St. Joseph’s College is a Catholic educational institution located in Colombo, Sri Lanka. It was established in 1896 by French missionaries, with Rev Christophe-Etienne Bonjean playing a leading role. The college has over 4,500 students with a staff of over 400. Distinguished former students include Cardinal Thomas Cooray the first Cardinal from Sri Lanka,and President Ranasinghe Premadasa. The motto of the college is “In Scientia et Virtute”, meaning “In Knowledge and Virtue” in Latin.
In 1892, the idea of a Catholic College emerges with the proposal of the Archbishop of Colombo Rt. Rev. Fr. Christophe-Étienne Bonjean.
On 6 January 1892, a pastoral letter was sent to all the priests espousing the desirability of building a Catholic Private College to cater to the Elite in Colombo In April 1892, St. Joseph’s College was provided the support of other catholic institutions, notably the administration of St. Benedict’s College. From April 1892, it took four years until the great Catholic Institution started its functions. St Joseph’s and the wider Catholic community is eternally grateful to all who assisted in making this a reality, including the administration of St Benedict’s College for having provided their assistance in this act, in seeing the creation of what soon became the premier Catholic school in Sri Lanka and continues to be to-date.
Thereafter 27 acres of Land called the ‘uplands’ was bought by the Archbishop for this project, from the government. Later however, this land was bought back by the government with compensation, and the Catholic Church bought a land at Maradana in Darley Road from a wealthy Egyptian called Arabi Pasha who owned horses.
On 12 December 1894 the foundation stone was laid by the Papal Delegate for South-Asia Rev. Msgr, Ladislaus Zaleski. On 2 March 1896, St. Joseph’s College Colombo was declared open with 211 students in the upper school and 96 students in the preparatory school with Very Rev. Fr. Charles Collin as the first rector. In November 1896, the college building was formally declared open by Governor of Ceylon West Redgeway and was blessed by Most Rev. Msgr, Zaleski, in the presence of the Archbishop Rt. Rev. Fr. Melizan OMI.
The Rector’s office, the college office and the classrooms were all housed in the first building – the clock tower building of the college. The College Magazine was started in 1905. The Bonjean Hall was the third building to be completed. Fr. Charles Lytton, the second rector, planned and supervised the building project of the Bonjean Hall.
Fr. Emil Nicholas OMI was the third rector, appointed in 1910. To Fr. Emil Nicholas goes the credit of primary work on the first Religious Association of the College – the Guild of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
In 1914, there was the appointment of the great educationist, scientist and efficient administrator Fr. Maurice J. Legoc OMI the fourth rector. In 1933 the present primary building – originally named “The Maurice Block” was constructed. The exterior facade of this building was an exact copy of the Bonjean Hall was declared open by Most Rev. Fr. Marques.
The next building constructed was the south wing, a two-storey classroom building. During Fr. Maurice Legoc’s tenure of office, there was emphasis of the science subjects in the curriculum, Fr. Legoc’s favourite subject was Botany. His own publication “Tropical Botany” was used as a text book in O’ Level classes in India and Sri Lanka. In 1930, Fr. Maurice Legoc introduced a scheme of scholarships to the under privileged students.
To extend the fruits of knowledge to the students in the outstations, Fr. Maurice Legoc commenced:
- (a) St. Joseph’s College South, later St. Peter’s College in 1922.
- (b) St. Paul’s College Waragoda (1935)
- (c) St. John’s College, Dematagoda (1939)
On 19 March 1929, the foundation stone for the College Chapel was laid by the Archbishop of Colombo. The College Chapel is a fitting memorial to Fr. Maurice Legoc.
At the southern end of the primary building an exact copy of the Grotto in Lourdes was built. In 1940, the Very Rev. Fr. Peter A. Pillai (fifth Rector) was appointed. On 27 February 1947, due to the World War 2, the College buildings were taken over by the Army. The College was in ‘exile’ from 1942 to 1946, branches of the College were housed in Homagama, Kalaniya, Gampaha and later at Borella.
On 30 July 1952, the swimming pool, the largest pool in Colombo at the time, was declared open by Lord Soulbury, the Governor General of Sri Lanka. After the era of Fr. Peter A. Pillai, Rev. W.L.A. Don Peter (sixth Rector) was appointed as the Rector of St. Joseph’s College in 1959. Fr. Don Peter was the first diocesan priest to hold this responsible post.
In 1960, after the take over of the schools by the Government the financial support was stopped by the government. The College became a private, non fee levying school.
To uplift the financial situation of the College, Fr. W.L.A. Peter founded the Welfare Association, and also started a pre-school for St. Joseph’s. After the tenure of the Sinhala scholar, Fr. W.L.A. don Peter, Rev. Fr. Mervyn Weekakkody (seventh Rector) was given the task of being Chief Executive of St. Joseph’s. after a brief period, Fr. Weerakkody retired as Rector and in 1974, Rev. Fr. Quintus Fernando (eighth Rector) was appointed as rector. FR. Quintus Fernando was called the architect of the green revolution at St. Joseph’s. He gave pride of pace to agriculture. The agro 74 was a great exhibition which displayed agricultural plots and stressed the importance of agriculture in the school curriculum.
The ‘Open air stadium’ was constructed during the era of Fr. Quintus. The cricket ‘Tuft Pitch’ became a reality during Fr. Quintus’s tenure of office. On 19 September 1977, Ranasinghe Premdasa, the first old boy to become Prime Minister, was felicitated by the Josephian family. The work of the Premadasa Pavilion was directed by Fr. Quintus Fernando.
In 1979, Fr. Neville Emmanuel (ninth Rector) was appointed as rector. During the era of Fr. Neville he tried his best to re-introduce the Catholic atmosphere in the College. Fr. Neville started the scheme of granting incentives to teachers based on punctuality, attendance, good teaching etc. Fr. Neville initiated the sports council, to improve standards in the sports arena. In May 1983, Rev. Fr. B. Stanley Abeysekara was appointed as the 10th Rector of St. Joseph’s College.
To provide an opportunity for deserving under-privileged students to study at St. Joseph’s, a grade 5 scholarship examination was inaugurated in the College. On the results of this examination these students were give an opportunity to study at St. Joseph’s College. In 1987 Thomas Cardinal Cooray, a past student of the College was conferred a very special honour – ‘Deva Dharma Keethisiri Uttunga Vidyala Puthra’.
During the era of Fr. Stanley Abeysekara, the following additions and renovations to the college buildings were completed with funds provided by the Welfare Association and Old Boys.
(a) A two storied building was completed. The top-story for the classrooms, and the ground floor for the sick room, boarders’ refectory and modern kitchen.
(b) An auditorium was built where the Chemistry labs were housed.
(c) In 1991, a three storied building was constructed for class-rooms and laboratories for the advanced level students.
(d) The Enderamulla Branch school was inaugurated.
(e) A sports complex cum auditorium was declared open by Nicholas Marcus Fernando on 19 March 1996, funded mainly by Old Boys worldwide.
The College centenary year was inaugurated.
On 30 March 1996, Rev. Fr. Victor Silva (11th Rector) was appointed as Rector of St. Joseph’s College. The Choral singing at St. Joseph’s College reached very high standards, with Mr. Francis Almeida as music director.The Bonjean Hall and the College swimming pool were renovated with funds from Old Boys from the country and overseas. The introduction of the boating facilities were a valuable addition to St. Joseph’s College during the era of Fr. Victor Silva, three classroom buildings were constructed for the Enderamulla branch school. The branch-school of St. Joseph’s at Kadolkelle – Negombo was inaugurated during the latter days of Fr. Victor Silva.
On 3 October 2005, Fr. Sylvester Ranasinghe was appointed as 12th Rector of St. Joseph’s College. A systematic staff development programme was introduced at St. Joseph’s by the rector. He introduced “Rhythm of Joes” concert in school, with the talents of students in College, which was the first time in Sri Lankan schools, a competition with such high standards were done. Though he was a strict character to see, yet the Teachers and the Students liked him very much. At his final speech as the rector of St. Joseph’s College, he reminded the song “I did it my way”, ended with standing ovation. During Fr. Ranasinghe’s era, different age groups of past students started undertaking different projects for the welfare of the College – innovations and refurbishment of the different buildings were undertaken by the old boys under the direction of the rector. One significant restoration was the Bonjean Hall undertaken by the Old Boys’ Union at a cost of over Rs. 12 m. The dormitory, classrooms were restored and renovated by old boys. The improvement of the college is proven by the student in this era and many old boys. Computerising different aspects of school administration and curriculum has been completed.
ADDRESSSt. Joseph’s College
No. 214,T.B. Jayah Mawatha,
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