The 4th Decade (1952 – 1961)
To cater to the ever increasing demand for accommodation of more students at St. Peter’s, he had the left block of the original building forming the ‘E’ in the front facing Galle Road, raised as a two storied building which was opened by His Grace the Archbishop of Colombo on 5th December 1953. As mentioned earlier the right block had already been raised to two stories in 1946.
Two primary school buildings both two storied buildings were constructed and opened, one on 5th December 1953 by His Grace the Archbishop of Colombo and the other on the feast day of the College, 29th June 1955, by Rev. Fr. A Seru, Administrator of the Archdiocese, for the use of the higher number of students that had to be enrolled.
In a benevolent gesture towards the Old Boys, Fr. Wiratunga, as President of the Old Boys’ Union, decided to provide them a spacious club house to meet and had the Old Peterites’ Sports Club constructed in 1953 which in later years was converted to the canteen.
Attention to matters spiritual was also important to Fr. Basil and in March 1955 he had the Grotto blessed and opened by His Grace the Archbishop of Colombo, Rev. Dr. Thomas Cooray. Basketball was introduced to St. Peter’s in 1955 and Sam Chandrasena was appointed as captain. 1955 was also the year in which Hockey was introduced to St. Peter’s with Sri Wigneswara Rajah as captain.
Having handled a difficult period in administering St. Peter’s, Rev. Fr. Basil Wiratunga retired on 3rd January 1956. However he did come back as acting Rector, being at the helm of affairs from 7th March 1967 to 7th August 1968 when Fr. Mervyn Weerakkody was away from the country for medical.
Upon the retirement of Rev. Fr. Basil A Wiratunga, the Priest who took over the Rectorship of St. Peter’s as the 3rd Rector was Rev. Fr. Arthur Nicholas Fernando Mis. App. on 9th January 1956. To say that he had to steer St. Peter’s College through a difficult period would be an understatement and unfair by a Priest who had to struggle through several issues that dogged the private school education during his Rectorship.
Though he took over the reins at St. Peter’s on 9th January 1956 he would have found College familiar ground as he was in charge of the Primary Section as Principal from 1939 to 1944. It must also be recorded that he was in charge of the Minuwangoda Branch, when College was separated into three branches on account of the present premises being requisitioned by the Royal Navy for their World War II effort. The Minuwangoda branch lasted from February 1942 to December 1943.
While ensuring that the normal curricular was well handled, early in his period of Rectorship at College, he meaningfully encouraged the development of aesthetic studies also. He started at St. Peter’s, the first ever schools’ Fife and Drum Band on 30th June 1956 with instruments he had purchased in England while he was studying there. He also received support from the Army at the time with whom he had excellent relations, where he got training arranged for the boys in the band and also received some second hand instruments including the leopard skin then worn by the bass drummer. The band was led by Cadet Maj. Dodwell P de Silva. One of the band’s proudest moments had been performing in the march past at the 1957 Independence Day celebrations, as the only school band in the parade.
To promote music, drama, dancing and art a cultural centre was opened on 16th November 1956 by the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Culture, Mr. D C Gunawardena at the invitation of Fr. Arthur. On this day the Open Air Theatre was also opened with the formation of an orchestra under the guidance of Rev. Fr. Mervyn Weerakkody.
Such was Fr. Arthur Fernando’s support for arts and culture that through the involvement of Rev. Fr. Marceline Jayakody who was in the staff then, for the first time an oriental orchestra was formed and Kandyan Dancing was introduced at St. Peter’s under the renowned dancer Heenbaba Dharmasri.
Changes took place in the administration of the Primary Department with three principals changing with a span of three years. Fr. Stanley Mellawa took over the primary section as principal on 9th January 1956 and then Fr. Sebastian Fernando took charge in 1957 and after him Fr. George Jayasuriya took over the baton in January 1959, all of which happened during the Rectorship of Fr. Arthur Fernando.
It was during Fr. Arthur’s tenure as Rector that the school was requisitioned to house refugees when communal riots broke out in May 1958 and the school was closed on 31st May that year.
The sport of rowing was started at College in 1959 chiefly thanks to the efforts of a loyal Old Peterite Dr. Anton Perera and St. Peter’s became only the second school to gain membership of the Colombo Rowing Club.
As if school administration was not sufficient responsibility, Fr. Arthur organised Fun-O-Rama, a carnival which was billed the Carnival of carnivals. It had features never before seen in a carnival in Ceylon such as close circuit TV, a model train exhibition and water fountains dotting the grounds with coloured underwater lights giving an ethereal look. This carnival, held from 29th July to 7th August 1960, was also Fr. Arthur’s way of paying tribute to the cadets who celebrated their silver jubilee that year and promote the game of basketball not to mention the entertainment by many different artistes.
Perhaps the biggest change that affected St. Peter’s and many other schools run as private assisted schools, was when in 1960, the government of the day promulgated Assisted Schools and Training College (Special Provisions) Act No. 5 of 1960 that effectively vested all Assisted Schools with the State. The only concession granted was for schools which wished to do so, to function as private Non-Fee-Levying schools. St. Peter’s having opted to remain private under the Non-Fee-Levying category from 1st December 1960 had to struggle unaided and the burden fell on parents, Old Boys and generous well wishers.
Needless to say the heavy responsibility of this fell on the broad shoulders of Fr. Arthur which he bore with determination and courage. In his efforts to supplement and manage the finances of College, he opened a canteen and a kitchen and bakery with modern machinery and equipment to make bakery items, popsicles, etc. as well as run a well managed farm.