Carl Fernando in The Aloysian, December 2013 hwere the ttile is “Fr. Thomas Chingamparampil Kuriacose S.J.”
S Son of C. T and Elizabeth Kuriacose, Thomas was born in Quilon, Kerala on the 20th of December 1920 to a devout Catholic family. His father, a teacher of mathematics, came to Ceylon in 1927 in search of better prospects and joined St. Servatius’ College, Matara. In 1928, he brought his family, – wife Elizabeth and Children, Anna (later, Sr. Felicitas of the Holy Cross Sisters and worked in Sri Lanka), Mariam (later, Sr. Mary Agnes of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery and worked in India), Theresa (later Mrs. Theresa Chandy of Vaniamparampil, Alleppey, Kerala), Thomas, Cherian (died in 1930), Two members Joseph and Mary Agnes (later Mrs. Mary Agnes Kuriacose of Pathupally, Kerala) were born in Ceylon.
Thomas received his early education at St. Mary’s Convent, Matara. In January 1931 he entered the boarding at St. Aloysius’ College, Galle and left in May the following year. According to Fr. Kuri he got scared of Fr. Gaspard and cried to be taken away. He then was boarded at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo, from where he entered the University College, in 1939. During his university career he was an inmate of the Aquinas’ Catholic Hostel, where Fr. Peter Pillai was the warden.Fr. Kuri said that he was sacked several times by Fr. Pillai from the Catholic Hostel until he took the last warning and mended his ways.
When World War II broke out C. T. sent back his wife Elizabeth, children Joseph and Mary Agnes to his native place Changanassery, Kerala.. (Anna and Mariam were already in convents in India). He tried to have Thomas transferred to the Kerala University, but did not succeed because of the problem of recognition of the courses taken in Colombo. Theresa lived in Ceylon until she got married. C. T. returned to India when he retired. Presently the only survivor of the family is Dr. Joseph Kuriacose, who retired as Professor of Chemistry at the Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai.
Thomas was a brilliant student and obtained a B.A. (Hon) degree in Modern History, from the University of Ceylon. (The University College he entered had now become the University of Ceylon.) After a short spell of teaching mathematics and history at the Minor Seminary Colombo, he along with Peter Gomez joined the Jesuits. On 01.10.1944 both of them entered the Novitiate at Shenbaganur, a hill station in South India.
Jesuits: Fr. Kuri served his Regency period of two years, in 1950 & 1951, as a Sub-Prefect of boarders, in charge of the Small Dormitory of St. Aloysius’ College Galle. Finishing his priestly studies, he was ordained a priest of God on the 11th of July 1954. The Ordination was held in the 17th century Gesu Nova Church in Naples. (When Kuri had told Aunt Belle, mother of his good friend Joy Wijeyeratne, that he was going to be a priest, she had said that if that ever, happens she would shave her head and come for the ordination. Fr. Kuri dispensed her from the first part of the promise but insisted that she honour the second. This she did by coming for his ordination in Naples.) At his ordination the vesting was done by none other than Fr. Ernest Gaspard.
Aquinas Days: After years of Jesuit formative studies in India, Italy and the United States, Fr. Kuri returned to Ceylon in 1956. He and Fr. Vito Perniola, were requested by the Rector, Fr. Peter Pillai, to join Aquinas University College as lecturers. Fr. Kuri lectured in British and European History and Political Theory and Fr. Perniola, in Pali. Just then the Jesuits received permission to open a house in Colombo. They moved into the new house in November 1956. This was occupied by Fr. Kuri, Fr. Perniola and Fr. Bonaventure Perera. Fr. Kuri was appointed the first Superior and his choice of the name of the house was “Nirmala”.
Catholic Students Federation: While at Aquinas, Fr. Kuri did a lot of work in the formation of youth. The Catholic Students Federation was the federation of Students’ Associations of the Societies of catholic students of the University faculties in Colombo and Peradeniya, Medical College, Law College, Aquinas University College, and the students of higher forms of Schools. Fr. Peter Pillaiwas the National Chaplain, and Fr. Kuri the dynamic Assistant Chaplain. He organized monthly meetings, a Study Camp, Holiday Camps and Work Camps.
The monthly meetings were held in a School in Colombo or at Aquinas. Mass followed by breakfast preceded the meeting. A lecture on a selected topic was followed by workshops and plenary sessions, providing good experience and exposure to the students, in meeting procedure and public speaking..
A Study camp was held in the Convent of the Child Jesus, with the girls staying at the convent and the boys at St. Aloysius’ College, Ratnapura. A seminar was held over three days with lectures by eminent persons on the Economic Situation of the country. Workshops and plenary sessions that were held and resolution passed provided good training for the students.
- Holiday Camps Once a year, 30 boys and 30 girls between the ages of 8 and 12, were selected from the slums of Colombo. With the money and material collected by the students under the guidance of Fr. Kuri, these kids were given a two week holiday. The girls’ camp was at a convent, while the boys’ camp was held in a college, Seminary or a house. The kids came with only the clothes they were wearing. At camp each kid was provided with 2 sets of clothes, towel, tooth brush, tooth paste, soap, comb etc along with a suit case. All their needs were provided for. Their play, bathing, sleeping and general welfare was looked after by the male and female helpers. The medical students looked after the health of the kids and dressed their wounds. During the camp at least two outings were held together with visits to the boys’ and the girls’ camps. Another set of clothes was given mid way, and a further set given at the end of the camp. A sports meet was held on the last day of camp, and the prizes were clothes and educational material.
Though they came to camp empty handed, they left with a full suitcase. Every day after the kids were put to sleep, we the helpers had our nightly meeting. The rosary followed by a gospel discussion preceded the meeting. The day’s happenings, shortcomings and suggested improvements were discussed, criticized and argued about. These meetings went till very late, often till long after midnight. Although very strenuous these camps were enjoyed by the helpers.
- Work Camps Fr. Kuri found the village of Uru-Udiandaluwa. Four miles on the Chilaw – Kurunegala road, at Mugunuwatawana, you turned off and after proceeding two miles ended up at the Village, which had been affected by the floods of 1958. At that time there was a small school house with a cadjan church adjoining it. He selected this village to establish our work camp. The University had their long vacation from April to June and Aquinas, theirs soon after. The six month period from April was selected for the duration of the camp. Those who were able to, came to the Camp and stayed as long as they wished. Living was primitive. We slept on the ground in the school hall. During the day, classes were held in it. There was a well close by which we used for drinking and washing. There were no toilets, so we had to use the jungle. Cooking was done by two ladies from the village, who were called aunties. Our meals were to be the same as those of the villagers. The work was to be on projects that benefited the whole village. This consisted of doing up the roads, clearing land for the cemetery and for the new church. We worked from early morning till noon, and that too only along with the villagers. After worked we walked two miles to the ‘Eba’ – a part of the Dedura oya, for a bath. After lunch and a short nap, we spent the rest of the day playing and talking with the villagers and the kids or visiting their homes. At night after dinner, we recited the rosary, had the gospel discussion which was followed by the meeting. The meeting could sometimes be quite heated and went on till the wee hours of the morning. The work though sometimes strenuous and tiring, was also interesting and enjoyable.
All these activities were started, organized and motivated by Fr. Kuri. He was with us almost always, there for the entire duration of the camps. Fr. Peter Pillai passed away in 1963, and Fr. Tissa Balasuriya took over as Rector, Aquinas University College. Fr. Kuri was made the National Chaplain of the Catholic Students. These projects were carried for conducted for a period of about six or seven years until due to a row between the Federation and the Hierarchy, the Catholic Students’ Federation disbanded and all these activities ceased. The Jesuits ceased activities at Aquinas in 1969. Fr. Kuri served as the Provincial Superior of the Jesuits for Sri Lanka from 1975 to 1980
About 15 years after we had finished our university studies, a few of us, together with Fr. Kuri, and decided to visit the village. We had got to love the village and its people and where we had fond and pleasant memories. We informed the villagers and visited Uru-Udiandaluwa. We were received at the school gate, Fr. Kuri was garlanded and conducted in procession to the school hall where a meeting was arranged. In the course of many speeches, we indicated that now that all of us were employed, we could not afford the time to come and visit the village and work there as we used to.
However, we could help the village by providing them with something they required. This seemed an excellent idea and they suggested we provide them a sewing machine, which would help the girls to learn to sew. The young boys and girls had now grown up to adulthood. Some of the boys were now men of standing in the village. They provided us with a sumptuous lunch, which was followed by reminiscences, recalling incidents that happened in the good old days.
We came back to Colombo highly motivated to collect funds to help the village. Despite several letters we had no response from the villagers. Fr. Kuri then channeled our enthusiasm to start a Scholarship Fund.
Father Peter Pillai Memorial Scholarship Fund: Fr, Kuri said he had been helping a few poor bright students through university and suggested that we establish a Fund in memory of Fr. Peter Pillai, whom Fr. Kuri loved and admired. At a meeting held on15th November 1979, it was decided to draw up a constitution of the Peter Pillai Scholarship Committee. The committee comprised of Fr. Kuri (President), Devane (Secretary), Derek (Treasurer), Quintus, Nihal, Carl and Rohan. In 1980 and 1981, Fr. Kuri was at the Ministry Training Services, Denver, Colarado. The Scholarship Committee was struggling to establish itself. Fr. Kuri while collecting funds there was anxious about our progress here.
Extract from letter from Fr. Kuri to Derek….. “Have our ‘group’ gone ahead with their efforts to bring in the ten thousand each promised? You know Derek how precious this “project” is to me. I have always wanted to do something to perpetuate the memory of one who has done so much not only to me personally, but to hundreds of young men and women who have gone through SJC and Aquinas… And I have always felt that a Schol like that we are working on, would be something he would have liked very much…. I know you share my views… but I am somewhat confused because NO NEWS has reached me about how things are going….I sincerely hope that everything is OK and that that all that should be done has been done. I write just to make sure”
Applications were called for in 1981. The first interview board comprised of Fr. Vito Perniola, Mr. Justice Percy Colin-Thome, Mr. G. F. Sethukavalar, attorney-at-law, Derek and Quintus. Mr. D. M. Wilathgamuwa of Colombo, from the Peradeniya Campus and Mr. W. W. L. Keerthipala of Mathugam, from the Katubedda Campus, both doing engineering, were the successful scholars. Each received financial support of Rs.300/- per month, for four years. These two performed brilliantly in their university studies and later on went abroad and did their Ph. Ds.
With the establishment of the ‘Mahapola Scholarships’ we felt that students selected by us would also get Mahapola, and that our Scholarship would be redundant. We then looked into the possibility of awarding post graduate scholarships. This scheme did not take off.
In 1986 we started awarding ‘A’ Level scholarships to students who had done exceeding well in their ‘O’ Level Exams and were in financial need. However after a few years we found that brilliant results in the ‘O’ Level did not ensure that they even entered university. We then did a study and found that and our scholarship, students could just manage their board and lodging. So in 1992 we reverted to university Schols. We established a library which proved our students with text books, on a long term basis. We were also able to provide, with the help of donors, some medical students with stethoscopes.
Fr. Kuri stepped down as President and became our Patron, and remained till he passed away. Up to date we have given scholarships to about 300 students .Now we have about 70 ongoing scholars who receive a monthly an allowance Rs. 2,500/-.
Dehiwela Parish: At the request of the Arch Bishop, the Jesuits undertook to run the Dehiwela Parish. In 1982 Fr. Joseph Chianese as Parish Priest, Fr. Kuri as Assistant Parish and Fr. Vito Perniola, came to Dehiwela. Fr. Kuri set up a free Clinic and dispensary at the Church. He started a monthly News Letter called “Our Life”, which was circulated among the parishioners. A scheme for building houses on the beach for poor fisher folk was started by him. Because of the clamour of the parishioners their term was extended for a second period. In 1991 the Jesuit Provincial pulled out the Jesuits from Dehiwela over the protests of the parishioners.
St. Aloysius’ College, (Galle) OBA Colombo Branch : Fr. Kuri first with Fr. Peter Gomez and later with Fr. Peter Kurukulaarachchi were Co- Patrons of the St. Aloysius’ College Galle OBA Colombo branch. Unlike other patrons, Fr. Kuri took a keen interest in the OBA and was always there to motivate, guide and advise us. At one time it was his boast that OBA Colombo Branch was the best that he had ever known.
The Jesuits celebrated the Ignatian year around 1990.Fr. Kuri motivated and helped us to undertake three projects during this period.
- Old Faithfull’s Fund:When the College opted to go private the Minor staff remained to serve the Jesuits. However when the College was handed over to the Government, most of them lost their jobs and were not entitled to pensions. Fr. Kuri got us to set up a fund which was later called the ‘N. U. Jayawardena Fund for ‘Old Faithfull’s. Funds were collected, money invested and the interest was used to assist these members of the minor staff, in times of need, mainly for medical assistance and funeral expenses.
- Pogany Electronics Laboratory
In memory of the great Jesuit Educationist and Scientist, Fr. Julius Pogany, an Electronics Laboratory was set up at the College. Funds were collected equipment purchased and the lab established by the OBA Col Br.
- Julius Pogany Oration:The third project inspired by Fr. Kuri and carried out by the Colombo Branch, to celebrate the Ignatian year, was the Julius Pogany Oration. This was delivered by an eminent, Old Aloysian – Dr. Granville Dharmawardena, at the British Council.
- Centenary Souvenir: In 1995, St. Aloysius’ College celebrated 100 years of existence. To mark this milestone, a souvenir “Hundred Years of Love & Service”, was published and a postage stamp issued. This beautiful and informative souvenir was edited by Fr. Kuri, and Pat Williams, in Australia.
FONLA: Right from the inception those in the close proximity of ‘Nirmala’ made use of the chapel for their religious devotions. In 1998 Fr. Kuri organized this group to look after the various needs of Nirmala, especially the chapel and the surroundings. Calling themselves ‘Fonla’ (friends of Nirmala), they extended their services to the poor families of Bambalapitiya and Wellawatta.
An achievement of this group was that the Sinhala stream at St. Mary’s School in Laurie’s Road, was in danger of being closed down due to the lack of Sinhala speaking children. The few Sinhala speaking children in the school would have been left without a school if this had happened. Fonla decided to the visit the slums and collect a sufficient number of Sinhala speaking non-school-going children and offered to sponsor their studies at St. Mary’s. The danger of the Sinhala stream closing don was averted. Fonla also undertook to look after all the needs of these children who are now at St. Mary’s. The children with their parents meet some of the Fonla members once a month and receive monthly dry rations and money for their savings bank pass books, which they have to bring along.
In addition at the beginning of the year, the children receive two sets of uniforms, school bag, shoes and socks. An annual trip is organized for the children and their parents. At Christmas a party is organized for the children. Currently about 50 kids are benefitted.
Kuda Kusum: On the 26th of December 2004 the Tsunami hit Sri Lanka. Thousands of children were rendered homeless and left orphans. Single-handedly, Fr. Kuri set out to establish a home for homeless children. On the land belonging to the convent run by the Sisters of the Holy Angels in Tangalle, he built a three story building. It was equipped with the latest kitchen and washing equipment, furnished with high quality furniture, beds, desks and fans. Modern bathrooms with the latest fittings were provided to accommodate fifty children. He fell into lots of financial difficulties, but with his faith in providence, was able to overcome them. This home was named ‘Kuda Kusum’. This home is now run by the nuns of the Holy Angels.
Fr. Kuri was a keen follower of international Cricket and tennis and he loved to play Bridge. Although strict to a certain extent, Fr. Kuri had a very charming personality. An eloquent and powerful speaker, he was very much in demand at weddings and other functions. A skilled writer, he was also an excellent organizer and was unequalled as a fund-raiser.