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Reminiscences of a teacher

by a correspondent

Edna Hall: “vivid memories”

Christ Church, Mutwal was the first Cathedral of the Anglican Church in Sri Lanka built and consecrated on the 21st of September, 1845 by the first Bishop Rt. Revd. James Chapman.

The significance of this church is that a number of schools saw the light of day in and around its premises, which were directly connected to its mission.

In 1851 Bishop James Chapman founded St. Thomas' College on these very premises and St. James' School, Kotahena known as the (S.P.G. School) attached to St. Thomas' College.

In 1918 Warden Stone founded the Cathedral Boys' School which was amalgamated with the Kotahena School in 1923 to be called the Cathedral College which is located on both sides of St. James' Church, Kotahena.

On the 1st of May, 1893 the wife of the Sub Warden the Revd. G. A. H. Arndt of St. Thomas', Mutwal opened the Cathedral Girls' School (in an out building standing in the garden of her house).

The Cathedral Girls' School closed down a few years ago. The memory lives on. To mark the 150th anniversary of Christ Church, Mutwal a Service of Thanksgiving will be held today at 5.00 p.m. in the church, for the former teachers and students of Cathedral College, Girls' School & St. John's College, Mattakkuliya.

Ms. Edna Hall is one of the most senior parishioners and surviving teachers of both schools who is eighty nine years. She was interviewed by Vicar D. L. Rodrigo.

Vicar Rev. D. L. Rodrigo: Can you recall your childhood days and significant events relating to Christ Church, Mutwal?

Ms. Hall: I was born in Kandy on October 7th, 1915. I started school in the Kandy Convent and later my father came to work in Colombo. We came to Colombo in 1923 and for a short time we were not properly settled. In 1924 we settled down in Kotahena.

I went to Good Shepherd Convent, Kotahena and attended Sunday School at Christ Church, Mutwal. It was a very happy time for children like us because we were all crazy over the Sunday School stamp albums that we were given and did not miss Sunday School in order to get the stamps and to get the never absent, never late during the quarter of the year. Sunday school was a very interesting place and Fr. Arndt was our Vicar.

I was a student in the Sunday School till my 15th or 16th year and after that when I left school and Sunday School Fr. Arndt asked me whether I would like to teach in the Sunday School. I started as a teacher in Sunday School.

Vicar Rodrigo: Christ Church, Mutwal which was the old Cathedral was the home for a number of schools. You have been in two of them. Could you recall the people who shaped the lives of these schools.

Ms. Hall: My first school was Cathedral Girls' School. The principal was Mrs. Bennet. I was raw from home and had no experience in teaching. It was Mrs. Bennet who showed me how to manage a class. I am very thankful to her.

The one who helped me a lot was Mrs. Redlic. I had a good companion, Mrs. Enid Jayathilake, who was always ready to show me around and she was a senior hand in the school. At the Cathedral College, the boys of the school were good and the discipline in the school. I had no trouble as a lady teacher with boys. They were good and respectful.

The day I left school there was one Mr. Nazarene Weerasinghe. The principal and he was very sorry that I was leaving. My brothers wanted me to stay at home and look after my mother. She was aging very fast. In fact Mr. Weerasinghe wanted me to stay but when I got the option to retire before retiring age.

I explained to him that I must retire. I still have a few of the boys coming to see me occasionally. When the schools went into the Vernacular one of the teachers in the lower school told me it was not difficult for me to teach in Sinhala.

In fact he gave me some of the Sinhala terms which was in use in the lower classes.I managed to teach the boys arithmetic in standard five when there was no teacher in the class. The boys did not show that I was raw, and I did not know what I was talking about.

The teachers were very helpful. Ratnayake was the headmaster of the Sinhala section and A. D. Paul, the headmaster of the Tamil section. They were very helpful to me. At first I was the only lady teacher in the school.

Later on a number of lady graduates joined the school with a large number of lady teachers and an equal number of men teachers. I was liked by my colleagues and most wanted to know why I was leaving so soon.

Vicar Rodrigo: What were the effects of the schools take over on your teaching

Ms. Hall: With the schools take over I did not know any Vernacular to take a class and it so happened that De Seram Weerasurya and I were old teachers of the school and were made the English teachers for many classes. I used to teach English in the second, fifth, sixth and eighth standards and came to be known as an English teacher in the school.

Vicar: Christ Church Mutwal is an historical place of worship and will be completing 150 years in September. As one of the most senior members of the parish you will certainly have vivid memories of the clergy, services and people.

Ms. Hall: When Bishop Cecil Douglas came to Sri Lanka he made the Cathedral his church. Earlier the bishops did not spend much time at the Mutwal Cathedral. All the diocesan festivals were held in the other churches.

Bishop Horsely wanted the synod to be held in this church and Fr. Derrick wanted the teachers of the three schools to do the tea. The teachers of the boys and girls schools and St. John's Mattakkuliya made arrangements for the tea.

The priests must have had a busy time. They had been famished when they came for tea we had to replenish dishes and dishes of sandwiches and patties for them.

Apart from Fr. Arndt and Fr. Derrick who was with us for twenty five years we had very helpful Vicars. Fr. A.J.C. Selvaratnam, Fr. Wijesekera, Fr. Gerald De Alwis Fr. Alick Dias Abeysinghe, Fr. Jabez Gnanapragasam who later became Bishop.

During Fr. Derrick's time Bishop Rollo Graham Campbell used to send young priests who were just out of Divinity College as assistants and at one time we had about three or four young priests in the church.

There was Rev. Cornelius Samuel, Rev. Blessing Chelliah, Revd. Kenneth Fernando. Revd. Lakshman Wickramasinghe and Fr. Dudley were equal. They worked very hard with the very poor children. Fr. Dudley had a car that you could hear a mile away when he was coming.

He used to keep the little boys in Church training their voices and he used to take them and drop them in their homes. He never allowed them to walk. Fr. Lakshman was equally good with the youngsters. Rev. Dudley organized a lot of activities in the church just before the war. He started the St. Mary's Guild which was for young unmarried women.

We had to do sewing for the church. we did a whole Lenten dress up for the church. There were two or three young women. The Candappa's, Edith and Phylis Nathanielsz, Esther and Marlene Ambrose and a few others who were good at embroidery. I remember sewing two huge copes.

Our dining table was not enough to place the material on it. We had to spread a mat on the ground. My mother and I went down on our haunches and with a box of pins had to pin up the whole cope and machine it later.

These were for the visiting priests to wear during processions.

The young Asst. Curates picked the best roses from the Cathedral garden. Fr. Karol Misso married Deanna Vandersey and Fr. Cornelius Samuel married Jean Harris from St. Mary the Virgin, Kelaniya.

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