With the arrival of the Salesians Fathers and Brothers (SDBs) to Myanmar ( 1939 January) the ardent missionary desire of St. John Bosco ( 1815-1888),the Founder of the Salesian Congregation (1859) was fulfilled. Fr. Leo Lafon a Catholic priest, of the Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP) played a key role in the arrival of the Salesians to Myanmar. In 1928, Fr. Leo Lafon wrote to Msgr. Louis Matthias, another French Salesian Missionary working in the North East of India ( Assam Missions) requesting him to send a few Salesians in order to continue his charitable works for the Parishioners of St. Joseph (Mandalay) and to continue the orphanage for the poor youth in the area. Only in 1939 that it was decided by the Salesian Major Superiors to accept the offer of Fr. Leo Lafon and the first Salesian Missionary expedition from India was sent to Myanmar.
1. Origin of the Salesian Mission in Myanmar (1939)
The first group of Missionaries comprised of the following:
Fr. Anthony Alessi ( the head of the expedition)
Fr. Ubaldo Bordin;
Two Coadjutor Brothers: Bro Buongiorno and Bro. Dell’Acqua
Two Clerics: Bro. Denis Cavanagh and Bro. Anthony Del Col
Three days later on 31st. January,1939 the feast of St. John Bosco was celebrated solemnly presided by His Excellency Bishop Albert Faliere, Bishop of Mandalay. The Salesians took possession of the Institution officially which they called it “Lafon Memorial School” to honour the generous benefactor, Fr. Leo Lafon. The Institution comprised of the St. Joseph Parish, a home for widows, an orphanage and a public School.
Unfortunately the beginning of the Salesian Mission in Myanmar coincided with the beginning of the Second World War ( September, 1939) which had devastating effects on the initial works of the Salesians. Some of the Salesians ( those of Italian origin) were taken to India to be interned. Only two were allowed to remain in Myanmar during the War days and these two had to encounter terrible hardships, famine, poverty and dangers on account of the War and also from the Japanese army who had taken control of rule. With the conclusion of the WW ll, (1945) the Salesian Fathers returned to Mandalay (Myanmar) and continued with their apostolate in the Parish, Boarding, Professional training school ( Carpentry and Tailoring).
Within a span of 20 years ( 1945-1965) Lafon became a High School catering for 3000 day scholars, and a Professional Training school ( Carpentry, Tailoring and Shoe making) became well known in the country for its excellent products and above all well educated and trained youngsters who had no problem looking for fitting jobs in the society.
2. Salesians in Yangon ( Rangoon) (1954)
In his search for the spread of the Salesian works elsewhere other than Mandalay, Fr. Ubaldo Bordin sdb found himself in Yangon in the Parish of St. Francis of Assisi helping Fr. Assier . It was in June 1954, after two years of hard work and tireless search that Archbishop of Rangoon, His Grace Archbishop Victor Bazin, entrusted to the Salesians the Parish of Thingangyun, the St. Joseph Parish. This was indeed a big blessing for the Salesians to be able to start working for the poor youth in an ideal place like Thingangyun. Since the Parish lacked a proper residence for priests Fr. U Bordin had to rent a house which was in the vicinity of the Parish (four furlongs in distance). On this site later there would arise the Don Bosco School and the Professional Training School.
On 14, June 1963 the new school was blessed by His Grace Archbishop V. Bazin and its strength was well over seven hundred. Unfortunately as it was mentioned above the nationalization of the Schools in 1965 brought untold disaster to all the Missionary activities in the country.
3. Salesian Seminary Anisakhan (“Nazareth’) (1957)
At that time the Salesians in Myanmar were sending their seminarians to India for their initial formation. However since the number of candidates to be sent abroad was gradually increasing, the idea to open up a local Minor Seminary in the country itself was initiated. On March 16th 1957 the first batch of 24 students arrived at Anisakhan with Fr. William Balocco as their Rector and dynamic leader. Accompanying him were Fr. Thomas De Souza and Bro. Paschal Kyaw Myint. The number of seminarians grew gradually reaching up to 90 in 1963. Here again the nationalization of schools brought unthinkable ill effects to the Nazareth Salesian Seminary.
4. Salesians in Northern Myanmar ( Lashio ) (1975)
After the Nationalization (1965) firstly the Salesians lost their schools, secondly foreign Missionaries were asked to leave the country and thirdly they were asked to return the two flourishing Parishes in Rangoon and Mandalay to their mother Archdioceses . It was at this time when every thing was bleak and dark that God intervened through the Holy See to entrust to the Salesians in Myanmar the Northern territory of the Shan Sate. The Papal decree was promulgated on 11th November, 1975 and the following year (April 1976) there was the public appointment and installation of the Prefecture of Lashio. Msgr. Jocelyn Madden, a veteran Salesian was nominated as the First Prefect Apostolic of the Lashio Prefecture. Alongside Msgr Jocelyn Madden there were seven Salesians who ventured into this newly erected ecclesiastical jurisdiction to spread the Gospel Message. Msgr. Jocelyn Madden abdicated his leadership of the Prefecture and Msgr. Charles Bo a salesian succeeded him. In 1990, the Holy See raised the Prefecture into a Diocese and Msgr. Charles Bo was nominated as its first Bishop. When Msgr. Charles Bo was transferred to Pathein Diocese, he was succeeded by Msgr. Philip Za Hawng.
Today there are still some salesians working in the Diocese of Lashio taking care of the Mission stations in Namtu, Thibaw and in the Wa state.
5. The Salesian Delegation was raised to the state of a Vice Province (2004)
Right from the beginning when the first batch of Salesians came to Myanmar they had Calcutta (India) as their mother Province. With the passing of time (since 1939) the local Salesians underwent traumatic experiences in the chaotic events of the country which made the Major Superiors reflect seriously and finally they condescended to raise the Salesian Delegation to become a Vice Province so that the members could enjoy real autonomy in finding fitting solutions to their problems. Fr. Joachim Ye Maung was nominated as the Superior of the Vice Province. (6th August 2004)
After six years Fr. Joachim Ye Maung terminated his term as Superior of the Vice Province and Fr. Maurice Vallence succeeded him.(June 2010)
6. Statistics of the Salesians in Myanmar (2010)
Coadjutor Brother (Perpetual):1
Coadjutor Brothers (Temporary):5
Clerics (to the Priesthood):38
Mandalay: Youth centre
Pyin Oo Lwin: Studentate of Philosophy
Anisakhan: Minor Seminary, Novitiate
Thibaw : Prenovitiate, St. John Bosco Parish
Namtu:Immaculate, Conception Parish
Myitkyina: Professional Training School
“ Da mihi animas cetera tolle”
(“Give me souls take away all the rest”)
Salesians of Don Bosco Provincial House
44/A Maylikha Road
(Fr. Rector) (0095-1) 660322 / 095150758/ 085 50026/ 082 800 95
Fr. Leo Neng Khan Mang
Rector Fr. Mariano Soe Naing
(Provincial) Fr. Maurice Vallence
Fr. Raymond Than
Infant Jesus of Prague Catholic Church
Paw San Mwe 4th Lane, 12 Quarter,
Hlaing Thar Yar Tsp, Yangon
Fr. Andrew Yan Naing Win