Scholar priest saw church in Sri Lankan context
Rt. Rev. Dr. W. L. A. Don Peter
It was the late Rt. Rev. Dr. W. L. A. Don Peter who gave the home for retired Roman Catholic priests at Tewatte, Ragama the Sinhala name Piyasevana, reflecting the purpose for which the home was set up by the former Archbishop of Colombo, Rev. Dr. Nicholas Marcus Fernando.
As priest and writer, he wrote a number of books in Sinhala for both Buddhist and Christian children. Some of his better known publications include Historical Gleanings, Saradiel, Prema Rajya, Gonsalvas Piyathuma, Kithunu Subashitaya, Priest of Padua, Daham Pathavali and English texts on the history of Ceylon.
Fr. Don Peter raised the Sinhala reader’s awareness of religious texts written by Portuguese clerics. He was a scholar in Sinhala, Pali and Latin, and was urged by the late Cardinal Thomas Cooray to proceed to London University to read for his PhD.
With the emergence of the national movement in the post-1956 era, Fr. Don Peter taught Sinhala and oriental languages in junior seminaries. He strongly opposed the levying of fees for education. He made a significant contribution to the indigenisation of the Roman Catholic Church in Sri Lanka.
Fr. Don Peter was made Rector of St. Joseph’s College in 1961, and subsequently Rector of Aquinas University in 1971.
In his retirement, he worked hard to revive interest in the history of the Church, through a History Union.
He worked with the Department of Archaeology and the Ministry of Religious Affairs to identify historic church sites and explore the possibility of developing these sites for future generations. Calling attention to an archaeological site in Jawatte and identifying the tomb of the Sinhala prince “Dom Joao of Candia” in Telheiras, Portugal were among his chief contributions to church history.
Fr. Don Peter’s last wish was to revive the devotion of Nossa Senhora da Livramento (Our Lady of Deliverance) in Jawatte, which commanded a large congregation in the 15th century. It was his wish that this worship be resumed at some location in Jawatte.
May he rest in peace.