This article examines the emergence of the Catholic Church in Malaysia and Singapore in the modern period through an exploration of the Apostolic Vicariate of Western Siam (1841–1888). The establishment of this Catholic institution—a temporary territorial jurisdiction in missionary regions that precedes the creation of new dioceses—was key to advancing the transition of the Church from its older colonial model towards a modern national Church. Focusing on the work conducted by French missionaries of the Missions Étrangères de Paris (mep) over these five decades, we analyze the process of developing a local clergy and setting up the socio-cultural scaffolding of the contemporary Catholic Church in the Malay Peninsula. We pay special attention to how mep missionaries skilfully navigated their missionary activities through encounters with Malay rulers and British colonial officers to secure the creation of a Catholic elite independent of the Portuguese Padroado. Our argument suggests that the apostolic vicariate and the dynamism of the French mep missionaries in colonial Malaya opened up the pathway for the rise of the ethnic Catholic elites in modern-day Malaysia and Singapore.
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