Monday, April 22, 2019 – 01:00 Chinthaka De Mel
Good Shepherd Convent is a semi- government Catholic Girls’ school founded in May 1869 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Located in the neighbourhood of Kotahena, the Convent educates girls from kindergarten to age 18.
It was the Benedictine Italian Archbishop of Colombo, Rt. Rev. Sillani, who initiated the first Catholic Convent, yet it drew upon the efforts of a French Saint Mother Euphrasia to plant the seed which has now become a mighty tree through whose portals thousands of girls have passed through.
On April 15, 1869, Rev. Sr. Mary Anucita Marandi, Sr. Mary Suzanne Cardiff, Sr. Euphstie Joseph and Sr. Mary Sacred Heart Masi arrived in Sri Lanka consequent to a request made in 1867 by the then Bishop of Colombo, His Lordship Hilarion Sillani to Mother Mary of St. Euphrasia Pelletier (now St. Mary Euphrasia), to set up a school of the Good Shepherd order. The Rev. Sisters had been given a grand welcome which was followed by a Thanksgiving service.
The Good Shepherd congregation marked the beginning of the sisters’ mission to British Ceylon and the Far East. Nuns from this original convent opened Good Shepherd Convent in Kandy, St Mary’s School in Pettah (closed) and St Bridget’s Convent in Cinnamon Gardens. In 1939, sisters based in Colombo expanded to Singapore, then part of the Straits Settlements, and present-day Malaysia.
On May 1, 1869, the school began functioning with just eight students and the first Superior of the Convent, Sr. Mary of the Seven Dolours Joly taking over the task of leading the School as Principal. One of the priorities of the Good Shepherd Sisters had been to pursue the construction of a Chapel. Consequently the site was blessed on June 21, 1869 and the construction was left in the able and artistic hands of Fr. Stanislaus Tabarrani, who was then regarded as a world icon in par with popular characters such as Michael Angelo. During the 1870s’ the school had around 100 day scholars. The construction of a two-storey building, to house an orphanage began on June 21, 1869, guided by Bishop Sillani.
Kotahena was then a slum area in the City, and was very unhealthy. Soon the Sisters began to fall ill. Within a few years, two Sisters have died, and Sr. Seven Dolours and Sr. Annunciation returned to Angers. Then arrived a group of Irish Sisters, and six years after the opening of the House, all the Sisters seemed to be Irish, with just a few exceptions. They kept well and the house flourished.
A school for English speaking girls was the first requirement. A school was opened without delay, and soon after, a day school for the vernacular- Sinhalese poor girls was opened. Within a few months, an Orphanage was established for the care and protection of destitute girls. The Parish Priest presented some young ladies to them who would help with teaching in the Sinhalese School. Up to 1924, our work was confined to Schools and Orphanages. Then, a Home of Refuge for girls in moral danger was a necessity. In November 1924, His Grace Archbishop Antonius Coudert, OMI chose the property for the opening of a Refuge Home at Nayakakanda, as his Silver Jubilee Memorial.
In January 1926, the building was opened. Later still, a Creche for the babies and a Montessori School for toddlers were added. Here is the real “raison d’etre” of the Good Shepherd Congregation.
A very important event in the history of the Province was the changing of the Provincialate to Nayakakanda in 1955, when Sister M. Good Counsel Mills (Irish) became the Provincial Superior. From then on, the centre of all the development of the Province was here, and also the Novitiate. Under Sister Good Counsel’s guidance, Good Shepherd Province of Sri Lanka grew and prospered and became internationally known.
This is also another historic event in the province of Sri Lanka. Let us return to the early history for a moment, that we may better follow the Divine leading of our Province. At the beginning of the 20th Century, the Sisters of St. Francis Xavier had established themselves in Negombo and Kalamulla. It was then that Mgr. Brault, OMI went in person to the Mother House in Angers, to beg a Sister who would direct these Sisters as their Superior. Sister Mary Solange Duchesne, a small-made, humble Sister from Belgium, was sent to Sri Lanka by Mother Mary Peter de Coudenhove, then Superior General. That was in 1909.
The Francis Xavier Sisters in the Colombo Diocese grew in apostolic zeal and were in charge of 40 Parish Schools, Orphanages, and a Home for Elders and Boarding Schools. The Novitiate was in Bolawalana, Negombo. A branch in the Kandy Diocese had seven houses accomplishing the same apostolate, and their Novitiate was at Matale.
Here we cannot speak of the Province of Sri Lanka /Pakistan without reference to Sister Mary Gonzaga Fernando, who was the first Sri Lankan to be elected as Provincial Superior of Sri Lanka /Pakistan in the year 1978. She accomplished the task as General Councillor in Rome for 13 long years from May 1984 to September 1997.
In 1974, Bishop Bertrand Boland of the Diocese of Multan – Pakistan, visited our Sisters at Nayakakanda, Sri Lanka and requested Sr. Mary Joseph Deegan, the Provincial Superior, to send a group of Sisters for the pastoral care of the women in the parishes of his diocese. A few days later, Bishop Armando Trinidad, Bishop of Lahore also visited Nayakakanda. He was urgent in his request for Good Shepherd Sisters for his diocese. The Superior General, Sister Marie Bernadette Fox and her Council granted the necessary permission to establish houses in the Diocese. First, Sister Mary Joseph Deegan -the Provincial Superior of Sri Lanka visited Multan and Lahore diocese with Sr. Mary Bernard Wanigasekera and spent a couple of days in a village called Fatimapur, Returning to Sri Lanka with great enthusiasm, Sister Joseph Deegan invited volunteers for a Good Shepherd mission in Pakistan. Entrusting everything to Divine Providence, Sister Joseph Deegan named four Sisters. September 17, 1975 was a great day for the Sisters of the Province. On that day the pioneers:
Encouraged by Hilda’s success, Sr. Dolores and Dorothy Silva went to the Bangalore Novitiate, the next July. Less than one year later, Visa problems arose and the three Sisters – one professed, and two postulants had to leave India, by May 31, 1963.
They were brought to their new Novitiate in Bolawalana, Negombo, Sri Lanka. After over seven years of fervent religious life, Sr. Charlotte of the Dolours went to her reward in heaven. On October 12, 1975, the Contemplative Sisters transferred to the Halgashena Estate, Hanwella, Then again in 1989, a house was built for them in Nayakakanda, and they came to reside in this new and permanent place of their own. As the number grew another house was opened at Niripola, Hanwella on November 25, 1992. The two Communities now number 15 final professed Sisters and 01 temporary professed. The now Sr. Mary Francine Muthugala is the Province Leader, Sri Lanka/Pakistan.
We the Sri Lanka Good Shepherd Sisters are grateful to our Shepherd God for all the blessings we have received during these 150 years. Our heart gratefully remembers all our Sisters, Lay Mission Partners, Benefactors and friends, both local and overseas who support us and journey with us in many different ways to make this historical moment of Good Shepherd Sisters in Sri Lanka meaningful and joyful.
As our Saintly Mother Foundress says, “They are our ardent power house of prayer and merit which is the source of much of the untold progress of the works of the Good Shepherd.” (La Ven. Mere M.de Ste. Euphrasie Pelletier, Sa vie, Son oeuvre, Ses vertus. 1898)