Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Priest has a Name: Rev Fr Anatolius Mauduit

The priest has a name and it is Rev. Fr. Anatolius Mauduit. From a most humble post in 1847, Fr. Mauduit gathered his flock and built St Joseph's Church in 1852-53. There he served with love and devotion as the first parish priest till his death on the 1st of April 1858.

He was none other than the French missionary who sheltered Alfred Russel Wallace in 1854 - a visit that Wallace recounted in his book The Malay Archipelago. Fr. Mauduit's tomb can still be found in St Joseph's Church today. As a former parishioner myself and a frequent reader at Mass, I have had the rare privilege of seeing it in the private wing of the church.

Wallace's stay at St Joseph's Church did not escape the attention of the earlier parishioners too. In the Centenary Souvenir Booklet celebrating 100 years from 1853 to 1953 (front cover pictured above), editor R.S. Boswell wrote about it in his essay The Church of St. Joseph. He accredited Fr. Mauduit as having had a guest the famous naturalist and traveller A. Russel Wallace and drew excerpts from The Malay Archipelago that read as follow:

"I lived for several weeks at a time with the missionary at Bukit Timah, about in the centre of the Island where a pretty Church had been built and there are about 300 converts... My friend at Bukit Timah was truly  a father to his flock. He preached to them in Chinese every Sunday, and had evenings for discussion and conversation on religion during the week. He had a school to teach their children. His house was open to them day and night. If a man came to him and said, "I have no rice for my family to eat today," he would give him half of what he had in the house, however little, that might be. If another said, "I have no money to pay my debt," he would give him half the contents of his purse, were it his last dollar. So, when he was himself in want, he would send to one of his wealthiest among his flock, and say, "I have no rice in the house," or "I have given away my money, and am in want of such and such articles." The result was that his flock trusted and loved him, for they felt sure that he was their true friend, and had no ulterior designs in living among them."

Boswell also recorded what Mgr. Verrolles Vicar Apostolic of Manchuria (who paid a visit to Mauduit in 1850) has to say of Fr. Mauduit's zeal which had overcome all obstacles - "Day by day, his little fold increases. His neophytes are of a simplicity and fervour worthy of admiration. They all are poor, their missionary still poorer than them all; he considers himself lucky when he gets enough rice and a few plantains for his meal."

Boswell also gave his readers a rare glimpse into the history of the Catholic Church in Singapore, and some very interesting anecdotes such as Fr. Couellan fighting off a tiger with his umbrella, and of a hundred Catholic Chinese in 1846 crossing from Pontain to the Island of Singapore and landing "at a point near Kranji and a bit lower down near the present junction of Woodland Road and Mandai" where a temporary Chapel was erected.

The above information is uniquely parochial and in presenting the content of the Centenary Souvenir Booklet, I hope to honour the name of Anatolius Mauduit and encourage exactness of reporting by any scholar writing the life history and achievement of Alfred Russel Wallace to put Mauduit's name in his rightful place.

Boswell's essay also revealed the existence of diary by Mauduit. He wrote,"The 8th May, 1853, saw the blessing of the new Church of St Joseph by the Rt. Rev. Bishop J.B. Boucho (according to the true extract from Rev. Mauduit's diary, recorded again by Rev. Fr. Issaly in the year 1866)." So, as can be imagined, the hosting of Wallace at St. Joseph's Church could very well have been recorded by Mauduit in his diary. The serious scholar should find this diary a priceless source of verification besides other records that can be found from the archive of the Roman Catholic Church of Singapore.


I take great satisfaction and relief in sharing the above. Relieved... because the name Mauduit has resided in my sub-conciousness for as long as I can remember. And coming off the talk I gave at Wallace Exhibition at Singapore Science Centre recently, I am pleased I waited no longer. Like writing A Light Above Pedra Branca, this piece - The Priest Has A Name - had me feeling very light, happy and blessed. To Everything There is a Time and Place. Merry Christmas!

1846 - 1858 Rev. Fr. A. Mauduit
Tomb of Rev. Fr. Mauduit in St Joseph's Church
Bukit Timah, Singapore
St Joseph's Church at 100 years old in 1953
St Joseph's Church at 100 years old in 1953
The Parochial House at St Joseph's Church (1953)
St Joseph
At The Top of The Steps
Chairman and Editor Mr. R. S. Boswell and Committee

No comments: