A church born out of a labour of love
The 70th anniversary of St. Lawrences Church, Wellawatte will be celebrated with a tri-linguistic Eucharistic service at 7.30 a.m. today, January 6, followed by fellowship. In keeping with the traditions of Christianity, cottage leaders have also organized a share-a-meal programme with the needy at 12.30 p.m.
It was on the feast of Epiphany, on January 6, 1938, that the then Archbishop of Colombo, Rev. Dr. J.M. Masson inaugurated the new parish of Wellawatte and named it St. Lawrence’s, with a small church being built at Villa Pleasant Avenue (later renamed St. Lawrence Road). Youthful Fr. Robert Fernando was the first Parish Priest, who realizing that the accommodation was inadequate, purchased a land at No. 375, Galle Road, Wellawatte, with the help of generous parishioners, and invited then Archbishop of Colombo and later Cardinal Rev. Dr. Thomas Cooray to lay the corner stone for the new church.
After a labour of love, Fr. Robert was able to build the present magnificent church which can easily be called the most beautiful church in Sri Lanka. Some of the special features are the unique hexagon shape of the church, the seven-foot Crucifix made of cement behind the Tabernacle, the beautifully painted eye above the main altar reminding the congregation of the 'Eye of God' and the red light that burns under the main altar signifying the gridiron, as St. Lawrence had been cruelly roasted on one.
The church was consecrated on March 6, 1968 by Cardinal Cooray and although Fr. Robert is no more his name is synonymous with the parish of St. Lawrence.
Msgr. Manik Muttukumaru served St. Lawrence’s as the second Parish Priest from 1968-1985 and the church flourished under him. He built a Community Centre to accommodate the Free Medical Clinic and also to provide space to cook and serve food to the needy. Under him, the Serving Hands Projects, Sama Sevana and the Home for destitute boys from the parish became a reality. He also built the beautiful Grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes and came up with the suggestion of forming a sub-parish at Mayura Place. He too is no more but the parishioners have a special place in their hearts for him.
Thereafter, Fr. Hugo Jesudasa Fernando served the parish for a short spell from January to October 1986, from whom Fr. Cyril Perera took over as the fourth Parish Priest serving from 1986-1992.
During his time, the church celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1988 and he introduced the Infant Jesus Novena every Thursday evening. He also built the Belfry and erected a life-size statue of St. Lawrence facing Galle Road, in the church premises. After negotiation with the government, Fr. Cyril obtained a land at Mayura Place and established St. Antony's Church, forming a sub-parish there.
Fr. Cyril.S. Perera, who succeeded him was at the parish from 1992 to 1997 and encouraged the youth to get involved in church activities. He also built the pond for adult baptism.
He was followed by Fr. Joseph Benedict Fernando during whose tenure the church celebrated the Diamond Jubilee in 1998. He expanded the Community Centre to accommodate 400 Daham Pasel children every Sunday. In February 2006, we bade farewell to Fr. Ben and welcomed Fr. Bob Rodrigo, current Parish Priest.
Fr. Bob, ably assisted by Assistant Parish Priest Leon Gerard Babapulle, brought the youth into church activity and conducted two Christmas Fairs. He also gave a new identity to the Altar Servers and among many other improvements renovated the Fatima shrine having brought down a blessed statue from the shrine in Portugal.
The parishioners are truly blessed to have such dedicated priests and to worship in this beautiful church.