St.John's, Nugegoda celebrates centenary

An ear of eminence...


BY Harischandra Gunaratana

One of the distinguished old boys of St.John’s College, Nugegogda, Jagath Savanadasa has published a book about the history of the school titled "St. John’s College, Nugegoda – 100 years of excellence- 1915-2015."

The book will be launched at the ‘Olympic House" at Independence Avenue, Colombo -7 on Thursday September 24 at 4.30 pm. The chief guest will be Minister Susil Premajayantha, who himself is an old Johnian .

 The author who studied  in the school from 1948-58 has left no stone unturned in his efforts to  unearth  valuable information about his alma mater..

 Savanadasa says St.John’s started as a Christian Mission school by the then incumbent of the Parish Rev. James Henry Wickramanayake along with a group of frontiersmen J.P. Salgado, T.D.S.A. Dassanayake, C.E.Tillakaratne and H.W. Peiris, who pioneered the establishment of an English medium school.

Their primary objective was to provide education to the children of the English educated in the town of Nugegoda at the time. 

The school which started with just 14 students today has 3,500 on its roll.

 "Though it was a mixed school at the beginning being a part of the church, in 1935 it became a separate boys’ school. But much later girls school of this pioneering educational institution in Nugegoda was taken over by the government and today it functions as Samudra Devi Balika Vidyalaya," Savanadasa says. 

Among the first few students there were five outstanding pupils who excelled in their chosen fields. They were Prof. T.W. Wickramanayake, son of the founder, Dr Aussie Abeyratne, later the Dean of the Colombo Medical Faculty, brothers former IGP S.A. Dissanayake (jingle) and C.C. Dissanayake (jungle). Some of them later joined S. Thomas’, Mt Lavinia and Royal College, Colombo. 

According to Savanadasa, at the beginning there were no classes beyond SSC at St. John’s, but by the 1940s the school had HSC and University Entrance. 

 Most of the students joined the bigger schools in Colombo as they had a better chance of entering universities, he says.

 Most missionary schools including St. John’s were taken over by the government.  

In the formative days of the school, it had earned a name for its discipline, but with the advent of Sinhala only policy and socialist tendencies there was gradual erosion of discipline in most schools, the author observed. 

He has vividly described the role played by respective principals in moulding the students to be valuable citizens in different spheres. 

Two principals he has the highest regards for are Rev Fr. Percy Wickremesinghe and C.K. Gamage.

Savanadasa says Gamage was one of the best principals the school was fortunate to have. Under his watch the educational institution achieved great prominence. 

"Gamage was a true believer in inculcating in students values of both western and eastern cultures," Savanadasa said, adding that during Gamage’s era discipline in the school had reached a very  high standards,"

St. John’s, Nugegoda has produced a number of great sportsmen and the most outstanding being former cricketer Anusha Samaranayake, who was included in the Sri Lanka squad which toured England in 1984.

Another outstanding sportsman was Prema Pinnawela, who later became the Secretary of the Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka. 

Sunimal Rupasainghe was also a top athlete, while Chandana Perera was a leading table tennis player. Daya Wickremasinghe, K. Navaratnam and Shamal Silva were outstanding cricketers for the school and later played club cricket.

 Two brothers, lyricist Sunil Ariyaratne and editor Tillakaratne Kuruwita Bandara are also products of St. John’s College.

Another great lyricist and journalist Ajantha Ranasinghe is also an old Johnian.  

The school excelled in cricket, athletics, hockey, boxing etc and have produced some leading sportsman in each discipline.

 St. John’s was also proud to have produced an Inspector General of Police Cyril Herath, while a number of its students have served the armed forces and the police,Savanadasa said.

Legendry Olwyn Weerasekera of ‘Wadiya’ fame is also an old Johnian.

It has also produced several academics and professionals.

The author says only a few schools could claim with pride a five generation legacy. They were of the Tillakaratne family. Some of the Tillakaratnes who excelled at St John’s were  Harold, Geoffrey and Anoj.

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