St. Anthony’s College Kandy completes 150 years by Nihal Herath
St. Anthony’s College celebrates 150 years of its existence and marks yet another milestone in its remarkable history. Looking back at the history of the college one cannot overlook the immense contribution it has made to the country by producing thousands of very productive citizens in all walks of life ranging from politicians to teachers and personalities of the business world.
St. Anthony’s College Kandy, completes 150 years today (12). Rev. Fr. Felix Zoppi a Franciscan of the Chinese Missionary field had the unique honour of starting the college in Kandy in the year 1854.
Fr. Zoppi was sent to Kandy for missionary work by Monsignor Joseph Maria Bravi D.D., O.S.B. He started three schools. An English school for boys which was St. Anthony’s Boys School and two schools for girls of which one was an English school and the other an Anglo-vernacular school. Mr. Van Twest was appointed as the first person to be in charge of Boys school. Mgr. Bravi who was responsible for sending Fr. Zoppi to Kandy had been closely associated with the improvement of the school at its incipient six years. Since then for the last one hundred and fifty years College had endured difficult periods and also overcome such difficulties to attain the present exalted status.
During the initial stages the school had stood up on its own feet without any government grant. In 1867 various attempts were made to obtain Government support which eventually succeeded. Even in 1867 St. Anthony’s Boys School was referred to as the second best school in English among all the schools established by the Missionary in the Western, Southern and South Western Provinces.
In 1875 St. Anthony’s Monastery was put up and later in 1877, the present St. Anthony’s Cathedral was built, both being initiated by Rev. Fr. Cingolani. The Girls school started by Fr. Zoppi was later shifted to Katukelle in 1887 where a Convent was opened for Good Shephered Nuns and the girls were housed in that premises. Since then only the boys were left in the original premises to continue as the Boys School.
In 1894 the Property adjoining St. Anthony’s cathedral which was a coffee store was purchased by Abbot Pancrazi for the school. This was initially used as a boarding school and later as the school. Rev. Fr. Craner (1898 – 1905) provided buildings, which were later, improved by very Rev. Fr. Philip Caspersz and still later by his brother Rev. Fr. James Caspersz (1916-1921). The school rapidly improved during the first two decades of the twentieth century.
This was true in academic activities as well as in the field of sports and other co-curricular activities. The magnificent string of Principals of St. Anthony’s College were mostly from the Benedictine order were very dedicated and were responsible for the rapid improvement of the school.
The enrolment increased very rapidly during Rev. Fr. D.L. Ryde’s (1921-1943) principalship. The student number topped one thousand in 1952. The premises in Kandy where presently St. Sylvester’s College is, could not provide enough facilities for the swelling enrolment of students.
Bishop Bede Beekmeyer an old Antonian bought a property of 15 acres by the side of the river Mahaweli in a very picturesque setting at Katugastota. This land was the property of the Dunuvilles. The Dunuville Walawwa with a little renovation and temporary additions accommodated the first batch of students.
The preparations to shift the colleges to Katugastota were done by Rev. Fr. Lawrence Hyde and in 1928 towards mid January a part of the school and the boarding were shifted. The renovated building contained beds for the students, the Principal occupied a small room, the verandah was used as a Chapel and the Principal’s faithful servant Michael who was later at the Bio Lab was attending to the work of this premises.
During the renovation of the Walawwa and during the shifting of the school the Principal received the generous support of Mr. P.B.A. Weerakoon who was in the staff. He later became the Head Master of the Primary School and subsequently a Deputy Minister of Education.
The buildings of the present primary section were put up in 1929. The two storied main building was constructed in 1932. The site of the Dunuville Walawwa was used to prepare the college playground. The main building and the playground were very nicely situated as if to stress the need of both the instructions in the class and the sports for the students of the college.
Rev. Fr. D. A. Rosati, (1944-1957) a person in his early thirties was next appointed as the Principal. He continued the attempts to recover the premises.
Representations were made to the Prime Minister and several public meetings were organized to recover the building. Finally as a result of the hard work and commitment of the principal the recovery was made in 1946. Rehabilitation activities were carried on by the Principal and during a short span of time he was able to bring the school to a very good condition.
The Centenary Year was a memorable year for the Antonians who during that period were in school and for the Old Boys. Not only did the College excel in studies but the performances in the field of sports were commendable and beyond explanation.
As a small boy in Form 11 in the year 1954 I recollect the Centenary Year of the school which stood out for me personally as the most unforgettable year in my school career and a remarkable year in the long history of an excellent school in the country in the spheres of education, sports and all other activities of the school. We as students saw the school as a very large institutions which made us very proud to belong to such a prestigious institution, with an awe inspiring Principal and teachers possessing personalities with divine qualities. Looking back at a very long career in education I cannot conceal the fact that it is these teachers who have proved to be role models even very late in my career.
It was a shock for us all to hear of the sudden death of Fr. Rosati. He died of a heart attack on the 11th of September 1957 at 6.55 p.m., just a week after the opening of the Centenary Hall. To honour this noble person who committed himself to the college, the funeral of Rev. Fr. Rosati was the first formal function which was held in the newly opened hall.
The Centenary Hall was later named as the Rev. Fr. Rosati Memorial Hall and still stands in front of the college reminding of us even today a great Principal and a very noble person who did a lot of St. Anthony’s, and to those Antonians who were in school during his unforgettable thirteen years of Principalship his devotion to mould so many distinguished and valuable citizens.
To those who knew him as a person, his memory will always be very close to their hearts and their lives, as a person who shaped their lives and paved the way to a glorious future. I have no doubts that there are many of us who are indebted to him for moulding them who they are today.
Most of the schools of the island were taken over by the state in 1961. St. Anthony’s College was a government assisted school prior to the take over but opted to run private after the government decision. The Principal then was Rev. Fr. Robinson.
The school was handed over to the state during the Principalship of Rev. Fr. Aiden de Silva (1967 – 1978) an Old Boy of the School. He was appointed the Principal on 18th February 1967 and succeeded Rev. Fr. Robinson. During his period a long-term plan for the improvement of academic activities and sports was implemented. The turf pitch was prepared and the grounds improved during his era.
Rev. Fr. Stephen Abraham who succeeded Fr. Aiden de Silva was appointed to the College as a teacher on 7th December 1979.
He was a strict disciplinarian, a very good preacher and an excellent orator. During Fr. Stephens period as the principal, special activities were initiated by him to improve both sports, studies co-curricular activities. As a result the school performed very well in both in the sports field as well as in the performance of academic and other co-curricular activities.
Discipline reached a new height – especially during the ethnic crisis in 1983 and JVP lead schools debacle during the 1987 – 89 period. St. Anthony’s is the only Government school in the island that can boast of having had uninterrupted classes when every other school was in a crisis.
This era could be rated as one of the best periods of the post centenary St. Anthony’s.
The present Principal Rev. Fr. D. Hillarian Fernando who was the head of the Primary Section from 1990 was appointed the Principal of the school in February 1994 after the retirement of Fr. Stephen Abraham. He performed a great service in the countdown to the 150th year of the school.
Sports at St. Anthony’s has always been of a very high standard even at the beginning of the twentieth century. The first inter-collegiate cricket match of St. Anthony’s was played on the 1st of April 1905 at the Barrack Square – the present Police Grounds. The match had come off due to the enthusiasm of Fr. Andrew Van Langenburg of St. Anthony’s and Mr. Edwin Boulton of Kingswood, and Kingswood won by seven wickets.
The second decade of the twentieth century was an excellent era for Antonian cricket. Jack Anderson the Antonian cricketing legend had several achievements to his credit. In 1918 he scored 291 runs against St. Thomas the highest individual score in school cricket is yet to be broken. He scored five centuries in five successive matches. He was the scorer of the first century against St. Thomas’ and he was also the first to score a century at the Asgiriya grounds.
The first school to play Hockey in Sri Lanka was St. Anthony’s in the year 1907. This was due to the Indian Rajput Regiment occupying the Kandy Military Barracks and the Indians playing the game with the College players at the adjoining Barracks Square. The Hockey team during the initial years travelled down to Colombo to play the Municipality and Bloomfield the first match against Municipality being drawn the other against Bloomfield won by three goals to nil.
Boxing, Cadetting and Scouting have also been very popular at St. Anthony’s Cadetting was started in 1912 and Scouting in 1916. St. Anthony’s had the distinction of being runners-up in the Stubbs’ Shield Competition as early as 1918. During the period of N. H. Keerthiratne who later became a Minister of the government and Robert Wright who later joined the tutorial staff of the College, continued to collect the Stubbs’ Shield very easily.
The last decade
Rev. Fr. D. Hillarian Fernando who was appointed the Principal after the retirement of Fr. Stephen Abraham headed the preparatory activities to celebrate the 150th year. During the last decade under Fr. Hillarian quality development activities in the fields of physical resource development continued with the completion of the construction of a three storied building provided by the Provincial Ministry which was started by Fr. Stephen Abraham, renovation of the classrooms, upgrading of the laboratories and the library, renovation of the primary section of the school and another new building.
The staff, parents and the Old Boys of the school provided unstinted assistance in the development of co-curricular activities and general educational development activities bringing about quality improvements in the school.
A vivid gamut of programmes have been organized and conducted by the Principal and the staff with the intention of excelling in all student activities of the school for the year 2004 to mark the remarkable 150th year of the school.
As very special projects for the 150th year, the Old Boys Association has initiated projects for the expansion of the playground, renovation of the terraces, renovation of the quadrangle and the surrounding classrooms, construction of a new block of primary classrooms, a Scout Den and a new basket ball court. The assistance provided by the Old Boys Association’s, Parents body, Colombo Branch and by the branches established in other countries is noteworthy.
We as old boys of the college salute to an institution which moulded citizens of distinction and rare caliber who have contributed tremendously for the upliftment of the country. The products of St. Anthony’s have always embodied and imbibed in them a true sense of ‘Antonianism’ – modest, sincere, hardworking, conscientious, frank, religious, generous and autonomous – the result of ‘Lux de Coelo’. May the present and the future products of St. Anthony’s attain greater heights than those in the past.
(The writer an old boy of the college was the former Principal of Kingswood College and Dharmaraja College, Kandy and former Chief Commissioner, Teacher Education and Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Education and Higher Education. Presently Technical Advisor to the ADB funded Secondary Education Modernization Project).
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