The Western Province of Sri Lanka is now the most densely populated province of Sri Lanka. It is home to the legislative capital Sri Jayawardenapura as well to Colombo, the nation’s administrative and business centre. The western province of Sri Lanka in 1861 had the area of 3,820 square miles and its inhabitants were 595,000. The mission of Kalutara was in the Western Province, one of the six administrative provinces in then Ceylon. The Vicariate Apostolic of the South or of Colombo comprised of the Southern, Western, and Central Provinces in 1861.
The Mission of Kalutara began 25 miles from Colombo going southwards from Colombo in the direction of Galle extended up to the Bentota River, which was 38 miles from Colombo. The other side of the river was Galle mission. According to the Ecclesiastical Returns of the Southern Vicariate for 1852 the Mission of Kalutara comprised of areas of Katukurunda, Kalamulla, Kuda Paiyagala, Maha Paiyagala, Diyalagoda, Maggona, Beruwela, Kaluwamodera, and Alutgama. The total catholic population of the mission was 6441 in 1852.
Kalutara town was situated at the mouth of the river called, Kaluganga. This was a town of some importance at the time of the Dutch. The land was flat but not so low. It was rich in vegetation and chiefly in coconut trees. It was mostly inhabited by Buddhists, Sinhala people. Fr. Adrien Duffo, o.m.i., says in his letter that there were many Burghers, English and Portuguese as advocates, judges, physicians, rich planters; many of them were Catholics.
The first Oblate to go to this mission was Fr. Duffo, in 1855. Bishop Eugene de Mazenod at the request of Propaganda Fide sent four Oblates to the Vicariate Apostolic of the South in 1851. It was the first group of Oblates to be sent to the Southern (Colombo) Vicariate. They were placed under the jurisdiction of Bishop Giuseppe Maria Bravi, a Sylvestrine, the Vicar Apostolic of Colombo, whereas the Oblates who were already working since 1847 in the North were under the jurisdiction of Bishop Orazio Bettachini, an Oratorian, the Vicar Apostolic of Jaffna. But both groups had Fr. Étienne Semeria, o.m.i. as their Religious Superior.
Fr. Duffo was assigned to the mission of Kalutara in 1855, but he was there only for a year. Fr. Duffo in his letter his superior Fr. Semeria on 9 September 1855 explained his mission and life at Kalutara thus, “It is the best and the richest mission of Ceylon and, as the Vicar Apostolic told me when I went to ask his blessing, the mission of privileged people… I am the first European missionary to come to this mission. The initial reception has been good and this augurs well for the future. But I meet with difficulties since the Catholics here are proud and independent, and listen to the missionaries only when his orders and desires arc in accordance with their own. This mission is well known for the petitions which it sends every year to the Vicar Apostolic against the missionary. I suppose I will not be an exception even though I follow the right way and measure every step I take”.
The other Oblate to go to this mission was Fr. Dominique Pulicani, o.m.i. According to an archival document of the diocese on the appointments for 1862 Fr. Pulicani was assigned to the churches of Infant Jesus, Our Lady, St. Anthony, St. Sebastian, St. Philip, Holy Cross, and St. John the Baptist. He also stayed here for a short time during which he established the Associations of the Propagation of the Faith and of the Holy Childhood, and the Confraternities of Mount Carmel and of Our Lady of Seven Dolours. He was here in the mission in 1862 and 1863.
According to the report of Bishop Bravi, on 6 September 1858, on his Pastoral Visitation, the Catholic population of the mission on the whole was about 8836, divided into 14 churches.
At the beginning of 1866, the General Administration of the Oblates decided to pull out the Oblates serving in the Vicariate of Colombo and sent them to join the Oblates in the Vicariate of Jaffna. Thus, all the three Oblates left the vicariate. Again it was in 1883 when Propaganda Fide entrusted the vicariate of Colombo to Oblates and transferred Bishop Ernest Christophe Bonjean, o.m.i., from Jaffna to the vicariate, Oblates came again and extended their services in most parts of the vicariate.
Jerome Velichor, o.m.i.
Sources and Bibliography
Boudens, Robrecht, o.m.i., Catholic
Missionaries in a British Colony, CH-640S, Immensee, 1979, p. 65-74.
Philip, Jesuthasan, o.m.i., Our Tribute, Vol. I, Ampitiya, 2001, p. 120, 186.
Perniola, V., S.J., The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka: The British Period, Vol. III, Dehiwala, 2001, p. 01-341; Vol. IV, p. 03-445.