Beautifully penned chronicle | Daily News
Book Review

Beautifully penned chronicle

The History of St. Joseph’s College Colombo is a subject which many of us Josephians can hardly be said to be burdened with. Although many boast of our sports and academic achievements only a handful of people are knowledgeable about the college’s rich history.

Established by Oblates with the support of the Christian community of Ceylon, it was their immense effort and dedication that transformed this great establishment to be the best Catholic Boys school on the island. St. Joseph’s boasts a great number of notable alumni. Known as the school of Bishops, it was the school of the first Cardinal of Ceylon, Thomas Benjamin Cooray. It is also known to house some of the most beautiful buildings in the country and is one of the greenest schools in Colombo.

Growing up, the history and the architecture of the school always fascinated me. The beautiful neoclassical mouldings, the intricately carved wooden lattices, the vintage English cement pressed tiles in the clock tower building, the pictures that hung in the corridors, the graceful paintings of past rectors and the Italian marble altars in the chapel always made me inquisitive to know more and more of this wonderful phrontistery.

The events of the college history have been recorded in the Blue and White Magazines since its initial publication in 1905. Although several attempts have been made to write the history of this great institution no one has succeeded to pen it in a comprehensive and detailed fashion till now.

“Till the Mountains Disappear” is a comprehensive chronology which will give the reader an extensive history of St. Joseph’s College from its early history on how the school started, its journeys through two world wars & civil war, academic and sports achievements of Josephians, to its present-day tales of triumph. It features the era of each and every rector and gives a descriptive narration of incidents that took place in each period, academic & sports achievements and especially personnel that contributed immensely to the upliftment of the college. An insightful forward of the book is written by the Archbishop Emeritus Most Rev. Dr Oswald Gomis. The book contains some rare photographs sourced from family collections, history books, newspapers and other archived sources, some of which will be seen for the very first time by many. It also has a collection of interesting sketches done by Kevin Caspersz who has been able to capture the essence of events in an extraordinary way, which no doubt will give the reader a feeling of nostalgia by taking them back to the past.

Initiated by the late Rev. Fr. Stanley Abeysekera, the tenth rector of the College during the latter part of his life, the project was later taken over by the then young assistant Head prefect Avishka Senewiratne, upon his personal request. Writing and researching history is an arduous task, which needs days and months to find & assemble accurate and actual facts in order to perfect what is written. Avishka, in my view, has successfully achieved this. It can also be observed that the book has no inclination nor hold a partial perspective of events and individuals, which is what a proper book of history should be. It has portrayed events as they actually transpired in the period of thirteen rector-ships. His work has proven to be at the standard of a real historian rather than an amateur which is self-evident.

In an era where History is considered to be “Not in trend” epically among the younger generations, a young person like Avishka has taken much interest and dedication to contribute a valuable gift to the hands and minds of every Josephian. No greater service could be done to the school. His talent to find out facts is exceptional and his effort and perseverance in finding and extracting information through old books, newspapers and reports of the National archives & libraries, hours of research and interviews have now resulted in this manuscript of invaluable history.

One might wonder why someone so young should take on the burden of writing a book of this magnitude. But an interesting fact is that the first rector of St. Joseph’s; Fr. Collin allowed a group of sixth form students who were around the age of 17 to edit the first Blue and White.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “The written word may be man’s greatest invention. It allows us to converse with the dead the absent and the unborn”. With St. Joseph’s College celebrating its 125thanniversary in March 2021, this book will be one such unquestionable and valuable part of our history. As a fourth-generation Josephian, I’m honoured to witness the writing of the history of St. Joseph’s College and also to be a part of it.

“Till the Mountains Disappear” is a must-have in the hands of every Josephian, young and old. As our motto reads, “In Scientia et Virtute”, Knowledge and Virtue will always be at the core of every Josephian of the past present and future.

Reviewed by Nilantha Perera Palihawadana