By Kavinka Fernando
St. Joseph’s College, Colombo 10 will be celebrating its quasquicentennial in March 2021. To commemorate this magnificent milestone, it was announced that former Josephian Neil Wijeratne would be leading the way in documenting its history and heritage. This was announced on the back of a press release held at the school premises on Tuesday, the 8th of September 2020 which also announced plans of restorations of school premises.
St. Joseph’s College was founded in March 1896 with a mere 211 students receiving education but now w
elcomes more than 4500 students through its gates. Serving as its first-ever Rector, Frenchman Rev. Fr. Charles Collin’s vision of educating Catholic boys with Catholic values in a Catholic atmosphere lives on to this day. And so, to delve deeply into the archives of such a profound history, one would require an experienced mind with intimate knowledge about the school and storytelling to make sense of it all. And who better than one of their own – Neil Wijeratne. His long-time friend and fellow Josephian and former Jospehian Cricket Captain and Lawyer Hector Perera did the honours of sharing Neil’s illustrious career profile to the audience.
Neil Wijeratne, Attorney-at-Law, is a distinguished old boy of the College and a writer of repute. The book will be Published on the 125th anniversary in 2021. Neil joined College in 1956 and left in 1970. His career in authorship began while he was still a student at Darley Road, releasing his first book, a Sinhala language novel titled “Meeduma Atharin” (“Through the Mist”) in 1968 followed by his second book, “Mal Wessak Wasina Thura”. A practicing lawyer, Wijeratne has gone on to publish bilingual books on varied subjects such as novels, short stories, Indian travel experience and sports history. Looking at his sports-related books, one may suggest that his heart lies with rugby and cricket which included “Sevens Saga”, “Batting on a Matting Wicket” and “Deveni Inima” among others. Featured is also “Rugby Across the Straits – Rugby Football Links Between Sri Lanka and India”, a book which speaks about the rather unknown bond between the neighbouring countries paying homage to the sport.
In 1997 he was invited by the premier rugby club ‘CR & FC’ to compile and edit its 75th anniversary souvenir. He also played a part in the centenary celebrations of Havelock Sports Club where he authored “Journey of 100 years”. He had the privilege of being the first honorary recorder of the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union in 1988 and was recently the honorary recorder for the Board of Control for Sri Lanka Cricket. In 2005 he was called upon to the screening committee of Sri Lanka rugby Hall of Fame. However, the icing on the cake was made in 1988 where Wijeratne was bestowed honorary life membership by the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union in recognition of his services to sports as a historian. He currently serves as the Chairman of the Appeal Board of Sri Lanka rugby.
As such, one would observe that Wijeratne is no stranger to compiling and sorting out historical facts and figures as he has done so for some of Sri Lanka’s most prestigious institutions.
Speaking to the Quadrangle Magazine where he is no stranger as he is also on the editorial board of the Magazine since inception in 2014, Wijeratne said that he never expected such an opportunity to repay his alma mater. “I am sure that this will require lots of research as it is one of the biggest projects I have undertaken to-date”, Wijeratne commented. He directed his thanks towards the Rector, Rev. Fr. Ranjith Andradi, Rev. Fr. Ruwan Deshapriya and those involved in giving him this opportunity.
Quadrangle Magazine spoke to Rev. Fr. Ruwan Deshapriya, leader of committee of the chronicle launch, and his thoughts on the event and what the Josephian spirit is about – especially on its 125th year running. “St. Joseph’s College has been one of the most outstanding schools in Sri Lanka since its establishment. Rectors such as Rev. Fr. Collins, Rev. Fr. Maurice LeGoc (also the founder of St. Peter’s College, Colombo 04), Rev. Fr. Peter Pillai were considered legends”, Fr. Deshapriya stated. “Their contribution towards the upbringing of well-rounded students in St. Joseph’s and the Catholic Community in Sri Lanka was highly regarded.”
When asked about the few past pupils he would pick out as ‘outstanding’ who truly brought pride to the Josephian family, he replied with high profile names such as Rev. Fr. Marceline Jayakody known as the ‘Priest of the Buddhist Temple’ due to his undying influence on bridging these two faiths in Sri Lanka, His Excellency late Ranasinghe Premadasa former President of Sri Lanka and current Sri Lanka Cricket Captain Dimuth Karunarathne as well as the former Captain Angelo Mathews. One cannot argue with those answers, to say the least. Commenting on Rev. Fr. Jayakody, otherwise known as the ‘Priest of the Buddhist Temple’ due to his undying influence on the two religions in Sri Lanka, he stated that Rev. Fr. Jayakody was a pillar of strength when it came to preaching the teachings of Roman Catholicism in the country and the Josephian Community were very proud of the moulding of such a fine individual.
This could be extended with many more names such as first ever Cardinal in Sri Lanka His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Cooray, first Ceylonese officer to Command the Army Major Gen. Anton Muttukumaru, founder and leader of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) Mr. G.G Ponnambalam, first Sri Lankan in the British and European Parliament Mr. Nirj Deva. Fr. Deshapriya went on to mention that there is an endless list of such prominent Old Boys who have gone on to make their College, Community and Country proud in the world stage and said these are just a few such distinguished Old Joes.
Fr. Deshapriya, commenting on the significance of the date of the announcement event, said “The 8th of September is Our Blessed Mother’s Birthday, and since the school is heavily influenced by Her as a role model, we thought of having the event on this date”. He also wished Neil Wijeratne all the absolute best in the task handed to him and his warmest wishes go out to those involved.
We also spoke to Mr. Shehan Fernando, Senior Vice President of the St. Joseph’s College Old Boys’ Union (OBU) and Mr. Anslem Perera, a senior Old Josephian who is also involved with the 125th Anniversary celebratory arrangements, he is also the founder and Managing Director of Mlesna Tea. Mr. Fernando, commenting on the makeover school will receive, stated that a four-storey building for player accommodation will be built along with two rooftop cricket indoor nets and will be called ‘LeGoc-Peter Pillai Complex’ and will be completed during the course of 2021. “The College will also invest in Digital Education, with the help of the Welfare Association, and along with the contribution of Alumni, to provide ‘smart boards’ for students. The first building – the Clock Tower, will also be restored by Mr. Preethiraj de Silva with Mr. Lakshman Rodrigo overseeing the renovation of the church. He also stated that a schedule will be provided to accommodate Josephians stationed abroad to visit and participate in the celebrations.
Rev. Fr. Rector has appointed several Old Boys to work closely with him and the College administration and take charge of several projects, as mentioned above and also includes Mr. Shehan Fernando himself as he is in charge of the ‘Legoc-Pillai Complex’ and Mr. Rajive Silva has been appointed to look into the Digital Transformation Program of St. Joseph’s College where the first phase which is the implementing a Learning Management, already in place thanks to the assistance of Old Joes in New South Wales led by Mr. Chrys Fernando who has come forward during the lockdown, also highlighted the role of the Welfare association who has undertaken to continue its financial support. Fr. Rector went on to mention that the second phase which is the introduction of smart-boards and smart-classrooms is progressing well, with Welfare Association again stepping in to financially assist this transformational project.
As a message going out to all blue and white faithful, Mr. Anslem Perera emphasised on the importance of funding needed for the event. “Be generous about funding”, he said. “Even though this is not a period to spend a lot, but whatever you can, give it with a big heart as any amount will be greatly appreciated.”
The 125th Jubilee chronicles will be an epic publication which we all would look forward to and no doubt the Anniversary Celebrations would be held at St. Joseph’s College in grandeur and also among Josephian fraternity spread around the world will be eagerly waiting to join in.
Here’s our best wishes to Mr. Neil Wijeratne for his undertaking of this herculean task and also to Rector Rev. Fr. Ranjith Andradi, his staff and Josephians young and old wishing for God’s choicest blessings to stage a memorable 125th Anniversary celebration in 2021!
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