Friday, January 30, 2015


This article was published in the newspaper Ceylontoday, 2015-01-25
By Bro. Glen Jalendran Ceylon today Mosaic

Beyond shattering the darkness of ignorance

The human race is distinguished from the rest of creation by its superior intellect and thirst for knowledge. Knowledge of the science of friction which sparked within primitive man gradually ignited the light with which man began to perceive the nature of life and what lies beyond, shattering the darkness of ignorance. What enabled man to shatter the darkness of ignorance, to ponder about the unknowable, to achieve profundity in thought and progress in science and technology was his innate desire to know. Therefore, one is justified in affirming what attracts people to academia is this innate desire. One key contributor to academia is the Roman Catholic Church. This is true of both the local church and the universal church.

                                           The human race is distinguished from the rest of creation by its superior intellect and thirst for knowledge. Knowledge of the science of friction which sparked within primitive man gradually ignited the light with which man began to perceive the nature of life and what lies beyond, shattering the darkness of ignorance. What enabled man to shatter the darkness of ignorance, to ponder about the unknowable, to achieve profundity in thought and progress in science and technology was his innate desire to know. Therefore, one is justified in affirming what attracts people to academia is this innate desire. One key contributor to academia is the Roman Catholic Church. This is true of both the local church and the universal church.
 The Catholic Church of Sri Lanka has and continues to produce masterminds and brilliant intellectuals to serve in the vineyard of the Lord. As a key contributor in producing such priests, the National Seminary, which pre-existed as the papal seminary for more than sixty years, stands tall and celebrates Her Diamond Jubilee this year in forming the priests of Sri Lanka. The Seminary operates as the final destination in priestly formation and consists of brothers reading for Theological and Philosophical studies. Although the seminary operates as one single unit under the able and prudent leadership of Very Rev. Fr. Elmo Dias, yet the department of philosophy is directed by Rev. Fr. Ajith Fernando and is located outside the premises of the department of Theology. Rev. Fr. Ajith Wellington OMI facilitates the academic programme of the Department of Philosophy in the capacity of the Head of the Department of Philosophy. For the past sixty years, the Seminary has produced men of integrity, lovers of wisdom and above all priests of God. Among them are many who have excelled and set benchmarks of mammoth standards in terms of intellectual superiority. Yet, one stands out distinctly in the field of philosophy as a revered trailblazer to all seminarians, and is remembered to this day with a great sense of love and respect. His name is Rev. Fr. Harold Panditharatne. Fr. Pandith, as he was affectionately called, was born on the 9th of March 1926 to Mr. Edwin Arnold Panditharatne and Anna Maria Fernando who lived in Pitipana. Together with his five brothers and sister, Father Panditharatne was brought up with a lot of parental love and sound Christian direction. The father of the revered priest was originally from Seeduwa and worked in the capacity of a station master. His job kept him busy and often away from the family, so the mother played a vital role in bringing the children up. It is said that she fervently insisted on the children being faithful to their religious activities, such as attending mass, daily prayers, reciting the Angelus and so on, so much so, that they even got into the habit of praying the Angelus wherever they were, regardless of whatever they were doing when it was time for the prayer. Such was the early Christian discipline given to the priest. In the year 1943, while he was schooling, Fr. Panditharatne tragically lost his father. His mother was burdened with the responsibility of feeding and educating her six children by herself, with the eldest (Dr. Lionel) who had just entered the medical faculty. One would be right in thinking that this would have been very traumatizing for the entire family, especially the single mother. However, the divine provider was kind to them and supported them in this difficult time. As a young boy, Fr. Panditharatne was a strict brother to his siblings, especially when he was playing the role of a teacher to them, but was a gentle friend to them when they played cricket together or pretended to celebrate the Holy mass. It is said that the young boy was an exceptionally talented hunter, and swimmer. He often took his brothers and sisters when he went hunting with his trusty 'catapult', which he later replaced with a pellet gun. He is also remembered for his skills as a soccer player. Fr. Pandith was a brilliant student and always at the top of the class. His uncle who was an ex-Seminarian coached him in the English language. The young man who later became a great philosopher completed his primary education in Maris Stella College, Negombo with a first division pass. It seems as if the seed of vocation to serve the Lord as a priest was planted in Fr. Pandith from his early days; the close association of his uncle who was an ex-seminarian may have helped this desire to take shape. However, Fr. Pandith decided to join the formation program for priests at St. Aloysius Minor Seminary Colombo-08. Fr. Pandith was asked to read for his high school certificate examination and was enrolled at St. Josephs College, Colombo-10. In his days at the college, the now Josephian displayed great intelligence and stood out as an extraordinary, brilliant student. He gained the respect and love of both the teachers and the students and was adored as 'the scientist'. He continued and completed the said examination well. Although he was selected to continue his studies in the university, the then Archbishop, Archbishop Masson found Fr. Pandith best suitable to continue his studies in the Sacred City of Rome. With dreams of becoming a holy Catholic priest, and with a firm hope of doing justice to the trust placed on him by his superiors, the young seminarian began his journey to Rome by ship waving good bye to his family, who had come to send him off to the distant land of the Pope. There too Fr. Pandith displayed superior intellectual insight and distinguished himself from the average student. He was never unnoticed and just like in his school days as a Josephian, here too, he received the title 'il filosofo' which translates into 'the philosopher'. Referring to his memories of Fr. Pandith at the Felicitation of his 70thbirthday, Archbishop Emeritus Most Rev. Nicholas Marcus Fernando states; "I can never forget the pride that swelled in me as a fresher at the Urban University in Rome, on the opening day of the academic year, when the dean of the faculty of philosophy began his introductory lesson by speaking about the best student he had ever had under him in all his teaching career in Rome. That student was none other than our own Fr. Harold Panditharatne. He had made his mark as a very bright and keen student of philosophy from his early years. From then on until the present he has remained the same bright scholar who was spotted and spotlighted by his mentor and admirer, Professor Farbo.
                                            Fr. Pandith was indeed a great person who gave recognition to us as Sri Lankans by way of his contribution in philosophy, so much so, that his works are still referred to and introduced by professors even after three decades. Fr. Pandith went on to complete his licentiate in sacred theology, licentiate in philosophy, and obtain his Doctorate in philosophy, defending his thesis, "Hegel's concept of Indian philosophy" in Collegio Urbano di Propaganda Fide, Rome. Meanwhile, he was ordained a priest in October 1950. Subsequently he was sent to Birkbeak College, University of London where he obtained his second Doctorate in philosophy defending his thesis; "The Metaphysical Problem of existence as involved in the dialectical and sense-datum analysis of sense experience"; after which he returned to his motherland.
Soon after returning to Sri Lanka, Fr. Pandith was appointed to the tutorial staff of St. Peter's College Colombo-04 where he served in the same office for a period of about five years. Later, he assumed duties as the student librarian at London Bible College, England, Associateship of the library Association (A.L.A), England, and as the assistant librarian in the University of Sheffield, England. On returning to Sri Lanka, he was again appointed to the tutorial staff of St. Peter's College Colombo-04. Simultaneously, he was a lecturer in logic and scientific method at Aquinas University College, and assumed duties in the academic staff of the National Seminary, Kandy where he conducted lectures in Logic and Scientific Method, Epistemology and Religious Languages. He was entrusted with the role of dean of Philosophy (1972-1984 and 1991-1992) and was later appointed as the librarian of the seminary - a very crucial and rare office which is directly involved in the moulding of the National Seminary. He also served as a lecturer at the Colombo International School (C.I.S) after his period as Rector. Although Fr. Harold Panditharatne served many offices which moulded many in ways which would have enriched their lives in whichever path they chose, his most significant contribution was the period of seven years which he served as Rector of the National Seminary, Ampitiya. The National Seminary of Ampitiya which is dedicated to Our Lady of Lanka has stood tall for over 120 years - first as the Papal Seminary, later as the National Seminary. Many great priests have led this institution and all priests of the Mother Church have at some point called this place home. However, amidst all the rich history, Fr. Pandith is remembered as the first diocesan Rector of the Seminary. When the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka took over the responsibility of the Seminary in 1972, Fr. Jim Cooke OMI was nominated Rector. But, on him being named provincial of the Oblates, Fr. Pandith was requested to fill the vacancy of acting rector, in February 1974. In May of the same year, he assumed duties as the Rector of the National Seminary of Ampitiya to remain in office for a period of seven years.
                                               Fr. Pandith was 48 years old when he took over and had already been residing in the Seminary for about a year and half in the capacity of a Professor in Philosophy. Even in this time, though it was an era of challenge and retaliation in the minds of the students in terms of the relevance of the study of philosophy in priestly formation, Fr. Pandith firmly countered this view and was determined to enlighten his pupils. At the commencement of the academic year on September 18, 1972, Fr. Panditharatne had chosen "The place of Philosophy in the formation of the future priests" as the topic for the 'lectio brevis' with the aim of demonstrating his response to the prevalent mindset of the students. One could surely assume that he would have made a convincing argument and converted the sceptics.
The now Rector, although in a very responsible and busy office, decided to continue his teaching. He is remembered as a teacher possessing an uncommon ability to teach with zest and to make the lessons enjoyable and come alive. In fact it was during the Rectorship of Fr. Panditharatne that the National Seminary was affiliated to the Urbaniana University, Rome. The Seminary has many cherished memories of Fr. Pandith - his presence among the Brothers in the Seminary, the long walks he would take with his black umbrella under his arm and many more, but the most significant memory he left behind was his love of reading. It is said that he often spent many hours even till early morning reading books on theology and philosophy. Although the prevalent notion that seminary life and its formation seems removed from the activities of the average person and the seminary is a world on its own, Fr. Pandith especially proved otherwise. He was deeply concerned about the Seminary's immediate neighbourhood and extended his affectionate service to the rest of the country. The shelter provided to the refugees (over 1300 in number) during the riots in July 1977 and the aid in rehabilitation for the victims of the cyclone which struck Batticaloa in the following year are only the tip of the iceberg of the service Fr. Pandith extended to his wider community. The final Days of Fr. Pandith was spent in the facility for elderly priests. He departed this world in the year 1998 leaving a legacy of memories and his superior intellect for us to marvel about.

To perpetuate the memory of this epitome of intellectual erudition, "The Rev. Fr. Harold Panditharatne Memorial Oration" was inaugurated in 2013 by the present Rector of the National Seminary, Very Rev. Fr. Elmo Dias who was also a student of Fr. Panditharatne. It is only fitting that we honour this great son of the Sri Lanka Catholic Church every year on the 28th of January, the feast of the Greatest Catholic scholar of all times, St. Thomas Aquinas. This year the Memorial Oration will be delivered by another erudite scholar of international fame, Prof. Maithree Wickramasinghe.

Prof. Maithree Wickramasinghe, the professor English of the Department of English at the University of Kelaniya, was also Head of the Department of English. She was educated at Musaeus College, Colombo. She graduated with a degree in English Honours from King's College, University of London, and has a Masters in Women's Studies from the University of Colombo. She was a recipient of a Gender Equity in Commonwealth Education PhD Studentship conferred by the Institute of Education, University of London and received her doctorate from the University of London, UK. She has also been a short-term research fellow at the Women and Public Policy Program of the John F. Kennedy School of Government, University of Harvard, USA. She is the founding Director of the Centre for Gender Studies at the University of Kelaniya. She started her teaching career at the University of Peradeniya and has been a visiting lecturer at a number of Institutes including the M. A. Programme in Women's Studies at the University of Colombo. She is currently Visiting Professor at the School of Education and Social Work, University of Sussex, United Kingdom.
                                                               The title of the 2015 Memorial Oration is "Feminism and Gender Studies: a Revolt in thought, a Revolution in Academia, and a Reformation of the Academy." She is one of the best in the Country to talk about this particular issue. She has contributed her expertise on gender and women's studies to various local and international organizations including the Centre for Women's Research (CENWOR), the Women's Education and Research Centre (WERC), the Employers' Federation of Ceylon (EFC), Practical Action, CARE International, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU).