“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” –
Frederick Douglass, an American social reformer.
Fr. Nicholas Perera must have known about the above quote when he decided to create a separate Primary Department at St. Peter’s to ensure that the education of the younger Peterites was given as much attention as that of the seniors. The creation of the Primary was within ten years of the creation of College – 13th of January 1932 to give the exact date – and the Rector appointed Rev. Fr. D Gregory Gunawardena as the first Principal.
Though starting with only 63 students enrolled in the first year this figure rose to 400 in a very short time. Facilities including a library were provided and even a separate prize giving was held in a short space of two years, on 30th November 1934 at which Fr. Nicholas Perera presided as the Rector.
Several who later adorned the Rectorial Chair have functioned as the Principal of the Primary Section. These are Rev. Frs. Arthur N Fernando, Francis Madiwela, Basil Wiratunga (who came back after retiring from being Rector), Claver Perera, Joe Wickremasinghe, Felician Perera, Travis Gabriel and Rohitha Rodrigo (the current Rector).
The complete list of the Principals at the Primary Section is given below (it is to be noted that although some records show that three laymen had been Principals in the past, official logs show no indication of such appointments and it has to be assumed that the three gentlemen, namely Charles F Fernando, Sam P Jayawardena and William Peiris were acting for the Principal, who was a priest)
Principals Down the Years
1. Rev. Fr. D Gregory Gunawardena (13th Jan 1932 – 31st Dec 1937 – Gregory House named after him)
2. Rev. Fr. H Don Marcellus (1st Jan 1938 – 31st Aug 1939 – Marcellus House named after him)
3. Rev. Fr. Arthur N Fernando (1st Sep 1939 – 8th Sep 1946) – Was subsequently Rector
4. Rev. Fr. Thomas Paris (9th Sep 1946 – 31st Dec 1948 – Paris House named after him)
5. Rev. Fr. W Don Julian (1st Jan 1949 – 31st Aug 1956 – Julian House named after him)
6. Rev. Fr. Stanley Mellawa (1st Sep 1956 – 31st Dec 1956)
7. Rev. Fr. P Sebastian Fernando (1st Jan 1957 – 31st Dec 1958)
8. Rev. Fr. Joseph G P Jayasuriya (1st Jan 1959 – 30th Apr 1961)
9. Rev. Fr. Rufus Benedict (1st May 1961 -8th May 1972) – 1st Old Peterite Principal and the longest serving
10. Rev. Fr. Francis Madiwala (8th May 1972 – 30th Apr 1974)
11. Rev. Fr. Basil A Wiratunga – Rector Emeritus (1st May 1974 – 31st Dec 1974)
12. Rev. Fr. Lester Silva (1st May 1975 – 6th Jun 1975)
13. Rev. Fr. Claver B Perera (6th Jun 1975 – 31st Dec 1975)
14. (A layman Mr. William Peiris has acted as the Principal from 1st Jan 1976 to 31st Dec 1977)
15. Rev. Fr. Thomas Perera (1st Jan 1978 – 31st Dec 1980)
16. Rev. Fr. Joe E Wickremasinghe (1st Jan 1981 – 31st Dec 1982) – Was subsequently Rector
17. Rev. Fr. Kingsley Jayamanne (1st Jan 1983 – 31st Dec 1984)
18. Rev. Fr. S Victor Silva (1st Jan 1985 – 3st Dec 1986)
19. Rev. Fr. Sunil H Perera (1st Jan 1987 – 8th May 1988 – Died in office)
20. Rev. Fr. Travis Gabriel (1st Jun 1988 – 31st Dec 1992) – Was subsequently Rector
21. Rev. Fr. Felician Perera (1st Jan 1993 – 31st Dec 1993) – Was subsequently Rector
22. Rev. Fr. Anthony Samaratunga (3rd Jan 1994 – 31st Aug 1998)
23. Rev. Fr. Prem Jayalath (1st Sep 1998 – 5th Oct 1999)
24. Rev. Fr. Anthony Fernandopulle (6th Oct 1999 – 30th Sep 2001)
25. Rev. Fr. Bonnie Fernandopulle (1st Oct 2001 – 20th May 2003)
26. Rev. Fr. Anton Ranjith Pillenayagam (21st May 2003 – 31st Dec 2003) – Now Auxiliary Bishop of Colombo
27. Rev. Fr. Rohith Rodrigo (1st Jan 2004 – 13th May 2010) – Current Rector
28. Rev. Fr. Chaminda Wanigasena (14th May 2010 – 25th May 2011)
29. Rev. Fr. Vincent Ashley (30th May 2011 – 4th Apr 2014)
30. Rev. Fr. Samith Rangana Fernando (3rd Jun 2014 – 31st Jul 2019)
31. Rev. Fr. Milan Bernard (5th Aug 2019 – todate)
A separate House system was introduced to the Primary Section in 1948 and four houses were created named after four Priests in recognition of the services rendered by them as Principals. The following were the Houses created:
• Gregory House – Rev. Fr. Gregory Gunawardena
• Paris House – Rev. Fr. Thomas Paris
• Julian House – Rev. Fr. W Don Julian
• Marcellus House – Rev. Fr. H Don Marcellus
With the establishment of the Farm in 1951, Fr. Mellawa who was in the staff then started the Young Farmers Club and Mr. A B Herath inaugurated the Scout Movement in that year.
The old cadjan thatched Primary building was pulled down and on Dec 5th, 1953 and a new two storied building was opened for the Primary Section by His Grace the Archbishop of Colombo. A second two storied building was added in 1955 on June 29th which was opened by Fr. A Seru the Administrator of the Archdiocese. Both these buildings were opened when Fr. Don Julian was Principal who had an able assistant in Mr. Sam Jayawardena.
Gaining in popularity as a school of significance and with accommodation available for increased admissions, the number of students at the Primary reached 1000 by 1957.
Fr. Rufus Benedict who served the Primary section as Principal from 1st May 1961 to 8th May 1972 had the distinction of being the first Old Boy Principal and was the longest serving Principal yet. He was not only the Principal of the Primary Section but was also the Prefect of Games during his tenure at Collège. This was the difficult period when the school had to manage without charging school fees and forced to depend on donations and Fr. Rufus Benedict was a tremendous asset to the Rector, Fr. Arthur Fernando.
After College started functioning as a private non-fee-levying school with the schools takeover, to augment the finances of College, Rev. Fr. Arthur Fernando started the boarding in 1962. He changed some of the classrooms to dormitories to house the boarders and had the kindergarten classes shifted to buildings in the woodwork area, a single story building left by the Royal Navy when they handed back the school in 1946.
In the 1960s hand-work, singing, crafts, carpentry, etc. were part of the curriculum which the students found to be a welcome break from the routine of book learning but importantly gave them an appreciation for aesthetics and also an appreciation of the dignity of labour. Sports wasn’t neglected in the Peterite Primary section which was really the cradle for cricketers and athletes. Even rugby and other sports now have training for juniors, catching them young and capturing future talent early. This also creates an interest in sports in the youngsters’ minds. Many a champion sportsman bloomed and blossomed later who benefitted from his days at the Peterite Primary. Where athletics was concerned a separate sports meet for the juniors was an annual feature while on the aesthetic side a concert was at least held bi-annually.
One mustn’t forget the recent past when, Fr. Samith Rangana Fernando as Principal breathed fresh life to the running of the Primary section through magnificent concerts staged, displaying the talents of students and helping them to improve. He introduced novel items even to the conduct of the sports meets generating fresh interest in junior sports.
The purpose of a Primary section is not only to prepare young students for studies and public exams later but also to prepare them from their tender years on how to be valued members of the society once they leave College. The Primary section of St. Peter’s can look back satisfactorily on having amply fulfilled this task and played its role.