[APPRECIATIONS - (05-03-2019)] | Daily News

[APPRECIATIONS - (05-03-2019)]

Rev. Fr. Henry Miller

Steadfast Jesuit priest

One of the greatest gifts Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) received from the Western world was the Jesuit missionaries. They came from USA, Italy and France. A treasured missionary among them was Rev. Fr. Benjamin Henry Miller from New Orleans, who came over to Batticaloa in 1948 at the young age of 23.

This was the age at which his contemporaries back home in the US were living it up in luxury, but Rev. Fr. Miller, who hailed from an affluent family from the state of Louisiana, answered the call of his superiors to serve in far-flung countries looking for priests to nurture the young and guide the elders.

He did not know where Ceylon was, and less did he know where Batticaloa was. The Jesuit priests established three boys’ schools: St. Michael’s College in Batticaloa, St. Joseph’s College in Trincomalee, and St. Aloysius’ College in Galle. The superiors based young Rev. Fr. Miller at St. Michael’s to teach Physics, History, and English. He remained there till he entered eternal rest, except for a couple of years at St. Joseph’s and a year back home in New Orleans.

He played many a role at St. Michael’s as a teacher, counsellor, basketball coach, bursar, prefect of discipline, principal and finally, as a rector.

In all these roles, he mingled freely with boys, telling them stories and showing them tricks using his fingers, which left a lasting impression on all of us who were fortunate enough to be around him. He faithfully stuck to the Jesuit motto in teaching ‘You give us a boy and we will give back to you a man’. Never did he, or any of the Jesuit priests, summon a parent to school to discuss any misdemeanors of a child. From the time the child entered the college, they took full responsibility for the child and let the parents be free to deal with their familial issues.

The three Jesuit schools dished out the finest education and sports curricula, which very few schools could have matched at that time. We at St. Michael’s enjoyed a variety of children’s play tools, sports equipment, and even sweets straight from New Orleans. Year after year, we were favoured with new bats, balls (cricket, basketball, soccer), as well as laboratory equipment.

Rev. Fr. Miller’s moment of glory came in 1960, when he was appointed Rector just when the government decided to take over all private schools. St. Michael’s College, along with the other two colleges, decided to remain private because the Jesuits felt that the government was making a big mistake; which they realised after nearly three decades, after which they began letting go of the schools and assisting them financially.

Naturally, we at St. Michael’s had to compromise on some of the luxuries we were used to due to the financial burden caused by going private. Rev. Fr Miller took total responsibility to keep the home fires burning. Even though during the initial days, when we received assistance from the New Orleans Province of the Jesuits, St. Michael’s College was located in an economically underdeveloped environment in comparison to the districts of Colombo and Kandy, which were also called upon to support their own schools which decided to go private.

He never compromised on the educational and sports standards, but did ask us to make a few sacrifices in nonessential areas. He tried every possible way of harnessing funds from the Batticaloa parents, old boys, and the public, but was also sympathetic towards their inability to come up to the plate. He had to keep the school going—teachers’ salaries, building maintenance, science equipment, sports equipment and a whole lot more. He never allowed us to feel the lack of any of these.

With the passage of time, the assistance from New Orleans started dwindling due to their own demands, but he never let up on keeping the school going. Time did take its toll and the Jesuits could not take the strain anymore. They handed the three colleges to the government. After 10 years of struggle, Rev. Fr. Miller stepped out of the Rector’s office in 1970 and let the government appointees take over. As to how Rev. Fr. Henry Miller kept the college afloat with the limited funds he could draw from the environment, no one would ever know.

With St. Michael’s College out of his hands, he settled down to pastoral work in several villages and towns in the Batticaloa district. This gave him the opportunity to feel the pulse of the people.

He could see the ethnic issue coming from a mile away—and so it did in 1983. Rev. Fr. Miller readied himself to take on the new challenge. He fully understood the ambitions of the armed forces and the rebels, both of which paid little regard to the well-being of civilians.

He stood up against both these forces, not supporting either of their causes, but totally focused on the justice and care meted out to the civilians who were caught up in the crossfire.

He founded the Batticaloa Peace Committee and the Batticaloa Council of Religions, which took the initiative to find a peaceful solution to the ethnic issue. In recognition of his nonpartisan role, the government appointed Rev. Fr. Henry Miller to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission in Batticaloa.

His moment of glory in this chapter of his life was when the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka awarded him the Year’s Citizens Peace Award in 2014.

Rev. Fr. Miller, advancing in age into his 80’s, rested in the Jesuit residence at the college and attended to the various religious needs of the faithful and found peace with his Creator until he was called to rest on January 1. Thus ended the life of that young priestly lad from New Orleans after 70 years of service to a land he never knew before he set foot on it.

Angelo M. Patrick


Jayatilleke de Silva

Exceptional journalist

I walked into Jaye’s room one fine day. He was the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily News and I wanted to check something about the dummy. He was on the phone. I wanted to leave, but he gestured for me to stay. He continued his conversation; it was in Sinhala.

“To whom do you want to talk?” he asked from the person on the phone. Obviously the answer was he wanted to talk to the Editor-in-Chief. Quick came the reply, “The Editor is not in right now. I’ll take any message.” The person on the other side must have asked who he was talking to. “I am a peon, and if you have any message, I’ll pass it on to Mr. Jayatilleke,” Jaye said and politely hung up. I was stunned. He looked at me and started laughing. “Couldn’t help it, Riza, this fellow was getting on my nerves, so I was forced to tell a lie.” This was Jaye.

Working under Jaye had always been pleasurable. He followed deadlines, which I always believed in. He would tell me, “If we don’t get the papers printed on time, we can’t sell them. Let the first edition go and we can take it in the Late City edition.”

This is what I follow today, wherever I work, be it in Sri Lanka or overseas. This is what I tell the other staff, too. Jaye would walk into the subs’ room and sit with us. He would check about the page one stories and discuss about making the paper look appealing. He would get the whole staff involved in the process.

He would walk into the production room when Page 1 was being done. Sometimes he would tell me to change the layout; but most of the time, he was happy about how it looked. “Any changes can be done in the night. Let it go now,” he would tell, looking at his watch. Deadlines he followed to the letter. I remember a night when the LTTE attacked Colombo. It was somewhere around February, 2009. The date, I am not sure of.

We were at the Daily News editorial. It was night and we were almost done for the day. Suddenly, we heard something similar to fireworks. The editorial windows were open and the curtains were flapping, for the winds were strong. From the windows we could see a light aircraft. We were under attack. Jaye was there and so were several colleagues. It was chaos as we were told to hide under the tables. People were running. The only table we could think was the one in the Editor’s room. We rushed and huddled and among several others was Jaye.

Seeing me and the others, he called, “Come, come… this is the safest place to be right now.” Among the others was Kapila Wijegunawardena, an editorial assistant. Later, we got to know that two LTTE aircrafts had attempted to attack Colombo. The military shot down the light aircraft, one of which crashed into the tax office building. The next day, Jaye recalled with a grin, “We all had to take refuge under the Editor’s table.”

These are some of the memories I recall working with Jaye. After he left, he used to walk into the editorial occasionally. Sometimes he would come in to place a news item in the Daily News Today’s Event column. On one occasion when I saw him, I told him, “Mr. Jayetilleke, you look like a schoolboy, looking very young.” His reply was; “Don’t tell lies, I know how I look.” Then he smiled: “You need any help from me?”

Life is such, it is the memories we take. We will always have good journalists, but finding journalists who are good, straightforward and popular is rare. Jaye was one of them. Thank you, Jaye, for what you have taught me. Your father-like advice, I will always cherish.

Riza Rawdin


K.T.K Silva

A source of inspiration

The first death anniversary of my grandfather K.T.K Silva, former Personnel Manager of the Sri Lanka Transport Board (Southern Province), fell on February 8. He was born in a scenic village called Gonapeenuwala, Baddegama; on October 5, 1928; as the eldest son of the family. My grandfather received his primary education at Saralankara College in Gonapeenuwala and completed his secondary education at Ashoka College, Baddegama.

He began his career as an English teacher at the Pallegama Vidyalaya in Deniyaya. He joined the Postal department in 1949. Subsequently, from 1959, my grandfather worked as a Depot Superintendent of the Ceylon Transport Board in various places of the country. He retired at the age of 60 on October 5, 1988, as the Personnel Manager (Southern Province) of the Sri Lanka Transport Board.

My grandfather entered into matrimony with Stella Jayasuriya, who too, was an English teacher, in 1961. They were blessed with four children; namely Amith Karunarathne (Chief Announcer, Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation Ruhunu Service), Hasantha Champika, Winodini Samanthi and Nilanthi Manori. He was a very lovable grandfather to six grandchildren. I have no doubt that the unbelievable knowledge my grandfather possessed on many an important subject paved the way for me to become a doctor by profession. He served as a Treasurer in the Southern Province for a leading political party and was instrumental in providing employment to several youth during that period.

My grandfather was very eloquent in the Sinhala and English languages and had great respect for the Chief Incumbent of the village temple, as well as other Buddhist monks. He was a teetotaller and led a very exemplary life. He was a huge source of inspiration to every one of us and also had the amazing ability to face any situation whether it was good or bad.

My grandfather departed this life peacefully at his residence in Issadeen Town, Matara. May he become my dear grandfather in every birth in our journey through Sansara. May he attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana soon.

Dr. Tharuka Gunasekara


Annapooranam Nadarasa

She was sincere and genuine

It is with deep heartache that I pen these few lines on the first death anniversary of Nadarasa of Ebenezer Place, Dehiwela, in March. We have lost a sincere genuine personality from our midst. She was a jewel of a lady, a good human being with loads of love in her heart. Though the name suggests that we belong to two communities, in her case, it was not. She was much closer to me, more than my own siblings. She was an exceptionally kind person; the type that one would rarely come across. Calm, soft-spoken and well-mannered, she was well-known among us for her sincerity and concern, with sympathy overflowing. Modest and upright, with a sense of dignity and responsibility hovering around her—and with pride of place to moral values—her lifestyle was simple and her work, systematic and methodical.

She was a smart lady, always attired very neatly in a simple way, very often in a saree. Born to a respectable and educated family in Jaffna, she had been brought up in family traditions and grew up to be a pretty young lady by the time of her marriage. Let me see who this lucky young guy who took her hand for life’s journey is. He is none other than Ponnambalam Nadarasa, an intellectual of rare calibre. A sincere and honest person dedicated to his profession.

He was the Director of Customs, and an interesting and well-read personality who shares his knowledge with others. No second word, he had been blessed with a caring, dedicated wife who attended to all his needs until she showed poor signs of health. Both combined was an outstanding example to show how people could co-exist harmoniously and be of assistance to one another.

She was not only a devoted wife, but also an affectionate mother to Subothini and Suresh and a charming grandma to Gayathri and Gajen. Subo is domiciled in Australia. She was always back in Sri Lanka to enjoy life and also, in time of need, to be with her. Annapooranam’s beloved son Suresh needs special mention as to how he displayed his concern and deep affection during his mum’s illness, regardless of his job.

Suresh, be patient. She’ll bless you with all your requirements. The kindness passed on by his mother was visible in all their activities. Gayathri and Gajen made her extremely happy by fulfilling her dream of higher studies during her lifetime, by following Medicine and Law. When free, most of her time would spent in the garden, stunningly beautiful with lots of flowers in front and the backyard, and with flourishing fruits and vegetables.

Most of the trees found in my residence are those given to me by her. The starfruit tree, especially, bears fruits in plenty. She would share her garden produce with her neighbours, but the lion’s share will be here, over the wall. During Hindu festivals, all her preparations would be on our table, enjoyed by all of us with respect and faith. We had the privilege of tasting her homemade mouth-watering dishes not once, but throughout our lives. She also enjoyed helping the underprivileged and helped a lot in religious activities.

Her unfailing support to us was visible all her actions. She was a lovable lady to both the young and the old. This space does not permit me to go into detail. She has left a memory so beautiful which will never fade in the passage of time. Let this be a tribute to her. May her soul rest in peace and attain Moksha.

Rupa Banduwardena


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