The Anglican church that became Catholic in Myanmar

The Sacred Heart church in Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar

Simon Louis, SDB

The name of my home town is “Pyin Oo Lwin,” formally known as Maymyo, which is located in central Myanmar.

Maymyo can be reached by road from Mandalay and by rail and air from Yangon. It lies at the head of a shallow valley, at an elevation of about 3,538 feet above sea level. 

The British named the location “Maymyo,” literally “May's Town” in Burmese, after Colonel (later Major General) James May of the 5th Bengal Infantry, stationed there in 1886. 

Gen. May was a veteran of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and commander of the Bengal Regiment temporarily stationed in the town. 

The town served as the summer capital during the British administration. 

The military government of Burma later renamed the town ‘Pyin Oo Lwin’.

The town is spaciously laid out in broad roads lined with eucalyptus, silver oaks, and pine. The flowers, fruits, and vegetables produced in its many large gardens are widely distributed.

In 1897, a permanent military post was established in the town and later, because of its climate, became a hill station and the summer capital of British Burma. 

The establishment in Burma (civil, commercial and military) would move to Maymyo during the summer season to escape from the heat and humidity of Yangon. 

During the British rule and through the 1970s, Maymyo had a large Anglo-Burmese population, but this steadily declined. 

During the Japanese occupation, many English were concentrated in and around Maymyo. The Japanese incarcerated many of them out of fear of their loyalty to the British. 

Today, Maymyo still has one of the larger holds over the population of Anglo-Burmese in the country. 

The Sacred Heart Church

There are several churches in Pyin Oo Lwin, with three or four having historical importance, and of interest to visitors from outside Myanmar. 

One of these is the “Sacred Heart Church” where I was baptized. 

It is located on the way to the Military Hospital. This church, founded in 1890, is of great historical interest to visitors. 

It was originally an Anglican church in colonial times and was decorated with red brick in Gothic architecture style. 

One of the Chinese engineers designed the church and many of the materials were brought from England. 

The purpose of building the church was to take care of the spiritual life of English soldiers and employees. 

The church was originally called the “Garrison Anglican Church” until it became a Roman Catholic church. 

The first local Anglican parish priest was U Aung La, who later became the diocesan Anglican bishop in the area.

During World War II, the Garrison of Anglican Church was used by the Japanese occupying forces as a recreation center and badminton court. 

There were very few local Anglicans remaining and many British and foreigners left the country after the war. 

In 1966, all the foreign missionaries who had come to Burma before the Independence (Jan. 4, 1948) and were not directly incharge of schools were permitted to stay and the others had to leave the country. 

From then onwards, indigenous priests and religious took up the responsibility of the church in Burma. 

In 1962, the Garrison Anglican Church was given to a Catholic priest named Kasan, a missionary French priest because of lack of Anglican faithful.

On Sept. 9, 1962, the church was officially opened by Most Rev. Archbishop Joseph U Win who named it the "Sacred Heart Catholic Church.”

Fr. Kasan became the first Catholic parish priest in 1962. 

The church is surrounded by various religious seminaries and convents.

The church became very much alive because of all the religious congregations and students from different parts of the country. 

After the death of Fr. Kasan in 1972, there was no parish priest, but the rector of the Diocesan Minor Seminary took care of the church and the parishioners for a few years. 

Fr. Si Oo became the second parish priest.

In 1990, Monsignor Benedine became the third parish priest of the Sacred Heart Church.

I was so blessed to receive the Sacrament of Baptism from Fr. Benedine on Sunday,  April 4, 1993, two weeks after my birthday. 

Msgr. Benedine died on August 6, 1998. 

The following are the parish priests of the church, which was for some years cared for by the rector from the minor seminary.

  • Msgr. Fr. Ka Nyue U Lum Aung (2001-2008)
  • Msgr. Fr. Alphone U Ko Lay (2013-2015)
  • Fr. Bosco Soe Lin (2015-2017)
  • Fr. Peter Maung Shwe (2019- )

The church celebrated its 50th Golden Jubilee of Catholic presence on Sept. 9, 2012.