History is an intellectual discipline practiced by historians who try to make sense of the past. Because history is about change, nothing was ever “always” a certain way. The definition of history is a story or tale of what has happened or may have happened in the past. This brings me to the recent publication ‘Till the Mountains Disappear’ by Avishka Mario Senewiratne, a proud young Josephian about the history of his alma mater – St. Joseph’s College Colombo. The book is co-authored by the late Rev. Fr. (Dr) Stanley Abeysekera, 10th Rector of the school.
At the outset, let me declare that I studied at St. Peter’s College, Colombo 4, but my late father, grand uncles, uncles, many cousins are alumni of St. Joseph’s College. My grand uncle Claude Wijesinghe captained the cricket team in 1934 & 1935 while my cousin, Brian Obeyesekere captained the cricket team in 1969. Many others indulged in other sports such as Rugby, Basketball, Athletics, etc., of which I am proud.
The book under review walks us through the colonial days of Ceylon in the 19th Century, when a system of education was evolving in our island nation. History tells us that foreign missionaries who were in the country were responsible for creating educational institutions – especially Roman Catholic schools. This sect were visionaries who made history by creating schools at the time that are leading educational institutions today. The book captures the pioneering efforts of a French Missionary, Most Rev. Dr. Christopher Bonjean OMI, first Archbishop of Colombo (1883-1892), in conceiving the idea of establishing a school in Colombo North. Sadly, Rev. Bonjean did not live to see the project to completion as he said farewell to this world on August 3, 1892, in Colombo. It was left to Rev. Fr. Charles Collin to continue the good work. The foundation stone was laid in 1894. On March 2, 1896, St. Joseph’s College, Colombo 10 was officially declared open with Fr. Charles Collin as the first Rector of the School. Rest is history.
What was of special interest to me as a Peterite was the monumental effort of Rev. Fr. Maurice J. Le Goc, Rector of St. Joseph’s College who envisioned a second Roman Catholic school in Colombo South and with this vision he found a piece of land on the land side of Galle Road, Colombo 4, which today stands St. Peter’s College. Fr. Le Goc was also a French Missionary having arrived in Ceylon in 1914, joining the staff of St. Joseph’s College. Fr. Le Goc was appointed Rector, St. Joseph’s College, in 1919.
The bond between St. Joseph’s College and St. Peter’s College is spiritual. The two schools are brothers of the same family. During the period under review in the book – 1896-2019, many noble priests like Rev. Fr. Nicholas Perera OMI, Rev. Fr. Peter Pillai OMI, Rev. Fr. Noel Crusz OMI, Rev. Fr. Victor Silva, Rev. Fr. Felician Perera, Bishop Anton Ranjith, Rev. Fr. Arthur Fernando, Rev. Fr. Mervyn Weerakkody, Rev. Fr. Travis Gabriel, Rev. Fr. Trevor Martin have crisscrossed between the two schools and taken both schools to the next level. We thank them for this.
The book also captures the events leading to the inaugural Josephian-Peterite Cricket Match a.k.a. “Battle of the Saints”. The contest has seen 86 exciting encounters over the years and is one of most awaited sporting events in the country’s calendar. The camaraderie that exists between the players at this annual event is testimony to the high standards maintained by the two schools. Organizing of this big event is done by a joint Committee inclusive of the two Rectors of the Colleges. The Prefects join the staff for a fellowship event as a prelude to the “big match”.
Kudos to Avishka Mario Senewiratne and the late Rev. Fr. (Dr) Stanley Abeysekera, in absentia, for their mision in chronicling the history of St. Joseph’s College. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Take care and stay safe!