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Centenary of the Arrival of Marist Brothers to Ceylon

28/03/2011: Sri Lanka

It was on 24 March 1911 that five Brothers, Peter Leo, Paul Leo, Francis Anthony, Jules Lawrence and Marie Chrysostom from Saint Denis Laval in France arrived in Sri Lanka, then Ceylon. These missionaries began their mission at St. Michael’s College Batticaloa, a school administered by the Jesuits.

The Brothers learnt English and Tamil, Tamil being the language spoken by the majority in the eastern region. Having learnt the local languages Marist pioneers laid the foundation of enculturation and soon moved from the east to the western part of the country. They who proved to be very audacious in their mission, spreading the Good News through the medium of education, came to Negombo at the invitation of Archbishop Coudert and were warmly welcomed by Very Rev. Fr. Milliner O.M.I. the then Parish Priest of Grand Street Negombo.

Their faith-filled hearts and vision enriched Marist mission in Ceylon. St. Mary’s College Negombo, Maris Stella College Negombo, Joseph Vaz College Wennappuwa, Christ King College Thudella, St. Joseph’s College Bandarawela are some the leading schools administered by Marist Pioneers. We should agree that era of English education began to fade out unfortunately as the state policy of Swabasha came into prominence. Not only Marist Brothers but also many religious orders lost their best of the schools along with their discipline and English education. What was done cannot be undone. Maris Stella the strong hold of Marist Brothers was the only school that was secured without being stolen.

Holy Cross College Kalutara another treasure of Marist Brothers that was nurtured, was also grabbed from their grip. At present Marist administration is treasured at St. Joseph’s College Nugegoda, and St. Mary’s College Chilaw. Yet Marist Brothers extend their service to the needy and the poor in Kalpitiya and Jaffna. People of Kalpitiya and the islands owe a debt of gratitude to Marist Brothers especially to Rev. Br. Lal Fonseka and Rev. Br. Laza for their yeoman service in this scorching sun. Rev. Brothers Nicholas and Francis serve the needy children in guiding and teaching them for their future well being.

Electro Vocational Institute run by the Marist Brothers in Negombo opens avenues for young school leavers and exam failures for vocational training and being well established in their respective skills here and abroad. Rev. Br. Victor Fernando along with his devout staff is turning the wheel ahead.

Renowned Marist Farm yet another Marist treasure and the Noviatite are located in Thudella. Sri Lankan, Indian and Pakistan Novices are formed under the watchful eyes of Rev. Bros Joseph Florentius and Godfrey Perera Some senior Brothers extend their brotherly hands to the parish activities at Haldanduwana in Chilaw Diocese.

Though I have not seen all those Pioneers and the early Brothers like Rev. Brothers Joseph, Julian, Lewis, and Conran I have known and associated with Brothers like Rev. Brothers Peter Berchmans, Paul Nizier, Valentine and Raphael, they provided me enough evidences as to how they have contributed to their chosen field of education. They are real educationists but simple great brothers in the true sense of the word. Rev. Br. Gerard Peiris (89), the most senior Brother of the present Congregation is also fondly remembered.

Being a proud Maristonian who was nurtured and well nourished, I am obliged to pen this appreciation of Marist Brothers who gifted me free education and formation, a priceless gift I treasure in abundance. Let this be a modest tribute to all Marist Brothers and especially to dearly beloved Rev. Br. Gregory Aloycious, the then Provincial and Principal of College who gifted me free admission and Rev. Br. Clinton Perera, the Principal throughout my school education and Rev. Br. Joseph Fonseka, my primary Principal, Rev. Br. Linus Fernando my teacher in primary grades and Rev. Br. Shanthi Liyanage, the Prefect of Boarders. These true illustrious of Saint Marcellin Champagnat who are behind my success are respectfully remembered.

If Br. Gregory Aloysius had not extended his sincere generous hands towards me and gifted me free education and all the other Brothers had not treated me equally and humanely with the affluent friends in the College and hostel, my destiny would have unquestionably been changed. I am ever grateful to Marist Brothers, the designers of my life, for what I am today. On many occasions people have inquired from me whether I was in a seminary somewhere. That is the formation that shaped my personality. Therefore I proudly say, “No I am a Maristonian.” That is the best reward I can offer to my Alma Mater. 

Br. Clinton Perera who is a brilliant scholar guided the destiny of Marist Stella for over twenty years and it was during that period of time that he, together with the staff geared the College up to a standard that was on a par with the best of any other school in the country. As the principal, he was especially hard on the students where discipline was concerned but he was dear to all of us. When he walked round the school in full majesty twice a day during the first period and after lunch interval, there was a pin drop silence in the entire school.  When he stood in front of the College chapel the entire school remained in great silence. We have experienced enough of that great silence and that was a part of our disciplinary formation. 

He is a martinet who demanded perfect discipline and that turned those Maristonians to be disciplinary. He trusted firmly that discipline and education are twin brothers who should walk abreast. That brilliant attitude brought glory to Maris Stella College and that transition expanded the student population rapidly.

Rev. Br. Joseph Fonseka, who is deeply religious as he is, saw to the spiritual welfare of all with great enthusiasm in his tenure as the Primary Principal. It was he who taught us to keep the rosary with us always, love the rosary and pray the rosary. Thank you Br. Joseph we still practice what you taught us. He has a place for everything. He looked for spick and span finish in everything done.

Rev. Br. Linus one of my primary grade teachers was a lover of picnics and passionately fond of long tours. Unless he organized all those annual trips many of us would have lost the opportunity of enjoying the beauty of Sri Lanka. We as old boys still cherish the sweet memories of our picnics to Yala, Wilpattu Nuwaraeliya etc.

Rev. Br. Shanthi Liyanage, the present Marist Provincial was my favourite prefect of boarders. He had a sympathetic ways in him. He did not give room for any discrimination. He was a real gentleman. Once he was my English teacher who coached me lucidly.

Rev. Br. Michael De Waas, who was the Provincial of Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan, is currently serving as a General Councillor of Marist Brothers in Rome. He is the first ever Sri Lankan who has been elevated to such a position in the Congregation.

Marist Brothers have done their best to inspire and mould young minds under their care according to the best of traditions of Marists and especially to the best of traditions of their Colleges. I have learnt that Marist Brothers when seeking for a location to initiate a College would essentially look out for space for a play ground. This is Marist style. They considered that education and sports should walk hand in hand.

Marist Brothers have designed and shaped the veterans of Maris Stella College in all the professions and fields under the sun and they stand firm and serve here and abroad as loyal Maristonians. May Marist Brothers in Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan (One Community) who solely contribute to the well being of education be blessed with vocations and guidance of the Holy Spirit to steer the wheel towards success.

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Ajith Perera – Wennappuwa

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