St. Lawrence – Patron Saint of Colombo and Parish of Wellawatte
by Imojen Mel

The Universal Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr on August 10. St Lawrence is the Patron Saint of the City of Colombo and the Parish of Wellawatte. He is also popularly known as the Patron of Fire and Burns.

Lawrence was born in Huskia, Spain. He was the first of the seven deacons who served the Roman Church. In the year 257 A.D. Pope Sixtus II, ordained him a Deacon. Following the declaration of Emperor Valerian, the Pope was arrested in 257.A.D. When the Pope was being led to the killing yard, young Lawrence wept and cried out "Father, where are you going without your son?"

The Pope replied "Son, I am not abandoning you, you’ll follow me in three days time, whatever wealth you have in your hand, distribute it among the poor".

Lawrence was pleased. He distributed all the money he had to the poor widows and the needy. Lawrence was arrested.

The Prefect or Governor of the City asked him to turn over all the treasures of the church. Lawrence gathered all the poor and the sick and told him, "These are the real treasures of the Church". The Governor felt insulted and ordered Lawrence to be roasted on a gridiron over a slow fire While being roasted Lawrence said "You may turn me over, it is roasted enough on this side".

He was roasted to death in the year 258 A.D. His death resulted in the spiritual transformation of Rome – he is known as the Jewel of Rome

The Portuguese Expedition landed in Ceylon in November 1505. They erected a chapel at the South West end of the present breakwater of the Colombo Harbour. They named it as the Church of St. Lawrence after the Patron Saint of their Commander Lorenzo de Almeida.

The popularity of St Lawrence spread fast and very soon he was honoured as the Patron Saint of the Taprobane alias Ceylon. Towards the middle of the following century the Dutch became the rulers of Ceylon. Along with many other Catholic Churches, the Church of St. Lawrence was also destroyed. For four centuries there was no Church in Colombo in honour of its Patron Saint. It was the Most Rev. Dr J.A. Masson the Bishop, then Administrator of the Archdiocese of Colombo who formed a new Parish at Wellawatte on 6th January 1938.

The small church of St Lawrence was situated at Villa Pleasant Avenue (later renamed St. Lawrence Road). A youthful priest, Rev. Fr Robert Fernando O.M.I. was sent as the first Parish Priest. He was determined to build a bigger church to cater to the growing congregation. The spacious land at No. 375, Galle Road Wellawatte, lying exactly between the two bridges that enclose Wellawatte, was purchased and the corner stone for the new Church was laid on 17th January 1954.

Rev. Fr Robert Fernando laboured for thirty long years (1938 – 1968) to build what can easily be called as one of the most beautiful churches in Sri Lanka. The unique hexagon shaped Church painted in red, the colour of blood is greatly admired.

The amazing work of art - the seven feet Crucifix made of cement behind the Tabernacle, the beautifully painted eye which is right above the main altar reminds us of the "Eye of God" and is reflected in the chalice of wine at Holy Mass, the red light that burns under the main altar is significant of the gridiron- the furnace on which St Lawrence was roasted to death, the angel’s face on all the entrance door frames, the design of wheat and grapevine on the inner walls of the Sanctuary and on the communion rails add more beauty.

All these were the brain child of Rev. Fr. Robert Fernando who had a wealth of knowledge about the architecture of the Church. His name is synonymous with the Parish of St Lawrence’s Wellawatte. This Church was ceremonially consecrated on 6th March 1968 by His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Cooray O.M.I. The Parish of Wellawatte grew and flourished under Fr. Robert’s pastoral care. He began many Associations and encouraged people to see God in the poor just as St Lawrence did. Rev. Fr. Robert Fernando went to his Eternal Home on 1st October 1977.

Our second Parish Priest the late Msgr. Manik Muttukumaru served our Parish from 1968 – 1985 During his Pastorate St Lawrence grew both in numbers and strength and he organised the Community Service Centre, the Serving Hands Projects, Sama Sevana, the Home for destitute boys of the Parish... St Lawrence’s soon became the Model Parish of the Island.

Msgr. Manik was a Marian Priest he had a deep love for both for Mother Mary and his own mother in whose memory he has left us a beautiful legacy, the Grotto to our Lady of Lourdes Late Fr. Robert paid his successor Msgr. Manik a great tribute when he said "I built a Church, he built a Community".

Msgr. Manik Muttukumaru built the Community Centre to accommodate the Free Medical Clinic and to cook and serve food for the poor and also originated the idea of a sub-Parish at Mayura Place, Wellawatte. Msgr. Manik Muttukumaru entered Eternal Rest on 24th September 2002.

Rev.Fr. Hugo Jesudasa Fernando served the Parish for a short spell from January 1986 to October 1986.

Late Rev. Fr. Cyril Perera O.M.I. was our Parish Priest from 1986 – 1996. It was under his Pastorate that our Church celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1988 He was a devoted Parish Priest in his own inimitable way. Experience with Youth and Vocational Education were his forte.

He introduced the Infant Jesus Novena which attracted a church full of devotees every Thursday evening. He built the Belfry and erected a life size statue of St Lawrence in the church premises facing Galle Road. Late Rev. Fr. Cyril O.M.I with intense negotiation with the Government obtained a place and established St. Antony’s Church at Mayura Place, Wellawatte and formed a sub-Parish.

Rev Fr. Cyril.S. Perera served our Parish from 1992 till 1997. He was a hardworking, dedicated and loving Pastor. He encouraged the youth to involve in all our Parish activities and brought them closer to God. There was no Corpus Christi or Church Feast Celebration without the active participation of the Youth. During his tenure he built the pond for Adult Baptism. He is a lover of pets and planted beautiful flower plants along the pathway and around the church and made the entire church yard blossom with beautiful flowers.

Rev. Fr .Joseph Benedict Fernando a Scholar in the field of Education came to our Parish in 1997. The Diamond Jubilee Celebrations of the Parish were celebrated during his stay with us in the year 1998. He was extremely simple, humble Priest of God. He was very loving and caring and always had a smile for his parishioners. He had the time to listen to their problems and suggestions.

During his time an extension to the existing Community Centre was built to accommodate 400 Daham Pasala children every Sunday. In February 2006 we bade farewell to our dear Fr. Joe Ben as he was affectionately called. We welcomed Rev. Fr. Bob Rodrigo O.M.I as our new Parish Priest yet another Marian priest. He has plenty of Parish experience behind him and has already brought in harmony among the Youth and made them active participants in all our Parish activities. Rev Fr. Leon Gerard Babapulle O.M.I another Marian priest has been appointed as Assistant Parish Priest and has already come to know many Parishioners and is ably assisting our Pastor.

We the parishioners of Wellawatte pledge our wholehearted support to them both. This year we celebrate our Patron St. Lawrence‘s feast on the 5th and 6th of August. The youth of our parish will be organising Youth League Fair on both days, a family get-together with music, games and other entertainment.

Let us encourage our youth in their endeavour and express our confidence and support by attending the League Fair on both days.

Be sure to be there!!!


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