Most Rev. Dr. Charles Lavigne was the Bishop of Trincomalee between 1898 and 1913. In the Year 1910, he took an initiative to write a letter to the Superior General of the Marist Brothers in France. The letter clearly stated that St. Michael’s College, Batticaloa in the Diocese of Trincomalee in Ceylon which was administered by the Jesuit Fathers needed the assistance of the Brothers to uplift the standards of the school.
Superior General responded positively to the request and promised to fulfil the request of the Bishop of Trincomalee. Accordingly, 5 brothers set sail to Sri Lanka on the 2nd of March 1911. They were Rev. Bro. Peter Leo, Rev. Bro. Polleon, Rev. Bro. Francis Antony, Rev. Bro. Julian Lawrence and Rev. Bro. Marie Chrisotan. The ship harboured in Sri Lanka on the 24th of March 1911.
They first came to the Novitiate in Mutwal and from there, they proceeded to Bandarawela by the mail coach drawn by the horses. From Bandarawela, they finally proceeded to the historical St. Michael’s College, Batticaloa where they first started their revered educational career in this hallowed land.
They immediately started their apostolate in St. Michael’s’ College. As the children were basically Tamils and Muslims, the Brothers learnt to read, write and speak the language of Tamil fluently and continued the work in this college for 6 years.
With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, some of the Brothers had to join the army. So the school lost the services of 2 of very good Brothers and their commitment. Mathematics was particularly good in the school during this time.
As a result of the on-going war, the funds received by the college for the maintenance of the Brothers and the general administration of the school from the Superior General in France were curtailed. The agreement between the Jesuits and the Marists was to fund the Brothers by the school administration for their general upkeep. This was not fulfilled due to the lack of funds.
Superior General of the Marist Brothers advised them to meet the Most Rev. Dr. Anthony Coudert OMI, Archbishop of Colombo and discuss a solution. He invited them to come and work in St. Mary’s College, Negombo, about which arrangement, the Parish Priest was in highest support. They came and started work in St. Mary’s in 1917. Rev. Fr. Theodore Silva OMI., the principal of the school retired in 1919 handing over the school to Marist Brothers for the administration.
The school started developing rapidly under the administration of the Marist Brothers. There came to be a need for new constructions to house many new admissions that came from the outskirts of Negombo. The necessity for space for new facilities including a playground came to be felt.
With the help of the Most Rev. Dr. Anthony Coudert and Rev. Fr. Mazoyer OMI, the Parish Priest of Bolawalana, the Brothers were able to receive a donation of a land in Copra Junction through the generosity of Ms. Rosa Isabelle de Croos and her sister, Ms. Mary Christina de Croos. The Brothers purchased two other plots of land as well. In 1924, the school was separated from the main school and named as Maris Stella College, Negombo, thus becoming the first school for Marist Brothers.
In the year 1928, the premises of St. Joseph’s College, Bandarawela was repurchased by the Marist Brothers from the De La Salle Brothers and took over the administration of this revered school and continued their uninterrupted services until 1961. After the take-over of the schools, it went into the hands of the lay principals and the school was made a mixed school in 1974.
In the year 1934, Marist Brothers launched into starting another school in Tudella, which they named as Christ King College. This was started as an English School in order to cater to the general education needs of the people of this area. This school remained as a private school during the schools take-over, but was later handed over to the government for the administration.
In the same year, the Most Rev. Dr. Peter Marque OMI invited the Marist Brothers to start another school in the Wennappuwa area. A land with 4 acre extent was purchased with the funds received from the Superior General of the Marist Brothers. This was named as Joseph Vaz College. This school also remained as a private school at the take-over, but later handed over to the government.
Holy Cross College, Kalutara was handed over to the Marist Brothers in 1978 for the administration and came back again to the hands of the Archdiocese in 2009. St. Joseph’s College, Nugegoda was handed over to the Marist Brothers in 1985 and they continue to serve the students of this college with vigour and enthusiasm. St. Mary’s College, Negombo once again came into the hands of the Marist Brothers and continued for few years until it came back to the Archdiocesan priests.
The enormous contribution that has been done by the Marist Brothers for the education of this country has made a change in the society. Catholic Church in Sri Lanka is indebted to them for what they have done for all of us.