[APPRECIATIONS - (16-03-2020)] | Daily News

[APPRECIATIONS - (16-03-2020)]

Rev. Fr. M.J. Le Goc

Multifaceted educationist

Seventy-five years is certainly a very long period. More than a diamond memory; just a quarter less than a century. It is a well-fit occasion to be commemorated.

“Le Goc” means “The Cheerful Man”. True to the word, great in all respect, Rev. Fr. Le Goc was a cheerful person. His child-like simplicity, as well as his charming and generous manner, won the hearts of all.

Today, I, as a teacher of St. Joseph’s College, Maradana, for almost 40 years; of which I was also the Principal of the Middle School for 10 years and, for another 10 years, the Principal of the Upper School; am really fortunate to have received and opportunity of writing about that Great Rector the unique Frenchman, Rev. Fr. Maurice James Le Goc.

In his lifetime, the Rev. Father was a Legend. He was a person of high renown, a celebrated Scientist, Astronomer, Architect, and Educationist of great calibre. Much more than that, he was a man of intrepid faith, who renounced his fortune and glittering positions, and dedicated his life to the service of God and Man.

Fr. Maurice James Le Goc was born on February 21, 1881. He received his early education in the Christian Brothers’ School in Quimper. When he was 20 years old, hearing a call from God, he entered the Seminary of the Congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI). He did his BSc and MA in London, and his Doctorate in Rome. He was renowned as a Botanist and Astronomer. He was Ordained a Priest on March 13, 1907, at the age of 26.

In 1914, he arrived in Sri Lanka. He was appointed to St. Joseph’s College and was made the Head of the School Science Department. Four years later, in 1919, Fr. Le Goc was appointed the Rector of St. Joseph’s College. While being the Rector, he was also a teacher of Science, especially focusing on Botany, Biology, Zoology, and Astronomy.

He himself wrote a book titled “The Text on Tropical Botanic”, used not only at St. Joseph’s College, but in many schools throughout the island, as a textbook prescribed by the Department of Education. This book became a textbook in India as well. He perfected the College laboratory. The entire island sought the assistance of Fr. Le Goc in the improvement of School laboratories, and this assistance he gave willingly and happily.

Rev. Fr. Le Goc was also a great exponent in Environmental Studies. His book titled “Chapters on Nature Study” became the standard text book in Sri Lanka, as well as India. As a Botanist, the teaching and the practice of the subject was his great love. His collection of Local flora made the College Botanical Garden remarkable.

He was a valuable member in the Ceylon Natural History Society. He was constantly active in its extensive research work, especially on Nature Studies. His research and studies on Sri Lanka's 'Madu' tree brought him recognition on an international level as well.

Sri Lanka Government was very quick to take advantage of Fr. Le Goc's exceptional talents, as well as his reputation as a Scientist and Botanist. Once, when Sri Lanka's Scientists, especially Botanists, failed to find the cause for an unknown disease or fungus that was threatening to destroy the Sacred Bo Tree (Sri Maha Bodhi) in Anuradhapura, Fr. Le Goc was requested by the Government to investigate the cause. He discovered the cause and helped preserve it up to this day.

Fr. Le Goc was a lecturer at the Ceylon Medical College, and at the Teacher Training College. He lectured university students and technological students. He was on all the councils of education. Fr. Le Goc also started the St. Joseph's College Farm at Waragoda, Kalaniya. It was a place for the College's students to experiment in agricultural ventures.

The farm was an eye-opener and an experience of a lifetime, to handle the garden soil and the organic manure of the farm yard. It was also the vision of Fr. Le Goc to get the students know and experience the dignity of labour.

Rev. Fr. Le Goc showed the importance of the study of Astronomy in our schools. He wrote a book on Astronomy, providing the reader an introduction to the mysteries of the sky. Fr. Le Goc was also an architect, and his knowledge of Architecture is well exhibited when one looks at the beautiful and massive buildings at St. Joseph’s College.

Everyone was impressed by the layout of the College buildings; the spacious grounds, the beautiful environment. The magnificent Chapel at the centre, designed and built by him to the style of the Church of St. John Lateran in Rome, is a well-fitting living monument to him.

He also had designed the connecting corridors to the classrooms, the Boarding Department, and the lecture halls, in such a way that when one steps in from one end, they could safely come out from the other end without being caught.

While being the Rector of St. Joseph’ College, Fr. Le Goc, with the object of quality education in his mind, founded St. Peter's College at Bambalapitiya, which was then called St. Joseph’s College South, which, today, is another leading Catholic School in Colombo. Fr. Le Goc also set up St. John's College, Dematagoda, and St. Paul's Waragoda, Kalaniya. Thus, he has given four leading educational institutions for Sri Lanka.

Fr. Le Goc served first as a teacher at St. Joseph’s College for 4 years (1914 to 1918), and then as a Rector for 21 years (1919 to 1940); 25 years at St. Joseph’s College altogether. After his retirement from College in 1940, he was appointed the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Colombo. His death was shocking and tragic. When on his usual daily routine journey to St. Bridget’s Convent for the Holy Benediction, an out-of-control army vehicle hit his car at Ward Place.

It was a terrifying traffic accident. He was thrown out of his own car, to the main road, with serious head injuries. Almost instantly, he succumbed to those injuries. That day was March 17, 1945. He was only 64 years then. I, as a 12-year-old schoolboy at the time, joined the massive funeral procession from St. Joseph’s College to the Borella Cemetery.As we recollect his 75th death anniversary, we also call back to our memory his 140th birth anniversary. Twenty-five years ago, the Philatelic Bureau of the Department of Posts, issued a commemorative stamp in the size of 30×40mm for 75 cents on National Heroes' Day, in honour of this great foreign Missionary, for the remarkable and valuable services rendered by him for 31 years to our motherland.

I appeal to the present government, especially the Philatelic Bureau of the Department of Posts, as it is nothing but a great honour, to issue once again, a commemorative stamp this National Heroes' Day, in honour of this great hero’s 75th death anniversary.

D.C. Jayasinghe

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