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Endless Odyssey in Quest of Excellence-By Merrick Gooneratne

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As you exit the Katunayake end, of the Colombo Katunayake Highway, turn left towards Negombo, passing Base Hospital, you will not miss a spacious ground with green grass looking like green velvet – a picturesque site that remains etched in your memory.

Young schoolboys happily practising cricket, soccer, athletics and basketball clad in blue and red T- shirts! This is the playground of Maris Stella College, Negombo. Towards January, each year, this picturesque ground comes alive with the Annual Inter-House Sports Meet of the school with four pavilions in four different theme colours each named after the Pioneering Leaders of Maris Stella College, Julian, Lewis, Joseph, and Anthony.

The origins of Maris Stella College harked back to 1922 when the Marist Brothers, who arrived in Negombo in 1917, joined St. Mary’s College, the leading school in Negombo at the time. Propelled by the need for expansion, the brothers searched for new land until 16th December 1920 the Arch Bishop of Colombo Reverend Anthony Coudert transferred to the Marist Brothers the property known as Coppara Handiya Estate, in extent of eight acres and 19 perches. Maris Stella College today stands on this property which was a gift to the Church from two sisters – Mrs. Rosa Isabella De Croos Dabarera and Mrs. Mary Christine De Croos Rajchandra. The sisters willed that the property they gifted must be used for the purpose of establishing on it a Catholic College to providing education for boys.

Amongst the beneficiaries of this magnanimous legacy, in more recent times, are Anton Dabarera and Ewald De Croos, grandsons of Isabella De Croos. Perhaps the legacy of such a large tract of land to the Church and eventually to the Marist Brothers to foster Catholic education for boys is one of the earliest acts of constructive or sustained philanthropy in our country, a phrase which was made popular by Prime Minister Modi’s reference to the TATA family and their support to the Indian Institute of Technology.

The Marist Brothers,, is an organisation founded by St. Marcellin Champagnat dedicated to the education of youth from amongst the poorest of the poor in Lyon, France on 2nd January 1817. The Brothers who are an international community first set foot in Ceylon in 1911 in Batticaloa and moved to Negombo on 13th April 1917 and founded Marist Stella College, in 1922.

This year 2022 marks the Centennial of Marist Stella College – a major milestone for any Institution dedicated to Education. Maris Stella has served The Century admirably fashioned or sculpted on the Five Pillars of Marist Ethos: Presence, Simplicity, Family Spirit, Love of Work, and Inspiration of Mary the Blessed Mother. This is the Vision and the Mission so well crafted and executed over a century by all the Great Marist Brothers who served as Principals of the college from 1922 to this date: Brother Lewis Gervaise, Brother Joseph, Brother Anthony Pigenwall, Brother Conran, Brother Stanislaus Gunawardena, the first Sri Lankan Principal of Marist Stella College, Brother Peter, Brother Gregory, Brother Clinton, Brother Shanthi, Brother Godfrey, Brother Sunanda, Brother Mervyn, Brother Chinthana and Brother Michael.

Although not listed amongst the Principals, Brother Julian and Brother Nizier played an equally important role in nurturing the Marist Ethos.

Over the past 100 years the Five Pillars of the Marist Ethos have molded thousands of young men from Negombo and its hinterland into men of exemplary service to the Motherland, benefitting from the holistic and value based education which is at the Core of Education at Maris Stella.

Under the Marist Brothers, education is not all about academic and intellectual training. There is equal emphasis on emotional, psychological and physical development of the student based on a spirit of inquiry and creativity nurturing entrepreneurial and moral leadership.

As succinctly stated by Richard Feinman, the American Nobel Prize Winner in Physics: “The pleasure of finding out is the irrepressible sense of curiosity at the route of all learning”. This has always been the focus of the Marist Brothers. Guided by the Five Pillars of the Marist Ethos the Great Men from near and a far who were destined to lead the Iconic Seat of learning as Principals of Marist Stella College have produced men who have rendered a yeoman service to the community as Ordained Priests, Bishops, Academics, Professionals, Administrators, Entrepreneurs, Businessmen and Sportsmen of Excellence some of whom may have achieved global recognition in their chosen fields.

In this narration I have discreetly avoided reference to individual Maristonians. But I ask the readers indulgence to permit two references.

Reverend Brother Paul Nizier, who died at 96 years on 8th December 1996, having served the Marist Fraternity for 71 years as a Teacher, Principal and Mentor. The other is Professor Leslie Panditharatne who, at 92 is one of the oldest living Maristonians who achieved unrivalled academic excellence as the highly respected Vice Chancellor of The University of Peradeniya and later Chairman of The University Grants Commission.

I salute the Marist Brothers for a Century of great creativity epitomised in Maris-Stella College, the Pride of Negombo where parents dream of admitting their sons.

As the College steps into the next century, it is a time for consolidation, a time to evaluate the gains so far, a time to introspect and identify gaps and the time to chart a journey ahead. The leadership of both schools, main school and the branch school have already stepped into the arena of digital learning, way ahead of the rest of the schools in Negombo, with the introduction to the concept of smart classroom, distance learning and the creation of two digital based-media units, recognising that the Internet holds The Key to Future Learning.

In all its future endeavours Maris Stella and its future leadership will always be guided by Psalm 127:1 “Unless the Lord Builds the House, They Labour in vain who build it”; oft quoted by the Founder St. Marcellin Champagnat. The Marist Brothers Senior and the New will certainly find inspiration in their never-ending quest for excellence in the words of the famous poet Robert Frost.,

“The woods are lovely dark and deep

But I have promises to keep

And Miles to go before I sleep

And Miles to go before I sleep”

The Writer is a Past President of the OBA of Maris Stella College, and a retired officer of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service and a recipient of The Order of the Rising Sun from the Government of Japan

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