ST.ANTHONY’S COLLEGE CELEBRATES 170 YEARS

By A J M Mushtaq  –  Vice President   SACKOBA

The history of St. Anthony’s College   Kandy is a remarkable tale of resilience, dedication, and excellence. This prestigious institution’s journey began in the 19th century and has left an indelible mark on the education landscape of Sri Lanka.

Foundation and Early Years

Catholic missionaries first arrived in Kandy, despite the British colonial rule following the kingdom’s fall in 1815. Notably, it was Rev. Fr. Felice Zoppi, a Franciscan hailing from the Chinese missionary field, who ventured to Kandy in 1853 under the guidance of Monsignor Joseph Bravi. In 1854, he established an English school at the current location of St. Anthony’s Cathedral in Kandy, marking the birth of St. Anthony’s School. The school’s motto, “LUX DE COELO” meaning “Light from Heaven,” symbolized its noble mission.

In 1867, St. Anthony’s School received a Grant-in-Aid from the Schools Commission, thanks to the relentless efforts of Monsignor Hilarian Sillani, a scholarly and influential preacher from Italy. Abbot Pancrazi, the Superior of St. Anthony’s Monastery, played a pivotal role in acquiring the school’s property in Kandy. Monsignor Clement Pagnani constructed the first Boarding House in 1876.

The student population at St. Anthony’s experienced significant growth during these early years. By 1884, it had doubled, and by 1894, the school had become a well-established educational institution in Kandy. Prominent figures such as Rev. Fathers D. H. Vandestraaten, D. Paul Perera, and D. M. Craner, as well as Mr. R. P. Jansz, contributed to the school’s success during this period.

A Legacy of Principals and Expansion

Fr. Hilarion Leitan OSB was appointed as Principal in 1892, marking the beginning of an unbroken chain of Benedictine Priest Principals. Fr. Maurus Craner, the first Old Boy Principal, served from 1898 to 1906.

In a relatively short time, Brothers Rev. Frs. Phillip Caspersz (Principal 1907-1914) and James Caspersz (Principal 1916-1921) elevated the school’s status to that of a college. They introduced sports like cricket, football, and hockey to the curriculum. The first Prize Giving ceremony took place in 1907, and in 1914, St. Anthony’s College triumphed in the first Trinity-Antonian Cricket encounter.

The College’s first journal, “St. Anthony’s Annual,” debuted in 1908 and was later renamed “The Antonian” in 1916. In December,1910 the Old Boys’ Association was founded by Rev. Fr. Basil Hyde, who would later serve as Principal from 1915-16. Rt Rev Bishop Beekmeyer was the first president of the OBA.

The introduction of boxing in 1914 added another dimension to the school’s sporting achievements. During Fr. James Caspersz’s tenure, the school underwent significant expansion, including the opening of a new wing in 1916, complete with laboratory facilities for Physics and Chemistry.

Official Recognition and Academic Excellence

In 1917, the Department of Education officially recognized St. Anthony’s as a fully organized secondary school. The Prize Giving of 1917 was held under the patronage of Sir Alexander Wood Renton, the Chief Justice of Ceylon. The school excelled in sports, with notable achievements by Jack Anderson in inter-school cricket.

Outstanding Sporting Achievements and Relocation

Jack Anderson made history as he set remarkable records in school cricket:

– Record individual score in Ceylon cricket: 291 runs against St. Thomas College in 1918.

– Record partnership in Ceylon cricket: 257 runs with MV Fernando against Wesley College in 1918.

– Record total score in a school season: 926 runs in 1918.

– 1,000 runs in one season in just 8 matches.

Jack Anderson

Jack Anderson’s 291 against St. Thomas’ College in Mt. Lavinia was the highest individual score in school cricket for 75 years. In  addition to cricket, the College produced champion boxers such as L. V. Jayaweera, Robert Wright, N. H. Keerthirathne, and Dicky Tenant. During the years 1919-1924, the College won the coveted Stubbs Shield in boxing on three occasions.

  1. V. Jayaweera was a notable double international, excelling in both boxing and cricket. Besides, he was the highest wicket-taker in school cricket during the 1920 season.

The College’s cadet movement started in 1912, and it was officially recognized the following year. The school’s crowning success came in 1926 when the College won the prestigious “De Soyza Cup” for the best cadet squad. Scouting was introduced to the College in 1916, emphasizing character development and leadership.

During the 1920s, the current College Anthem, “Rally Round the Banner of the College,” came into use, composed by an Old Antonian, Charles Robinson.

In 1921, Rev. Fr. Lawrence Hyde, an Old Antonian, succeeded Fr. James Caspersz as the Principal. This marked the beginning of a new era for St. Anthony’s College. Fr. Hyde sought a more spacious site for the College, and in 1927, Bishop Beekmeyer purchased 27 acres of the Dunuwila Walauwa at Katugastota, later adding six more acres. This site, with  majestic Mahaweli River, picturesque views of Hunnasgiriya and Hantana, and sprawling countryside, was a fitting location for the school.

The Colombo branch of the Old Boys’ Association was established in 1926. The school underwent extensive reconditioning in 1927, and on January 16, 1928, the Junior Boarders were installed. On January 29, 1928, the place was consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Mr. PBA Weerakoon, Brother  Columban Macky, Brother Lysons, Brother Joseph, and Brother Timothy were integral members of Fr. Hyde’s team. The Staff Guild was formed in 1922, with Rev. Fr. Robert Perera as the first President.

Academic Excellence and Expansion

In his mission to transform the school, Fr. Hyde constructed the first set of classrooms along the river, now housing the Primary department. A significant milestone was achieved when St. Anthony’s obtained a 100% pass rate in the London Matriculation examinations in 1934, creating a record in the British Empire.

Main parallel building blocks were opened in 1935, and the school’s playground began to take shape. Rev. Fr. D. J. M. Berenger, an Old Boy, initiated a scholarship fund to assist needy students. The Old Antonian Football team, led by George Mackey, won the “Winchester” and “Miller” cups in the Kandy League for several years.

In 1938, the prestigious “Bede Gold Medal” was introduced, awarded to the best all-round student. “The Eagle” was introduced as the highest Antonian award for sports. Maroon,Dark Blue & Light Blue are the school colours. The present house system was introduced in 1930s.

Exile during World War II and the Return

During World War II, on March 19, 1942, the school had to evacuate due to government orders, as it was repurposed as a military hospital. The school continued to function, albeit scattered across various locations, mostly in the premises of  Mr. PBA Weerakoon.

Post-War Era and Expansion

After a 22-year tenure, Fr. Lawrence Hyde retired in 1944, succeeded by Fr. Angelo Rosati. The ceremonial return to College premises took place in 1946. Fr. Theopane Wickramaratne was instrumental in constructing key facilities such as the hostel units ” Rainbow Cottage,”  ” Villa,” “Mansion,” and also the Refectory,”  Tuck Shop and the Chapel.

Fr. Rosati’s personal efforts during his visits to the USA and the UK resulted in well-equipped laboratories. In 1947, the school was upgraded to a Grade 1 school, and in 1951, it became an Assisted school. The Silver Jubilee celebrations of the OBA Colombo branch were held in 1951, with Prime Minister Hon. D. S. Senanayake as the Chief Guest.

In 1954, St. Anthony’s College celebrated its centenary in grand style. The foundation stone for the Centenary Hall was laid in 1952.By this time, the school had over 1,600 students and 70 teachers. The centenary prize-giving was held with the patronage of Viscount Soulbury, the last British Governor-General.  Sir Oliver Goonetileka, the Governor-General, presided over the Centenary Dinner.

The school’s centenary magazine, masterfully compiled and edited by the esteemed Old Antonian teacher Mr. George Denlow, received accolades from Viscount Soulbury for its excellent and comprehensive historical account.

New Achievements

In 1956, St. Anthony’s College cricket captain Wije Premaratne was named the “Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year” when the award was first introduced. Rugby was also introduced to the school in the same year.

The iconic College hall was declared open by the Governor-General, Sir Oliver Goonetileka, on September 5, 1957. However, a week later, the school experienced a significant loss with the untimely demise of Fr. Rosati, the dynamic Principal, marking the end of an epoch-making era at St. Anthony’s.

Challenges and Resilience

Fr. Hilarion Rudolph, an Oxonian, succeeded Fr. Rosati as the Principal and served until 1961 when the reins were handed over to Fr. D. I. Robinson. During this period, the “Schools Takeover” was announced, and the government allowed the school to continue operating privately without the right to levy fees. The school faced numerous challenges and relied on donations from Old Boys, parents, and well-wishers. Despite these adversities, the college continued to excel in both academics and sports.

Charlie Joseph was selected as the “Schoolboy Cricketer” for two consecutive years, 1959 and 1960, for his outstanding performance in school cricket. Franklyn Burke was named the “Schoolboy Cricketer” in 1962, marking the fourth occasion that St. Anthony’s had received this title within seven years of the contest’s inception.

By this time, the college hostel was functioning with over 500 students coming from various parts of the island.

A Remarkable Legacy

In 1967, Rev. Fr. Aidan de Silva, an Old Antonian, was appointed Principal. He played a significant role in the construction of the  swimming pool, the first in a Kandy school,and the  the Maths Lab. Fr. Aidan also introduced the Annual Colours Night and completed a new turf wicket in 1970. The College Council was inaugurated in 1972. Bernard Perera was the “Schoolboy cricketer of the year ‘ in 1976.

However, in 1977, the school was vested with the state following unfortunate incidents, and Fr. D. L. Amerasinghe served as the acting Principal. In early 1979, Rev. Fr. Stephen Abraham assumed the role of Principal after continuous representations from the OBA.

Fr. Stephen Abraham organized a grand exhibition to mark the 125th anniversary of the College in 1979. The Prize Giving was held under the patronage of H.E.  J. R. Jayawardena, the first Executive President of Sri Lanka. Prime Minister R. Premadasa presided over the Prize Giving, the following year and donated a two-storied block of classrooms, which he personally opened in 1982.

St. Anthony’s College began functioning as a provincial school after the provincial council system came into effect in the late 1980s.

In 1982, the Colombo branch of the OBA initiated a grand project to construct an Indoor Sports and Pavilion Complex. Due to challenges posed by the country’s situation in the aftermath of the 1983 riots, fundraising was difficult, and the project only took off in 1989. The first stage of the project, named the “Bishop Leo Nanayakkara Sports and Pavilion Complex,” was completed in 1992 and handed over to the College. The second stage, named the “Jack Anderson Pavilion,” was declared open in 1993.

Fr. Stephen Abraham’s tenure was another glorious era for Antonian sports. The College excelled in cricket, rugby, badminton, table tennis, basketball, and chess. Several Antonian sportsmen represented national teams, with Mahes Gunathilleka included in the first Test Cricket team and Priyantha Ekanayake, leading the national rugby team for ten years. Muttiah Muralitharan,  went on to become the highest wicket-taker in the history of the game.

In 1991, Muttiah Muralitharan was named the “Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year.” The Bata/Observer award ceremony in 1991 saw St. Anthony’s winning multiple awards, including the Best All Island team, with Nuwan Kalpage as the captain, and recognitions for Muralitharan, Sajith Fernando, and Nuwan Kalpage.  Sajith Fernando was selected as the “Schoolboy Cricketer” in 1992.

In table tennis, St. Anthony’s produced three National Champions in Mahinda Dandeniya, Christopher Arnolda, and Umesh de Alwis. Antonians also achieved notable results in badminton tournaments from the mid-1980s to the first decade of the new millennium. Old Antonian Udaya Weerakoon became the National Champion in 1988.

Milestones and Celebrations

In 1992, St. Anthony’s College commemorated a century of unbroken tradition with a solemn Holy Mass and a special edition of “The Antonian” magazine, paying homage to the unwavering dedication of its OSB priests who served as Principals. Notable figures like Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe graced the Prize Giving ceremony in 1994, highlighting the school’s esteemed reputation.

In 1995, the OBA Colombo branch published the “Antonian Connection,” a directory honoring the school’s alumni network. Rev. Fr Stephen Abraham’s retirement in 1994 after fifteen years of service marked a transition to Rev. Fr Hilarian Fernando’s leadership. Fr Stephen’s steadfastness in upholding the school’s values during challenging times demonstrated exemplary courage and administrative acumen.

The school saw remarkable infrastructural developments, including the completion of the pavilion complex in 2000 and the Elkaduwa Block in 2001. Support from the Central Provincial Council led to the construction of a new block for the Primary School in 2003, alongside the inauguration of the Sesquicentennial block. By 2004, St. Anthony’s boasted a student body of over 2,700 and 126 teachers. Another notable feature was the crowning of the college first XV rugby team as League champs in 2001.

March 2004 marked the grand celebration of the school’s 150th anniversary, featuring a series of events spanning a year. The festivities, including a High Mass and a cultural pageant depicting the school’s history, culminated in a Gala Dinner attended by dignitaries and overseas alumni. Over 100 distinguished Old Antonians were honored, and a commemorative stamp was issued to mark the occasion. The Prize Giving was graced by H E Chandrika Kumarathunga, President of Sri Lanka.A new Swimming Pool was gifted to the school by the President .

Rev  Fr. Titus Rodrigo was appointed  Principal in 2006.  In 2011, the centenary of the Old Boys’ Association was celebrated with pride. The construction of the seven storied building ,a concept of Rev Fr Titus Rodrigo was commenced in 2015.

Rev. Fr. Henry Bernard Wijerathne OSB, was appointed Principal in 2013,  The annual “INDU ABHIMAN” Arts festival commenced in 2014, enriching the cultural tapestry of the school and also the cadet band was commissioned.

Throughout its 170 years journey, St. Anthony’s College has remained a beacon of excellence in education, fostering an inclusive environment regardless of religious denomination. Its distinguished alumni, including bishops, statesmen, civil servants, scientists, entrepreneurs, war heroes and sportsmen attest to its enduring impact.

Today, St. Anthony’s College stands as a testament to dedication and excellence, guided by a priest principal of the OSB order and supported by a passionate community of educators and a vibrant fraternity of alumni both locally and internationally.

About Sujith Silva

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