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Malaysian Catholics mourn pioneering French missionary

French MEP priest Father Peter Bretaudeau was one of the longest-serving missionaries in Malaysia

Malaysian Catholics mourn pioneering French missionary

Father Peter Bretaudeau MEP (1931-2021) was a pioneering missionary who served in Malaysia for about 57 years. (Photo: Herald Malaysia Online)

The Catholic Church in Malaysia is mourning the death of Father Peter Bretaudeau, a pioneering French priest and one of the longest-serving foreign missionaries in the country.

Father Bretaudeau, a member of the Paris Foreign Missions Society (MEP), died in France on Sept. 2 at the age of 90.

The missionary came to Malaysia in 1957 and served in various positions including in 10 Catholic parishes for about 57 years until his return to France in 2014.

“It is with profound sorrow that we announce the passing of Rev. Father Peter Bretaudeau MEP,” Father Michael Chua, chancellor of Kuala Lumpur Archdiocese, said in a notice.

“His Grace Most Reverend Julian Leow, archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, and the clergy of the archdiocese would like to extend our deepest condolences to the family of Father Bretaudeau in this time of loss and are united with them in fraternal prayer and support. We invite the clergy, religious and faithful to remember him in your Masses and prayers.” 

Father Bretaudeau was born in 1931 as the third of five children in the village of Le Poiré-sur-Vie in Vendée, France.

He arrived in Malaysia in October 1957 and for more than five decades the country became his second home

He joined MEP in Paris and completed his priestly formation in the Gregorian University in Rome, where he obtained a licentiate degree in theology. He was ordained a priest on April 2, 1956.

He arrived in Malaysia in October 1957 and for more than five decades the country became his second home.

His first assignment was in St. John’s Cathedral in Kuala Lumpur. To help his missionary activities, Father Bretaudeau studied English for a year and Tamil for two years in India. He also undertook a three-month intensive Bahasa language course in Indonesia.

From 1960-64, the priest served at St. Joseph’s Church in Sentul as parish priest and then led the Church of Our Lady of Fatima in Brickfields in Kuala Lumpur.

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After eight years, he went to France for a six-month visit in 1965 and conducted conferences to share his missionary experiences in Malaysia.

Back in Malaysia, he served the Church of the Visitation, Seremban, from 1967-77 and the Church of St. John Vianney, Tampin, from 1977-87.

Father Bretaudeau was actively involved with Catholic and non-Catholic workers in rubber plantations through his collaboration with the National Union of Plantation Workers. He set up an organization to help create jobs for workers and to improve the education opportunities for estate workers’ children.

Former planter Thomas Joseph, 88, who accompanied the priest on his visits to rubber estates in and around Seremban in the late 60s, said the priest worked tirelessly to uplift the lot of estate workers, particularly Indians, reported Free Malaysia Today.

From 1987-97, the priest played a major role in building and running the archdiocesan pastoral center in Kuala Lumpur

In an interview with the Church of the Holy Family in Kajang, Father Bretaudeau said his pastoral work and involvement in estates in Seremban and Tampin were his “glorious years” of his missionary life.

Under the leadership of the late Cardinal Soter Fernandez for about two decades, Father Bretaudeau pioneered basic ecclesial communities in Malaysia and played a key role in the groundwork for the revolutionary Aggiornamento (Updating), the Second Vatican Council’s idea of church reforms, implemented in Malaysia since 1976.

From 1987-97, the priest played a major role in building and running the archdiocesan pastoral center in Kuala Lumpur.

Father Bretaudeau remained active in pastoral ministry in Malaysia even after his retirement as he spent his time in Sentul, Klang and Kajang until his return to France on June 12, 2014.

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