Vergis, George

1921 - 2017
Educator and priest
Mar Thoma Church

Reverend George Vergis was born on January 25, 1921 at Kallapurakal House[1] in Edathua, a village six miles west of Thiruvalla in Kerala, India. Tragically, his mother passed away soon after he was born. It was his caring, God-fearing grandmother (Valliamachi in Malayalam) who very lovingly and tenderly nurtured him and brought him up.

He was a frail, sickly child who had difficulty walking until he was four, and his grandmother would pray fervently for him. George lived with his elder brother, his father and several relatives. His father later remarried and had three other children – a son and two daughters.

The Mar Thoma Syrian Church traces its origin to the belief that St (Mar in Malayalam) Thomas went to India in AD52 and founded seven churches on the Malabar Coast in India before being martyred. Most families in Kerala are Malayalees, and Malayalam is the mother tongue. Edathua had this rich environment of Christian heritage and tradition. George went regularly to the Mar Thoma Church worship with his family. Sunday School was held in his house and courtyard for the Christian children from the neighbourhood. 

To Malaya

George attended primary and secondary school together with his cousins. In 1938, his uncle came back on leave from Malaya. He was a hospital assistant (then known as a dresser) in a government hospital in Segamat, Johor. When his uncle was about to return to Malaya, Georgekutty (as he was fondly called) was advised by his father to go to Malaya to pursue his studies.

George and his uncle sailed on the SS Athos II, arriving in Singapore on June 10, 1938. He was enrolled in Segamat High School and passed his Senior Cambridge Examination in 1939. In January 1940, he started working as a geography and English teacher in a private secondary school in Seremban, Negeri Sembilan. At the end of that year, he was advised to go to Singapore to pursue higher studies by Mr V.E. Thomas (later to become Reverend Thomas). In Singapore, George taught in another private school.

The outbreak of war disrupted his plans. On the night of December 8, 1941, George awakened to a strange sound – it was an air raid! He later found out that all schools were closed and all examinations halted. He went back to Segamat in the hope of returning to Singapore soon.

The British forces surrendered to the Japanese in Singapore on February 5, 1942. During the Japanese occupation, George learned Nippon Go and started teaching it in schools. George would visit the hospital where his uncle worked and converse with the Japanese soldiers. When the Japanese realised that he was a secondary school teacher, they helped him pick up the spoken as well as the written language. 

When he was teaching in Johor Bahru, a Japanese military officer came to observe him and told George that he would send him to Japan to further his studies. George politely refused despite being threatened with a drawn sword. Instead, George asked the class if anyone wanted to go to Japan for further studies, and two boys volunteered. Subsequently, one of the two boys died in the Hiroshima bombing. 

When George’s uncle was transferred to Tangkak Government Hospital, George asked for a transfer to the government school in Tangkak where he later became the headmaster. He worked hard, teaching school in the mornings and the Japanese language to government servants in the afternoon. In the evenings, he would plant tapioca, maize and other food crops to help his uncle and his family.

With the end of the war in 1945 and the return of the British to Malaya, George was appointed as a teacher in a primary school in Muar (he later became the headmaster) by a Mrs Milne, the headmistress. For three years, George also attended the Teacher’s Normal Class Training held in Segamat on weekends, and qualified as a trainee teacher. He then taught in Muar High School. 

In 1953 he went to Brinsford College[2] United Kingdom on a one-year scholarship. On his return, George was appointed as a Normal Class Supervisor in Johor Bahru English College (a high school) to train and supervise student teachers. In 1957, he was posted as Organizer (also called Principal) in the Day Training Centre (DTC), Muar, a non-residential institute training teachers for primary schools in the English and Chinese mediums. In 1961, George was unexpectedly instructed to take up the position of principal of DTC, Alor Setar, Kedah, in the northern part of the peninsula. He was in Alor Setar for seven years.[3]

In 1968, he was transferred to Kuala Lumpur as senior teacher in English at the DTC. Despite having lost out on a promotion to senior lecturer earlier,[4] he continued trusting in God and pressed on. In 1973, he was appointed a Federal Inspector of Schools and was posted to the Ministry of Education headquarters, then in Jalan Maxwell, Kuala Lumpur – a post he held until his retirement in early 1977. As a Federal Inspector, he travelled all over Peninsular Malaysia observing the teaching in schools, sometimes being away from home for more than a week.[5] His long and dedicated service to the teaching profession was recognised in 1967 when he received the PJK award from the Sultan of Kedah. Ten years later, he was conferred the AMN by the Yang Di Pertuan Agong. 

George married Rachel Koshy on August 20, 1953 in Kluang, Johor. The wedding took place at the Chinese Presbyterian Church which was where Mar Thoma services were held. Rachel was the youngest daughter among four children of the Reverend T.N. Koshy (later Very Reverend), the first Mar Thoma priest to come from India and settle in Malaya. Their two children were born in Muar – George Vergis (Vinoth) in 1954 and Mary (Valsalah) in 1957.

Besides his keen interest in the affairs of the church, George was also very active in community work.[6] As a government servant, he was completely loyal to the country and was very proud to be a citizen of Malaysia.[7] 

Service and ministry

George started serving in the church when he taught Sunday School in India as a young boy. In Muar, he was involved in starting the Bible School for children with three other teachers at the Muar Presbyterian Church, which was also used for the monthly Mar Thoma worship services. In Alor Setar, he started the Bible (Sunday) School in a Methodist Church and also the English Worship service which an American pastor later took charge of. He assisted in the Mar Thoma services which were held at least once in two months. He also served in the Mar Thoma Church in Kuala Lumpur as deacon for the English services and as a Sunday School teacher, and also as a Bible teacher for the annual youth camps.

His grandmother who had brought him up wrote to him when he was doing well in his career and told him that when he was very ill and the doctors had given up hope, she had earnestly prayed to God for his recovery and promised to give him to God’s service. That was the first time George heard about the promise.[8]He wrote back saying that he was already involved in various church programmes and had a wife and two children. “Is it necessary, do you want me to go to full-time ministry?” he asked. She replied that the decision was up to him. But the matter preyed on his mind. He was due to retire in early 1977 and prior to that, a bishop (called Thirumeni in Malayalam) of the Mar Thoma Church, on a visit from India, asked George to consider taking up the ministry and undergoing a special course at the Kottayam Seminary in India. He was in a quandary as he had been offered the post of headmaster of a private school on his retirement.

His family supported his decision to go into ministry.[9] Soon after he retired, he went to India for the course. As was typical of him, George approached his studies with determination and singleness of purpose. He felt that he was not proficient enough in Malayalam and worked hard at improving both this and his chanting skills. Even in later years, he would practice the Malayalam chants on Saturday in preparation for the worship service the next day.

He requested his ordination as a deacon (called Semasan in Malayalam) to be in his home parish in Edathua, India. He had left Edathua when he was a teenager but, to his surprise, on the day of his ordination on September 13, 1977, the little church was full, with his father and brother from Bilai, Madhya Pradesh, present although his family in Malaysia could not attend. In fact, at his death, this little church remembered him and announced his passing during a service.

The second part of his ordination as priest (Kaseesa in Malayalam) was held in Mar Thoma Church, Kuala Lumpur on November 26, 1977 by the then Metropolitan of the Mar Thoma Church, the late Most Reverend Dr Alexander Mar Thoma.

The ordination service of Reverend George Vergis was a significant and historical event as it was the first time a Mar Thoma priest was ordained outside Kerala, and Malaysian Marthomites had their very own citizen priest.[10] Members from other parishes of the Mar Thoma Church chartered buses to attend the ordination. The next day, a Sunday, Reverend George Vergis conducted his first Holy Communion service.

From the start of his ministry, George Vergis Achen travelled the length and breadth of Malaysia[11] in his trusty Volvo, much like his father-in-law Reverend T.N. Koshy had done on his bicycle. It meant that he was seldom home at weekends, especially on Sundays and special celebrations like Easter or Christmas. The family accepted that their Christmas and Easter celebrations would only start in the afternoon after Reverend Vergis returned from conducting the Holy Communion at one of the smaller churches outside Kuala Lumpur.[12]

Reverend Vergis’ strength was his caring nature and personal touch. He would make it a point to visit the members when conducting a service at the church. In Banting, he realised that a couple did not have transport to travel to the church which was about 10 minutes away. So he would drop in for a visit before the service, have a cup of coffee and then drive the couple to church.

Aside from conducting worship services, he started Bible study and prayer meetings in members’ homes. He welcomed anyone who wished to be a member of the Mar Thoma church, even those who were not Malayalees, although he required them to follow the Mar Thoma protocol of writing to the Bishop for permission to join the church. 

He would conduct at least one session of pre-marital counselling for couples which was unheard of in earlier years. As a Registrar of Marriages, he would painstakingly type the forms in triplicate on the typewriter, and he kept excellent records. If a wedding was held outside Kuala Lumpur on a Saturday, the following Monday would see him taking public transport to Kuala Lumpur to submit the papers to the Registration of Marriages office. 

When the government wanted to stop issuing work visas for priests from India, he met and reasoned with government officers and explained how this would have presented an impossible situation for the Mar Thoma Church in Malaysia which relied on the services of Indian priests. He was the only Malaysian priest then but he assured the officers that there were some young people from the Mar Thoma Church in Malaysia preparing for ministry at the local seminaries.

He understood that the young members of the church did not understand Malayalam and he introduced a Bahasa Malaysia service with the liturgy translated into that language. Whenever necessary, he would conduct the Holy Communion services in Tamil and Bahasa Malaysia, in addition to Malayalam and English.

In 2006, he had a fall on New Year’s Day which resulted in the dislocation of his right shoulder joint. Because of his age, the doctor advised against an operation. Though in pain, Reverend Vergis struggled through physiotherapy at the hospital and at home. He was determined to be able to lift his hand to handle the elements for Holy Communion and to administer the final blessing for the people at the end of the service.  

Ecumenical and other connections

His involvement in Christian matters extended beyond the Mar Thoma Syrian Church and he worked with well-known figures such as David Boler and Reverend Peter Young. Reverend Vergis was a board member of the Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM) for a number of years and served for two terms as its president. He was also involved in the setting up of the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) which brought together the episcopal churches, the evangelical churches and the Roman Catholic Church which were not members of CCM. He served as vice-chairman in the inaugural CFM executive committee in 1985 for a two-year term and then as a committee member for another term. 

In 1983, on CCM’s initiative, the inter-religious Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism (MCCBCHS) was formed (it later became the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism or MCCBCHST. This council could make representations to the government on various common issues and problems such as the need for burial grounds.

He was also involved with Malaysian Care when it was first set up and the Bible Society of Malaysia. At a time when there were not many who were proficient in Bahasa Malaysia, he volunteered to peruse and edit the drafts of Bible translations into BM. He was also on the governing board of Seminari Theologi Malaysia (STM) which was set up in 1979 as a joint Anglican, Evangelical Lutheran and Methodist venture and gave some guest lectures at STM, specifically on the history of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church.

Even when his mind was clouded by vascular dementia, his life and purpose remained very clear. It was always about doing God’s work and being in His house.

Reverend George Vergis passed away on Sunday, October 15, 2017 after 40 years of serving as a priest (Achen in Malayalam) in the Mar Thoma Syrian Church in Malaysia. Sunday was always a special day for him so perhaps it was fitting that he died on that day. His was truly a life well lived for the service of God.


  1. ^ This is similar to the tradition of Chinese clan names. 
  2. ^ Brinsford was a teacher training college that trained Malayan teachers. 
  3. ^ In Alor Setar, just as he had done in studying Japanese and English, George applied himself to excel in Malay and even learnt Jawi. He often received the comment that he sounded like a native Malay speaker, especially on the telephone and when he gave speeches. 
  4. ^ He attended a Unesco-sponsored course in Manila for senior educators in Southeast Asia and missed the interview for appointment as senior lecturer although another lecturer who was in Manila with him was promoted in absentia. 
  5. ^ In his professional capacity, he served in the Kedah State Language committees and was chairman of the English Syllabus Review Committee, Malaysia for Standard One to Form Five which presented a new curriculum for Communication English.
  6. ^ He would participate in gotong royongs (communal work) and other neighbourhood and community meetings and events. At various times, he was secretary of the Social Welfare Committee and Old Folks Home in Muar and also of the Muar Rotary Club. He was fully involved as a member of the international team of Scout Master Trainers; secretary of the Alor Star Blood Bank; and secretary (and later president) of the Alor Star Rotary Club whose motto, “Service above Self”, resonated deeply with him.
  7. ^ He voted in every election, even when he had to use a wheelchair to get to the polling station. He carried out his duties as an election/polling officer efficiently, and meticulously followed the requirements of the election process. He would insist that people would stand to attention for the national anthem Negaraku and remain silent while it was played. Every Merdeka Day, he would faithfully put up the Jalur Germilang (the national flag) at home.
  8. ^ However, in his senior years, he would recount and cherish the memory of tear drops falling on him and waking him up and he would see his grandmother sitting by him praying and shedding tears. Several years later when he had recovered, the doctor who treated him commented that it was his grandmother’s loving care and nursing and her prayers which had helped him recover from his childhood illnesses.
  9. ^ His wife told him that if he felt that God had called him to go for full-time ministry, he should. George wrote to his daughter, then studying at Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang, outlining his plans after retirement. She wrote back and said that whatever he wanted to do, the family would support his decision. Yet he still hesitated, especially about the time of going to India for the course, asking God to provide his son with a job before he went to India. As the time passed, he realised that he could not make those stipulations. He went to India and within a month, his son obtained a job!
  10. ^ In the early days of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church in Malaysia, arrangements were made for clergy (Malayalees from the Mar Thoma Syrian Church in Kerala and other parts of India) to be brought from India to serve the Marthomites in Malaya. The first resident priest was Reverend T.N. Koshy (later Very Reverend) and he arrived in Malaya in 1936. This practice continued with priests being sent from India to serve the congregations in Malaysia for a period of at least four years at a time. 
  11. ^ When the question of which parishes he would be assigned to came up, the Bishop acceded to Reverend George Vergis’ request to serve the smaller parishes as his heart was always for the smaller churches. These were six parishes which required a lot of travel (Melaka, Banting, Klang, Seremban, Ipoh and Alor Setar). The Mar Thoma Church only had church buildings in some places such as Kluang, Labis, Johor Bahru, Melaka and Morib, in addition to Kuala Lumpur and Klang. Church premises were borrowed for worship services which were generally held once a month.  
  12. ^ In Banting, Reverend George Vergis was the longest serving vicar of the church (1977-1987), which meant that come Easter, Christmas, Watch Night and New Year’s Day, he would be there instead of at home in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. 

Mary Vergis 

The writer, a retired librarian, is the daughter of the Reverend George Vergis.



Hunt, Robert, Lee Kam Hing and Roxborogh, John., eds. Christianity in Malaysia: A Denominational History. Petaling Jaya: Pelanduk Publications, 1992.

Thomas, V.A. Mar Thomites in Malaya: The Early Years. Petaling Jaya: Self-published, 2000.

Shining Beacons: Life-Stories from Pre-War Years. Compiled by T.K. Nainan. Self-published, 2010.