The Contributions of Franciscan Fathers for the Development of Catholic Education in Sri Lanka

Rev. Fr. Aloysius Lewigi Pichchinelli was born in Italy in 1834. He was the seventh in the family of ten. It was desire to become a priest and was ordained in the year 1857.  He seriously fell ill and made a vow to commit himself as missionary. Accordingly, he set sail in 1870 to go to China, when on his way, he harboured in Galle.

Msgr. Hilarian Sillanai OSB who came to know about Fr. Pichchinelli met him and asked him to stay in Sri Lanka to serve the people of this country. Accordingly, he was made the Parish Priest of Talahena in 1870 and then after one year he was made the parish priest of Kalutara in 1971. The Kalutara Parish was made of the strip between Kalu Ganga and Bentota Ganga.

In the year 1874, there was a schedule for the Bishop of Colombo to visit the parish of Kalutara for pastoral purposes. There was a retreat organized for the parishioners in order to prepare for this pastoral visit. During this particular period, there were some youngsters who came and proposed to Fr. Pichchinelli about their desire to enter into a consecrated lifestyle. Accordingly, Fr. Pichchinelli led them to form themselves as a group of people who would dedicate their lives for the Lord. This was the beginning of the Society of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady that eventually led to the formation of the Indigenous Order of the Franciscans. During this period, they involved themselves in the apostolate of teaching in the nearby villages.

Rev. Fr. Pichchinelli, who returned to the country after a visit to Italy in 1876 wanted to establish a Religious congregation in this country. Even though there was the basic foundation already laid down for this with the commencement of the Society of Indigenous Franciscan order, it was not yet officially and canonically accepted by the church. Most Rev. Dr. Christopher Bonjean OMI, Archbishop of Colombo worked hard on this and got the official recognition for the Society and named it as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Indigenous Society which follows the precepts of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis of Assisi. The rules, regulations and even the garb of the same order were given to this new congregation.

Some of their priorities were education and catechesis. When we closely analyse the commitment of the Franciscan Fathers, we clearly understand that they have committed themselves for the sake of the poor and the needy people in this society. It is still more clearly portrayed when we look at the type of schools they have served in. they are mostly the schools in rural areas and the small schools which had no popularity whatsoever.

The schools where they served while being in Maggona

Boys’ School, Maggona

St. Vincent’s School, maggona

Don Bosco Boys’ School, Maggona

St. Vincent’s Home Sinhala and Tamil Schools

Sinhala Teacher Training College, Maggona

Roman Catholic School, Payagala

Roman Catholic School, Katukurunda

Their services away from Kalutara area began with their arrival in Wennappuwa. These schools benefitted by their presence.

Boys’ School, Wennappuwa

Boys’ School, Bolawalana

Boys’ School, Katuwapitiya

Sinhala and Tamil School, Chilaw

Boys’ Tamil School, Sea Street

Sinhala Boys’ School, Burulapitiya

Gonsalvez Maha Vidyalaya, Bolawatte

Maha Vidyalaya, Katuneriya

Maha Vidyalaya, Talawila

Lately, they also moved to areas such as Madampe, Gonawila, Kanjikuliya, Kandakkuliya and Daluwa in order to serve the people of these areas.

Thereafter, they spread themselves into different part of the country, particularly after 1960. These schools include both government and private schools. They shared their knowledge by imparting their knowledge with the needy children. Something very special about the congregation is that they have dedicated a considerably a higher number of members of the congregation for the apostolate of teaching.

They also held the post of principal in many schools and shared their administrative skills with the people of God.

As for now, they 2 schools run privately which are under their administration. They are Loyola College, Bopitiya and Christ King College, Veliveriya. They have many priests who support the administration of these schools.

Franciscan Brothers and Fathers in later years as they embraced priesthood have served this country with dedication for the betterment of Catholic education. Their dedication, particularly towards the poor will not be forgotten for many years to come.