Plus - Appreciations

Happy journey to the loving and generous ‘mother’ who touched so many

Mother Maria of Lansigama

Monday, November 22 was a sad day for the thousands who loved Mother Maria of Lansigama. The flame of Mother Maria, the Co-Worker, the Mother Teresa of Sri Lanka, was extinguished. They say the “face is the index of the heart.” Mother Maria’s face, full of maternal love, reflected her generous heart. She had a perpetual smile – the same face, the same smile and the same heart to all, for the known and the unknown, the rich and the poor.

“The soul laughs through the eyes,” writes Indian novelist R. K. Narayan in his book “The English Teacher.” Mother Maria’s laughter came from her soul. There was a perpetual smile in her eyes. Gratitude was on her lips to the biggest and smallest donor.

Born on November 18, 1925, in Ostiglia, a small village in Italy, Mother Maria entered the novitiate of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. She took her first vows on June 18, 1947. In February 1950, she and four other Sisters migrated to Ceylon at the invitation of Bishop Edmund Peiris to set up a Home for the Elders at Lansigama.

Here are a few anecdotes for those who wish to know more about Mother Maria’s humanity, and how she reached divinity through humanity. One day a beggar came and sat under an araliya tree near the chapel. Mother Maria and I were talking at the entrance to the convent. She asked me who the man was. “A beggar,” I said. She said: “No, he is my visitor.” She then went and attended to his needs.

Beggars and paupers found refuge with Mother Maria. Sometimes wolves came to her in sheep’s clothing, and despite warnings from the other Sisters, Mother Maria would help them too. “They come to us because they need our help,” she said. “Let us share what we have with the have-nots. We help them in the name of Jesus. If they misuse it, it is their fault, not ours.”

She loved children, and she herself was childlike. She was a child among children, a loving friend among friends, a loving mother among her subordinates and the home inmates, a leader among leaders, and a committed servant among servants.

Mother Maria treated those at the Home as her family. She was a mother to them. When someone was dying, she would be at that person’s bedside. She would tenderly touch that person’s head and hands and say, “Suba Gamang” – Happy Journey.

Mother Maria, you were a shade tree for all the weary travellers of life. You were the gentle rain that poured down on the dry and cracked land, giving new life. You were a stream, full of fresh and clean water quenching the thirst of all. You were a bridge between God and man. You were a ferry that brought hope to those lost in the ocean. You were an oasis where the children of God could enjoy themselves without hindrance.

Ajith Perera

An inspired teacher who breathed life into every lesson she taught

Shanthi Peiris

It is a privilege to pay tribute to the late Mrs. Shanthi Peiris, with whom I had the opportunity to interact closely in the latter part of my school career. Much has been said about her phenomenal memory, her staunch faith, her attention to detail, her being a strict disciplinarian, her fairness in decision making, her dedication to teaching – and the many other characteristics that made her the great personality she was.

Mrs. Peiris was my geography teacher, class teacher, and school principal. As a geography teacher, she came to class well prepared, and she made the subject come alive. Whenever I travel around Sri Lanka, I am reminded of her geography lessons – the climate zones, the topography, the central hills massif, and so on. Such lessons as those on the monsoons winds and the ocean currents are especially vivid in my memory.

She created lasting interest in the subject she loved and taught so well. As our Advanced Level class teacher, she took us on a trip to Anuradhapura. We travelled by train and stayed overnight in the home of Damitha Perera, nee Tirimanne, whose father was the station master there. So vivid is the image of Mrs. Peiris at the top of the Mihintale Rock, worrying that her charges might be blown down by the strong winds. Mrs. Peiris joined in the fun and laughter, showing us a side of her personality not many students were aware of. Of course, she also made sure we learned about the historical significance of Anuradhapura.

As a school principal, she was firm. But those of us who served on the school committee found her ever willing to hear us out. Her punctuality was legendary. We could tell the time without looking at the clock when she emerged from the principal’s bungalow each morning.

She did not believe in ostentation, which showed in the way she conducted herself. She could well have stayed on to complete 25 years as principal, but she chose to retire when she felt she had done all she could in that capacity, and it was time for another to take over.

During the time I was on the Old Girls’ Association governing board, Mrs. Peiris ensured that we kept the values our founders had in mind when they established the school – simplicity, honesty, care and concern for others, fair play, dignity and respect, among others. These values Mrs. Peiris exemplified in her daily life.

On the day of Mrs. Peiris’ funeral, someone asked whether the school would close as a mark of respect. My response was that Mrs. Peiris would not have approved of closing the school for her funeral. She was not the kind of person who drew attention to herself.

The Bible’s Book of Proverbs, Chapter 31, speaks of the virtuous woman: “Strength and honour are her clothing and she shall rejoice in time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom and in her tongue are the laws of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household and eateth not the bread of idleness.

Her children shall rise up and call her blessed, her husband also and he praiseth her. Favour is deceitful and beauty is vain but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her the fruit of her hands and let her own works praise her in the gates.”

Damaris Wickremasekera

Singing the glory of God with angels’ chorus

Claude Fernando (King Claude)

He had a Christmas party on December 12, 2009. We wondered why it had to be so early. Probably, he had a premonition. The next day he was dead, while engaged in what he most loved -- playing the piano.

Claude was born talented. As a four year old, while I struggled to learn a piece of music, he would sit at the piano and play it by ear. Needless to say, I gave up music. Educated at S. Thomas’ College, he was brilliant at both Maths and Music. He kept in touch with his small circle of college friends from Grade One till the day he died.

Claude reached the highest point of his career with his King Claude TV shows. He was a member of the band Spitfires and they sent a group photograph and a wreath in the shape of a treble cleff to be put into his coffin.

Claude lived for his son who was confined to a wheel chair due to a medical misadventure. He never grumbled even when he had to do everything for him alone when the domestic was on leave. Claude has taught countless people many of whom are celebrities today. He was a humble man who didn’t realize his own worth.

At his funeral we heard so many stories of the music he had written and things he had done. His death was a loss to the music world. He could write music while it was played. He could give the note ahead to someone playing a tune on the guitar.

At 62, Claude left us to rejoin his parents and aunt and grandmother who doted on him. He is at peace now but I miss him, my brother, more as time passes. We shared a love of simple things -- unusual key tags, coloured paper, scrap books and he would give me the notes of any song I wanted with the words over the phone.

Claude, may you continue to watch over those you loved, especially Joel, and with all the musicians who have gone before you join the angels’ chorus to praise our Heavenly Father.

May God, take care of you until we meet again.

Your Sister

Ode to an old schoolmate

R.R. Samarakone

Got to know, at
Our old school, Kingswood College Kandy.
Often, you composed songs, that we sang and spent the
Days quite gleefully. You were
Born in Dekinda, Nawalapitiya, but
You moved to Colombo to engineer your future
Ever green you shall remain among the loved ones.
Rich you were in Sinhala Language, thus
Rewarding the society with vital stage plays that spoke about economic
And social problems of the down-trodden classes.
Many books were written that captured the
Attention of many a Reader.

Eternal Bliss should be your final goal.

W. Lionel Sirimanne

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