By Meno Thiruchelvam [Secretary, Henricians Colombo (OBA)]
In the 100 year old proud history of St. Henry’s of Ilavalai, the College had Rectors who were essentially educationists cum disciplinarians moulded into one. Following Rev. Dr. B. Deogupillai’s illustrious stewardship as Rector of St. Henry’s during 1954 to 1956 – came Rev. Fr. L.A. Singarayer as the next Rector who was cast into this twin-mould so splendidly.
An oblate by order, he had his Master’s from the University of London and Diploma in Education from the University of Ceylon and was endowed with a wealth of 16 years experience as Principal of the Teachers’ Training College at Colombogam. With this imposing background, he soon began to elevate the level of education at St. Henry’s from secondary to University Entrance levels in Arts, Bio and Maths. He got around the teachers to chip in extra hours of work and they too responded ungrudgingly to enhance activities in sports, elocution, drama etc.
All these efforts of Father Singarayer cumulated into raising St. Henry’s with other frontline ‘A’ Grade schools in the North. His yet another impetus was the home and school integration by reinvigorating the Parent Teachers’ Association (PTA). He laid larger emphasis on children growing into adults and that character formation and intellectual education could only be imparted best when home and school shared the responsibility. Away from the school, an irate storm was brewing in the nation’s political arena. With his customary missionary zeal Father Singarayer began to sense an uneasy feeling of what was in store for the College and the educational sphere.
1956 marked the beginning of the politics of estrangement imbued with conflict and turmoil, which saw to appease Sinhalese sentiments with the ‘Sinhala Only’ advocacy and moves to take over private schools. These political rumblings left Father Singarayer a deeply disturbed man. One could measure his tormented sentiments embodied in his Rector’s Report of 1957-58 where he said, “There is so much of talk in public platforms and political coteries about State Education, that the very mention of it changes the whole atmosphere with tension”.
He emphasised that the State had a duty to see that through education the young should grow up in national ethos and its influence should not ride roughshod over factors that contributed to the welfare of education. Thus he summed up his vision saying, “Hence, we believe that the secular State as representative of the whole community should control, though control should not be mistaken for monopoly of education or direct management of schools”.
In 1960, Fr. Singarayer’s fears began to unfold and we witnessed the escalation of the conflicts in the process of the takeover of private schools by the Government. Fr. Rector sought to fight the change in the prevailing order of things. He commandeered the support of the Henrician Old Boys’ Association of Colombo.
Veteran OBA steward A. Jesuthasan vividly recalls Fr. Rector’s fervent endeavours against the takeover of private schools, by sending his Vice Rector Rev. Fr. Anton T. Rajanayagam as his special emissary to revive the then defunct Colombo OBA, to re-tool and shore up support against the take over.
He wanted the OBA to give its mind to the proposed take over of private schools by the Govt. which move was detrimental and would have adverse effects on the system and the standard of education at large. Fr. Rector specifically requested Fr. Anton to move a resolution against the takeover of private schools at the meeting of the OBA. But sadly enough, many top rungs of the then OBA were government servants who had been understandably disdainful of a forthright challenge because of their positions, but sought to subtly influence a fair play of the issue in question.
But the tide was too awesome for any onslaught by anyone. St. Henry’s and many a Catholic and Christian schools were deprived of the State funding assistance. Lost in the struggle against the takeover, St. Henry’s had to saddle as a completely private school, solely sustained by the Bishop of Jaffna, who found that the luxury of playing Cricket was no longer manageable. So since 1960, playing cricket was halted at St. Henry’s, the greatest pinch the college experienced immediately after the takeover.
Father Singarayer was indeed an emblem of Christian leadership, as an educationist himself he bore public responsibility on the ethos of education on which he gave his concrete expression to his vision against the takeover of private schools during the transitional phase of political upheaval in the post independent era of the nation.
Fr. L.A. Singarayer was truly a reveres persona, to whom spirituality was not an ethical choice or a lofty idea rather an encounter with the Creator. These thoughts Fr. Rector had instilled in us with pragmatic discipline guidelines all the time.
His beaming influence lasted at St. Henry’s until 1963, as by then he became somewhat unwell to shoulder the heavy responsibility of the College. Afterwards, during 1964 to ‘68 he took Professorship at a Papal Seminary in Ampitiya and then as Spiritual Director at Holy Family Novitiate in Pasaiyoor in 1969.
He sought that his journey’s end be in the midst of the familiar surroundings of his native Mathagal Parish, ebbing his twilight years yet in the service of the Lord as Assistant Parish Priest until his eternal rest in the arms of the Lord.
The annals of Henrician history have no small measure to report to posterity of his unswerving stance against the takeover of private schools.
The entirety of the Henerician fraternity here and abroad will remember Dr. L.A. Singarayer fondly with gratitude at the most opportune time of his birth centenary this year and the centenary next year of the founding of of Ilavalai.