Our Lady of Lourdes Church (Klang) built by the Catholic missionaries in 1928, was a beacon of hope to many. The Church demonstrated the true meaning extended and performed by the Catholic Church together, both with her Priest and as a Parish itself in helping migrants to settle and adjust in a new land. The sense of homelessness for the many migrantChinese, Indians as well as Filipinos was not only geographical but also spiritual in nature. Our Lady of Lourdes Church reached out and gave them both, spiritual and socialattachments to Catholicism. Coming to Church provided a connection between their homeland and new communities. The priest was mostly important in being a friend forguidance and offering counsel in difficult times, in a then British colonised Malaya as it was known.
Most Chinese migrants in the 1890s worked unloading tin ingots at Batu dockside (now PengkalanBatu) at Riverside Road (nowJalanTepi Sungai), all of which were brought in barges and movedusing bullock carts to the warehouse known as Gedung Raja Abdullah and other half brickwarehouses known as Limas. Limasare buildings where the four sides of the roof run up to apoint.South Indians either toiled in the coffee plantations off Jalan Langat or lifted cargo in Port Swettenham. Coffeeplantations in 1893 covered a vast area that stretched from what is nowSimpang Lima, the current Klang Traffic Police Station and almost the whole of the now SouthernPark neighbourhood. The coffee boom lasted a very short period from 1890 until August 1895.
With the decline in prices in the world market due to the increased production in Brazil, rubberwas the next choice for the British Planters and so was, also inter-planted with coffee on the manyestates located throughout the Klang region.Among the migrants at these plantations were many Catholics. The Filipinos were brought in to serve as musicians, where they played music at government functions, and entertained the British on Sundays at the club at Palace Road (now Jalan Istana) after a horse race or a game of cricketat the Padang (now Stadium Sultan Sulaiman) off Club Road (now Jalan Istana). The current stadium was once a race horse track and a source ofentertainment for the many British officers and their wives stationed here in Malaya.
Prior to Our Lady of Lourdes Church being built in 1928, the Sunday service mass was held in a wooden chapel off Rembau Street (now known as JalanTengkuKelana) directly opposite the majestic new Boutique Hotel, which was officially opened in 2016. Circuit priests were sent from St John’s Church, Kuala Lumpur to tend to the spiritual welfare of the people. Catholic British civil servants also did attend the Mass service conducted at the Chapel. Rembau Street got its name from aMinangkabau who practised the varmakalaimartial arts. According to writings, he had travelled from Sungai Ujong in Negeri Sembilan to Klang and he lived at the end of China Street (now JalanTengkuDiaudin). China Street was a dirt road that branched out from Fort Road where Raja Mahadi’s Fort had once stood (and which now houses the Klang Municipal Council). He was an expert swordsman and was known to be able to control elephants.
It is strongly believed he was a Malabar Muslim and who probably brought about the birth of the once popular MalabarRestaurant (famous for its Roti Canai); this business ransuccessfully until the late 1990’s. His grave, which is on a hillock across the SM Convent, Klang is cared for even until today.
In 1923, Reverend Father John Baptists Souhait was directed to take charge of the spiritual needs of the Catholics in Klang and the surrounding districts, including Kuala Selangor and Kuala Langat. He was soon aware of the need for a permanent church building and setabout acquiring the present site. Work to build Our Lady of Lourdes Church which commenced in 1925 was only completed in August 1928.
It is interesting to note that Fr. Souhait had a large say in the design of the church. Hisearlystudies in architecture in France before joining the priesthood, and his knowledge incarpentry stood him in good stead. When designing the present church, he had his mindand heart in having the church modelled along the lines of the famous Gothic-styled churchin Lourdes, France. Fr. Souhait left the care of the parish to Fr. W. Arcond, his assistant, while he went around Peninsular Malaya collecting funds forthe church. The money was raised with help from the migrant parishioners and British civil servants residing in Klang. Some help came from Fr. Duvell, the Parish Priest of St John’s Church in Kuala Lumpur while a substantial grant came from the Paris Foreign Missions.
Fr. Souhait was a friendly person among the locals, even with the non-Catholics. His lovingcharacter saw many non-Catholics converting to the Catholic religion. He was alsoinstrumental in getting the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and Chinamanager, C.L. Chapman to contribute funds for the purchase of the three Church bells that are rung even until today. Chapman, a European, was not a Catholic himself but supported the Church allthe same. Fr. Souhait succeeded in getting the land where both the Church of Our Lady ofLourdes and Sekolah Menengah Convent now stand. The Church, Grotto and ParochialHouse were completed for Straits Dollars $45,000 and declared open and blessed by Bishop Perrichon in 1928.
Where the church now stands, was mostly jungle way back in 1923; in fact, tigers and elephants roamed freely in that jungle (try to picture that!). There was only a dirt road that linked Rembau Street to the coffee plantation, and bullock carts were the only means of travel between Klang and Banting. Most of theplantations were located in the Banting area (and some still are). There were no buildings beyond Yeo GuanHup Street and at night no one dared go beyond that dirt road for fear of tigers. Most of the shophouses inRembauStreet were owned by the richest Chinese towkay, Lim Swee King, who was involved in tin miningas well as the opium trading business.
At the same time that the Church was declared open, the first rubber factory also started itsoperations inKlang. Shum Yip Leong Rubber Works manufacturing activities first began inTapah, Perak in 1921. Whenbusiness expanded, a larger factory had to be built and Klangwas chosen because of its proximity to PortSwettenham, better known as Pelabuhan Klangtoday.Machinery for the rubber factory was bought from Tan Kah Kee& Co, a rubberfactory in Singapore thatwent bankrupt. Most of its skilled operators came over to Klangand the company produced large quantitiesof rubber shoes and bicycle tyres. By May 1937,the Bata Shoe Company was established, commencing itsoperations in Klang.
Many people from Singapore came all the way to this tiny obscure town of Klang seekingbetter job opportunities and the church took them all under her wing. Our Lady of LourdesChurch in Klang, by reaching out to all, had slowly emerged and become a strong sign ofcommunion to bring people from other states and countries together.She is now ahistorical landmark in Selangor and one of the most photographed buildings bythe many tourists who visit Klang. Her diversity in having many different religions saw therise of many Temples (both Chinese and Hindu) and Mosques for the Muslims. Many of thesebuildings still stand proud and tall (some having been upgraded) in the town of Klang.
Our Lady of Lourdes in Klang has in some ways attempted to replicate certain aspects as found in Lourdes, France. Its main and focal point of attraction, has of course always beenthe magnificent statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in her glorious beauty, erected above thealtar inside theChurch. She is rightfully adorned and surrounded with these words,“I am theImmaculate Conception.”Apart from this majestic and breath-taking icon that takes centerstage in the Church, we also have a manmadegrotto, similar to that in Lourdes, France.
The very first man-made grotto constructed way back in 1928 still remains in its originalplace where it was first erected. Over the years, many ‘facelifts and makeovers’ were carriedout, but more specifically to cater and make the necessary adjustments to accommodate thegrowing number of parishioners who faithfully gather for prayer and devotions, similar to those Feast days celebrated in Lourdes, France.
Apart from the monthly Marian Devotions that usually end at the Grotto, the Feast dayof the Parish celebrated in February, is by far the biggest celebration where the churchliterally comes alive and becomes a hive of activity during the 9-Day Novena held with anappropriate theme given every year. The Grotto at OLL Klang has proudly served asone unified ‘meeting point’ for the Parishioners to gather for our many Parish functions and events.