Holy Family Sisters
Msgr. Stephen Semeria was the Vicar Apostolic of Jaffna 1857 and 1868. He visited Europe in 1861 and returned to the country the next year with 6 Holy Family Sisters from Bordeaux, France. They became the first woman missionaries who came to the country.
This became a novel experience for the people of this country and came to see them as they landed in Galle. As the sisters came to Colombo and settled down in Jaffna, it is also said that the people came to visit them.
They considered education as their primary objective in the country. In addition to that they also looked after the children’s homes, destitute girls and poverty stricken families.
Holy Family Sisters took over their mission in the first Catholic school when they took over in 1862, the then existing English School run by Ms. Flannagan, who started this school with the intention of giving an English education to the girls in Jaffna. Sisters named the school as Holy family Convent, Jaffna which exists to this day. In addition to this school, there were so many other Parish Schools in Jaffna, in which they went to teach English to the children. It is said that even the British people who governed the country at that time sent their children to this school in view of giving them a good education.
With the advent of more sisters joining the band in Jaffna, they wanted to expand their service to other mission lands in the country. For this they chose the town of Kurunegala, even though there were no much Catholics present there, there was a great demand for an English school for the girls. The school was established in 1870 and later the building for the convent for the sisters.
From Kurunegala, they go still further to Anuradhapura, the ancient city of the country and start Holy Family Convent, Anuradhapura to serve basically the non-Catholic children.
As Kurunegala was predominantly non-Catholic, they wanted to move ahead and go towards chilaw had had more catholic population and set up their novitiate in Wennappuwa, while having a few convents set up in Wennappuwa and in neighbouring areas. They also took charge of the Wennappuwa Girls School and other small schools in the vicinity. They also went to Chilaw as there was a need for the sisters to run a school with more dedication. The girls’ school in Chilaw came under their administration. Later, this school was handed over to the Apostolic Carmel Sisters which is now called Carmel Convent. The English School in Wennappuwa was started in 1929. Even though this school opted to become a private school in 1960, it was handed over to the government again in 1971. There was another Sinhala school in the same premises with over 1000 students which served basically the poor people which did not enjoy much facility. There was a heavy difference between the two schools in terms of their facilities. The decision to hand over the school to the government was the true conscience and the spirituality of the sisters to see all children from one and the same perspective.
In 1903, the sisters moved to Bambalapitiya in order to start a convent and a school in Lauries Road, near the parish church. With much difficulty the school progressed, imparting quality education to the students.
In 1910, there was a school in Dehiwela that was started by the parish priest in order to give English education to the children in the parish. This school was developed through the intervention of Msgr. Don Peter. In 1925, Most Rev. Dr. Anthony Coudert OMI decided to hand over the school to Holy Family Sisters and they travelled from Bambalapitiya.
In 1906, there was a school in Kalutara which gradually developed to be the Holy Cross College, in 1934, Holy family Sisters took charge of the Girls’ section of the school. They bought a land and built a convent and established the school also in the same premises.
In 1942, the Most Rev. Dr. John Mary Masson OMI invited the sisters to start a school in Nugegoda for the education of the girls in that area. They found a suitable land, set up a school with the blessings of the Archbishop himself. The sisters travelled from Bambalapitiya.
In addition to the above areas, there other convents and school run by the Holy Family Sisters. The speciality about these schools is that they all bear the name “Holy Family Covent.” These areas include Marawila, Boralessa, Chilaw, Habarana, Katana, Puttalam, Tudella, Kilinochchi, Delft, Haputale, Kytes, Mannar, Mullativ, Vavunia, Point Pedro, Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Talawakele.
There are also sisters who work as lecturers in teacher training institutes affiliated to the government.
Today, the sisters have gone far beyond the horizons and attend to the needs of the people such as being sensitive to the poor and the needy, looking after the destitute girls, providing shelter to the homeless people, children’s homes, classes for children and the adults, vocational training for the needy families, guidance for the mothers and many more.
Holy Family Sisters can be rightly called as a lamp that shed light to the Sri Lankan society by being among the pioneers of education in this country. Their contributions will be fondly remembered by the people of this country for many more centuries to come.