The Church of the Holy Name of Jesus (GPS: 5.35311, 100.23691) is a colonial-style church in Balik Pulau. This Balik Pulau Church was built in 1854, making it one of the older churches in Penang. However, the beginning of this church can be traced even earlier, to 1845, when the first parish priest, Reverent Fr. Ducotey held the inaugural Eucharist at a then attap hut.

The nave of the present church was built between 1871 and 1881 during the time of Reverend Fathers J. Lo, Kremel and Galmel, where were instrumental in founding the St George’s and Sacred Heart schools in Balik Pulau.

Church of the Holy Name of JesusThe stained glass windows of the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus (29 January, 2005)

Renovations and extensions continued to be added to the church throughout the 19th and 20th century. In 1881, Reverend Fr. Page added the sanctuary and two wings. The beautiful stained-glass windows were added by him. They were made in Belgium according to his own designs. In 1917, the bell tower was added, and a tenor bell was commissioned from the famous bell foundry of La Savoyarde in Annecy, France.

The latest round of restoration work was carried out under the supervision of Reverend Father Peter Shyu, who took over the parish in July 1999. Restoration committee was formed on Christmas 2000, and the project included repairs to cracks and broken stained-glass windows. The project was completed on March 2003, in time for the church to celebrate its 150th birthday, which it did in style, on January 2004.

Church of the Holy Name of JesusGrounds of the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus (22 July, 2006)

Church of the Holy Name of JesusRear side of the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus (29 January, 2005

Church of the Holy Name of Jesus, Balik Pulau

The sleepy hollow of Balik Pulau in Penang also boasts a humble yet historical (by Penang standards) church called the Holy Name of Jesus. Built in 1854, the architecture is reminiscent of the Anglo Indian style, with fanlights above the tall wooden doors and louvres. The inner sanctum of the church is adorned with imported stained glass which when backlit, bathes the interior in jewel tones.

Humble beginnings

“It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and put in his own garden. It grew, and became a large tree, and the birds of the sky lodged in its branches.”

This genesis of the church dates back to 1845 when the first parish priest, Rev. Fr. Ducotey celebrated the inaugural Eucharist in January in an attap roof house. From those very humble beginnings, the church steadily grew as the Catholic population increased.

The permanent nave of the present church was constructed between 1871 and 1881 during the service of three innovative priests, Reverend Fathers J. Lo, Kremer and Galmel. This padre trio helped found the St. George’s and Sacred Heart parish schools, which first began as religious classes for boys and girls under attap roofs.

In 1881, more changes were made to the church by resident priest Rev. Fr. Page, who added the sanctuary and the two wings, using granite from the nearby hills. He adorned this structure with an imposing granite altar and nine priceless stained glass windows made in Bruges (Belgium) according to the designs he submitted himself.

During the extension, Fr. Page took on the roles of contractor, the bricklayer and carpenter. In 1917, a bell tower was added to the church and in it, a tenor bell cast in France by the famous bell foundry La Savoyarde at Annecy was hung.

In 1930, Rev. Fr. Lee paved the aisles in the church, the sanctuary and even the presbytery with tiles he had designed and made. A grotto depicting the apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes to St. Bernadette was also later added in the church compound.

The church today

When the late Rev. Fr. Peter Shyu took over the parish of the Holy Name of Jesus, in July 1999, he soon realised that this old church needed extensive repairs and renovation. Planning began auspiciously on Christmas 2000 with the formation of various committees and groups for the purpose.

The physical condition of the entire church was studied to determine the extent of damages and structural weaknesses. It was founded that the foundation of its ceiling had to be replaced and reinforced with additional pillars. The necessary repairs took place, including fixing the cracks and broken stained glass window panels. Modern features were added – an electronic clock and church bell. The renovation was completed in March 2003, just in time to celebrate its 150th birthday.

In January 2004, the grand old church celebrated its 150th anniversary in style with masses, and dinners.

An elaborate souvenir programme filled with anecdotes, detailed stories and brief histories was put together to commemorate the event and to preserve memories. I was honoured to be asked to help design the book as well as to decorate the church interior. The story of how a small band of priests in a foreign land helped shape a community will serve as a timeless inspiration to all Catholics.

The Church of the Holy Name of Jesus in Balik Pulau may not be of the same artistic quality of the grand churches in Europe, but among churches in Malaysia, it occupies a prominent place in the country’s history.