They came from far and near, on November 25, to celebrate the life of their ancestor Leanarachchige Mathes Swaris Goonewardene (1830-1907). The proceedings at the Intercontinental Hotel, started with the singing of the hymn, 'How Great Thou Art’, followed by a short message by Harim Pieris-a great-great grandson--and a reading of Psalm 112 by a grandson Dr. Ian Goonewardene.
We the descendants of the eleven children of Mathes Swaris and Simona De Silva were meeting for the first time. Mathes Swaris, the nebulous figure of whom many were the stories related by our parents and grand parents, was given a more concrete form by the power point presentation of the meticulously researched details of his life by the organizers Aruni, Jayadevi, Priti, Deepthi and Indreneela.
The ancestral home of Mathes and his family was ‘Westland House ‘Panadura. A pillar of the Methodist Church, Mathes gave his family a strong Christian upbringing. He was largely responsible for the building of the old Methodist Church in Panadura and a school in Dickbedde in 1878, of which he was the first principal. This school, known as Goonewardene Vidyalaya, is still in existence.
When there was dissension between Buddhists and the Christians in Panadura, Mathes Swaris along with a proctor of the Panadura courts sent a handwritten letter inviting both sides to a discussion. To this date this letter is preserved in the Rankoth Vihara. Thus the historical "Panadura Vaadhaya" or the "Great Debate" of 1873 was born. The statement in the publication “Ceylon and its Methodism” by – Thomas Moscrop & Arthur. E. Restarick, published by Robert Culley in London, describes Mathes Swaris Goonewardene of Panadura as a –“true gentleman, a manifest Christian, living a blameless and soul -winning life in a strong Buddhist centre, and passing away a full ripe - saint in 1907.”
Mathes is described in the "Twentieth Century Impressions of Ceylon" as "a planter, landed proprietor and one of the most respected citizens of Panadura." The grandchildren present at this occasion were Allanah Seneviratne, who celebrated her 90th b'day, Dagma Mendis, Noma Devanesan and Ian Goonewardene.
It was a wonderful experience of re-establishing old ties and forming new ones.
Premini Amerasinghe nee Goonewardene