HISTORY OF ST. MICHAEL'S PARISH PENAMPANG

HOW MGR. AUGUST WACHTER (MHM) AND 8 OTHER MILL HILL MISSIONARIES WERE DETAINED AND SENT OFF TO TENOM ON A JOURNEY OF DEATH

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HOW MGR. AUGUST WACHTER (MHM) AND 8 OTHER MILL HILL MISSIONARIES WERE DETAINED AND SENT OFF TO TENOM ON A JOURNEY OF DEATH

In the morning of May 18 1945, a party of Japanese soldiers came to tell the priests at St. Michael’s Mission, Penampang that they wanted to occupy all the Mission buildings.

Mgr. August Wachter, who was then the head of the church, told the Japanese soldiers that this was not possible.he sent Fr. Joseph Theurl and Brother Aegidius Leiter to Jesselton to speak to the Japanese Commander, but his effort proved to be no avail.

At that time, the Carmelite Sisters were staying at St. Michael’s School, after they were forced to leave their monastery at Jesselton. The Sisters were the first to hear the news and were greatly upset.

The news of the Fathers going to be sent away spread like wild fire through the kampongs and people started crowding up the hill where St. Michael’s Church was located, to see the priests who heard confessions from morning till 11 o’clock that night. The Carmelite Sisters spent the night before the Blessed Sacrament and praying that our Lord might avert the threatening calamity and allow the priests and brother to stay.

On the morning of May 19, 1945, Fr. John Unterberger said Mass for the Carmelite Sisters at their chapel in what used to be St. Michael’s school.

Mgr. Wachter, at the same time, said his last Mass at the Penampang Church which was crowded to capacity. The atmosphere was tense because everyone was aware of the dangers ahead.

The Japanese officials arrived at about 4.00pm that day, greeted by Mgr. Wachter who was accompanied by the Fathers, Carmelite Sisters, and a number of parishioners. They met the Japanese officials in front of the Carmelite Convent. Their spokeman was a certain Yamada, an Oxford graduate and former resident of Jesselton.

The Carmelite Sisters appealed to them not to send the priests away, saying they needed spiritual help which only the priests could provide.

The whole group adjourned to Mgr. Wachter’s house for a meeting. Five Japanese, including Yamada, told the church delegation that they had considered the matter and had decided to move the priests to Tenom.

Yamada said the Penampang hill was going to be a battlefield and since they were responsible for the lives of the priests, it was their duty to protect them.

Mgr. Wachter, in reply, implored to allow at least one of the priests to stay behind in order to look after the Christians and the Mission property.

The Prefect Apostolic said he would not mind to take the risk to stay behind himself by facing the enemy, as his life belongs to the people.

The Japanese however, were adamant and said it could not be done. Mgr. Wachter insisted on staying and repeated his petition five times. But his pleading felt on deaf ears and they were told to be ready at 10.00pm that evening. At the appointed time, two cars arrived with a Japanese party and Yamada. The priests and Br. Aegidius Leiter traveled in the cars with the Japanese, whilst three boarders, Patrick Lee, Peter Wong and Stanislaus Sabahai, and the luggage were put on a lorry.

They got to Papar at about 5.00am the next morning. In Papar, Mgr. Wachter and others with him, met Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception and others from the church there. He told them, “Well sisters, the Cross has come and we must accept it. You cannot do anything.” He and the Fathers were treated as prisoners since their arrival in Papar, the FSIC Sisters said in their narration of the event. Their report added: The Fathers and Br. Aegidius came and shook hands with us; they looked very sad and could only say: “Good bye sisters, pray for us.”

Mgr. Wachter together with seven other Mill Hill Priests, one Mill Hill brother and three mission boys were forced to march along the railway line, barefooted in the heat of the day to Sapong Estate, Tenom (about 100 miles away). Mgr. Wachter was physically weak as he was already 67.

Fr. Anthony Paulmich died in Tenom before Allied armies arrived and the others were taken to Sapong. Never did we hear what happened to them. Later on, after the War, the Japanese said that the priests were killed in an Allied air raid in June. However, the priests were seen alive in early August.

Never have we found a trace of them. Except the remains of Fr. Paulmich which were brought to Penampang in 1959. The other priests taken with Mgr. Wachter, Fr. Paulmich and Br. Aegidius, were; Fr. John Unterberger, Fr. Anthony Reich, Fr. Joseph Bohm, Fr. Mark Oberteggerm, Fr. Joseph Theurl and Fr. Francis Flur and three faithful boarders Patrick Lee, Peter Wong and Stanislaus Sabahai who followed them.

After the war, one of the former policemen who happened to be one of the guards in Sapong where Mgr. Wachter and the Priests were kept as prisoners, had this to say: If Mgr. Wachter and the other Missionaries wanted to escape, he and some of his friends would take them at night by boat to Kuala Penyu because the Australian Army was already there.

But Mgr. Wachter answered, “No, my dear boys, if we would escape, the Japanese would kill all the people in the village and the villages around.”