There is a record of a Jesuit named "Siesang" who resided in battambang in the end of the 18th century, and who had a program to assist the poor, orphaned, elderly and the disabled. The missionaries paid to free slaves and bought rice fields for them to improve their lives. In the late 19th century, the community in Battambang was basically Vietnamese. In 1905, two Sisters of the Providence of Portieux went to Battambang and opened a cr?che, an orphanage and a hospital. A church, which was built on this property, was totally destroyed during the Khmer Rouge period.
The prefecture was established and entrusted to Monsignor Paul Tep Im Sotha on Sept. 26, 1968, but the clouds of war were already gathering and the American bombing of Cambodia began at this time. Conflict continued until the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh in April 1975, and then began the genocide of the Cambodian people. Among the millions of victims killed were Monsignor Sotha and Father Jean Badre, a French Benedictine, in May 1975 at Bat Trang in Mongkol Borei district of Banteay Mean Chey province in northwest Cambodia, near the border with Thailand.
With the return of the refugees in the early 1990s, Catholic communities in northwestern Cambodia began to gather and worship together. Many refugees received intense formation during their exile in Thailand, with the support and leadership of the MEP missionaries. Though property rights were lost during the years of turbulence and exile, the Catholic Church was able to buy back its property and building, formerly the hospital of the Providence sisters in Battambang. It has become an important pastoral center for nurturing the small communities back to full life.
The presence of JRA in Cambodia since the repatriation process began was also significant. After the peace agreement was signed and a democratically government installed, JRS was then taken over by Jesuit Service Cambodia (JSC) to continue its services in the prefecture.
Brother Noel Oliver, a former Jesuit, recalled the work of JRS in the Thai-Cambodia border camps: "As I see it, our presence on the border has been so essential all these years. However, this venture in Cambodia could not have been begun, but for the foresight of those who were convinced that a presence in Cambodia was essential if we wanted to work for the reintegration of all Cambodians in a spirit of reconciliation."
Because of the Jesuit commitment to Cambodia, the Holy See asked their Superior General to take the leadership of the Catholic Church in northwest Cambodia, and appointed Monsignor Figaredo as Apostolic Prefect of Battambang.
The prefecture is strategically located in the midst of immense social needs and challenges. At the border with Thailand are casinos, brothels, illegal logging, smuggling and an ever growing drug trade. The former Khmer Rouge territories are still heavily mined and have received little infrastructure investments. In Tonle Sap Lake, big fishing companies have affected the livelihoods of local fishermen, a large Vietnamese ethnic minority. In towns such as Siem Reap, where Internet cafes and foreigners abound, children are still driving their cattle through the main streets. Beggars are growing in numbers and boys sniffing glue are common.
It is important for the Catholic Church to prepare its members to live their faith in this setting. Therefore, it assists all who are left vulnerable and helps to develop a society that is more just and merciful.
The appointment of Jesuit Father Figaredo as prefect in 2000 launched a new era for the local Church.
In December 2001, Father Nget Viney was ordained a priest. He is the second Cambodian priest now assigned to the prefecture.