There are people who, in their gentle and caring ways, touch our hearts, and when they depart this world, leave behind profound memories. One such person is the late Rt. Revd Bishop Swithin Fernando Emeritus Bishop of Colombo. He passed away peacefully in his sleep in Colombo on Friday, December 4, 2009 - shortly before his 92nd birthday, on January 12, 2010.
Bishop Swithin hailed from Moratuwa. I first got to know him when I was a school-leaver in my late teens, and he was Vicar of St Luke's Church, Borella. I am so much richer by the experience of the privilege of a personal friendship with him, his late wife Gwen, and their son John (then ten years old).
My mother and her siblings knew them since the mid-1940s, when they lived in Galle, where John was born in 1947.
Fr Swithin, as I then knew him, administered St Luke's parish with his special brand of discretion, good humour, kindness and commonsense. There was an enthusiastic Youth Fellowship, Junior Youth Fellowship (soon after confirmation), Mothers' Union, monthly Family Day, annual trips to different parts of the island.
He organised plays, indoor and outdoor games, and social events. I well remember sitting mesmerized through his sermons over the years - preached without a single note - straight from the heart.
He was always there for us - so much so, that in my mother's last days before she succumbed to cancer, he would cycle to our annexe in Kanatte Road to pray by her bedside and administer the sacrament of Holy Communion.
In the early-60s, he took over as Vicar of The Church of St Michael and All Angels in Polwatte (Colpetty) - making the transition from the simple low church order of service followed at St Luke's - to the liturgical, ceremonial, traditional high church order of service adopted from time immemorial at St Michael's.
During that time, prior to our wedding in November 1961, knowing of problems faced by our 'mixed marriage' and how I coped since my mother's demise, he graciously invited us to be the first tenants of the stately spacious St Michael's vicarage, generously making a renovation to that section to afford us more privacy, at an affordable rent - despite enquirers, virtually unknown, offering twice as much!
In the early-70s, he took over as Arch Deacon of the diocese of Colombo. He baptized our son at The Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour, Baudhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 7 in 1976. His consecration to the Episcopate as Bishop took place in 1978. He graciously told my husband that he was welcome to partake of Holy Communion at the services.
We continued to worship there till we left to work overseas from 1984 to 2000, during which time we weren't much in contact but knew he and his family resided in Australia. We were glad on our return that he was back in Sri Lanka and once again conducted services in the Cathedral, where he was resident.
He was confined to his home in the last few months, attending church services in his wheelchair. Ever cheerful, he read the newspapers seated in his verandah, waving to any he recognized passing by, to invite them for a chat.
He will be warmly remembered for the contribution he made to the lives of many, whose sympathies are with his family -son John, daughter-in-law Sonia, granddaughters Michelle and Shiralee.
A Service of Remembrance and Thanksgiving for his life and ministry, and for his wife Gwen, will be held on February 22 at 6 p.m. at the Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour, Baudhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 7.
Deirdre Jonklaas Cadiramen