History of St. Benedict’s and Good Shepherdians | Sunday Observer

History of St. Benedict’s and Good Shepherdians

27 August, 2023

The recently launched book: Golden St Benedict’s & Shepherdians of Ceylon by Elmo Leonard is a simple, yet colourful historical document of the 60s and 70s and before of St Benedict’s College, Director/Principal of the school, Rev. Bro. Dr. Pubudu Rajapaksa said at its launch.

It is a labour of love and gives a human touch while not being seriously academic. The tide of history is partly human history. History could be seen positively or negatively, Bro. Pubudu said.

The history of St Benedict’s and Good Shepherd goes back to a period when the Catholic congregation were asked to contribute five cents a week (which was a substantial sum at the time) towards the construction of the two schools, Bro Pubudu said.

“The lost paradise will be regained, and you have contributed towards it; thank you Mr Leonard” the director of the educational institute said.

The writer responded that he had felt like Robert Knox who wrote An Historical Relations of Ceylon. Knox was imprisoned in the Kandyan Kingdom by Rajasinghe II and escaped after 19 years, in 1679. But, the book may be a step further for it gives pen sketches of hundreds of Benedictines and Shepherdians.

Also included in the book is a document: History of Achievements by General Secretary of OBU Shirley Tissera, whose account names the great Benedictines of the past.

Also comprised are extracts from St Benedict’s Magazines.

Francis D’ Almeida has written on Basketball and great coach Ram Sunderalingam. Athlete, Felix Dias on Mr Sunderalingam, the athletics coach. Tony Appathurai on cricket and hockey and the great coaches, Berty Wijesinghe and Brian Assey. And, Anton Abeyesekera Captain (1960) on hockey.

There are interviews with Errol Anthony on the greatest soccer team of 1961when the revered Albert Fernando was coach; Sunil Fernando (Captain) when in 1964 St Benedict’s were school cricket champions; Lionel Fernando (Captain) who according to Wisden set a world record for a day’s cricket performance.

A school is as great as its teachers and pen sketches are given of the great teachers of the past. Also, obituaries, including that of groundboy Rogus Perera who has shed most sweat for the 158-year-old school.

The book is dedicated to the late Bro Alexander FSC, reputed as the most loved Lasalian Brother:

Under the banyan tree,

The small man we see;

When in dreams of bliss,

Mere Benedictines we kiss,

That legend as it sprawls,

Upon St Benedict’s walls.

The book says that Lasalian education in Sri Lanka is unparalleled, in dedication and quality.

Compare, Kennedy Machado said that the Apostolic Nunciate, Archbishop Brian Udaugwe and Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith had excused themselves due to other commitments. Bro Pubudu quipped, that nonetheless, those present made up a prestigious gathering.

The founder editor of The Island and Times newspapers Vijitha Yapa under whom Lasantha Wickrematunge and Elmo Leonard had worked contributed an article to the book, on the assassinated Benedictine Lasantha Wickrematunge.

When first the manuscript of the book was read by director of Neptune Publishers, Shane Perera, he had presumed that it must be the first book in the world written about a boys’ and girls’ school.

The book was written with the global Benedictines in mind. It is scribed by a third generation Benedictine and is an attempt to preserve great St Benedict’s, its students, teachers and others in flesh and blood, historically, socially and culturally, and to inspire young Bens. To others, the book is a historical document of the past and is good for readers of all walks of life, besides the book boarders on being a good piece of literature.

A lamp it not lighted to be put under a bushel measure. Light up the Benedictines young and old in the island. And, the glow of that fire, will light up the Benedictines everywhere and truly light up the world.

Eric Motha who had read the book online writes: “I extend my congratulations on your compiling the book on St Benedict’s and Good Shepherd Convent. I am sure it will be warmly welcomed by Bens and Shepherdians in Sri Lanka and beyond. It fills a huge void and we owe our sincere thanks to you for taking on this herculean task. I am in Vancouver, Canada holding the Bens together. In the wrap of Benedictines, I echo “Well done Elmo.””

The writer in turn appealed to the global Benedictines and Shepherdians to purchase the book from the Director, and the Principal of the girl’s school, priced at Rs2,800. The publication is also available at all leading bookshops.

Shepherdian Michelle, the daughter of St Benedict’s teachers Randy and Maud Ratnayake read out the first chapter: The Mysticism of St Benedict’s.

Shepherdian Melanie Martel (nee Kern) announced the chapter IIX on Shepherdian Queens. The first Shepherdian Queen is Naomi Fernando, who was born in the 1930s and was the owner of Goldi brand products, which competed in the marketplace with other prestigious brands.

The second Shepherdian Queen is Wilma Schuelling who under the stage name of Wilma Singling turned professional vocalist.

The third Shepherdian Queen is Carman Philomena Solomonsz (86) whose Sri Lankan educational qualifications were not recognised when she migrated Down Under in 1962. So, Carmen Koelmeyer with two children to look after went back to an Australian school, then to University and became a university lecturer.

The other Shepherdian Queens named in the book are too many to be recounted.

The book says that St Benedict’s had a predecessor, Kottanchina Catholic Seminary set up 1838 in Wolfendhall, Colombo 13, which was moved lock stock and barrel and set up in its present location.

It is the work of a third generation Benedictine whose grandparents attended the college and the closely associated convent as the earliest students of both schools. At its inception in 1865, St Benedict’s had 450 students, the highest number of students in a school. The other two boys’ schools were Royal and S. Thomas’ College. Good Shepherd begun a few years later counted 100 students.

The historical “schools take over” in 1960 is carried in detail, and the resistance of the Catholics of Kotahena and on the “Catholic Belt (coastline) and the emergence of private schools; St Benedict’s being one.

Elmo Leonard presented Dilip Samarasinghe who delivered the vote of thanks as an academic who had all his education in England, France and the United States. Dilip, holds two honours degrees, one being from the university that Barak Obama is an alumni. Dilip has helped much academically in the book. Dilip’s sister and Professor of History, Wickremasinghe has been quoted, writing on the early days of St Benedict’s and Good Shepherd.