Devals, Adrien Pierre

1882 - 1945
French Missionary, Missions Etrangères de Paris (MEP), Bishop of
Roman Catholic

Adrien Pierre Devals was born in Quins, Aveyron, France, on November 18, 1882. In 1900,
at the age of 18, he joined the MEP Seminary, and six years later, on June 29, 1906, he was
ordained a priest.[1] He was assigned to the Malacca mission not too long after and left for
the peninsula on September 26, 1906. Upon his arrival he was first posted to Penang, being
assigned to the Church of the Assumption, serving as a vicar for a time before becoming Parish Priest.[2] In 1912, he received the sad news of his fathers passing and returned to France. In 1914, while Devals was still in France, World War 1 broke out, and with all men being conscripted to military service, Father Devals remained in France for the duration of the war. Finally, with the end of the war and after things settled down, Father Devals was able to return to Penang in 1920.[3]

He continued where he left off, helping build new churches and schools. Soon he was acting
again as interim Parish Priest of Church of the Assumption while ongoing parish priest Father Louis Devalle was back in France recuperating from his poor health at the time.[4]Father Devals was pleasantly surprised by the growth of the parish during his absence, as an MEP report from 1922 recorded his sentiments “it was pleasant for me to see significant progress in the religious life of the Assumption parish. Attendance at Sunday services is more regular and more numerous; the number of devotional communions is increasing significantly.”[5] Father Devals would eventually take over as fulltime parish priest again and in 1927 he worked towards expanding and renovating the Church of the Assumption to accommodate the 2000 or so laity that would attend mass every week.[6] In 1933 Father Devals, along with Mother St Tarcisius and the La Salle brothers supported two Japanese Catholic missionaries, Kuzumo Nishikawa and Shogo Nakayama in starting and administering to the mission school of Assumption in Butterworth, Penang. The school was operating in Butterworth until 2008, when the rights to the school were relinquished to the Ministry of Education and it was moved to Bagan Dalam and remained until it closed for good in 2022. Although new initiatives by the alumni of the school to keep its legacy going began in 2017.[7]

On November 27 of 1933, Father Devals was appointed as Bishop of Malacca, and a few
months later was consecrated as Bishop at the Church of the Assumption on April 15, 1934.
[8] Much of his work as Bishop was focused on building the Catholic social mission, encouraging more volunteer welfare work through getting parishes to establish action groups for the laity to get involved. He also worked towards inviting several religious and mission groups to set up foundations across the Malaya and Singapore regions. These groups included the Carmelite Sisters, the Gabrielite Brothers, the Redemptorist Fathers, the Good Shepherd Sisters, and the Little Sisters of the Poor, all of whom made great contributions to the community through social service and charity works.[9] In 1935 Bishop Deval’s initiated “The Malaya Catholic Leader” newspaper, the first issue being published on the January 5 , of that year. The goal and hope of the newspaper was to provide the Catholic population with updates of the ongoings of the diocese, to give catholic perspectives of world issues and news, and as an educational resource for the population on Church teachings. The paper would become a regular and continuous publication, although throughout the years the newspaper would go through several changes including to its name, becoming The Malayan Catholic Newsletter in 1950, a revival of the paper after a hiatus due to the war, then Malayan Catholic News in 1951, Malaysian Catholic News in 1962 after the Federation of Malaysia was formed, the Catholic News in 1974 at the request of the Conference of the Bishops of Malaysia-Singapore, and finally to Catholic News in 2003.[10]

All of Bishop Devals hard work would be forced to come to a halt as World War 2 made its way to the region with the Japanese invasion of Singapore on February 15, 1942.[11]The second war Bishop Devals would have to endure through in his lifetime after World War 1, and with war came complete upending of everyday life, destruction of buildings, including churches and monasteries due to bombardments, shelling, looting and more, as well as tragic loss of life. Even with how devastating the war was, Bishop Devals did not let it deter him, and he rose up helping as many congregations and people as he could. Some of these included sending help to the Gabrielite Brothers, The Good Shepherd Sisters, and The Redemptorist Fathers, to help them evacuate and find shelter, and salvage as many possessions as they could before further destruction could rain upon them. Father Devals further protected many priests, religious and laity from harassment and torture from Japanese soldiers, he especially stood up on one occasion to protect the girls of the Town Convent from being taken by them.[12]

In 1943, Mamoru Shinzaki, a Japanese journalist and spy, obtained land in Bahau, Negeri Sembilan, for the Catholics to build a settlement there, and Bishop Devals both eager yet with little choice left made the decision to move with as many of the laity and his congregation as possible to protect them as much as he could from the terrors of the war.[13] The Japanese named the settlement Fuji-go. Bishop Devals pushed forward and established a viable village for people to live and worship in, with a proper functioning chapel and church. He worked day in and day out to pull his weight with any work that needed to be done in the community, including tending to his own vegetable plot.[14] Father Devals many times stood up to the Japanese and called them out on their lack of interest in keeping to their promises of providing necessary resources for the communities’ livelihoods to be improved. Despite his best efforts though, the conditions in the settlement were poor, and the lack of hygienic supplies and resources led to the poor health and death of many members of the community.[15] Unfortunately Bishop Devals could not avoid this pitfall himself and developed a terrible foot infection that led to gangrene. He was taken to a hospital in Seremban in January of 1945, but even after two amputations, they could not stop the gangrene from spreading and Bishop Devals succumbed to the infection on January 17, 1945, passing away at the age of 62, just a few months shy of Japanese surrender and the end of World War 2.[16]Two days later, on January 19, 1945, a requiem mass was held for Bishop Devals at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd in Singapore, with the help of the Japanese who Bishop Adrien Devals garnered great respect from despite circumstances. Bishop Devals was initially buried in the Bidadary cemetery in Singapore before in was shut down in 1972, and the graves moved.[17]


  1. ^ The French-Asia Research Institute (IRFA). “Adrien Devals”, accessed March 18,2024,
  2. ^ IRFA, “Adrien Devals”.
  3. ^ History of the Catholic Church in Singapore: The Virtual Exhibition, “Bishop AdrienDevals, MEP”, accessed March 18, 2024,
  4. ^ History of the Catholic Church in Singapore: The Virtual Exhibition, “Bishop AdrienDevals, MEP”.
  5. ^ The French-Asia Research Institute (IRFA). “Malacca – Mission Report 1922”,accessed March 18, 2024,
  6. ^ The French-Asia Research Institute (IRFA). “Malacca – Mission Report 1927”,accessed March 18, 2024,
  7. ^ Christopher Kushi, “Spirit of Assumption”, Herald Malaysia Online, November 3,2023.
  8. ^ IRFA, “Adrien Devals”.
  9. ^ History of the Catholic Church in Singapore: The Virtual Exhibition, “Bishop AdrienDevals, MEP”.
  10. ^ Lim, Gillian, “CatholicNews”, National Library Board Singapore, accessed March18, 2023,
  11. ^ History of the Catholic Church in Singapore: The Virtual Exhibition, “CatholicWartime Chronicles #7: Bishop Adrien Devals – The courageous war-timeshepherd”, accessed March 18, 2024,
  12. ^ History of the Catholic Church in Singapore: The Virtual Exhibition, “CatholicWartime Chronicles #7”
  13. ^ History of the Catholic Church in Singapore: The Virtual Exhibition, “CatholicWartime Chronicles #7”
  14. ^ History of the Catholic Church in Singapore: The Virtual Exhibition, “CatholicWartime Chronicles #7”
  15. ^ History of the Catholic Church in Singapore: The Virtual Exhibition, “Bishop AdrienDevals, MEP”.
  16. ^ IRFA, “Adrien Devals”.
  17. ^ History of the Catholic Church in Singapore: The Virtual Exhibition, “CatholicWartime Chronicles #7”

S.A. Richard

The writer has a degree in history with a minor in archaeology from Monash University, and a masters in folklore and ethnology from University College Dublin. Her research interests lie in the fields of cultural, social and religious history, as well as in literary, folkloric and oral narrative traditions.