Very Rev. Fr. Joseph Emmanuel Wickremasinghe
By Algi Wijewickrema
A grateful Old Peterite
Fr. Wickremasinghe or Fr. Joe as he was affectionately known, and he must be one of the few Rectors who did not cop a nickname, presided over the affairs of St. Peter’s from 1978 to 1994.
The newly built sports pavilion at St. Peter’s College that is declared opened today, 01st of February 2019, is named after him and will be a fitting tribute to such a beloved Rector who took many an initiative to set St. Peter’s on a pedestal among educational institutes in Sri Lanka. Coincidentally his birthday happened to be just one day earlier, 31st January to be precise.
Born in Pamunugama, Fr. Wickremasinghe first came to St. Peter’s as the Priest in charge of the boarders in 1963 and was later appointed the Prefect of Studies and then as Prefect of Discipline. In an era when no student complained to parents about being caned at school, you dreaded his arrival in class to distribute report cards at the end of the term or being sent to his office for any misdemeanour committed. You were assured of what you deserved. However, he was always open to hear your side of the story and was accommodative, provided he was convinced.
During the Rectorship of Fr. Mervyn Weerakkody, while he was away on studies, though Fr. Basil Wiratunga was overlooking the affairs of College as Rector, it was Fr. Wickremasinghe who effectively ran the affairs of the College and that experience would definitely stood him in good stead later as events proved to be.
Fr. Joe left St. Peter’s in 1968 being appointed the General Manager of the Catholic Press but was destined to return to College in 1978, this time as Rector.
His accomplishments, while he was Rector of the College from 1978 to 1994, a period of 16 years, are too numerous to be detailed but suffice it to say that, that period of 16 years is now known as the Golden Era of St. Peter’s College.
For the benefit of the present-day student and the young Old Peterites who may not know much about his period of Rectorship, let me very briefly state a few of his achievements for St. Peter’s.
It was Fr. Wickremasinghe who met a need of the times through building a Vocational Training Centre inclusive a Computer Lab, which perhaps was a novelty in those early days of popularising computer studies in schools. He raised the single-story Science Laboratory building to a three-storied block, undertook the gigantic project of giving the Peterites a swimming pool which also required the completion of a three-storied primary school building and a new building for the canteen. To ensure academic achievements, he created scholarship funds to support students entering university and to assist him to manage school administration better he established a Board of Administration. The far-seeing Rector that he was, it was during his tenure as Rector that the first and only Branch of St. Peter’s College at Gampaha was opened.
What he was able to achieve in his 16 year stint stands testimony to his ability to garner the support of all stakeholders, students, staff, parents, Old Boys and well-wishers.
After his departure from St. Peter’s, Fr. Wickremasinghe was appointed Episcopal Vicar and perhaps it was the divine plan that he should be back at St. Peter’s in May 2006, just the day before his untimely death, presiding over the OBU’s Awards Ceremony as its Chief Guest.
Those of us who knew Fr. Joe Wickremasinghe were privileged to have been guided by a priest of God who was fully committed to raising College as an educational institute we can talk of with pride. As mentioned earlier, it is indeed fitting that this sports pavilion is dedicate to him and no doubt he will be sending his blessings on the Peterites.
P.S: What is your best memory of Fr. Joe Wickremasinghe? Please do leave your memories and tributes here at Quadrangle (or write to us on firstname.lastname@example.org)