Tribute to the builder of CMI

Fr Thomas Sham

On the blessed occasion of Silver Jubilee celebration of CMI Church, it would not be complete without a dedication to its founder.  As an honour to his memory and contribution, here is a tribute to CMI builder, Fr. Thomas Sham (1920-2004):

Born on 15 Feb 1920 in Putatan, Thomas was the fifth child in a brood of three boys and four girls born to Lucas Sham Koi Yun and Helen Lee Kyun Yin.  The elder Sham was from China who sought his fortune in Borneo and later settled down in Putatan with a local girl.  He was converted to the Catholic Faith by Thomas Lee (Father of Abp Emeritus John Lee) who founded the Putatan Chinese School.

Thomas studied at the Putatan Chinese School from 1928-1932.  With his mother’s blessing he entered the Jesselton Minor Seminary.

Thomas attributed his vocation to a “man in white.”

When he was nine, he was walking with his brother to school when he saw a man in white clothing. “I was awestruck and attracted by the way the man was dressed up, especially in white.  Somehow, something happened and I wanted to dress like him when I grew up,” Thomas said. He asked his brother who the man was and was told that he was a priest (Fr. Joseph Felix Shek).

Baptised in 1932, Thomas was sent to the Major Regional Seminary in Hong Kong with Francis, the brother of Abp Emeritus Lee. He was ordained on 16 July 1946 in Canton China. Back in Borneo by ship in October 1946, Father Thomas served in Tawau, Papar, Kudat, Jesselton, Sandakan, Telipok, Kota Kinabalu, and Tanjung Aru.

Fr. Thomas decided to stay in Tanjung Aru after retiring from active ministry in 2000. Despite failing health, he continued to concelebrate Mass with his successor Father Fundes Motiung. He died on 17 Nov 2004 at the Sabah Medical Centre, Likas where he had been admitted since Nov 6.  He was 84. He was buried at the Mile 4.5 Catholic Cemetery Penampang Road by his nephew Father David Sham.

Well-known as a builder, Thomas acquired mission lands for construction or extension of church and school buildings, one of which is the Church of Mary Immaculate Bukit Padang.

Architect’s impression of CMI Extension (Right Angle)

Going back in history … how it all began

CMI was officiated and blessed by then Bishop John Lee on 31 October 1993.  It was a grand affair with  ribbon cutting and Eucharistic celebration in English and Chinese. But this is only a part of the church’s history.

As we go back further, the story started in 1990 as extracted from the archive of the Catholic Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu:

It came about when Fr Thomas Sham, who was then the pastor of the Sacred Heart Cathedral (1987-1988), noticed the way parishioners literally had to force their way into the church compound for services, which parishioners who were leaving had to undergo a similar ordeal.  That was when he remembered that the church owned a 2.2 acre piece of property in Bukit Padang.

After consultation with Bishop John Lee, Fr Sham approached the state finance ministry officials to explore the possibility of government assistance to put up a new church on that property.  He was met with positive response.

Within three months of coming to serve at SHC, Fr Sham put into motion a plan to build a new church.   CMI also underwent two changes of names before the present name was finally agreed upon.  The previous names were “Church of Our Lady Queen of Peace” and “Church of Mary Immaculate Conception”- CMI SOCCOM

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