland to Italy and USA. In the meantime some candidates were sent to Australia until the major seminary of the CM in Kediri was established in 1962.


The major seminary of the CM at Kediri only lasted less than 10 years (1962-1971). For, in 1971 the CM confreres were invited by the Carmelites to collaborate to construct the major seminary (of philosophy and theology all together). With sacrifices of both the Carmelites and the CM the School of Philosophy and Theology “Widya Sasana” were elegantly stood and well established at Malang. From this time onward the STFT (School of Philosophy and Theology) has been one of the leading institutions not only in terms of priestly formation (diocesans and religious) but also in philosophical and theological field in Indonesia. At the beginning (1971) there were only about less then 50 students, but are now (2012) 450 students (both diocesan and religious). Ten to eleven dioceses of Indonesia (about one third of all dioceses) and more than dozen religious congregations have sent their candidates to this school.


The erection of the Diocese of Surabaya


In 1961 the creation of Indonesian hierarchy began. The Vicariate Surabaya became Diocese. The first bishop of Surabaya was Mgr. Johannes Klooster CM. Along with creation of the Diocese Surabaya, new phase of the CM presence in Indonesia began. As the diocesan priests have been increasing in terms of number, the CM fathers have had to hand over some parishes to the diocesans.


The Indonesian CM then concentrated more to explore its original and Vincentian charisma than keeping works in parishes. For instance, priestly formation in seminary that was always one of the characteristic concerns of St. Vincent now has gained more attentions and serious plans of renewal. Evangelization of the poor has been realized more convincingly. The handicap children and poor people have won the heart of Fr. Paul Janssen CM who has been so diligently dedicating himself to care of them. The lepers who have always been alienated, rejected, and ostracized by society in the absolute sense attracted Fr. Ernesto Fervari CM to built what has been called Wireskat, houses dedicated to rehabilitation of the lepers. Parishes that have been handled by the Vincentians have been more concerned with helps for the poor people by distributing some necessary things or creating channels of employment for the unemployed, etc.


The coming of the Vincentian Italian and French missionaries


The presence of the Italian and French confreres has depicted Vincentian characteristic in missionary apostolates. Due to invitation of the Bishop Surabaya, Mgr. Johannes Klooster CM, in 1965 the Italian confreres took over some parishes in the Diocese. They settled in two regions (Madiun and Rembang). With typically Italian style they worked hard in pastoral services to the poor in some towns and villages close to Madiun and built some schools. Later on, some of the Italian confreres have dedicated themselves to mission in Kalimantan that was initiated by the French missionaries.


Our French missionaries first came to Indonesia in 1976. They were only three confreres (Jacques Gros CM, Gabriel Dethune CM, and Victor Berset CM) who had been expelled by the communist from Vietnam. Unlike the Italian confreres came to Indonesia due to Bishop’s invitation, the French Vincentians came to Indonesia with intention to “continue” their missionary spirit realized in Vietnam. They looked for a place that would be similar to Vietnam (in terms of persons rather than geography). Providentially they found Diocese Sintang that did welcome them to work there. The Divine Providence works in daily events. As times passed by, the Indonesian province has paid attention to the missionary activities in Kalimantan. We have considered that such mission is indeed Vincentian, as the place is poor, isolated, and needs more charitable helps. When our missionaries have worked hard, there come indigenous vocations granted by God. Mission in Kalimantan indeed has been requesting sacrifices from the missionaries and Province, but it has always been blessed by God. It has been nothing other than faithful realization of the Vincentian missionary charisma.


In Kalimantan our Vincentian confreres have also set up a practical educational institution for the young indigenous at Nangapinoh. Fr. Carlo Karyanto CM who has been dedicating himself to mission in Kalimantan more than 25 years pioneered constructing missionary activities in educational fields and building a place of lodging for the sick. Besides, there have been some educational activities given by confreres and Vincentian laymen to the children in the inside part of the giant island, Kalimantan.


Rediscovering and fostering the Vincentian charisma


The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) carved new spirit of renewal to the heart of the Church. New spirit of renewal flowed into the heart of the Indonesian Vincentians as well. The Province began to renew the sense of living community, of doing charitable works, of dedicating themselves into priestly formation, of evangelization of the poor, of working in parishes and of being missionary.


In line with the spirit of renewal sprang from the Vatican II, the Vincentians have been rediscovering and fostering some activities characterized by the St. Vincent’s charisma. Just to mention some of them: Fr. van Steen CM founded a monthly magazine Busos that carved the Social Doctrine of the Church; besides, he gathered some Christian workers to foster themselves with new understanding of justice and empowerment. Some young confreres have initiated to give attention to the street children, empowering the employees, informal schools for poor children, credit unions for workers and farmers, formation of the Vincentian lay people, and the like.


One of the new stepping-stones of missionary apostolate of confreres occurred in 1975, the date of Sint Louis, the leading High School and elementary school in Surabaya, handed over to CM by the Brothers of Saint Louis Gonzaga (CSA). The “episode” of Sint Louis High School was famous, as it created and pushed new challenge to confreres. They started to focus not merely parish ministers but also education to the young here after. Sint Louis got more than 1500 students and thousands alumni who become leaders or leading businessmen in Indonesia.


In the meantime, some confreres who works in parishes have strived to insert Vincentian charisma to daily activities of the parishioners. Foundations of social activities and SSVP (Society of Saint Vincent) have always been main focuses in pastoral services.


There have been two retreat houses built for formation of the lay people. The Vincentian confreres who are actually in charge of retreat houses have been actively creating some models of formation for lay people in the spirit of St. Vincent. Our schools of St. Louis and else at Surabaya have always asked a favor of them to format spiritually their Catholic students and teachers.


Popular mission, an activity much loved by St. Vincent, has been developed into the provincialis opus that make priests, sisters and religious brothers or even laypersons (those of the Vincentian family) unite and involve actively to evangelize the poor. The Diocese Banjarmasin even has made contract of the Vincentian popular mission for three years consecutively. The Bishop of Banjarmasin has wished that the Vincentians may evangelize the Catholics throughout parishes in his diocese.


Formation in seminary (minor and major) has been continually renewed. There are actually two minor seminaries that are handled by the Vincentians (or at least the Vincentians partake actively in formation). They are St. Vincent Seminary at Garum and the minor seminary at Sintang, Kalimantan. Besides, there is a major seminary called School of Philosophy and Theology, “Widya Sasana”, Malang with almost 400 students (from different congregatins and dioceses) to which the Vincentians dedicate themselves in priestly formation field.


Toward a missionary province 


Eighty years ago the Indonesian Province was just one of the Dutch missions. Now, it transforms into a missionary Province. The missionary spirit of the confreres has been realized in three places of missions: in Taiwan (three confreres), in Solomon Islands (a confrere, there are one or more confreres preparing themselves), in Papua New Guinea (three confreres). A new domestic mission is also just open. It is in the so-called the “Indonesian Papua”, inside jungle, a part of the Manokwari Diocese. Two young confreres have been generously available to go to this new mission.


In the 80th anniversary of the arrival of the first Vincentian Dutch missionaries, we would like to thank God for the missionary zeal granted to our province. This brief overview of history of the Vincentian presence in Indonesia evokes thanksgiving, pride, joy, and admiration for the zeal to preach the Gospel and love for the Indonesians reflected in the lives of our confreres.


There are sill always challenges to cope in the future, such as to be deeply inculturated into Indonesian culture and to learn well the needs of the poor, to be more fervent in renewing forms of popular missions, priestly formation in seminaries, formation for Vincentian lay people, pastoral services in parishes, formation of youth, social and charitable activities, concretizing the intellectual apostolate, interreligious dialogue, and the like. God’s grace, however, is our hope, that we may be able to work out regardless difficulties and failures.


This is a summary of:

Armada Riyanto CM, 80 Tahun Romo-Romo CM di Indonesia (The 80 years of the Presence of  the CM Priests in Indonesia), Malang, 2003.






Jika para misionaris telah demikian murah hati, demikian Gereja ini hendaknya murah hati kepada semua orang. Jika hati para misionaris tabah dalam aneka kesulitan, demikian hendaknya warisan ketabahan itu menghiasi hari-hari perutusan para penerusnya.

Saya selalu memandang dan meyakini kebenaran bahwa sejarah perutusan awali (hingga periode terbentuknya keuskupan dan bahkan sesudahnya) para Romo CM di Indonesia erat kaitannya [bahkan menyatu] dengan sejarah kekatolikan di Keuskupan Surabaya. Maksud saya, perutusan CM memiliki imbas konkret pada pendirian dan pembentukan (formasio) umat Katolik di Keuskupan Surabaya. Juga, bahkan tidak berlebih-lebihan, dikatakan bahwa setelah era para misionaris, peta wilayah Keuskupan sekalian dengan stasi-stasinya tidak mengalami perubahan (perluasan signifikan ada di wilayah kota Surabaya, seiring dengan perluasan demografis kota). Artinya, umat Katolik di Keuskupan ini mewarisi secara nyata kerja keras para misionaris CM, semangat dan kharisma mereka.


Kita, para Romo CM maupun para Romo diosesan dan para Romo, biarawan biarawati dari Ordo/Tarekat yang mengabdi di Keuskupan ini beserta umat sekarang, melanjutkan tugas perutusan misioner ini. Perkembangan imam diosesan (praja) adalah kerinduan dari para misionaris, peletak dasar Keuskupan ini. Tuhan telah demikian murah hati, sehingga banyak pemuda yang bermutu memberikan diri mereka untuk melanjutkan karya misi yang indah ini di Keuskupan Surabaya yang tercinta ini.


Sejarah cinta misioner, pergumulan, keringat, kesusahan, “malam-malam gelap” dan kegembiraan dari para Romo CM bersama umat adalah juga sejarah bagaimana iman Katolik di wilayah keuskupan ini telah diwartakan, ditanamkan, diperjuangkan, dan ditumbuhkan … hingga akhirnya berbuah luar biasa seperti saat ini.


[Selanjutnya agar disimak page HISTORY-DIOCESE SURABAYA]

Armada Riyanto CM