The year 1807 marked a new beginning for the Catholic Church in the Netherlands East Indies, as it came under the Apostolic Prefecture of Batavia.
On April 4, 1808, two diocesan priests from the Netherlands arrived at Batavia (now Jakarta). Based in Batavia, Father Jacobus Nelissen became the first head of the Catholic Church mission which covered the whole archipelago.
In 1842, the apostolic prefecture was elevated to apostolic vicariate with eight mission stations: Batavia, Semarang, Ambarawa, Yogyakarta, Surabaya, Larantuka, Maumere, and Padang.
Over the next 50 years, 31 diocesan priests came to the Netherlands East Indies. One of them was Father Caspar Johanes Hubertus Franssen, who was assigned to serve in Ambarawa, a region now part of Semarang archdiocese. But many of them returned to their homeland. In 1859, two Jesuit priests arrived in Batavia to assist the diocesan priests. During the time of apostolic prefect Monsignor Adamus Carolus Classens (1874-1893), only two diocesan priests remained. Then came 57 Jesuit priests, and with their coming, practically all pastoral works were handled by the Jesuits. In 1893, when Jesuit Father Walterus Jacobus Staal became apostolic vicar (1893-1897), evangelization work in Indonesia was handed over from diocesan to Jesuit priests.
A surprise turn of events occurred in 1903 when Sarikrama, a Javanese, his father-in-law, a hamlet chief, and three of the latter's staff members came from the Kalibawang area to meet Jesuit Father Franciscus van Lith in Muntilan and told him that they wanted to become Catholics. The five men were baptized on May 20, 1904, at St. Anthony Church in Muntilan. Barnabas Sarikrama and his father-in-law then introduced Catholicism to other people in Kalibawang. Thanks to their efforts, more people from Kalibawang embraced Catholicism. On Dec. 14, 1904, Father van Lith baptized 171 villagers in Sendangsono. This event is regarded as the birth of the Archdiocese of Semarang.Pope Pius XI appreciated Sarikrama's work by awarding him the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice papal medal. Sarikrama was the first Indonesian to receive the pontifical medal of honor.
Bishop Edmundus S. Luypen, then Apostolic Vicar of Batavia (1898-1923) and Jesuit superior, regarded the baptisms as a clear sign of the fruitfulness of Father van Lith's evangelization method. In his view, evangelization should start with the lowest level of the society, and use local tradition and culture (inculturation).
Father Petrus Hoevenaars -- a friend of Father Van Lith -- who worked in Mendut village in Central Java, also used the same approach. In six months, 62 villagers were baptized. By the end of 1903 the number of Catholics in Mendut had reached 300. On May 27, 1905, Father Hoevenaars was transferred to Cirebon, West Java, and several years later he was assigned to work in Surakarta in Central Java.
Surakarta and Yogyakarta proved to be fertile soil for the seeds of the Gospel. From these areas, Catholicism spread to other parts of the region. Today, most of the Catholics of Semarang archdiocese live in the two areas. The people there are still strongly influenced by their respective keraton (royal palace) and Javanese traditional and cultural values that had deeply taken root in people's lives.
Father van Lith, who initiated the inculturation process, saw that the cultural values posed no threat to Catholicism, and were not necessarily displaced by Catholicism. In the process, he gave priority to the use of Bahasa Jawa (Javanese language). In his view, the Javanese language was not only an instrument of communication, but also a crystallization of the Javanese people's view of the world and human. In Muntilan, where he was based, Father van Lith was the first Dutch missioner who could communicate with the Javanese people in their own language.
Rama van Lith (rama in Bahasa Jawa means "father"), as the priest was called, had great concern for the education of Javanese young people, which would enable them to hold important positions in society, and did his best to provide them with quality Christian education. He founded Kweekschool, a teacher training school, in Muntilan for boys, while in Mendut on Jan. 14, 1908, the Franciscan sisters founded a vocational school for girls.
The establishment of a minor seminary was another important event for the archdiocese. Three of the first six seminarians, who studied from 1911 to 1914, were ordained priests in 1926 and 1928. They were Jesuit Fathers Fransiskus Satiman, Adrianus Djajasepoetra (later Archbishop of Jakarta), and Albert Soegijapranata, SJ (later Archbishop of Semarang).
Brothers of Immaculate Conception (FIC) supported the mission work in the archdiocesan territory since the arrival of five of them from the Netherlands in September 1920. They were immediately assigned to teach at Hollandsch Inlandsche School, a Dutch-medium primary school for the indigenous elite during colonial time. With the coming of more members, FIC expanded its work to Muntilan in 1921, Surakarta in 1926, Ambarawa in 1928 and Semarang in 1934.
In January 1922, the Kanisius Printing House was set up, and FIC Brothers were entrusted to operate it.
On Sept. 9, 1923, Jesuit Father Starter founded the Catholic Woman Association. In the same spirit, some Catholics founded the Catholic Party in August 1923. The two events revealed the development of the local Church and the courage of Catholics in participating in the socio-political field.
Realizing the differences in situations between Batavia/West Java and Central Java, and for the sake of Church development, Pope Pius XII on Aug. 1, 1940, established the Apostolic Vicariate of Semarang and appointed Father Albert Soegijapranata its apostolic vicar. He was the first native bishop of Indonesia, well known for his episcopal motto, "Be 100 percent Catholic, and 100 percent Indonesian."
Archbishop Soegijapranata, SJ passed away in 1963. The Indonesian government declared him a national hero, and he was buried in the Giri Tunggal hero cemetery in Semarang. Archbishop Justinus Darmoyuwono (1964-1981) replaced him as Semarang archbishop. On June 26, 1967, Archbishop Darmoyuwono was installed cardinal. He was the first Indonesian cardinal. During his time, Semarang archdiocese was divided into four episcopal vicariates: Semarang, Kedu, Surakarta, and Yogyakarta. Cardinal Darmoyuwono died on Feb. 3, 1994 and was buried in Muntilan.
Archbishop Julius Darmaatmadja was the next archbishop and led Semarang archdiocese for 12 years (1984-1996). He was installed cardinal and moved to Jakarta to replace Jesuit Archbishop Leo Soekoto.