Wednesday, 10 March 2004  
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S. Thomas' College Matara is 160

S. Thomas' College Matara was founded by the Christian Missionary Society of England in the year 1844. Today the college takes pride in its glorious history for the past 160 years. One hundred and sixty years of selfless service to the country is a long period in the history of any institution.

When it comes to S. Thomas' Matara, it is more significant because the college is pulsating with life and its vibrations can be felt everywhere. To commemorate this significant milestone which falls today (10), the Principal and the staff along with the present and past students rallying round the college flag in chocolate and light blue with the college crest and its motto "Perseverando Vincase" which means "Pursuance leads to success" as sons of one mother jubilantly with true Thomian spirit, will be celebrating this event at the college premises at Matara.

The main concern of the various missionary bodies in Sri Lanka during the early period of British rule was the determination to give their students a sound English education.

As a result of this S. Thomas' School Matara later to become a secondary school in 1914 as S. Thomas' College Matara commenced its education in a bungalow at the village called "Wellamadama" where the "University of Ruhuna" presently located today.

The school was founded by one of the first Anglican Missionaries in Sri Lanka, Rev. Fr. N. J. Ondatjee in the year 1844 with a few students and three teachers whose untiring efforts made the school very popular and attracted students from every part of the island.

Rev. Ondatjee was succeeded by a long line of distinguished principals who have all continued the good work producing many talented scholars over the years. The most outstanding among them was the late great Sinhala genious the late Munidasa Kumaratunge, who devoted his entire life for the upliftment of the Sinhala language and literature.

He once expressed his enthusiasm of the heritage of his alma-mater by writing the following phrase in his "Kiyawana Nuwana" book 3" which we used as a text book in the school in the second form.

This phrase is as follows: "Among countries one which resembles the Isle of Lanka and among its cities, one which in Sri Lanka to Matara and among its schools, one which could stimulates S. Thomas' who will be able to emulate."

The Ex chief incumbent of Amarapura Maha Sangha Sabha, the Most Venerable the Late Agga Maha Panditha Madihe Pannaseeha Maha Thero, the former Bishop of Colombo Rev. S. Gnanaprakasam, the permanent representative to the UNO in 1960s R. S. S. Gunawardane, the historian Professor Ralph Bultjens and ex Minister of Education, Dr. Al-haj Badurdeen Mohamed are few of the outstanding personalities produced by this college, It will be observed that they belonged to various ethnic groups in Sri Lanka.

It must be mentioned with a sense of undying gratitude that the founder of this esteemed institution the late Rev. N. J. Ondatjee and those who followed thereafter viz. Rev. A. Dias Abeysinghe, Rev. J. S. Lyle, Rev. F. H. De Winton, Rev. F. D. Edirisinghe, M/s Clement La-brooy, A. W. Wijesinghe, J. W. Bultjens, R. C. Reginold, L. A. Arndt, S. J. Gunasekeram, J. C. Handy, M. S. Soloman, Rev. C. C. P. Arulpragasam, Rev. R. V. L. Pereira, M/s J. E. M. Fernando, K. B. Jayasuriya, E. A. De L. W. Samarasinghe, B. G. Sisira and the present principal, Ratnasiri Suraweera, in their capacities as principals steered this school over the years with joy and jubilance, troubles and turmoil.

If not for such gentlemen it would not have been able for this school to have attained the pristine glory that it presently enjoys. J. W. Bultjens' tenure of office as the principal for well over 30 years from 1895 to 1931 is considered the golden era of this college.

Today the school located in the Matara town center spreading over from Anagarika Dharmapala Mawatha to Munidasa Kumarathunge Mawatha with four storied buildings in addition to all Dutch buildings houses 5000 students and 150 members of the tutorial staff.

The Buddhist shrine room constructed at the College premises by the Old Boys Association in 1999 which was declared open by the Most Ven. Madihe Pannasheeha Thero, a patriotic Buddhist Priest and also a past student of the college will stand as a historical monument for many more centuries.

The newly constructed Munidasa Kumaratunga Memorial Auditorium built by the Ministry of Education and which was furnished by our philanthropist President Mr. Prasada Punchihewa at a cost of nearly Rs. 600,000 has given a new look to the school.

It is exactly 10 years ago when we celebrated the 150th anniversary in 1994 the then Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe declared the college as a National School. Coincidentally, Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe is the present Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and will participate at the 160th anniversary celebrations too.

Her Excellency the President of Sri Lanka Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga had also sent a congratulatory message to the souvenir giving her whole hearted blessings and support to the college on this very special day.

In the year 1960 S. Thomas' College Matara vested in the Government after a long period of missionary control. K. B. Jayasuriya became the first principal under Government administration. It is with a certain amount of nostalgia mixed with a sense of gratitude I recall the dedicated services of the following principals and the teachers of the school.

The late M/s J. E. M. Fernando, K. B. Jayasuriya and also E. A. de L. W. Samarasinghe who reactivated the college OBA which was defunct after its inauguration by S. J. Gunasekeram in 1934. I fail in my duty if I do not mention the services rendered by the distinguished teachers such as B. D. Jayasekera who designed the college flag and the crest in the early part of the 20th century and M/s Noel L. Rodrigo, O. C. de Alwis, Major G. W. S. de Silva, Capt. N. R. M. Dudley de Silva, Mrs. Winifred de Alwis, Lionel Waidyaratne, S. K. Upasena and Jayananda Abeysinghe. These teachers have devoted their time and energy for the betterment of the students' academic standard and extra curricular achievements during the latter part.

S. Thomas' Matara can be justifiably proud of her achievements not only in studies but also in extra curricular activities. It is one of the oldest cricket playing school in the island and played the centenary "Big Match" with S. Servatius College Matara in the year 2000.

The 104th encounter took place early part of this month. This is the second oldest cricket encounter in the island which has won the hearts of the common people not only in Matara but even the rural folks of the deep south. People from all parts of the southern province rush to witness this big match every year which is popularly known as the "Battle of the Blues" of Ruhuna. It was also S. Thomas' College Matara that introduced scouting and cadetting to Matara.

The Matara Thomians proud of their past heritage will be looking forward for a more glorious future.

Kamal de Silva,
S. Thomas' College Matara OBA Colombo Branch.

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