• Right Reverend Monsignor August Wachter, a Mill Hill Missionary of the Society of St. Joseph founded the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in 1936.


Rt. Rev. Msgr August Wachter - First Prefect of Apostolic of North Borneo

Born to Johann Josef Wachter and Susanna Brutscher on the 8th of December 1878, August Wachter was the fifth of ten children. As a young child, he told his maternal Aunt Wilhelmine Brutscher who financed his education that he not only wanted to be a foreign missionary priest but also to be a martyr.

On the completion of his education and Priestly formation, he was ordained on the 6th December 1903 in Brixen, North Italy. The Charity of Christ urged him to march forward bravely. On the 28th of August 1905, he left home for Borneo Mission arriving first in Kuching in September to study Malay on Mount Singai. After five months, his superior saw the need in North Borneo (Sabah) for a poorer and more difficult mission. Father Wachter, a spirit-filled and a man of prayer, being young, talented, and energetic was chosen to take up this new appointment in Penampang, a mission among the Kadazan Dusun. His immediate focus was to take education and evangelization seriously.

Twenty-two years later, when Sarawak and British North Borneo became separate Prefectures, Fr. August Wachter was appointed as the first Prefect Apostolic of North Borneo on the 26th of July 1927. During his tenure, he followed the policy of expansion in depth. He himself would travel widely to those far-away mission stations for days. Bringing the Gospel to those who did not know Christ was his goal wherever he went.


Mother Rose Charnley

In 1933, Msgr. Wachter returned to England for the Society’s General Chapter and later to Rome where he met His Holiness Pope Pius XI who personally encouraged and even granted his approval in establishing the indigenous Congregation in his own Prefecture of North Borneo. Consequently, many were called but few were chosen. However, with the loving guidance of Mother Rose Charnley, a Franciscan Missionary of Saint Joseph (FMSJ), the Co-foundress, the first four novices in the persons of Sister Immaculata (Cecilia Ho), Sister Aloysius (Stephanie Malaim), Sister Francis (Theresa Thien) and Sister Consolata (Marie Thien) made their first commitment on the 20th June 1941 in St. Mary’s Convent, Sandakan.


Sr Immaculata Ho, Sr Aloysius Malaim, Sr Francis Thien and Sr Consolata Thien

The four young Sisters spent much time catechizing women and children, taking care of boarders, preparing the dying for baptism and even took care of lepers in Berhala Island. In spite of being four, they carried out the missionary work normally until the landing of the Japanese on the 19 January 1942. For the next three years, the invaders were in full control.

Finally, the saddest moment came when Msgr. Wachter and the last missionaries of German nationals were arrested from Penampang and brought to Papar Train Station. There, they were forced to trudge to Sapong, Tenom. According to the reports of the Weekly Bulletin of the Parish Council of Sacred Heart of Jesus (Bludenz), dated 26.01.1946, Australian Military authorities confirmed the deaths of the few missionaries who were German Nationals. The local natives of Sapong, Tenom told them, all except one were shot and killed by the Japanese Military. The first four sisters survived but the war prevented many girls from joining them for ten long years. However, the Four Pillars continued to witness Christ, recalling the Founder’s words.


Today, there are more than one hundred and twenty members including those in initial formation spread out in 34 small communities throughout Sabah and one each in Kuala Lumpur and Johor. Founded primarily though not exclusively for the Local Church, the Sisters carry out their mission to all in need through Catechetics, Education, Homes and Hostels, and Pastoral Care. Each Sister strives to be sensitive to all those in need and in a special way, she hears the cry of the poor, particularly those under her care.