Msgr Nicholas Ong celebrates 40 years of priesthood
PENAMPANG, SABAH, EAST MALAYSIA (CS) – Since battling with cancer of the nose in 2014, Msgr Nicholas Ong has bounced back from an enforced slowing down, with an almost “fierce vengeance” to live and serve the priesthood which he has vowed to God 40 years ago.
From here, it was simply not to question anything but to get back to the reason for living, which he finds in loving and serving God and neighbor, proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel, building Christian communities, helping the poor and needy, and caring for creation.
The jubilarian speaks passionately of the Eucharist, which he holds in his hands lovingly each time he celebrates the Mass, “If we celebrate the ‘Sacrament of sacraments’ with faith, then we would see how the Holy Spirit comes on the whole community and makes God’s Kingdom come amongst us, and from there only we could, in the person of Christ, help the poor, care for the environment, proclaim the Good News in practical ways… ”
He confessed ruefully that of all the aspects of being a priest, the most challenging is the homily, that is, the preaching. He starts preparing two to three days ahead of Mass to ruminate on the Scriptures, synthesizing it according to the liturgy or mind of the Church and applying it to concrete situations of daily living. Though he admitted that with modern technology, preparation has been made easier, but he prefers originality.
The rewarding aspect of building communities has kept him going on in spite of the debilitating illness. “I have lost count; I have perhaps made 408 visits to the BECs since their inception under the Holy Trinity parish 10 years ago,” recalled the Monsignor.
“The joyful and vibrant reception of the Word of God that spills over into their faith and practical living and service to the poor has been reward in itself,” he underlined.
He revealed that it has never ceased to amaze him to see the various ministries working so hard and making sacrifices to care for the poor and needy in their midst.
To him, the migrants are counted among the most needy, and as parish priest for the last 10 years (2008-2018) in the Holy Trinity parish, he thinks the parish has only paid a small price in giving help for the most vulnerable and marginalized in our society.
Today, the parish has offered the use of their premises to run the migrants’ school in partnership with the Indonesian Consulate. In doing so, education has been made accessible to the many young migrants who might have remained illiterate had no one cared. This came at the small price of broken toilet bowls, chairs, tables, doors, and blocked drains to give them education coupled with free electricity, water and classrooms.
On the other hand, his heart swells with pride and amazement at how the young parishioners are shaping up in the parish. He revealed that they are now the reason he wants to feel his life with.
“The youth can help us to reform and renew,” Msgr Ong maintained. They are a constant surprise, he added, as he has found that they do all things well when guided and given encouragement.
On the question of challenging the young to “put their hands on the plough”, the youth is being represented in the present parish council. Through the numerous contacts with the youth, he finds in them an enthusiastic receptivity and an eagerness to be involved.
This receptive youthfulness brings to mind his childhood. He recalled that the call to his own priestly calling was sparked off from primary three! His mother, Francesca Funk, has predicted that he is born to be a priest when she saw him at birth with hands clasped! But he was destined to be one in spite of his staunch Buddhist father, Ong King Chai, and grandmother. (His father was converted to Catholicism when he was married and his grandmother was converted later in life.)
Unflinchingly, he answered God’s call in spite of the lure of wealth (being son of a timber tycoon), of becoming a secular professional, and above all, of defying his father’s objection.
The jubilarian, who hails from the small eastern town of Sandakan, urges those who aspire to be a priest or a religious “to first get yourself renewed” so as to sustain this road less travelled.
To the youngsters “First renew yourselves in the various movements offered by the Church: the Youth Ministry, BEC or more specifically the Youth BEC, the CCR, the Neo-Catechumenal communities, the Society of St Vincent de Paul, etc by getting yourselves involved. The rest will come,” promised the ruby jubilarian.
Msgr Ong was ordained a priest on 3 October 1978, and besides serving as priest/assistant priest at the various parishes in KK Archdiocese and Sandakan Diocese, he has also served in a plethora of tasks. He has served as Director of IY and CDC for the formation of seminarians/aspirants, as a member of the Bishop’s College of Consultors, involved in several diocesan bodies, sat in the Board of Trustees of Maktab Nasional, as chaplain of the Carmelite Sisters, as associate editor of Catholic Sabah, and others.
Included among the parishes where he served are St Michael’s Penampang, St Paul’s Dontozidon, Stella Maris Tanjung Aru, St Thomas Kepayan, Blessed Sacrament Labuan, Sacred Heart Cathedral Karamunsing, St Dominic’s Lahad Datu, and currently Holy Trinity Tawau.
His interest and passion in astronomy and in Creation Justice, which remain avid to these days, have led him to speak earnestly on the topics, conduct star-gazing programs, and recently a Laudato Si advocate!
His passion for preaching the Good News has been concretized in his audio and written homilies in English, Bahasa Malaysia and Chinese (Hakka), which are available at his website: wordsofspiritandlife.net.
Catholic Sabah 4th November 2018.
Msgr. Nicholas Ong
Born on the 5th of January 1950 into a rather wealthy family in Sandakan, young Nicholas had his primary and secondary education at St Mary’s School Sandakan. He remembers fondly that the present Fr. Mulder’s Catechetical Centre at St Mary’s Cathedral Parish compound is where he used to have his primary school education.
After his Senior Cambridge (form five), in 1971 when the Catholic Church in Sabah was under persecution with all the foreign priests expelled, Nicholas set his mind to become a missionary of Christ.
He enrolled into St. Francis Xavier Seminary, Singapore for 2 years followed by 5 years of study at the College General Major Seminary, Penang. He was ordained priest on 3rd October 1978 at St Mary’s Church, now the Cathedral. He was the third local to be ordained after the late Bishop Simon Fung and Fr Mewo.
His first priestly assignment was at St Michael’s Church Penampang, then St Paul Dontozidon, where he was secretary to the late Bishop Simon Fung, in addition to teaching duties at the Diocesan Centre. He later became rector of Stella Maris Church Tanjung Aru.
From 1987, Fr. Ong spent 2 years studying at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley California where he obtained his “Master of Theological Studies” in Christian Spirituality.
Upon his return, he taught in the Initiation Year / Spiritual Year at St Peter’s College Kuching till 1996. His later assignments saw him serving at the Catholic Diocesan Centre (CDC) Kota Kinabalu, Blessed Sacrament Church Labuan, Sacred Heart Cathedral Kota Kinabalu and St Dominic’s Church Lahad Datu.
With the erection of the new Diocese of Sandakan in 2007, Fr Ong was appointed Monsignor and became rector of Holy Trinity Church Tawau on April 2008.
Picture above: Msgr. Nicholas with the staff of Holy Trinity Church, Tawau, Sabah, Malaysia. Both photos taken on 10th August 2017.