The Story of St. Benedict’s By Bro. Anselm Calixtus - Page II
On 20th March, 1905 St. Benedict’s had the pleasure of a special visit from their Excellencies Sir Henry and Lady Blake accompanied by Lord Herschell (Ad. Private Sec.) Their Excellencies visited some 26 classes and saw the boys and teachers at their normal work, and inspected the specimens of paintings and drawings of the Art students and the bookkeeping exercises of the Commerce Department whose ‘popularity and success were on the increase’ for in the first year 9 candidates had been presented for the Examination in Shorthand, of whom, 8 had received the Pitman Certificates, and the following year, 24 out of 26 had secured them. The Commerce students had had shorthand and Typewriting tournaments before panels of judges. B. Fernando, Harry de Silva, W. O. Stephen and R. Peiris had distinguished themselves in the twin arts of the tournaments.
“It is a great pleasure to me, Bro. Christian,” remarked the Governor at the end of his casual visit, “to come and see these bright boys…I am glad I have had an opportunity of visiting this Institution and seeing its admirable class rooms and excellent arrangements.”
According to Bro. Christian’s Prospectus of St. Benedict’s, a young gentleman received a superior English, Commercial, and Scientific education. A paternal direction and an enlightened vigilance was aimed at in the School’s educational system. The mild, yet firm discipline, that was maintained in the school was to evoke noble sentiments, a taste for study, a cultivation of the heart and the formation of the Christian gentleman. The students were prepared for the Senior and Junior Cambridge University Local Examinations and also for the Government Clerical and Commerce Examinations overseas.
The students’ work was controlled and stimulated through frequent class examinations and competitions and monthly testimonials of merit based on such examinations. The parents were requested “to ask for the children’s testimonials and to use them as the standard for their pocket money.” The school too, rewarded those who distinguished themselves in their good conduct and application to study. Piano and Violin lessons were given as “optional extras.”
The O.B.U. Annual reported that the Institution’s Art Exhibition of 1905 under the direction of Bro. Cassian was ‘far superior in every way to anything of the kind seen in Colombo.’ A good many had even hazarded the opinion that ‘it surpassed the yearly exhibition of the Society of Arts.’
Bro. Christian’s regime also witnessed the opening of two branch schools in Colombo: St. Joseph’s School, Grandpass, and De La Salle School, Mutwal, to cater for the poor. St. Vincent de Paul society was inaugurated and the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York Scholarship for the best candidate in the Junior Cambridge University with Class Honours or Distinction was established and won early from 1901-1905 by P. M. A. Corea, Austin Dabrera, S. M. X. Corea, R. A. Fernando, and J. Edward Felix, respectively. In 1907, the De La Salle Literary Union’s Reading Room and Library was opened by His Excellency Mgr. Ladislaus Zaleski, the Delegate Apostolic.
Bro. Christian had brought St. Benedict’s to the limelight, the School roll had risen to 1000 and he had won for the Institution a fair name before he left the Island in answer to the call of his Superiors, and the School’s bard poured out his ‘Adieu’ in verse.
“Tho’ deep the waters may divide us,
Fresh anxieties surprise:
Firmer bonds shall now unite us
As our prayers do heavenward rise.
Then adieu! We say good courage:
God is found where’er we roam;
May He safely guard your voyage,
Fill with blessings your new home.”
“A real Brick…”
Bro. Christian’s able assistant was Bro. Cassian of Jesus (Joseph Perumal). He was himself an Old Boy and a Sodalist at St. Benedict’s. He became a La Sallian Brother in 1870 and remained at St. Benedicts throughout his religious and teaching career of 42 years, serving his Alma Mater in various capacities ranging from that of Class teacher to Administrator as Pro-Director. He was Art Master, Architect and Builder, Vice-President for the Marian Sodality as also of the Old Boys’ Union and Editor of the Annual.
“No one has ever had more at heart the success of the College; no one has worked with more ardour to promote its interests, than Bro. Cassian,” remarked Bro. Camillus in his Prize-Day Speech in December 1912.
In Thomas Jayakody’s Chronicles of the Recent Doings of the Darkies in the O.B.U. Annual 1909, Bro. Cassian is eulogized as follows:--
“And among these followers (the Brothers) there was one whose inventive and organizing abilities were phenomenal, who was second to none in the Fair Island of Lanka in the art of drawing and designing.
“And this self-same follower was known by more names than one. The public press called him the ‘Inventive Genius,’ his personal friends referred to him as “so old and yet so young,” and yet others called him the “Walking Book of Reference.”
Indeed, he was a versatile genius and a real Brick among the bricks he baked in Nuwara Eliya to construct a holiday house and Infant Jesus Chapel on Nazareth Hill. When he died in December 1913, the Old Boys buried his heart in the artistic little Infant Jesus Chapel which remains a fitting memorial to his name.
Re-Organization of Curricula
The Irish Bro. Marcian James had looked after St. Benedict’s during Bro. Christian’s holiday in America in 1906. When the latter finally left Ceylon for America in 1908, Bro. Dotto Sylvester (1908-1909), also an Irishman, came to the helm of affairs at the College. He undertook a revision of the School Syllabus giving Experimental Science a place in the Curriculum as the subject had been introduced into the Ceylon Centre of the Cambridge Local Examination. He remarked: “Our boys have a great liking for this branch of study but our only regret is the want of room for the practical part of science.” The revised Curriculum of Studies was, moreover, conditioned by the new ‘Block Grant’ system of payments to be based on average attendance of the pupils instead of on the system of payment by results. In the latter scheme, nevertheless, the school had presented 596 boys in eight standards in 1908 and had passed 93 percent of them. In the Cambridge University Local Exams 27 boys had been successful – 6 seniors and 21 juniors.
The College was re-grouped in Standards and Forms. The first four standards became the Preparatory or Lower School, and five forms leading up to the Cambridge Senior made up the Upper or Secondary School.
In 1909, Bro. Camillus Eugene, a dynamic Frenchman of extraordinary vitality, resourcefulness, and administrative ability, assumed duties as head of St. Benedict’s (1909-1915). Under his immediate predecessors the College had grown fast and had waxed strong. Bro. Camillus, who had taken stock of the fruits of the Institution, set about working with a will to enhance its prestige yet more. The school was then a gracious matron of well-nigh fifty years, a mother of many promising children some of whom, like Advocate (later Justice) T. E. de Sampayo, K.C., B.A., LL.B., Advocate C. M. Fernando, M.A., LL.M., M.R.A.S., J.P., the first Crown Counsel of the Island, Dr. H. M. Fernando, Attapattu Mudaliyar H. A. Perera, E. G. Jayawardene, M.M.C., L. B. Fernando, M.M.C., Dr. C. Brito Babapulle, Dr. P. Muttukumaru, P. M. A. Corea, G. C. Rambukpotte, B. O. Pullenayagam and D. A. Kekulawela, had already distinguished themselves in their respective spheres of influence or in academic activity.
With the assistance of His Grace Dr. Anthony Coudert, he built additional classrooms. The two-storey block was extended for a larger boarding department that took in a hundred boarders, under the Prefects Brothers Philip and Edwin. Utilizing Rs. 500/- of the Grant he equipped the Physics and Chemistry Labs for Brothers Abel and Octave, his chief Science teachers. With the co-operation of his devoted band of teachers, whom he enthused and thanked “for the readiness with which they fell into my plans and the goodwill and zeal they brought to their work,” Bro. Camillus produced the most magnificent academic results St. Benedict’s had known, in Science and Mathematics.
Scholarships, Prizes and Exhibitions
The College rose to the fore-front with its brilliant results in the Cambridge University Examinations. G. Weeramantry blazed the trail, coming out on the top of the list of Ceylon candidates, with first class Honours and five distinctions in the Senior in 1911. His feat was repeated by U. D. R. Caspersz in 1912. In the Junior, L. D. John Telesphor who had also scored first class Honours and five distinctions, secured the first place among all the candidates in Experimental Science as Caspersz had done the previous year, and won the coveted Hewavitarne Science Prize. Basil de Silva won an Exhibition.
This was not all. The first time St. Benedict’s presented candidates in the London Inter-Science Examination it secured two out of the five passes for the Island; L. D. Alexander passed and G. Weeramantry won the University Scholarship to prosecute his higher studies in England. Eventually both scholars proceeded to England together. Right through Bro. Camillus’ years, and down to 1919, several other Benedictines rose to the heights emulating Weeramantry and Alexander to win the laurels in prizes and exhibitions in Science and Mathematics. In the Roll of Honour appeared other names of Scholars: L. D. J. Telesphor, A. W. R. Joachim, E. St. J. Caspersz, S. A. Muller and the name of the prodigious Peter A. Pillai who secured distinctions in all the subjects he offered in both Junior and Senior Examinations with the Scholarships that followed in consequence. In 1912, seventeen Seniors and thirty-three Juniors passed their exams.
Similarly, in the Pitman Examinations, the Commerce Department held its end up with a crop of fine results. In both Pitman Exams of 1912, fifty-six certificates were won, including eighteen first class Speed Certificates (two for 100 words a minute). The Pitman Committee awarded 9 prizes on those results.
Two Distinguished Dignataries
For Physical Education, a Cadet Corps was formed. Fair achievements were recorded at Cricket; at the Empire Sports and Games, thanks to Bro. Cyril’s training, the Jayawardene Tug-O’-War Shield was won from Ananda and St. Thomas’ Colleges.
There was all-round efficiency in the several departments of the College; and Bro. Camillus was really fortunate to have a large number of Brothers (27) in his Community. The Marian and Sacred Heart Sodalities were over forty years old and counted a membership of 300 and 400, respectively. Bro. Philip, (later Sub-Director), kept his Silver Jubilee as a Religious in 1912.
By 1910 there were over 400 members in the Alumni Union. Among them was the first Ceylonese Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Bede Beckmeyer, O.S.B., Bishop of Kandy, consecrated in June 1912. There were no less than twenty priests, religious and secular, and half a dozen De La Salle Brothers; there were a number in the learned professions and in the mercantile and clerical services. A few were Mudaliyars.
St. Benedict’s entertained a distinguished prelate, His Grace the Most Revd. Dr. A. Dontenwill, Archbishop of Ptolemais and Superior General of the Oblate Fathers, who presided at the College Prize-Giving in 1912.
During that time the Education Committee on Higher Education was collecting evidence from principals of leading schools in the Island. Bro. Camillus, too, gave his evidence, though meagre, on keeping the status quo regarding the Cambridge Examinations. He did not favour the extended use of the Vernaculars in English Schools for fear that the Standard of English in them would be lowered. Quite a number of the members of the Ceylon Educational Association supported his views.
For a time Bro. Camillus was Examiner of French at the Pre-Medical Examination, conducted by the Medical College. Thus during his period he accomplished much to the satisfaction of many and to the glory of St. Benedict’s. He left Ceylon in 1915, but did return in 1924, as the second Provincial of the De La Salle Brothers.
Towards the end of 1913 the Department of Public Instruction had been re-named the Education Department and its head, the Director of Education. This change had been suggested by the Education Commission of 1912. By 1915 other Educational Changes had come: there were Junior and Senior Cambridge School Certificate Exams and an Elementary School Leaving Certificate Examination for those who did not follow a Secondary Science course. The Hewavitarne (Expt. Sc.) Prize which was awarded till 1917 was to be split into two prizes of Rs. 50/- each to be awarded to the best all-round candidate at the E. S. L. C. Exam of March and October, respectively. St. Benedict’s presented pupils for these exams and for the London Inter-Science and Pitman Examinations.
A Popular Figure
After Bro. Camillus, Bro. Cyprian was Director (1915-1917). With his partiality for music and cricket he soon became a popular figure. St. Benedict’s became Cricket Champions and the Cadets won both the De Zoysa Challenge Shield and the Cup for Squad Drill.
In 1915 ten had passed the E.S. L. C., in 1916, there were 13 passes.
There was a Shorthand Workers Association to which past and present pupils became eligible for membership. The Upper School had its Secondary Department (Forms I – III) where Mathematics, French and Science were taught, and an Elementary Department (Stds. V – VIII) having Arithmetic, History and Geography as subjects. Bro. Cyprian had a Staff of 43 teachers (including one European Graduate and 26 Trained and Certified teachers). C. F. Fernando won the Junior Cambridge Local Scholarship, being an annual sum of Rs. 240/- tenable for three years. Bro. Cyprian was requested to allow a couple of student-teachers in training to practise at St. Benedict’s. The Education Department was much concerned about the qualifications of teachers of English Schools. A few Brothers, too, followed in-service training classes.
Though Bro. Cyprian was elected Committee Member of the Ceylon Educational Association composed of Managers and Principals of Denominational Schools, he failed to make his contribution when the Island’s educational changes were being discussed.
Bro. Bolcan as Director
Bro. Cyprian was followed by Bro. Bolcan (1917-1921) an Irishman who was no stranger to St. Benedict’s. He had been a teacher in the Cambridge Senior Classes and assistant Prefect of Boarders and Games, in succession to Bro. Eusebius Philip (Sub Director). He had been to St. Benedict’s for 14 years prior to his going as Director of St. George’s, Taiping, for eight months.
Bro. Bolcan directed his energies towards making St. Benedict’s an ideal educational Institution. He opened three new classrooms and a London Matriculation Class and a Junior Novitiate. He helped to form the Junior Literary Union and himself presided over the meetings of the Senior and Junior Literary Unions. The teaching of Latin was re-introduced.
The Commercial College
In 1919, the year in which the Colombo District of the De La Salle Brothers was created with Bro. Junianus Edward as the first Provincial Visitor, Bro. Bolcan gave St. Benedict’s a new two-storey block for the Commerce Department. It was then designated the Commercial College. The ceremonial opening of the new commercial college was done by Mr. E. B. Denham, Director of Education, in the presence of His Grace, the Archbishop of Colombo and several other distinguished representatives. Mr. Denham, ‘a great and inspiring enthusiast for commercial education’ made a stirring appeal to the boys and parents. He said:
“But I cannot let this opportunity pass without thanking His Grace for coming here to show his interest in this very important subject. It is not a by-product. The subject has to be studied very carefully, very fully, and very perseveringly. When you go into these new commercial rooms the interior will show you that these rooms are fitted up very well and that is an important asset. I hope the classes will prove a great success and I appeal to all the parents here to realise the importance of Commercial Education, and I want them to know that the future prosperity of the Island must lie in turning out men who are competent to take their place in the Commercial life of the Colony.”
The Commerce students had capable teachers; at first Brothers Sylvester and Hermengilde, and in 1919, Bro. Flavian Jerome. The students performed magnificently in the Chamber of Commerce examinations. In 1919 itself they won the Lord Foley Challenge Shield in competition with students from all parts of the world, who had studied the Sloan-Duployan system of writing shorthand. A Miniature Bank was to function in the Commercial College which was organised in four Departments viz: the Bank Department, the Accounts Department, the Correspondence Department and the Shipping Department. Thirty two students were enrolled in the courses in 1919.
During his regime which lasted only four years, he organised the Fife and Drum Band and added Boxing and Volley Ball to the list of extra-curricular activities. The Trophy for Cadeting was won again, with lessons from Sgt. Major Jobson. In the Volley Ball League Competitions, St. Benedict’s was second with 21 out of 24 points. The Cambridge Examination results continued to be fine, Peter A. Pillai excelling all his rivals both in Ceylon and abroad. The Brothers took Charge of St. Mary’s School, Pettah, and St. Xavier’s, Nuwara Eliya. The School Magazine was started and it continued, a memorial to the name of another great teacher, a generous and large-hearted Director of St. Benedict’s.
Then appeared for all too short a period of eighteen months, Bro. Wultan James, M.A. (1921-1923). He was an accomplished Irish scholar, an Idealist, an educational visionary. He effected improvements in the College Boarding Establishment and in the Kindergarten Department. Bro. James stood for a type of education which suited the genius of the Ceylonese and Ceylon. The educational opinion he expressed in succinct language on the Speech Day 1922, sounded absolutely modern, for he advocated vocational and agricultural education and a wider use of the vernaculars of the country.
“I gladly welcome,” said Bro. Wultan James, “the efforts made by the Education Department to raise the standard of the vernaculars in our schools. . . I should like to see the vernaculars of the country getting greater prominence in the curricula. . . The land is the backbone of Industry, of Trade and Commerce. . . I should like to see the science course in our colleges getting an agricultural bent. Agricultural Science might well be substituted for physics and chemistry or both, because they are only a means to an examinations.”
Neat and Peaceable
The erudite Bro. Wultan James was succeeded by a neat and peaceable person, Bro. Claude Marie (1923-1931), a Frenchman, a missionary companion of Bro. Camillus. He gathered experience as Director of educational institutions in the Far East. Under him the roll of Catholic pupils rose to over 1,000. The College continued to function in its Secondary and Elementary Sections with over fifteen Brothers and forty lay teachers engaged in educational work. The pupils of the secondary department obtained good results in the London and Cambridge Examinations, though not so brilliantly as in the first two decades of the century.
The Commercial Department continued to produce very satisfactory results in the Chamber of Commerce Examinations. The Lord Foley Shield for Sloan-Duployan Shorthand was won outright and presented by His Excellency Sir Herbert Stanley. The pupils in the Elementary Section finished their schooling with the E. S. L. C. Exam. The Efficiency Cup was won by the Junior Cadets at Diyatalawa.
In 1923, Very Rev. Bro. Anacletus, Assistant Superior General, visited Ceylon. He reviewed and adjusted with His Grace the Archbishop, the terms and conditions under which the Brothers were to work in Ceylon. Rev. Bro. Camillus, former Director of St. Benedict’s, being appointed the second Provincial of the Brothers of the Colombo District, was installed in Mutwal, in March 1924.
Rev. Fr. F. Tiburtius Roche S.J., an alumnus of the College was consecrated. He was the first native Bishop of Tuticorin. In 1925 the twin-events, the Silver Anniversary of the Canonisation of St. J. B. de la Salle and the second Centenary of the granting of the Bull of Approbation of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, were celebrated. In 1928, diplomas of the Institute were given to Mr. I. X. Perera (late Dewan Bahadur M.S.C.), Dr. W. M. Muller and Dr. M. J. Appaswamy as Benefactors of the Institute. Dr. Peter Marque O.M.I., was consecrated the fourth Archbishop of Colombo.
After Bro. Claude came Bro. Luke Gregory (1931 – 1939), the first Ceylonese to assume the role of Director at St. Benedict’s, his alma mater. With the creation of a Ministry of Education as a part of the machinery of the State Council that came into being in 1928, educational problems increased. First as a member, and later as a president of the Head Masters’ Conference, Bro. Luke discussed the burning questions of the hour, questions that were vital to educational institutions such as St. Benedict’s, whose curricular schemes had to be modified to suit the new requirements of the Code.
Bro. Luke saw to the erection of St. Benedict’s first three-storey building which gave the Boarders a spacious residence and provided large Physics, Chemistry, and Zoology laboratories to cater to the modern requirements of science students aspiring to University studies. He also acquired a grass field off Bloemendhal Road and initiated the work of filling and leveling it to make of it the play-ground St. Benedict’s has so long needed. The work was half done when he left for Moratuwa on transfer. His place was taken by Bro. R. Albert who completed the work on the playing field, thanks to the energetic goodwill of Bro. Ladislaus, the Prefect of Games, who, however, could not reap the benefit of his labours as the Second World War broke out and the playground was commandeered for military purposes.
In August, 1943, Bro. Luke Gregory returned to St. Benedict’s, for a second period (1943 – 1946) and with the advent of peace, two years later, was able to re-organise the College once more, on the usual lines and in the time-honoured buildings at Kotahena, and St. Benedict’s continued to battle on to maintain its pristine reputation and pursue ideals so well epitomized in the College Motto: “Religio, Mores, Cultura.”
Summary and Conclusion
The little Catholic English school of the Oratorians, the first of its kinds in the Island had been started on the suggestion of Sir Alexander Johnston. It had been blessed by Dr. Vincent de Rosario, Vicar Apostolic, and aided by Sir Robert Wilmont Horton. It had grown sufficiently to necessitate a shift from a rented house in Wolfendhal Street to a more permanent abode at Cottanchina.
Between the visits of Colebrooke and Donoughmore, a period of a hundred years, the Roman Catholic Seminary had changed its habitation and name. From a two-teacher school of less than 100 pupils it had developed into a two-score-teacher Institution of over 1,000 Catholic pupils. The Oratorian, Benedictine, and Oblate Vicars and Managers had nurtured it with care.
Between the First School Commission of 1834 and the Educational Ministry of the State Council, in 1931, the form and content of its educational provision and the pattern of administration has changed. In the evolution of the Institution three distinct stages were marked. First, there was a private school period of a generation from 1839 to 1869; next there came the period by Payment of Results, also lasting a generation under the Department of Public Instruction from 1870 to 1909; and third, there was a period of Block Grants under the Education Department from 1909 onwards.
During the years of inquiry of the Morgan Commission 1865, St. Benedict’s had been built and occupied. The Brothers, too, had taken their place, first unofficially, and then, officially.
The School had witnessed the Oratorians give way to the Sylvestro-Benedictines, who in their turn gave way to the Oblate of Mary Immaculate. It had progressed from the days of the Apostolic Vicars to those of the Archbishops of Colombo. Within its precincts, the growth has been characterized by a change in the curricula and examinations: from the rudiments and readings from the Bible, to Shakespeare, Commerce, Science and Mathematics; from hardly an official inspection or examination, to more colourful ones under public officers and Governors of the Island, and then to the most formal visits and inspections by officials of the D.P.I. and D.E.
The simple doings of Bro. Leo’s feast day had changed to more elaborate and ceremonial festivities in honour of Saints and Dignitaries and colourful Speech Days and Sports Events. The School’s name, too, had evolved from “the Seminary of the R. C. Society” to “St. Benedict’s Institute” and finally to “St. Benedict’s College.” Storms has arisen and subsided on the issue of the Classics and on a seemingly innocent thing such as a French accent. Lay and religious teachers Italian, French, Irish, English, American, Sinhalese, Burghers, Tamils, Chetties, and Indians had worked, hand in hand, and side by side, to further Catholic education for a Catholic Community.
The concept of higher education had been crystallized in the Scholarships and Exhibitions and in the trek to Cambridge and London, or else to the Technical, Law, Medical, and University Colleges. From Lennon to Luke the road had been long but the evolution great, culminating as a hill does in a peak or golden era, in the tens and twenties of the Twentieth Century. The ascent to the peak had been hard from Modeste to Maurice; the height was reached and kept from Christian to Camillus and Bolcan.
A descent, too, was discernible when the quantity, the growing numbers of the second thousand, militated against the quality of education. The teaching of the religious personnel became diluted with the demands of the branch institutions.
The years after 1931 are purposefully without comment as all is within living memory. A hundred years of meritorious labour has been accomplished at St. Benedict’s which is Ceylon’s first Catholic English School that had pioneered in various spheres of educational activity. By and large, the History of St. Benedict’s is a heroic tale of Christian love and labour.
A Note on Bro. Anselm Calixtus
Brother Anselm Calixtus was a distinguished alumnus of St. Benedict’s College. He was born in December 1911 to John and Mary Fernando in Kalutara and christened Constantine Fernando. He attended the Penang Novitiate prior to taking the Holy Habit (Brothers’ Robe) in June 1929. He did research in the Institute of Education of the University of London, under the able and scholarly guidance of Dr. S. Weitzman. This research was in part fulfillment of the requirements for his M.A. in Education.
His thesis, “A History of Education in the Roman Catholic Missions in Ceylon in the early British Period,” received the mark of Distinction, and permission to publish it as work accepted by the University. Part of the material gathered and studied for the M.A. thesis has been utilized in writing “The Story of St. Benedict’s.”
Another of his works was “La Salle and the La Sallians in Modern Education,” which was commended by Dr. H. C. Bernard, Professor of Education in the Reading University, and which won him the title of Fellow of the College of Preceptors (London). In 1963 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
A renowned writer, historian, poet, and educationist, Brother Calixtus went on to become Director of De Mazenod College, Kandana, Director of St. Benedict’s College, Kotahena, Principal of Karamathur University, South India, and Auxiliary Visitor of the Indian sector. He died in September 1978 at the Colombo General Hospital.
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