The 6th Decade (1972 – 1981)
The highlight of Fr. Theodore Peiris’ era as Rector was the celebration of the Golden jubilee of St. Peter’s in 1972.
The re-enactment of the arrival of Josephian staff and students as happened on that eventful day in 1922, occurred on 18th January 1972, exactly 50 years later. The Josephians were led by their Rector, Rev. Fr. Mervyn Weerakkody who was previously Rector at St. Peter’s and included Rev. Frs. Marcelline Jayakody and Lucien Dep. Special mention must be made of the fact that the only surviving Old Josephian who had participated in the original train journey and march to St. Peter’s, Mr. J A A Perea, was present at the Golden Jubilee function.
A concelebrated Mass on 22nd January 1972 at the College Chapel led by His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Cooray, marked the end of celebrations.
A much needed informative score-board was installed in the College Grounds in 1972, a donation by an Old Boy, Mr. Herman Fernando.
During the Rectorship of Fr. Theodore Peiris, Hon. Ahamed Zaki, Prime Minister of Maldive Islands, an Old Peterite, was accorded a welcome at College on 7th August 1974. With years of struggle for private non-fee-levying schools like St. Peter’s continuing and ill health dogging the Rector, Fr. Theodore Peiris relinquished his position on 5th January 1975.
Two relatively short periods of Rectorship followed the exit of Rev. Fr. Theodore Peiris, that of Rev. Fr. Claver Perera and Rev. Fr. Francis Madiwela.
[Photo 89] Rev. Fr. Claver Perera Mis. App. commenced his Rectorship on 6th January 1975 and in him for the first time St. Peter’s College had a fully fledged Peterite as Rector. A graduate from the University of Peradeniya with an Honours degree in English he was ordained in Rome by His Holiness Pope Paul VI.
Though his Rectorship lasted only for a period of two years he decentralised the administration with the appointment of Sectional Heads from Grade 6 to the Advanced Level within that short period. He also enlarged and renovated the College Chapel for the first time in 50 years. He encouraged the students to aim higher than they thought possible and helped the choir at St. Peter’s to develop devoting a lot of time for the training of Choristers.
It was during his tenure as Rector that the limited overs cricket match between the Big Match rivals, St. Peter’s and St. Joseph’s was introduced. Played on the 16th of March in 1975 it was the 1st such limited overs ‘Big Match’ among schools in Sri Lanka. Happily St. Peter’s led by Bernard Wijetunga Jr. beat the Josephians in this short form of the game.
Fr. Claver Perera’s short stint as Rector came to an end on 31st December 1976 and Rev. Fr. Francis Madiwela took over on 17th January 1977. The short period of one year that Fr. Francis Madiwela was Rector, was not sufficient for any significant changes to be made at College.
However, he did arrange for the Old Boys to have their own President rather than having the Rector as President. This change took effect from 4th December 1977. Fr. Francis Madiwela was transferred at the end of 1977 to St. Thomas, Kotte as Principal. The transfer of Fr. Madiwela paved the way for Rev. Fr. Joseph Emmanuel Wickremasinghe to take over the running of affairs of St. Peter’s on 9th January 1978.
After two Rectors who had very short stints at the helm of affairs at St. Peter’s, the College needed stability and the ideal Priest, in the form of Fr. Joe Wickremasinghe was sent by the Archdiocese to take over St. Peter’s as its Rector. His was like a second Nicholas Perera era and can justifiably be called the renaissance period at St. Peter’s.
Though taking over as Rector in 1978, his service at St. Peters first began in July 1963, when he was appointed as Priest in charge of the boarders and Prefect of Studies and Discipline. He gained valuable experience in the administration of the College when Fr. Basil Wiratunga was recalled from retirement during the period March 1967 to August 1968 to act for the Rector at the time who had gone abroad for medical treatment and though Fr. Basil was officially the acting Rector, Fr. Wickremasinghe was the de facto Rector.
Fr. Wickremasinghe’s great deeds for St. Peter’s commenced when he was appointed as Rector of St. Peter’s on 9th January 1978 and one of his first tasks was to establish a Board of Administration consisting of more lay members of staff and less clergy. Earning the sobriquet “Master Builder”, through his period of service at College for a little over 16 years, he generated nearly Rs.20 million to fund his dreams for St. Peter’s, an almost unimaginable amount in those days.
Identifying the need for increased space to accommodate the ever increasing numbers seeking admission to College, he first laid the foundation stone to raise the Science Laboratory block to a three story building, on 27th August 1979 by His Grace the Archbishop Colombo, Rt. Rev. Dr. Nicholas Marcus Fernando.
In terms of achievements by St. Peter’s as a school, the 1980 cricket team was adjudged All Island best team by the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association and a student Rabindra Abeysinghe, was placed second in a competition organised by the Department of Education to identify the Best all round Student in the Island.
Chess was introduced at St. Peter’s with the formation of a Chess Club in 1980. The enlarged laboratory and the 3 storied block with classrooms above the lab was duly completed and opened on 23rd March 1981 again by His Grace the Archbishop Colombo, Rt. Rev. Dr. Nicholas Marcus Fernando.
In 1980 a bold decision was taken by the then government to provide free textbooks to students, including the students of private non-fee-levying schools like St. Peter’s, thus easing the burden on parents. In another important move by the same government, in 1980 private non-fee-levying schools like St. Peter’s were again provided assistance in the form of a block grant for the payment of salaries to teachers and the Assisted Schools Pension Act introduced in that year also meant that teachers could be registered for pensions and this benefitted the teachers in no small measure and enabled College to recruit and retain good academic staff.
Fr. Wickremasinghe increased the toilet facilities at College to cater to the increased student population and also in 1980 installed a statue of the Patron Saint, St. Peter (a donation by an Old Boy, Mr. Francis R Gomez), on the lawn in front of the porch on 8th October 1980.
It wasn’t only on physical infrastructure that he invested. To give due recognition to achievements by students Fr. Wickremasinghe established the “Peterite Gold” in 1981 based on laid down criteria such as excellent conduct, remarkable leadership, outstanding service and loyalty to College. He also established several memorial prizes to be awarded at the Prize Giving which eased the financial burden on College while enabling Old Peterites to make sizable donations in memory of their loved ones.
This decade will go down as a unique one at St. Peter’s College since four Rectors were at the helm through this decade.