Musaeus College Celebrates 120 Years of Excellence!

Rome Was Not Built In a Day…


by S. Dandeniya - Principal Musaeus College

As Musaeus forges ahead, she leafs through hundred and twenty years of her past history and smiles with pride and contentment at her epic journey as one of the pioneering educational institutions for Buddhist girls in Sri Lanka. Would she ever have envisaged then that this fledgling school comprising only twelve students, housed in a humble little mud hut, proudly called the "Mud Palace", could now dwarf everything in her vicinity by her towering strength and might? Musaeus reminisces one by one every stage of her development as recorded in the annals of her history.

Musaeus College was founded in 1891 at Rosmead Place, Cinnamon Gardens by the far-sighted German lady, Mrs. Marie Musaeus Higgins who had the great vision of establishing a premier educational institution for educating Buddhist girls.  Her vision came to fruition owing to the generous donation of half an acre of land by William de Abrew, and on this half-acre of land and little wattle hut, with only 12 students on roll, with Mrs. Higgins as both Principal and sole teacher, and Peter De Abrew the elder son of William De Abrew, as the Manager. A small beginning indeed, but this was to be as the tiny grain of mustard seed that would grow into a plant and blossom forth profusely, its saffron flowers.

Thus this new school grew rapidly, and a Good Samaritan by the name of Wilton Hack from West Australia, impressed by the value and the nature of the educational work carried out by Mrs. Higgins, helped to replace the mud-hut with a small brick building in 1895. This was soon developed into a fine structure with an upper storey to serve as a teaching hall and an extra dormitory.

In the wake of all these developments an important landmark in the school’s history was made: the establishment of the Musaeus Trust in 1896, and the appointment of five Trustees, to whom de Abrew formally gifted the property, thereby laying a firm foundation for the continuous and rapid development of the school.

The results of all this hard work were indeed most rewarding and the school was able to keep in record the first success at the Cambridge Junior Examination in 1897, in less than ten years after its inception. Success after success followed this rapidly at the Cambridge Senior and Matriculation Examinations respectively, and when Lucy De Abrew became the first Sinhalese female student to enter the Medical College and the first female student to win the "Jeejeeboy Scholarship" in 1903, it was a moment of crowning glory for Musaeus.

However, the ethical and religious education of the girls was always the forethought of these pioneering men and women. The Shrine Room constructed in 1906 was not only  to commemorate 15 years of altruistic service rendered by Mrs. Higgins  in the cause Buddhist women’s education, but also to acknowledge the importance of imbuing the girls with Buddhist principles and practices.

Under Mrs. Higgins’s aegis considerable progress was achieved during the next few years with the establishment of the first ever Training School for Sinhala Buddhist women in 1908 with the approval of the government, and in 1922 Mrs. A E Preston inaugurated the Musaeus Nursery School, fulfilling yet another vision of Mrs. Higgins.

It is with a profound sense of sadness and regret that Musaeus recorded the passing away of Mrs. Higgins on the 10th of July 1926. Thirty seven years of self sacrifice and hard work have taken their toll on her. Thus the resplendent lamp that illuminated Musaeus for nearly four decades was finally extinguished and yet the strong foundation she did lay stood in good stead braving the storms of this tragic event. As if taking more inspiration and courage from her demise, Musaeus forged ahead in leaps and bounds in the second decade of the 20th Century, establishing a distinguished position in the forefront of the Ceylon educational sphere.

Though everything was in a state of flux, the subsequent years were also eventful years. Musaeus survived World War II and even though she had to shift to Gampaha and safer areas temporarily, the school endured, persistently providing her students with a good education, enriched by religious and cultural activities and recreational facilities.

The post-war years witnessed a tremendous growth and development in Musaeus College. An impressive two-storeyed modern Science Laboratory complex was completed in 1951, which included Chemistry, Zoology, Physics and Botany Laboratories, two lecture theatres built in modern style, and class-rooms. More well planned buildings comprising multiple storeys were completed in the 50’s and 60’s to accommodate the burgeoning student population.

Rome was not built in a day, and nor was Musaeus. The present glory Musaeus basks in as the premier Buddhist school in the country, bears testimony to the selfless sacrifice and the whole hearted devotion of its founder duo - Mrs. Higgins and Peter De Abrew, and the magnanimous services rendered by all its succession of Trustees, Principals, teachers, well-wishers, parents, past pupils and many others who are too many to be mentioned here.

Peter De Abrew, endearingly referred to as ‘The grand old gentleman of Musaeus College’, sacrificed his entire life and a good part of his wealth for this school. The words he uttered to his nephew just a few days prior to his death rings a bell on this day Musaeus commemorate 120 years of existence. He has told his nephew that he was confident "that this school was built on a very firm foundation and with sincerity of purpose; there always would be someone to guide it on". Proving his prediction true, since the demise of Mrs. Higgins and de Abrew, Musaeus has never been short of sincere people, people with a clear vision, to carry out their mission. It is their spirit and toil that has contributed to the present progress of the school. These two need no epitaphs on their tombstones.

Since its inception, tens of thousands of students have walked in and out of its portal, all of whom have left their indelible mark on the school. Musaeus also boasts of a long line of altruistic volunteers who have supported the school in many ways and have contributed to the life of the school. Though many changes are made and many enhancements achieved, some things, however, never change, and the ethos of the school is one such thing. Especially noteworthy is the school’s adherence to its founding mission - to mould girls in the best traditions of our culture, and the noble virtues and moral conduct laid down in the teachings of Buddha, whilst expanding opportunities for girls. In spirit Musaeus College of today is not much different from the Musaeus that was opened 120 years ago, in that the traditions Mrs. Higgins and her first students introduced to the school still remain strong, and continue to define the school. Musaeus College is a living, changing, growing body rooted in a philosophy while continually adapting to the realities of girls’ education in a changing world.

As the school celebrates its 120 years of excellence, it acknowledges with gratitude, the present Chairman Ajita De Zoysa and the Board of Trustees for whom Musaeus is and had always been the first call in their very busy schedule. They are the pillars of strength behind its success.

In the last 120 years, Musaeus College has expanded not only horizontally filling the available space with many storeyed buildings with the best infrastructure facilities conducive to good teaching and learning, but is also growing vertically reaching out to the sky, evolving steadily.

The ‘Sky is the Limit’ for Musaeus College!

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