SANDAKAN — St Peter’s College (Kuching) made history on 15 October when one of its graduates, Fr Julius Dusin Gitom, was ordained the first bishop of the new Diocese of Sandakan in Sabah.
The ordination of Bishop Julius confirms the vision of Archbishop Emeritus Peter Chung who established St Peter’s College in 1980 to be a place of formation for priests and bishops. Since then, it has produced over 55 priests and, now for the first time, a bishop.
The three-hour ordination ceremony held at St Mary’s Cathedral was presided over by the Apostolic Delegate to Malaysia, Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio. Also present were 11 archbishops and bishops, over 70 priests, religious and a congregation of about 4,000.
There was applause from the faithful when the Diocese of Sandakan was declared officially erected and when the letter of appointment of Msgr Julius as its first bishop was read out by Fr Nicholas Ong.
The Cathedral was filled with people from all walks of life and from the different parishes of the three dioceses. With limited seats in the main church building, many had to stay outside, some braving the strong sun armed with umbrellas and hats while others stayed under the shade of trees. Even the sudden downpour that came around Communion time did not dampen the spirit and enthusiasm of the people.
With the erection the Diocese of Sandakan in the east coast of Sabah, Sabah now has three dioceses. The new diocese has only four parishes but covers a wide area and has a total population of 64,000 Catholics, many of whom are foreigners working in the many oil palm plantations.
In his address to the congregation after the ceremony, the new Bishop asked for cooperation and prayers from the faithful so as to build up the new Diocese together.
In his turn, Bishop John Lee of Kota Kinabalu said he was both “relieved and sad”. He felt relieved because “parishes in the east coast have always felt Kota Kinabalu is too far to be able to appreciate their local problems and needs. Now, with Sandakan as the seat of Bishop Julius, the distance is minimised.”
He said he felt “sad” because another territory has been “carved out” of Kota Kinabalu. “It is like removing a part of you. Memories of the faces of those whom I have known, those whose lives I have journeyed with over the years, would be the causes of such sadness,” he explained.
Bishop Julius comes from an area near Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak in South East Asia. He studied in St Peter’s College from 1982 to 1988. He was ordained priest in 1989 and served in different parishes for seven years before being sent to Rome for moral theology. Upon his return, he became a formator in St Peter’s College from 2000-2003. He was then sent to Manila to do Canon Law and graduated in 2007. Shortly after his return to Sabah, he was appointed the first Bishop of the new Diocese of Sandakan.
St Peter’s College is proud to have produced its first Bishop for the Diocese of Sandakan. It is hoped that the College will continue to provide many more priests and bishops for the local Church in Malaysia, and perhaps even beyond.
Catholic Sabah/Fr Richard Ng