St. Mary’s Church Dehiwela

celebrates 175th anniversary with a issue of new stamp

by Ifham Nizam

The Philatelic Bureau of the Department of Posts will issue a new Postage Stamp in the denomination of Rs.5.00 tomorrow –February 6- to mark the 175th Anniversary of St. Mary’s church Dehiwala.

On September 13, 1834, six Catholic laymen from the congregation of St. Sylvester’s church, now St. Anthony’s Church, Galkissa came to Dehiwala in search of a piece of land to build a church. A devout Catholic, Muhandiram B. Bastian Mendis gifted them half an acre of land. The foundation stone was laid and on February 4, 1835 the church was dedicated to Our Lady of Good Voyage, says one of the Jubilee Secretaries Nigel de Lile.

Speaking to The Island, he says in 1877 plans were drawn up for a new Church. The old church was demolished and a temporary cadjan structure was constructed.

"In 1880 the cadjan structure was set ablaze by unknown persons and was reduced to ashes but miraculously, the statue of Our Lady, made of Kohomba wood and gifted by three Bharatha traders in 1837 survived the blaze."

The new church was consecrated and re-dedicated to Our Lady of Purification in June 1883. This church at Dehiwala became a separate Parish with a Resident Priest on January 26, 1908, who also was in charge of the Parishes of Angulana, Galkissa and Ratmalana. In 1909, the connected school St. Mary’s College, Dehiwala was blessed by Archbishop Coudert. In the same year Rev. Fr. Guillett was instrumental in purchasing the land which now houses Holy Family Convent.

A landmark event was the Eucharistic Rally of 1945, the first ever in Sri Lanka. In 1950 Dehiwala was selected as the first stop of the miraculous statue of Our Lady of Fatima when it was brought to the then Ceylon during its triumphal journey around the world.

The Parish has been served by 21 illustrious Parish Priests. Presently it is under the care of Rev. Fr. Marcus Ferdinandez. St. Mary’s now operates along with two sub-stations, Infant Jesus Church at Nedimala and Thrithva Bhavana at Attidiya.

Celebrating 175 years of spiritual nourishment given to the people of Sri Lanka through St. Mary’s Church – Dehiwala is a significant feat. Twenty-five years ago, St. Mary’s Church had its 150th anniversary, and now with a five rupee ( Rs.5.00 ) commemorative Jubilee stamp and a first day cover is being released on the same day of the feast being celebrated on a grand scale is truly a blessing from God.

"A stamp collector, spoke to Rev. Fr. Marcus Ferdinadesz our parish priest and suggested that why don’t we try to get a stamp issued for our landmark celebration of 175 years in service. He gave his blessings and encouraged me to pursue with the idea to make it a reality. When approval was given by the Ministry of Post, we formed an unofficial team to support the launch of the stamp," he added.

Lile says it feels good to be able to look back, the committee really worked hard and the late hours it took to bring out something like this.

Our church commenced celebrating the Jubilee year from February 6, 2010 to February 2011. St. Mary’s Church – Dehiwala is one of the largest parishes in Sri Lanka, both in structure and membership. Therefore, the stamp bulletin’s compiled information is impressive in scope. It’s like a wall of fame for St. Mary’s church, Dehiwala as information and facts from 1834 to 2011 was summarized into a few paragraphs. It is sad that most of the information, significant contributions by our parishioners and landmark events of our church could not be included in the stamp bulletin, although it is comprehensively summarized in this souvenir.

Lile added: "We can all agree without a doubt that what’s happening here today is very spiritual, special, significant and very historic to our church. Today, through the graciousness of his Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith Archbishop of Colombo and with the Minister of Post, Postmaster General and their staff, we are having the launch and release of our commemorative first day cover and five rupee (Rs.5.00) special postage stamp at our own church which is also the camp post office for this memorable issue.

This is the first time in our church history of 175 years that a stamp is been issued in its name. It is so wonderful that this release is occurring on the same day of our 175th Jubilee celebration of our church. It gives added coverage, exposure and well deserved recognition to the goodness of our Lord Jesus and Mother Mary toward us over these past 2011 years.

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