by Navamalar Kanagasuntherie
Jaffna Holy Family Convent alumni from around the world are on their way to Sri Lanka to celebrate their alma mater’s sesquicentennial in October this year
Starting with a dinner in Colombo on the 21st of October, hosted by the Colombo Branch of the School’s Past Pupils Association the celebrations will move to the School’s home town, Jaffna, where the School will celebrate the 150th Anniversary on the 25th of October, followed by the Global Union of the Alumni on the 26th.
Celebrations were also held in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom earlier this year to mark the 150th Anniversary of Holy Family Convent Jaffna The centennial is also an occasion for the School’s alumni, teachers and pupils, past and present,and the community, to commit anew to the vision and ethos of the far-sighted pioneers who laid the foundation for this leading National School in northern Sri Lanka.
The School’s origins date back to 1845 when Bishop Bettachini of Jaffna established two schools in the northern capital, one for boys, the other for girls, with the aim of imparting to them an English education. The girls’ school began with a handful of pupils in humble surroundings, in the premises where the Rest House stands today, in 3rd Cross Street, Jaffna It was managed by Mrs Mary Anne O’Flanagan, wife of an Irish military officer.
Meanwhile, events were moving fast in France which would play a crucial role in the school’s development. Soon after the French Revolution, The Holy Family Association founded by the venerable Pierre Noailles in France, began spreading to other parts of Europe. The Association’s reputation reached the Bishop of Jaffna, the Rt Rev Dr J.S. Semeria, who envisaging the benefits of a convent education for the girls in the north, approached the Association’s founder to start a similar foundation in Sri Lanka. The founder acceded to this request but his death in February 1862 caused a short delay in implanting this arrangement.
Long, unfamiliar journey
Notwithstanding, on 6 September 1862, six young nuns, passionate in their zeal to educate the girls of Jaffna, said goodbye to their families and their leaders and accompanied by Bishop Semeria, set sail from Toulon in France. In Galle crowds gathered to welcome these first Christian nuns to set foot on Sri Lankan soil.
The nuns then journeyed on to Jaffna arriving there on 2 November 1862. Mrs Flanagan handed over the little school which she had managed since its inception to the nuns, with Mother Helen Winter as the first Principal. About one hundred Tamil and 12 European children enrolled in the school to receive an English education. Confident in its academic progress, the school launched London matriculation classes in 1938. The pupils obtained distinction in university entrance exams in arts and science subjects. In sports too, the school excelled, winning first place in 1937 in tennis, badminton and tenniquot in the Island.
Among the post-Independence Principals who left their mark on the school was Mother Josephine Tynan who took over the reins in 1951. An excellent teacher in English, English Literature and History she brought energy and vitality to the School. She bequeathed to the school the House System, a music Band and the Past Pupils Association. Most cherished her parting gift, the school anthem, which continues to be sung with pride and gusto to this day.
New era with Sri Lanka Principals
Despite the setbacks, the school has succeeding in maintaining high standards. Its pupils entered the university faculties of medicine, veterinary medicine, agriculture, bioscience, law, arts and fine arts. They acquired high positions in their fields, serving not only in Sri Lanka, but in many parts of the world.
Landmark dates and new opening Landmark dates for the school were the year 2002 when it amalgamated with the Tamil Convent Mahavidyalayam, and 2010 when it was upgraded to a National School.Introduction of a ‘school exchange programme’in 2010 during the Principal Sr. Thusnevis Ladislaus’s period marked a new opening.In February 2011 Sr. Thayanayahi Sebamalai took over as principal. She continues to uphold the values and ethics of the school founders while modernising the school to prepare is pupils for the modern world. and Current enrolment stands at 2000 pupils and teaching staff number 76.
Loyalty and Community support
Although publicly funded, the school is fortunate in the community support it receives. To the people of the area it has long been “our school”. Several generations of their families have been educated, their characters developed, values of community service and service to the nation inculcated.
With their loyalty and support, and contributions in cash and kind the community, especially the school’s past pupils, they are an invaluable resource for the School.
What of the future? A school born of the boldness of vision of its founders, one that considers character building and preparing its pupils for contributing to the development of their community and the nation as equally important as achieving academic excellence can look forward to a rewarding and fulfilling future.
This future will be all the richer if it continues to reinforce and enhance its relationship and cooperation with the community it serves.
(Mrs. Navamalar Kanagasuntherie, is President, Jaffna HFC PPA Colombo Branch)