It has been a month since the Catholic community in Sarawak mourned the death of Rev Father James Meehan, the last few Mill Hill priests in Kuching.
The Scot passed away on July 23 at the age of 84.
He was ordained to priesthood on July 12, 1959, and was sent to Sarawak the same year to serve in the outskirts of Kuching.
He served in Kanowit for three years before he was transferred to St Theresa’s Church in Serian. There, he served as an assistant priest while also being principal of the primary school. His service there was interrupted for one year during which he worked in Bintangor.
In 1971, Father Meehan was appointed parish priest at St Ann’s parish in Padawan. He returned to Serian in 1986, this time as parish priest. In 2012 Father Meehan retired from active priestly ministry.
I was born in Serian. I remember Father Meehan vividly as he gave mass on Sunday mornings and administered most of my relatives’ marriages.
I remember Father Meehan as someone who was full of jokes and his sermons were normally humorous, short and sweet with the occasional sarcasm in his heavy Scottish accent. He could also converse in Bidayuh, Iban and a bit of Hakka.
“I got to know Father Meehan in the 1980s when we would meet up for annual assemblies with representatives from mill hill. As I remember, he had always had trouble with his club foot,” said Father Albert Jacobse, when met a week after Father Meehan’s death.
“Despite the discomfort, he would still travel to smaller churches and villages, which some were only accessible by foot.”
Father Albert said Father Meehan could be blunt but on the whole, he was a jovial person with many tricks up his sleeve.
“I remember he called another priest and said ‘Do you know that the council has decided there is no trinity anymore? The blessed trinity has been abolished and now there is only one God.’ And the guy really believed him,” he laughed.
“That was Father Meehan for you. That man loved a good laugh.”
Having stayed in Borneo most of his life, Father Meehan called Sarawak his home.
“The Mill Hill representative came to persuade him to go back to Scotland but he refused. Father Meehan did go for a holiday to the UK but he didn’t go to London where Mill Hill is. He went to Manchester to avoid the top guys in London who were trying to woo him back,” he said.
“As a missionary, he was 100 per cent into his missionary work. His heart was here.”
Father Meehan and Father Albert were the last two Mill Hill priests in Kuching, both residing in Mother Mary Priests’ Retirement Home in Stutong.
“Father Meehan had always said he wanted to die with his people here. Now, after 59 years of faithful service, he will be buried as a Mill Hill priest of this land,” said the Catholic Archbishop of Kuching, Simon Poh, during the funeral liturgy at St Joseph’s Cathedral in Kuching on July 28.
Rest in peace Father Meehan. You will be missed by your parishioners.