The History of Redemptorists in Sri Lanka
The Redemptorists have a long history of their presence in Sri Lanka. The year 2019 marked the 80th year of the Redemptorist presence in Sri Lanka. Below is a short narrative of their history.
Historically, speaking the first Redemptorists to land in Sri Lanka was Fr. Francis Menezes, a native of Goa, India, who had been formed in the Redemptorist way of life in Portugal and Italy. When there arose the well-known dispute between the Propaganda Fedei and the Paroado over the ecclesial jurisdiction in India and Ceylon, the propaganda Fidei sent Fr. Menezes as their special emissary to Ceylon in 1843 to look into the matter. Fr. Francis Menezes will surely go down in history as the first Redemptorist to set his foot on our Sri Lankan soil.
Then there is also evidence to the fact that from the beginning of the 20th century, the Australian Redemptorists also came to the island of Ceylon to explore new apostolic possibilities. Thus Australis Redemptorists, Fr. P. Linch in 1906, Fr. Eddie Gallehen in 1922, Fr. Jack Brennen and team in 1936, and Fr. Jonny Moran and team in 1937 did arrive in Ceylon for Redemptorist work, especially for preaching popularmissions in English. We have records of them reaching missions in cities like Colombo, Kandy, Jaffna and Galle.
Then, the Irish Redemptorists arrived in Sri lanka somewhat accidentally (or providencially) in the sense that a group of them when were on their way to the Phillipines, landed at the Colombo harbor in 1938. When they went to Kandy, to their delight the Most Rev. Bernard Regno, O.S.B, Sylvestro-Benedictine Bishop of Kandy, welcomed them with open arms and encouraged them to begin a foundation in his diocese. He showed them proudly a portrait of their founder St. Alphonsus Liguori in his office room and as said that as a bishop he had taken this saint as his model. As a result of this encouraging encounter with the Bishop of Kandy the then Irish Provincial Fr. Hugo Kerr decided to send three Redemptorists to begin a foundation in the Island of Ceylon.
The three pioneering Redemptorists set sail from Belfast on December 09, 1938 via Liverpool & Southhampton and arrived in Colombo, Ceylon on 05 Janurary 1939 at around 3.00 pm. They were Fr. Gerrard McDonnel C.S.s.R, Fr. Mathew Hickey C.Ss.R and Fr. Leo O’Halloran C.Ss.R. They proceeded to found the first community in Kandy the same year.
Redemptorist Houses in Kandy
Glen Helen- January 5th 1939
Siribawana- February 23rd 1940
New Peradeniya- November 23rd 1942
Frazer Lodge- February 23rd 1943
Papal Seminary Holiday Villa, Ratakelle- January 19th 1944
Frazer Lodge- September 29th 1944
Gilbury- Feb 08th 1945
Finally: Sancta Maria
Although their numbers have always been small, the Sri Lankan Redemptorists through their hard, dedicated apostolic work have kept their name known all over Sri Lanka. Their popular parish missions, preaching parish missions, preaching at Church feast novenas and treats have been their main apostolates in the island while parish work also has become one of their apostolates since 1964 when they accepted the then fairly undeveloped parish of St. Theresa’s, Thimbirigasyaya, that is 25 years after their arrival in Kandy, to be historically precisely.
Ever since their arrival in Kandy in 1939, some Redemptorists have also served in 1939, some Redemptorists have also served in short spells in parishes of the dioceses of Colombo, Chilaw, kandy, Anuradapura and Kurunegala as parish priests. However, it is for heir charismatic preaching of the Word of god in and through popular missions in parishes that the redemptorists earned a special niche in the Sri Lankan Church.
In 2014 the Redemptorists in Sri Lanka celebrated the 75th Anniversary of their presence in the island. The Sri Lankan Redemptorists have had many ups and downs during their 75+ years presence in this emerald and blessed island. The many and varied apostolic experiences of theirs have not only enriched them but they have also been used by God as His graced channels to communicate to His people here that after all, God is merciful and goes after the lost sheep.
God has been with us all along, in good times and bad ties, ever since our first arrival in Kandy and He will surely continue to be with us as we look forward with renewed vigor to serve the people and the church in Sri Lanka!